Friday, October 23, 2009

Remembering James

It can't have been easy being James, the brother of our Lord. Can you imagine being the younger brother of Jesus? He never did anything wrong, so you couldn't blame Jesus for something being smashed or for starting a fight. There was something different about Jesus.

So years later, when Jesus begins his teaching and healing ministry, the family want to step in and stop him. Crowds were gathering, so many people, in fact, that Jesus could not even eat. Mary and James and the other brothers and sisters want to seize him and bring him home, because they were saying 'He his out of his mind.' Jesus has gone mad after all this time! Were they embarrassed, or upset, or troubled for their son and older brother?

When they get to where Jesus is, though, his family can't get to him. The house is bunged, full of people hanging on Jesus' every word. They send a message in saying that his mother and brothers and sisters are here. Are they trying to claim a special privilege for blood relatives? Do they have a special claim on him? Do they think they can win him over by reminding him of home and family?

Whatever they thought they were doing, Jesus' reply must have stung. 'Who are my mother and my brothers?... Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.' (Mark 3:33-35)

Jesus is saying that membership of his family doesn't depend on natural descent, but on obedience to the Father.

Fast forward to the passage appointed to be read as the Epistle, in Acts 15. The very same James who was shunned is now one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church. The same question is at stake: what makes someone a member of the family of God? There was an issue over Gentile believers - did they have to become Jews first, observe the law and be circumcised, or was it on the basis of faith? James is the reconciler: 'We should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.' (Acts 15:19) Or as Jesus said: Whoever does the will of God is part of the family.

What was it brought the change in James, the brother of our Lord?

Christ... was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.' (1 Corinthians 15:4-7)

Jesus appears to James, and James sees him for who he really is - not a mad older brother who needs rescuing and protected, but the Son of God, the Risen Lord Jesus, the Saviour. James changes from being a blood brother to being a faith brother, in God's family, which is more important than family ties.

James' journey reminds me of the famous CS Lewis quote from Mere Christianity:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Jesus is not mad, or bad, but he is the Son of God. James realises this, and it brings the great change within him.

Whoever does the will of God is Jesus' brother and sister and mother. Are you part of the family today?

This sermon was preached at the midweek Holy Communion in St Peter's Church, Antrim Road, Belfast on Wednesday 21st October, celebrating the transferred feast of St James, the Brother of our Lord, which is today, 23rd October.


  1. i think a lot of people see the name James in scripture and automatically assume we're talking about Zebedee's son. many do not realize the impact that James the brother of Jesus had on the early church.

  2. Yes indeed. Although James the brother of John, Zebedee's son has been martyred by Acts 12, so it obviously can't be him at the council of Jerusalem! Confusing to have so many similar names in the Bible - two Josephs, three Jameses, countless Marys etc...

    We were talking the other day about people with the same full name eg John Smith. Wouldn't it be so much easier if there was just one person in the world with one name at a time? Particularly when a small town has numerous name-a-likes!!!