The Way of St. James

July 25, 2021 / Commemoration of St. James / Richard Holmer

First Reading 1 Kings 19:9-18/ Second Reading Acts 11:27-12:3a / Gospel Mark 10:35-45

2021-07-25 StJames
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The Way of St. James

For over a thousand years, Christian pilgrims have made their way along the pathways of the Camino de Santiago. The faithful have walked the many miles that lead to the region of Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain. Camino de Santiago is Spanish for “The Way of St. James.” It is a route that leads to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where, according to tradition, the remains of the Apostle James are interred.

The Camino de Santiago has been called one of the three great pilgrimages of Christendom – the other two being Jerusalem and Rome. Annually, over 200,000 pilgrims make this journey of faith. The pilgrimage is an act of devotion and a time for reflection. The journey is as important as the final destination. Traveling on foot provides ample time for conversation with fellow pilgrims, and for prayer and meditation. This Way of St. James is a way of deepening and enriching a person’s spirituality.

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In the New Testament, the way of St. James is a way that moves from the ordinary to the extraordinary. James was the son of Zebedee and the older brother of John. Together the three operated the family business of fishing the Sea of Galilee. Their home was the small town of Capernaum, at the north end of that sea. James was an ordinary guy – most likely illiterate. Fishing was all he knew. Yet imagine that moment when Jesus came by with a simple and direct invitation: “Come, follow me, and I will teach you to fish for people.” The text says that James and John left their father, their nets and their boat and immediately went with Jesus. We are left to imagine what must have transpired in the mind and heart of James as he decided to leave the security and familiarity of his ordinary life to go with Jesus on a way unknown to him – a way that proved to be extraordinary.

The way of St. James was a way of devotion. Along with his brother John and fellow fisherman Peter, James was part of the inner circle of Jesus’ most trusted disciples. These three shared some profound moments along with Jesus. Jesus brought them with him to the home of Jairus, and they witnessed how Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus from death to life. James and John and Peter accompanied Jesus up the mountain where they experienced the remarkable events of his Transfiguration. On a fateful night, when Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, these three were the ones he asked to come and watch with him.

The way of James as a disciple was devoted – but not perfect. Jesus nicknamed James and John “Boanerges” which means “Sons of Thunder,” because of their quick and intense temper. When a Samaritan town ignored Jesus and refused to listen to him, the brothers said to Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Jesus rebuked them and told them to calm down.

In our Gospel reading today, James and John do not distinguish themselves. They are presumptuous enough to say to Jesus: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” (Almost treating Jesus like a genie who grants wishes.)Ttheir request is to have positions of honor and authority in the coming Kingdom of God. Jesus has to explain that’s not at all how things work in God’s Kingdom.

James was hardly perfect – but he was steadfast. He continued his work as an apostle for a dozen years after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. He was a pillar of the early Christian church. James was the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred for his faith. His execution was ordered by King Herod Agrippa in the year 45 A.D.

In his classic work, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of what it means to follow Jesus:

When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time – death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.”

Following Jesus may not lead to a martyr’s death – at least not today – yet for James and many others it was that. Because James had already died to his old, ordinary self, he was prepared to die for the sake of Jesus Christ.

The way of St. James is the way of devoted discipleship – transformed from ordinary to extraordinary by the love of Jesus. So, there is the Way of St. James that’s a pilgrim way, the Camino de Santiago. There is the Way of St. James that’s seen in the life of the apostle James, son of Zebedee. And there is the Way of St. James that is the way of this congregation, named for the apostle.

Like pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, as fellow members of St. James, we are on a journey. Last Sunday, Tom Meyer and I sang a song that included this verse:

We are pilgrims on a journey,

We are travelers on the road;

We are here to help each other

Walk the mile and bear the load.

We become Christians one at a time, but we are on this journey together. An African proverb points to the necessity for living and working together: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” A favorite prayer comes at the conclusion of the liturgy for Evening Prayer:

Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

When we are at our best, the Way of St. James is the way of going forward with faith and courage.

Like James the Apostle, you and I have been called to follow Christ. You all know our mission statement: God calls us to follow Christ, make disciples and live the gospel. We did not choose Christ; Christ chose us when we were baptized. Then it is for us to keep on choosing to follow the way of our Lord. We can choose to move from ordinary, self-serving lives to the extraordinary lives, devoted to living as instruments of Christ’s grace and peace.

Like our patron saint, James, we are imperfect disciples. We are inclined to sin and to fall short. This is not a cause for shame – but for abiding humility. We confess that we are sinners, common ordinary vessels – yet we are blessed to contain a great treasure: the liberating grace of God in Christ.

We are committed to striving to live the gospel. We look not to be served, but to serve others. We recognize that God has blessed us so that we might be a blessing to others. And St. James Lutheran Church has been and continues to be a blessing!

On occasion St. Paul felt compelled to validate his ministry. He apologized for boasting about his impressive resumé, his good and faithful works. From time to time, I am moved to boast about all of you, the saints of St. James. I speak glowingly and gratefully of your heart for serving and sharing generously. Time does not allow to recount all the many ways you have been a rich blessing to people in need. Helping others is more than a matter of dollars and cents – but the numbers do tell a story. Permit a few examples.

  • Last year you gave over $40,000 to support the mission of Sagrado Corazón.

  • The year before you gave $20,000 each to Habitat for Humanity, PADS and COOL Transitional Housing.

  • On our 50th anniversary as a congregation, you gave over $100,000 to LSSI.

Your many hours of volunteer support for COOL, PADS, Waukegan to College, North Chicago Community Partners and Habitat for Humanity are extraordinary. And then there are all the ways you serve one another in this congregation: providing transportation, bringing meals, offering comfort and support to families who are grieving, and praying for one another. I could go on . . .

But the important thing is that we all keep going on – following the Way of St. James, faithfully going where Jesus leads the way.

Thanks be to God.