Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Feast of Saint James the Elder 7/25/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 9:30am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: StJames Bulletin

The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Feast of Saint James, click here. 

Salome brought her sons to the yet uncrowned King, because she recognized Him as such. Nevertheless, she couldn’t yet see that His crown would be made from twisted thorns, and His throne from the scaffold of hate.

Though Jesus is in fact King, He is not above the Law. He comes to serve, to give His life as a ransom for many. He has been anointed to die.

The bold request for her boys, James and John, the Sons of Thunder, to sit on Jesu’s right and left, annoys us. It’s presumptuous, vain, and even greedy. We scoff at the idea. Who do they think they are?

2,000 years later, we are no better than the 10, worried about their own position in heaven. Repent. What is it to you if James and John actually do sit at Jesus’ right and the left?

What would make these smelly and uncouth fishermen think they had the right? Grace. Thus, our Lord´s rebuke is not so harsh. He is patient. Though they did not know exactly what they were asking, they were on the right track. They believed and trusted that God loved them, that they were pure and worthy in Christ not only to be in the kingdom, but also to be honored in it. They were right.

They would drink the Cup He drank. But the exact nature and the timing of that honor is bestowed by the Father alone. It is not for men to begrudge. So don’t be shocked or disappointed that they asked for glory and got it. For this, Jesus laid down His life and whatsoever you ask in His Name, He bestows.

Of the Apostles, James drank from that cup first. He was the first of the twelve to feel Caesar´s wrath, the first to praise God with his blood. John was the last of the twelve.

John’s martyrdom was more tortuous and not nearly so glorious. It doesn´t inspire us. We don´t dress the Altar in red for St. John the Apostle. His martyrdom was inward, delayed and prolonged. He had to tarry here after his loved ones and his brothers had gone on. He had to contend against the flesh and Hell´s seduction for more years than they. He was the disciple Jesus loved and more was asked of him than of the others.

The Zebedee boys and their mother knew that in the Kingdom of God the lowly are exalted. But they still did not realize that the lowly are exalted to lowly things. For in the Kingdom of Grace the King is a slave, the strong are weak, the faithful are full of doubts, the victors lose, the living die, and the masters serve.

The Son of Man buys back rebels who still hate Him, who mock, spit upon, and crucify Him. He submits to their violence to bring them peace, and lets them do their worst to Him that He might do His best to them.

What shall we render unto the Lord for all His benefits, all His grace, all His love? We shall take more! We shall take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of Lord. We shall not repay Him to whom we owe all things. Instead, He pays us!

He gives us not just the laborer´s wages for work we did not do. He gives us all the vineyard´s bounty. We harvest where we did not sow. We bask in light we did not earn. We are blessed with prosperity we do not deserve. Our cups overflow. The Son of Man serves us. He lives to serve us. The stars sparkle in the heavens for no more reason than to give us light! All creation groans, waiting for the revelation that you are a son of God and the end of the curse.

Our Lord does not grow angry with James, John, and Salome. For He is good, and His mercy endures forever.

He is kind.

He is gracious.

He is patient.

He is forgiving.

So let James and John look like fools for their presumption. They recognize the heart of God and rejoice in it. They are bold to ask, to not fear God´s wrath for it. Though they were corrupt and impure,  nonetheless, they desired a good and noble thing. They wanted a place in Jesus’ Kingdom. And though they knew not what they asked, God provided for them.

We honor James this day with the Martyr´s red. Whatever his weaknesses were, he did not love his life to death. He confessed the truth. He drank the Cup of Salvation in the Cup of suffering and martyrdom. He learned to cast aside all thoughts of pride, ambition, and glory, and desire nothing more than God Himself, communion with Him and the future to come.

The Holy Spirit woke these sleepy, ambitious boys up with tongues of fire. He sent them out into the world like lambs among wolves, like Christ among men. They bore witness to the goodness of God in Christ Jesus. They played the part of fools again and again and again.

They preached this Man, Jesus, crucified for treason as though that was His intention and His love, as though saying out loud in plain speech that He is alive and not dead, and the only-begotten Son of God.

They preached and they taught. They did not profit, nor did they boast. Their glory was not of this plane. They were men sentenced to death, a spectacle to the world and to men.

They welcomed that death as the portal to life. They were fools for Christ: brash, impetuous, fearful, and even doubting. Yet Christ died and rose for them. He perfected and forgave them. He taught them to wait, same as us.

In all of this, they are examples for us. They were glad to play the fool, to record for us their faults and their sins, their ambition and their pride, so that we would better know and show forth the grace of God in Christ.

We join with them, fools all, and the whole company of heaven in the Holy Communion. We drink the Cup He drank. The Son of Man serves us with His Body and His Blood. He feeds us with His Flesh.

He unites us to Himself and to those on His right and on His left. He repeats the promise: “I love you. There is a place for you in my Kingdom. I am coming back.”

Thanks be to God for St. James. May God deliver us to such glory. May His lifeblood flow in our veins.


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