Philip and James, Apostles
At one time in my life, I had a rector who referred to this feast as that of Pip and Jim. At first, I was a little confused. I thought I had misheard him. It took a few moments to sink in. At last, it clicked. Right. Philip and James, Pip and Jim. Got it. Since then, this day has always been Pip and Jim to me.
As much as I would like to spend the next several minutes waxing eloquently about St. James the Apostle, who is the Jim half of our apostolic duo, there is actually not much to say about him. One source sums up James in these words: The son of Alpheus is often but not certainly identified with the James whose mother stood by Christ on the Cross, and also with James ‘the brother of the Lord’ who saw the risen Christ and is often called the first bishop of Jerusalem. He is also sometimes identified with the author of the Epistle of James. If none of these identifications are correct, we know practically nothing about James the Less.
If what we can say about James, is cloaked in uncertainty, then there’s not a whole heck of a lot to go on. We are not even sure why he is called the Less. Was it to distinguish him from James the Great, the son of Zebedee, or from James the Brother of the Lord? Was it because he was young, or short? Again, there is not much we can say with any certainty about this James the Less.
Philip, Deacon and Evangelist
‘Hey! Do you go to church? Why?’ ‘Are you a Christian? Why? Just tell me in a few words.’ What would you say? If you only had 30 seconds, a kind of ‘elevator speech’, what would you say? ‘I go to church because…’ If you don’t say anything, you may have lost an opportunity. St Peter in this first letter tells us, ‘Always be ready to give an account for the hope that is in you.’ So, what would your 30 second account be?
Today we give thanks for a man who was always ready to give such an account. His name was Philip, and along with Stephen and five others, he was chosen by the apostles to be one of the first deacons in the church. Each of the seven men chosen exercised their vocation in different ways, but Philip was above all, an evangelist. And he must have been a wonderful evangelist because in the whole of the New Testament, filled with apostles and teachers and prophets, Philip is the only person to be called an evangelist. In Acts chapter 21, St Paul writes that, ‘When we came to Caesarea, we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him,’
It is probably strange to hear this morning’s gospel text in light of the current state of our world. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Scenes of evangelism may be a challenge for us all right now. Rather than being sent out into the world, we find ourselves compelled to remain at home and distance ourselves from those we might otherwise wish to serve, up close and in person. We are not presently going, there are no homes into which we might safely venture, no opportunities for face to face discussion, study, or prayer.
Yet we still hear Jesus’s call, even in the midst of a crisis that would see us shrink back and retreat from the world to which we have been called to bring God’s love. Go.
Thankfully various technologies—especially the internet—have afforded us valuable ways to overcome the sharpness of our physical separation from one another. Although I count myself among the world’s stubborn luddites, I cannot imagine rising to meet the present moment without the advantages of our own community’s presence on social media and other web interfaces. Much like those Christians of the fifteenth century, who experienced for the first time a new kind of evangelistic media (the printing press), we have heretofore unexplored worlds of potential set before us.