A juggler enters a monastery. He soon discovers that, unlike the other monks, he’s not good at typical monkish things: he can’t cook, he can’t sing, he has terrible handwriting. The only thing he can do is juggle, and what use is that? In despair, he goes one night to a statue of the Virgin Mary . . . and juggles—offering to her, as his prayer, the only thing he has.
The medieval French tale of the “Juggler of Our Lady” imparts a familiar lesson: God gives us gifts that God wants us to use and to offer back in prayer and worship. Our reading from Leviticus this morning gets at something similar: “When you enter the land I am giving to you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest” (Lev 23:10). This section of the reading is from the oldest layer of this passage, and significantly is directed not at the collective, or to priests, but to the individual farmer. “I have given you, as a gift, this land—you shall give me, as a gift, the fruits of that land.”
Tonight we conclude our Epiphany preaching series on following God’s call, reflecting on the Gift of Community. We are created for relationship, reflecting God’s nature. “Our human vocation to live in communion and mutuality is rooted in our creation in God’s image and likeness. The very being of God is community; the Father, Son and Spirit are One in reciprocal self-giving and love.”[i]
We are created to love mutually, to walk together, share, listen, teach, and encourage. In our brokenness, much can make us feel alienated, disconnected, and cut off. Choosing to turn toward each other to connect, welcome, and share heals and transforms. Life is about transformation, continual progression, ongoing conversion. God continually calls us onward into more together.
Yet we are often stuck in the past. Placed in memories, given labels and expectations. Memories of who we once jostling up against who we are now. Patterns of prior years are powerfully present though the players have changed.
Feast of Saint James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord, and Martyr, c 62
Acts 15: 12 – 22a
1 Corinthians 15: 1 – 11
Matthew 13: 54 – 58
If you have ever been to Jerusalem, you have perhaps found two of my favourite places. The first is quite easy to find, the Armenian Cathedral of St. James’, just near Jaffa Gate. The problem with the Cathedral is that it is only open when there are services on, and the best time to go is late afternoon for Vespers. It is sung by the cathedral clergy and students who attend the seminary across from the Cathedral. Once Vespers is over you have about 15 minutes to look around before being ushered out. I love the Cathedral, for obvious reasons. Who couldn’t love a cathedral dedicated not to one St. James but two!
The first St. James, the more familiar, is St. James the Apostle, brother of St. John and son of Zebedee. It is he, whose shrine at Compostela in Spain is at the end of the Camino, the pilgrim way that has become so popular in recent years. This St. James was beheaded by order of Herod Antipas and in a side chapel of the Cathedral, near the door, is his shrine. Spain has his body, but the Armenians in Jerusalem have his head.
1 Cor. 15:1-11
Today we commemorate James of Jerusalem and the First Council of the Church.
The Gospel Reading for today identifies James as a brother of Jesus (v.55). The First reading, from the Book of Acts tells us of the decision reached by James as the Spokesperson of the First Council of Jerusalem (vv. 19-21). The reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians gives us evidence of Jesus’ appearance to James following his Resurrection (v.7). From this the inclusion of James as an apostle and his leadership of the Council are implied.
That Council, and the decision made by James, are of tremendous importance for the identity of the Church. Freed from bondage to the Law of Moses it would no longer be considered as a sect of Judaism. While not denying roots in the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament, never the less, those coming to believe in Jesus Christ and his promises could begin to be a Body of Faithful believers, showing Jesus Christ to the World.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
We remember today a follower of Christ, a certain James of Jerusalem, but our memory fails us. We are not completely sure who this James is. In the Gospel according to Matthew, we hear that James is called Jesus’ brother. The same is true in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: James being named as Jesus’ brother.i