+ In Nomine Jesu +
"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."
We live in a place and at a time where we are free to express our views, even our most deeply held convictions, even those that may prove distasteful or repugnant to others. For good or ill, on this very day, protesters have occupied cities around the country because they believe they have been shut out of the political process by a group they have identified simply as the 1%, meaning the wealthiest people in America. They protest because, from their perspective, they have been denied economic equality. Others, of course, cringe that such a mentality even exists within a Capitalist society, knowing that economic equality is not a right guaranteed under our Constitution. Some of the protesters have paid a relatively minor price for their civil disobedience, perhaps spending a few nights in jail. For the most part though they have been allowed the stage and given the right to express their views, even to vent their frustration.
Again, we live in a place and at a time where we are free to express our views. Some of the views we hold are out of convenience, by which I mean there is relatively little cost, little price to be paid for holding them. I'm always been repulsed by a particular ornament that some folks choose to put on the back of their car. It's the fish symbol with legs on it and the name Darwin written in the middle. You've probably seen one before. Essentially it is an anti-Christian message. Christians, of course, used the fish symbol in the early days of the church to identify themselves to one another. In Greek, the word for fish is Ichthus, which happens to be an acronym for "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior." When Christians used the symbol to identify themselves to one another the political climate was not quite so free. During such a time men like St. James, whom we honor today, were martyred for the simple privilege of being able to confess their faith. I've often wondered if the person who sports the Darwin symbol would be willing to give up their life for the sake of their belief. I doubt it!!
He's sometimes called James the Just because he lived the life of a Nazarite. From his birth his hair was never cut, he never consumed wine or any other form of alcohol, nor did he eat any kind of meat. He's also referred as St. James of Jerusalem because he was the first bishop of the Holy City. Some refer to him James Adelphos. Adelphos is the Greek word for brother. James, you see, was the half-brother of Jesus. Armenian Christians consider him a patriarch of their church. In fact, to this day St. James Cathedral stands in Jerusalem, as does an Armenian seminary, both of which form the core of the Armenian presence in Jerusalem that spans over 1,700 years.
Eusebius, a historian of the early church, gives us the account of the Apostle's death. Actually, since Eusebius lived sometime later than James, he quotes from an earlier historian whose works are not quite as prominent. "They came (he says), to James, and said: "We entreat you, restrain the people: for they've gone astray in their opinions about Jesus, as if he were the Christ. We entreat you to persuade all who have come here for the day of the Passover, concerning Jesus. For we all listen to your persuasion; since we, as well as all the people, bear you testimony that you are just, and show partiality to none…Take your stand, then, upon the summit of the temple, that from that elevated spot you may be clearly seen, and your words may be plainly audible to all the people…To the scribes' and Pharisees' dismay, James boldly testified that Christ "Himself sits in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven." The scribes and Pharisees then said to themselves, "We have not done well in procuring this testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, that they may be afraid, and not believe him." James was then thrown from the summit of the temple. Seeing the fall did not kill him, the Scribes and Pharisees then stoned him to death.
We honor James of Jerusalem today, not because his life, noble and honorable as it was, can advance us one iota in terms of our righteousness before God, but because he is an example to us of the power of God to sustain faith when adversity and even death threatens it. Before he died a martyr's death, James was prepared by God for such a violent end to his life, evidenced by the fact that, some years before his death, he sat down to pen the words of the Epistle that bears his name. As he closed out the introductory portion of his letter, he wrote, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him." In the year 62A.D. James' test came, he stood up to confess the name of Jesus, and in doing so he received the crown of life and joined "the noble army of martyrs who praise God."
The early Christians counted suffering for Christ not as a burden or misfortune but as a great honor, a blessing, for in their suffering they could bear witness to their faith. Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote of the early Christian martyrs: "Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths." Covered with skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished or were nailed to crosses or were doomed to the flames and burned to serve as nightly illumination when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle. We are told that the martyrs went rejoicing to their deaths, as if they were going to a marriage feast. They bathed their hands in the blaze kindled for them and shouted with gladness. They marched into the arena as if marching into heaven. When Ignatius, an elderly martyr, was about to die for his faith in A.D. 110, he cried out, "Nearer the sword, then nearer to God. In company with wild beasts, in company with God."
A great concern within the church today is that we have grown too soft to even envision such a sacrifice for the privilege of confessing the name of Jesus. Many years ago, at a Convention of the Texas District of the LCMS, a pastor brought a resolution to the floor. The resolution encouraged the leaders of the young people throughout our Synod to make sure our kids know that there may come a day when it costs them something to be a disciple of Jesus. Essentially, the resolution was asking that the Christianity, as it is presented to our young people, not simply be a matter of fun and games.
As the resolution was debated it became quite evident that many of the delegates were not in favor of passing it because it seemed mean spirited. In other words, they thought it suggested that the leaders of our young people were not already doing what the resolution asked. Finally, the pastor who brought the resolution, by the way, on behalf of an elderly woman in his congregation, withdrew it. In doing so, he said, "I'll withdraw the resolution because this delegation is not worthy of its consideration."
He was, of course, labeled a radical and a conservative and, with that, his comments were summarily dismissed. I believe, however, he was correct. Too often we look at our faith in terms of what it can give us, namely, peace, hope, joy, certainly forgiveness. And all of those things are most certainly the blessings of life lived in Christ. Still, our faith in Christ may ultimately cost us something. The question is "have we considered discipleship from that direction?"
As we honor St. James today, we are implored to do so, that is, to look at our faith from the standpoint of what it may cost us. James believed that, even at the price of death, the Lordship of Jesus was worth confessing. Today he wears the crown of life and he continues to witness to the church, to you and to me. He calls us to remain steadfast in our faith. Mostly though, he bears witness to Jesus, who brought him to faith and who strengthened and sustained him in that faith, the very Jesus who has done the same for us. Yes, Lord…
"When our earthly race is run,
Death's bitter hour impending,
Then may Thy work in us begun
Continue till life's ending,
Until we gladly may commend
Our souls into our Savior's hand,
The crown of life obtaining."
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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