25 July 2008

St. James the Elder, Apostle

Do you love Jesus? Why? What is it that you see in Him? What glory? What do you want Him to do for you? What glory do you hope to share with Him? And how? What do you suppose that should look like?

When you pour out the deepest longing of your heart, what is it that you’re asking for and hoping for? Is it popularity? Comfort? Freedom? Security and stability? Happiness, perhaps? Or greatness? Heaven on earth? Life?

Well, here’s the deal: Jesus, the Son of Man, the incarnate Son of God, the Lord’s Anointed, the very King of heaven — He has come in love to serve you; to give you nothing less than Himself, and to give His whole life for you; and with that, to give you all good things.

He does not lord it over you, but makes Himself your servant, even a slave, for your benefit. He exercises His almighty power in showing mercy upon you. He uses His authority (in heaven and on earth) to forgive all your sins, and thereby to give you life and salvation, divine sonship and a place in His Kingdom.

You do not understand, but He does it for you anyway. You do not deserve or merit any of it, but He does it for Love’s sake.

That is His greatness, His grace and His glory. His place and His position are on the Cross, centered between two thieves, one on His right, the other on His left. That is where and how He becomes the first of many brethren (including you). That is where and how He obtains all good things for you. For He gives you a place with Himself in His Kingdom, and He withholds nothing from you.

It’s all yours, for free, for the asking (and even before you ask). Take it, and live, for Jesus’ sake.

And then what? Everything is yours: What are you going to do with it? How shall you live?

Shall you live with Jesus in His Kingdom of the Cross? Or will you go your own way, in the hope that something better comes along? Where will you go? What will you do? Will you make a go of it with the gentiles, or will you die to live with Jesus?

As you consider the glorious company of the holy Apostles and the sainted Martyrs of this Lord Jesus Christ, St. James the Elder prominent among them (especially on this day), learn from them to fix your eyes on Jesus, come hell or high water against you.

Do not look to your left or your right to see how it is with your neighbor. Christ has given Himself for your neighbor, too, and all good things to your neighbor, and a place in His Kingdom, at the cost of His own life. That it is how it is with your neighbor, and it is all for Jesus’ sake; no more nor less than He is for you.

But the particular place that has been given to your neighbor is different than yours: a different chair at the table; a different cross to bear; a different crown of glory.

Do not be indignant with your neighbor, neither for his sin, nor for his faith and life.

Do not be angry with your Lord, either, for giving your neighbor what He has not given you.

As you are a citizen of His Kingdom, do not live as a citizen of this sinful world with its petty jealousies. Do not compete with your neighbor, nor seek to get the better of him (or her); but, for the sake of love, serve your neighbor as Christ Jesus loves you and your neighbor and serves you both.

How? By suffering hurt, hostility and insult — with patience — without anger or vengeance, without bitterness or resentment. By forgiving your neighbor his trespasses against you. By helping your neighbor to bear his burdens, without begrudging or coveting your neighbor’s blessings.

Let there be no jealousy among you, but only love. Let there be no contesting for greatness or glory, but glorify your Lord Jesus Christ and His Cross by outdoing one another in humility, grace and compassion.

Do you wish to be great? Then serve. Do you wish to be in first place? Then become the humble and obedient slave of all the rest. Dedicate your whole life, your every breath, your blood, sweat and tears, to serving your neighbor. Hold nothing back, and show no partiality or prejudice. Love your enemy. Pray for those who hate you and hurt you. Bless those who curse you; bless, and do not curse. Take up the cross; bend your neck to the sword; give your body to be beaten, bruised and buried.

Are you able to do this?

How?

What do you have that you have not been given? What good shall you do that is not done for you? How shall you serve for Jesus’ sake, except that He has come to serve you, and to give His life for you? How is it that you share His Baptism and drink His Cup, except that He has been baptized for you, even unto death upon the Cross; and that He has drained the Cup to the very dregs in fulfillment of all righteousness.

It is by your Baptism into Christ that you do share His Cross, His death, His Resurrection and His Life; His Righteousness and His Glory.

With His Baptism, He has taken your place, so that your Baptism has given you His place. His faithfulness, His humility and obedience, His service, His greatness — all of these are now granted to you.

So are you given His Cup to drink — and more than that, His Body to eat. The flesh that bore your sins upon the Cross, the blood that atoned for all of your unrighteousness — these are given to you at the Lord’s own Table. He surrounds you on the right and on the left, and He gives to you the place of honor, that He may serve you and give Himself to you in love.

The bitter cup of wrath and woe, He has made sweet by His bloody Cross and Passion. The poison in the cup, He has swallowed, that it might become for you the Medicine of Immortality.

As He shed His blood to fill that Chalice from His Cross, and as He poured it out for His disciples, for James and John and the other ten, for each of them to drink from His own hand, so did He send them to give that Cup to His Church — to you — and to give His Body to be eaten — for the granting of eternal life.

St. James poured out that Cup, not only as an Apostle and a Minister of the Sacrament, but as a martyr of the Lord Jesus Christ; as a lamb to be slaughtered, in a Passover like that of his King.

You are given to drink that same Cup of blessing and salvation. It is filled from the Cross, and those who drink it bear the Cross of Christ, as do they also in sharing His Baptism. Whether that will mean for you the sword, or prison, or fire, or lions, or simply the weight of daily service in your vocations for many years on end, the Cup of Christ is your glory and your life.

Take it, and live; it’s all yours, for Jesus’ sake. And nothing in heaven or on earth shall be able to sever you from Him, who loves you.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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