Feast of the Apostle James / Sixth Sunday of Luke, October 23, 2016
Galatians 1:11-19; Luke 8:26-39
Very Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Today we celebrate one of the most prominent saints of the New Testament who is not one of the Twelve Apostles. Today is the feast of St. James the Brother of God. He is called this because he was the son of Joseph the Betrothed and therefore essentially the step-brother of Jesus. He would have known Jesus when He was a boy, though James was probably a good bit older than his step-brother. He was also appointed by the Apostles as the first bishop of the city of Jerusalem.
On this feast day, the epistle reading comes not from James’ own epistle, which is found in the New Testament, but rather from one of Paul’s epistles, Galatians. This passage is chosen for this feast because of how it ends. Paul is describing how he came to have his ministry as an apostle, and he mentions this: “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles, except James, the Lord’s brother.”
Since we are given this epistle passage to read today, I wanted to spend a little time with it especially in the context of a theme I am introducing today. This theme is one chosen especially to connect with a time of year in which we start to do several things in our parish. Around this time, we begin thinking about our personal stewardship to God, expressed as giving through our parish. We also are not far away from our annual parish meeting, where we elect new members for our parish council and review where we’ve been.
We’re also just a few weeks away from the civil holiday of Thanksgiving, where we think about all that we have been given and thank God for it. And Thanksgiving of course means that the year is winding down, so we reflect on the year that is past and we look to the year that is to come.
What does all of this add up to? What is the common theme? It may not seem obvious, but here is the question I would like us to ask ourselves for the next several weeks:
What is our mission as a parish? Why do we exist? Why should we continue to exist? What are we trying to accomplish? That’s our theme for the next several weeks: What is our mission?
There are lots of ways that we can answer this question, but one jumps right out from the page when we read these words from St. Paul today. Let’s hear the beginning of this epistle reading again.
Paul starts out this way: “I make known to you that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man; for neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me by revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Our community is named for St. Paul, so it’s only right that we should reflect his personality, but what he says here could actually be spoken by any Christian, and it says something very critical, very central about what the mission of a Christian church is.
What is our mission? It is to preach the Gospel which does not come from man but from God.
I want to start with the latter part of that statement, that this Gospel is not man-made. People often think that that’s what religion is, even Christian religion. But it’s not. This is not something we made up. It’s not something Paul made up. It’s not something even the Twelve Apostles made up. It came by revelation from God.
Paul of course got that revelation in a very dramatic way—he was knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus by the voice of the Son of God Himself. But even if we don’t have as dramatic an experience of revelation from God, we are still getting that revelation from God and not from man.
It was God Himself Who came here as a man to give us this Gospel. This good news isn’t invented by any man. It’s good news from God, issued directly from the King of Kings to the whole world through His Son Jesus Christ.
We cannot overemphasize this. When we are sharing our faith with people, what we are sharing is not some brilliant religious method devised by very smart or very pious people to get good religious “results.” What we are sharing is nothing less than a message from God Himself to all the people of the Earth, the message that God Himself has come as our Messiah, trampling down death by dying Himself, that He rose from the dead, and that we can be saved as a result.
This isn’t some cute story invented by people who want to feel better about a mysterious, unexplainable world and a mysterious, unexplainable afterlife. This is a thunder-crack that reverberates throughout time itself, sent into history by none other than God.
This Gospel, this good news is God saying something to us directly. It cuts through all the opinion and all the chatter and all the garbage of man’s attempt to figure things out and gives us the straight answer that we’ve been looking for, the answer for how to overcome death and all its effects in our souls and bodies.
So what is our mission? Our mission is from God.
That might sound crazy to put it that way, but it really is. Just like Paul, we have been given this Gospel by God, not by any man. And because it’s from God, that means two things which are both very practical when it comes to our mission:
First, it means that this message has credibility. Our mission has credibility because it comes from God, not from any of us. We don’t have to worry that it won’t hold up in the mad marketplace of ideas, because it doesn’t come from that marketplace. It’s from God.
And that means that this message has power when it’s preached. It has power when the Holy Spirit moves in someone’s heart in response to the preaching. It has power because it came forth originally from the power of God.
Second, that this message is from God and not from man means that we can’t ignore it. There are plenty of man-made messages that we can ignore. After all, they’re just people’s ideas, right? Some are true and some are false. Some are important and some are not. But this is a message from God, the Gospel from God. And we can’t ignore it.
We can’t afford to ignore it. When God says, “I have a message I want you to give to the people around you, to your family, to your friends, to your co-workers, to your whole sphere of influence and communication,” you don’t just say, “Oh, that’s nice” or “Okay, maybe if I have nothing better to do” or “That’s just for certain people.” No, this is a message from God to all of mankind, a message given to us His holy Church to pass on to the world.
Like Paul, we have received a revelation from God and we do not dare to ignore it, not just because it has to be preached to the whole world but because if we dare to waste this most precious pearl of great price by not preaching it to the world, then we should fear for our own souls—it will not go well with us on the Judgment Day!
So as we think about our mission as a parish for the next several weeks, what we learn today is this: What is our mission? It is to preach the Gospel which does not come from man but from God.
And what does that mean for us? It means that the mission has divine power and credibility and also that we had better take it seriously and that we ignore it to our peril. So let’s move.
To our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, Who is our Good News, be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.