Not my sermon, but the fabulous one I heard preached at Clergy Conference. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, even without the preacher’s voice and gestures to nuance the text…thanks, Joy, for sharing this
James of Jerusalem – the somewhat surprising, acknowledged leader of an ancient Church;
James the Just — tradition calls him; not warm and fuzzy but clearly affirming;
James, Martyr – 3 decades after the Crucifixion, stoned to death by order of the high priest, – for persisting in his dangerous proclamation about a Crucified and Risen Messiah; a judicial murder, Josephus called it. Apparently, it ran in the family.
For I find that the most intriguing, and mysterious label for James, is the NT claim that he is the brother of the Lord.
Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?
James and all those brothers and sisters give Jesus a certain credibility. I have a brother of my own; if you ask me, a savior without siblings has not been put to a serious test of sinlessness.
Whatever your personal pieties in such matters, I claim a logic that allows an imaginative leap to suggest that a woman from Nazareth, a woman named Mary, raised two boys, and then lost them both to the family business, the God business.
Mary, Mother of our Lord – the Gospels call her.
Theotokos – God-bearer – the church came to call her;
Mother of God, some name her.
So, that logical leap again – if Mary is Mother of God, does that make James the brother of God?
There’s an interesting sibling dynamic. God’s brother.
Did James ever wonder if Mom always loved Him best?
And maybe here is where James makes room for you and me, now. In the way that Jesus is our brother, too. As Vicki Garvey once said, we are all related to God – on his mother’s side.
I cannot help but wonder if James’ big scene in our Christian history, that fractious council in Jerusalem and his role in it had something to do with the fact that he too was his Mother’s son. Maybe she sang the same lullaby to both boys.
He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.
He is now the leader of a beleaguered church – a church threatening to come apart at the seams. Over an issue that Jesus’ never mentioned. It is interesting to think about what are not red-letter words in the New Testament. (a comment aimed at Tony Campolo, our conference speaker, whom I blogged about previously)…
He is finding that the ‘we’ve never done it that way before’ rallying cry is as challenging in the first century as we find it in the 21st. He must preside over a Council of angry, passionate, pushy, ‘positive that they are right’ folk from all sides of the spectrum. The Conversations are getting tense, nasty, loud – and folk are slamming doors and threatening to leave if the other side doesn’t.
It’s hard to imagine being part of that kind of a church. Or not.
And then I wonder what it means that the angry voices filling that council room are all male – all Jewish men.
All of them getting pretty exercised about a theme that was pretty near and dear to their . . . ‘hearts.’ Clearly this Council is a guy thing.
I hope no one misses the irony here – that a preacher like me is challenged to ponder the question of whether circumcision is meant to be an essential sign, a mandatory mark, for full membership in the Christian community.
So now I wonder, where was Mom? Or Mary and Martha, or Mary Magdalene, or Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward, or any of those other women who once followed Jesus – from Galilee, to Calvary. Women who stood at a Cross – and showed up at a tomb.
Somehow, I don’t see them going away – resigning themselves to the dreary reality that the ecclesiastical battles of a developing church had become more important than their trust and faith in a Crucified and Risen Lord.
So maybe they were there, in another room, during all the fuss. I hope it wasn’t the kitchen; maybe they were knitting prayer shawls.
I’m only guessing they had a few rude jokes to share on the subject.
We can imagine that conversation –
Do you believe those guys?
They are ready to break up a church over that!
What are they afraid of?
The high priests are rounding up disciples; the Romans are getting restless;
the lions are starting to roar in the amphitheater.
People are frightened; children are hungry; families are losing their land.
And what about the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ –
(actually it has been over 20 years since we headed out from that empty tomb) — someone should think about writing one down).
What happened to proclaiming the vision of a world that works the way God intends – what happened to Jesus’ news about the Kingdom of God.
What happened to a church fired up and sent out to show the world what that can look like!
Maybe all those women had differing opinions. But I’m betting that the issue that topped the council agenda wasn’t one they cared most about.
And I hope that one of them had heard rumors of some crazy letters from the wild man of Tarsus, the odd bloke giving fits to all the Jerusalem guys – maybe she caught just a snippet that went something like, in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female . . .
So a good Jewish woman, a woman who already had staked her life on a crucified Messiah, realizes that maybe, just maybe, there was something important at stake here for her in this debate in which she had no voice. Something really important for her, for anyone who was odd or different or foreign or female or . . .
Another uppity woman from another Christian communion adds her two cents to our current fray. Sister Joan Chittister wrote a column last month – We all need the Anglicans right now.
“So the question the Anglican communion is facing for us all right now is a clear one: What happens to a group, to a church that stands poised to choose either confusion or tyranny, either anarchy or authoritarianism, either unity or uniformity? Are there really only two choices possible at such a moment? Is there nowhere in-between?”
(It makes one wonder if James asked that too.)
“We seem to think that we have only two possible choices: the authoritarian model, which requires intellectual uniformity and calls it ‘community’ or a kind of intellectual anarchism, which eats away at the very cloth of tradition in a changing world.
The problem is that threatened by change we are more inclined to suppress the prophetic question than we are to find the kind of structures that can release the Spirit, that can lead us beyond unthinking submission while honoring the tradition and testing the spirits.
From where I stand, we need those who can develop a model of faith in times of uncertainty in which the tradition is revered and the prophetic is honored. Unless we want to see ourselves go into either tyranny or anarchy, we better pray for the Anglicans so that they can show us how to do that.”
Maybe James already did.
James so long ago convened a council in Jerusalem in turbulent times, in a dangerous and changing world, to face the prospect of a radically changed church.
He helped an infant church move into unthinkable newness:
From enforcing old rules to developing new relationships;
From making ‘them’ just like ‘us’ to opening hearts and minds to the truth of lives unlike our own, yet marked by faith as fervent as any of our own.
From clinging in fear to an old covenant to accepting – maybe even while they were still fearful — a new kind of Communion;
James might tell us that it isn’t easy – then or now;
That staying the course can get someone killed;
That you can make everyone angry with you;
Even that you might be wrong – James was once.
Remember when he and Mom tried to take his crazy brother back home, before he got in real trouble?
But God was still present;
Jesus still loved him;
And a fiery, windy Spirit blew him open and out into a faith and a future, he never would have imagined.
And maybe the way he did it is still how you change a church that could change the world – by holding on to a heritage and to a hope.
The model is biblical;
At the risk of anachronism, I believe the process is what it means to be Anglican.
And promise in it all – the truth of James himself:
How Jesus’ Brother came to know what it means and what it costs and what can happen when he was ready to become a brother of God. How he reminds the likes of us who would call this Jesus our brother – that any sisters and brothers of God must be as well sisters and brothers of one another.
Our souls proclaim the greatness of the Lord;
Our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.
Clergy Conference, Diocese of Chicago
October 23, 2007
For a diocese that stands poised on the eve of electing a new bishop this sermon was a call to walk into an unknown future confident that God is leading us. Confident that we can do a new thing. Confident that together we can find a third way to get through the confusion. We have five good men on the slate. Four of them can articulate a clear vision and each would make a good bishop. (The fifth is a sweet, passionate man, but no clear vision, at least not for Bishop)…But none of these men brings a new vision. They are each a continuation of the same. The same that we have had for many years. They will enable us to stay in the “We’ve always done it this way” mode.
We have three women on our slate of nominees. Each one is incredible. Each one a clear strong visionary voice. One of them is a partnered lesbian. She is the best candidate on the slate for a whole host of reasons. The question is, will the Spirit lead us to elect her? And will we have the courage to follow?