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The Rt Revd Dr Peter Brain

On 25 July our Prayer Book bids us to remember the example of James, the brother of John, that we might emulate his commitment to our Lord and Saviour.

He is described as Saint James, not because he was closer to God than us, nor because the church canonised him, but simply because he was a committed follower of Jesus. This is the way the word saint is used in the New Testament where it describes ordinary believers, often in tandem with the words the faithful in Christ Jesus. It is a status word not a performance word, that reminds us that we are saved only because of God’s grace. However, we are saved to serve and obey our Lord, as the Collect reminds us to pray.

Grant, O merciful God, that as thine holy Apostle Saint James, leaving his father and all that he had, without delay was obedient unto the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him; so we, forsaking all worldly and carnal affections, may be ever more ready to follow thy holy commandments; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We know from the set reading that James was not perfect. Matthew 20:20-28 records the time when, along with his brother and mother, they jockeyed for the best places in the Kingdom. For this they received a rebuke from our Lord along with an admonition that true greatness in God’s kingdom was to be the servant of all, after the pattern of Jesus own humble self-giving sacrifice of himself on the Cross.

The Collect reminds us that the way of Christ is the way of grace. No servant of Christ is anything other than a forgiven and redeemed sinner. A recent book by John Piper called ‘27 Servants of Sovereign Grace’ has this healthy reminder in its sub-title ‘Faithful, Flawed and Fruitful’. James, the other apostles, and we, are all flawed. This truth drives us to our knees in repentance, to Christ for pardon and to the Holy Spirit for daily strength to remain faithful and obedient in fruitful in service.

Having obeyed our Lord’s call to become a follower of Jesus and fisher of people, James did not look back to find security in the family business. He was called to the Father’s family business of winning people for Christ. That he did this without delay becomes a constant example not to procrastinate in serving discipleship.

The request in the Collect, so we, forsaking all worldly and carnal affections, is the kind of prayer we do well to pray regularly since the pull of the world, which we promised to forsake in our baptism and confirmation, has the habit of diluting our zeal, diverting our focus, dividing our loyalties, darkening our vision and discrediting our witness. Carnal affections are those that reveal our allegiance to self and the world above our commitment to our holy God. They can easily become the focus of our life when we are no longer committed to God’s holy commandments.

James’ allegiance, fortified by obedience led to his death at Herod’s hands in AD 44. Likewise, we should not be surprised, indeed we ought to expect that Godly discipleship will regularly put us out of step with the world. And this is why this prayer is so apposite for us. Only by living out of step with the world and our own feelings will we be of any use to the world. Saints are called to be different. God’s grace demands that we are. But God’s grace will always strengthen us to fulfill this calling. Believers need not fear death since as for James it meant his welcome into glory.

Mercifully the grace that James received to follow Jesus, then experienced in Jesus’ rebuke that led to his obedient following of his Saviour even unto death, is the same for all disciples. Our calling to forsake all carnal and worldly affections, in the interests of joyful fellowship with him, is for our witness to the world.

Published in Messenger July 2023

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