Here is my sermon from this morning. Because so little is known about James, only a scant few mentions in the Bible, listed as one of Jesus’ siblings in Matthew, one of the early witnesses of the Resurrection in I Corinthians, and his role in the Council of Jerusalem. Everything else comes either from tradition or legend. But I feel that first Council was vital to the growth of the early Church, and dealing with the relationship of Christian teaching and Jewish law and customs. I only had a short time in which to get my ideas together with the previous week being my annual personal retreat in which I immersed myself in a significant book dealing with early monastic (principally Benedictine) spirituality by Dom Jean Leclercq, 0SB, of Clairvaux Abbey, Belgium, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God. Then, directly upon my return from Glastonbury Abbey, Hingham, I was greeted with the news of Br. Tom Shaw’s death an hour earlier. So between the SSJE Community working out plans for the funeral (to be Nov. 1) and keeping up with the daily routine of our monastic life, including Yesterday being the monthly Retreat Day, I wasn’t able to be as thorough as I should have been. Looking back at the readings this morning, too late to include anything in the sermon, I saw how James made reference to the Old Testament Prophets Amos and Daniel, who spoke of openness to the Gentiles.
Anyway, here it is.
Today we commemorate James,
“Brother of the Lord.” Some sources say he was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. The event for which he is best known is his role as Presider of the Council of Jerusalem, the first recorded Council of the Church. Our reading from The Acts of the Apostles was about this council. The purpose of this Council was to clarify how many of the customs of Judaism were to be observed by Gentiles becoming believers in Jesus. (Acts 15:1-5)
As the apostles and elders began their meeting to discuss how much of the Mosaic Law was to be required of Gentile converts, there was much debate.
I think Peter’s contribution was an important part of the discussion. It comes shortly before today’s reading from Actsbegins. We should pay attention to his testimony, at least this part: “Why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:11)
Following the testimony of Barnabas and Paul about their ministry to Gentiles, James summed up the discussion with the following statement:
“We should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols, and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.” (Ibid. vv19-20) (I.e. things opposed to upright teaching.)
Down through the centuries many councils and synods have followed that one. We have seen in our newspapers that the recent Synod of [Roman Catholic] Bishops.
In Rome they introduced much renewed thinking about marriage, about relationships between people and the Church, and people with one another. Much of this has yet to be acted on.
Sometimes the decisions of the various Councils have gone one way, and other times they have gone some other way.
Now, as we draw near to the Annual Convention of this Diocese, we can try to keep Peter’s words in our minds:
“We believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” as we pray that all who turn to God through the ministry of the Church will be saved.” Amen!
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