St. James, Jesus’ Brother

St. James Lutheran, Glen Carbon, Oct. 23, 2016

Day of James, Brother of our Lord – Matthew 13:54-58

There are two names connected with the ministry of Jesus which often leave me confused.  I can’t keep all the Mary’s straight.  The other name is James.  Three James are mentioned in the gospels and today church commemorates one of them.  This congregation is named after one of them.  Two of them are disciples’ of Jesus and one is Jesus’ younger brother.

The first James with his brother John were among the first whom Jesus chose as his disciples.  On one occasion James and John offered to call down some fire from heaven upon a Samaritan village who turned Jesus away.  Jesus straightened them out in short order. He came not to destroy people but to save them.  They were nicknamed, “Sons of Thunder.” Later, their mother lobbied Jesus to appoint her sons his left and right hand men when the kingdom of God arrived.  Jesus told her that was none of her business.  This James did witness the resurrection and was killed by Herod Agrippa in about ten years later.   But He gets his day on July 25.

Nor is this the day of James, the Son of Alpheaus, also one of Jesus’ disciples of whom we know nothing else.  He shares May 1, with Philip, the Apostle.

This is the day of James, Jesus younger brother.   He wrote the letter near the end of the New Testament advising us to count it all joy, when we meet trials. He encourages us to remain steadfast, because we will receive the crown of life.  Part of living in our Lord Jesus Christ, is to treat everyone the same.  Activate our faith by being a doer of the word and not only a hearer.  Faith without works is dead, he wrote.  His letter is a practical guide to living our life in Christ.

James became a leader in the early church.  At the first church council meeting in Jerusalem the early Christians were trying decide how much of the Jewish practices, like dietary laws and circumcision, should be imposed on newly converted Gentiles.   He along with Peter didn’t think the Gentiles should be burdened with what the Jews themselves couldn’t uphold.  As a result, we have our Christian freedom from all the rules and regulations of the Jews.  It’s Christ alone; not Christ plus a bunch of other things.

However, James was not a disciple of Jesus during his ministry.  But he did witness Jesus’ resurrection.  At some point he did come to believe in Jesus.  However, now I want to take us back to Jesus’ last appearance in his home town of Nazareth, when James and his family still had doubts about their older brother.  Matthew 13:54-58;

54 Coming into his hometown, (Jesus) taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom, and these mighty works? 55 Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother called Mary, and his brothers, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56 Aren’t all of his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all of these things?” 57 They were offended by him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and in his own house.” 58 He didn’t do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

It was the Sabbath and the villagers came to their synagogue. The baker, the barber, the soap makers, and sandal makers, the stonemason and brick maker.  The potter closed his shop.  The meals had all been prepared.  No one worked on the Sabbath.  The word in Nazareth was that their hometown boy, Jesus, would be returning to teach and preach that day.

Now Jesus too had come from a busy time.  He had been teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven which was coming near. He compared the Kingdom of Heaven to seeds sown in a field in which some took root and produced bumper crops, but other seeds didn’t survive.  The Kingdom was like a mustard seed which begins small and grows, or like yeast which quietly and invisibly expands and grows.  The Kingdom is like a hidden treasure that a person finds and sells everything he has in order to buy it, or an expensive pearl.  The kingdom is like a net cast out in the water which catches all sorts of fish.  AT the end of his parables, Jesus asked his disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” They said, “Yes.”

But some didn’t understand that the kingdom of heaven was Jesus himself come to earth in the flesh.  Nor did some believe his powerful works, raising a dead girl to life, healing a woman with a 12-year hemorrhage, restoring sight to the blind, and casting out demons.  They took umbrage when he declared that the person’s faith made them well or when Jesus forgave people their sins.  He was accused of casting out demons with the power of the prince of demons.  Jesus said that some will see, but not see and some would hear and not hear and not understand.

Now the kingdom of heaven had come home to visit Nazareth.  He taught in their synagogue.  He taught that the poor in spirit are blessed for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such people.  He taught that the meek would inherit the earth; that the pure in heart would see God; the peacemakers would be called sons of God.  He taught them to pray, “Our Father in heaven, holy be your name; Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”   Jesus brought all of that wisdom to his hometown synagogue and powerful acts that showed that he was waging war on evil, and sickness and death.  His very name was God’s Savior.  Think of it, Nazareth had seen God’s Savior grow up in their midst.

At first the people were astonished, amazed that their hometown boy had such gifts of wisdom and had done such powerful miracles.  But then someone said, “Wait a minute.  Where did he get all this?  He didn’t go away to school.  We know his family.  There’s Mary his mother.  And his younger brothers, James, Joseph, Simon, Jude and all his sisters.  They aren’t anything special. Where did this guy get all these things? Who does he think he is?”  They got their noses out of joint.  He was too human to be the Messiah. Jesus, himself was an obstacle to believing that the Kingdom of heaven was present in their synagogue that Sabbath.

His hometown people knew him and yet they did not know that the depth and the wisdom and glory of God were in this oldest son of Mary and her carpenter husband.  They despised him.  Their attitude anticipated the question which would later be raised in Jerusalem, “By what authority are you doing these things.”  They were forerunners of the complete fulfillment of Isaiah 53, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him…He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

So we come here this Sunday, with all that has happened in the last week.  We come with our joys and our troubles.  We come because, well that’s what we do on Sunday morning.  But also because of Jesus carried our sorrows, crushed for our iniquities, and wounded for our transgressions. Because he bore our stripes and took our punishment, we have peace with God and are healed of all our sin.  We are, as we will remember next week, both sinner and saint.  Or as one person wrote, “A Christian congregation is the same mixed bag any Christian person-feet of clay and crown of glory, simultaneously.  Held together in a tension sustained solely by God’s grace.”  In a few minutes we will receive Jesus in the ordinary elements of bread and wine, which will accomplish great things in us; the forgiveness of sins, our life in Christ strengthened and we have salvation from eternal death.

Yes, Jesus has come to St. James today and we along with St. James of old are blessed members of his older brother’s family.

 

 

 

 

 

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