Acts 15:12-22a Psalm 1 Matthew 13:53-58
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The reason I like to host our October Clericus is because over the years this week has been a very significant time for me. I emigrated to Canada this week, my mother and my father died this week, my father this day, and I began my ministry here at Christ Church, St. John’s and St. Paul’s this week. It is a time of reflexion for me and I like to spend it with you. This week then has been one of endings and beginnings, although getting to the New took hard work physical, spiritual and emotional.
That’s the same kind of hard work the very earliest Christians went through when Paul and Barnabas told of all their adventures amongst the Gentiles in Asia and faced the obvious problem of what denotes membership in the new Church for a Gentile. James the brother of Jesus, whom we memorialise today, saw the new Christian movement as the fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy to be about the revitalisation of the Kingdom of God by the Messiah, and understood it to include bringing the Gentiles into Judaism. It is thought that he only came to this realisation following the Crucifixion, he is not known to be a follower before that, it’s likely that he may even have thought his Brother a little unbalanced (Mark 3:21).
When you listen to James he is obviously the leader of the Church in Jerusalem as he decides, he decides, following Peter’s reminder, that Gentiles are God’s children just as much as the Jews. That must have made a few jaws drop – the Chosen People are not the only chosen ones anymore ? This was shaking their faith to its roots. But not every cultural thing was relaxed, just circumcision, even though Peter had had the vision of the so-called ‘unclean’ being declared ‘clean’ that is who’s included and who’s not, membership still had its Judaic obligations. However they had crossed a huge bridge. Proselytes were already allowed into Judaism but were treated as second class members, now though if they and other Gentiles conformed to the other laws of Judaism they were granted full membership in the new Christian community. That barrier gone others, down the years, have fallen by the wayside until we get to today when baptism in the name of our Triune God is the sole key to membership in the Christian community. The other obligations required to lead a Christian life as contained in Scripture are what we must abide by to stay a member, and that is where we, not being perfect, give thanks for Confession, Absolution and God’s Grace just as James did on that momentous day.
So we come to the problem of interpretation of Scripture, and we have only to look at two thousand years of interpretation to know the task is not only formidable but almost impossible to complete to everyone’s satisfaction and is the awkward foundation on which all denominations are built.
James is at the heart of interpretive dispute too. He is described as the brother of Jesus. Was that a genetic brother, a familial brother, an half-brother, a step-brother or even a cousin as some claim ? Did he share the same birth canal as Jesus ? If so the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary has problems, and so it goes on. All that really matters is what the voice from heaven said “This is my Son, the Beloved” (Matthew 3:17). We too are children of God so He is Brother to us all. Ah Scripture, let’s strain out a few gnats ! (Matthew 23:24).
Jesus too fell victim to the problem of labelling. How many of us like to return to our roots from time to time ? To go back to a place that we still think of as ‘Home’ ? Well this Man Who had no place to rest His head (Matthew 8:20) went back to His hometown where He grew up. Surely it was filled with fond memories of childhood for Him; feeling His parents love for Him; maybe He saw the hills where He used to ramble; maybe He saw His imaginary and secret childhood hiding places; maybe He remembered the hot nights when He would just lay down on the roof and stare at the stars; maybe He stopped at the stream where He pondered what His life would be like and how He might do a lot of good for people and show them the better Way.
Then He is brought back to reality. His former friends and neighbours heap scorn on Him, asking “Who the heck do you think you are ?” If He was like the Young Sheldon portrayed in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas I could perhaps understand it, but no Jesus was mostly a regular kid growing-up, except, with the favour of God upon Him (Luke 2:40).
How Jesus’ heart must have sank to find such animosity amongst His former neighbours and maybe childhood friends – the first betrayal. I suspect that Jamal Khashoggi experienced the same emotion when he got behind the doors of the consulate, not understanding his countrymen turning against him, yet realising that they were rebelling against the truth of his words. Planning his wedding he found himself facing torture and death at the hands of the Devil’s Crew.
Jesus faced Death at their hands too by a second betrayal but was not defeated by it.
Jesus surely weeps at the evil that we do.
I would fear for this world if I wasn’t confident in Jesus’ victory over the forces of Evil. But that will only come about if good people speak-up and act against those evil spirits. It is our responsibility to do that and to encourage the people we are entrusted to serve, to follow our example. None of that is easy because there is always more than one side to an argument, and both usually have some merit. So the challenge for us is to bring the opposing sides together and lead them to Peace. Then there is our own subjectivity which can be a stumbling block to finding the Truth and this is where we need to seek God’s guidance.
Study, discussion, reflexion and prayer are our best discernment tools in this struggle, but we also need conviction and the heart to see it through because at times we too may be held without honour in our own country. Be of good cheer for you are not without help, for I feel the Holy Spirit roaming about this room. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Acts 15:12-22a Psalm 1 Matthew 13:53-58