St. James the Elder, Apostle

St. James the Elder.21 “Glory Hounds” Mark 10:35-45

One of the big (perhaps, for modern people, unsurmountable) problems with Christianity is that the most exemplary Christians—the 12 Apostles chief of all—are glory hounds. If you asked them, “So, why are you neck deep in this Xn Stuff? What do you hope to get out of it?” They would answer “Glory”. They chased after glory nakedly, unapologetically. And each wanted all the Glory the universe has on offer, wanted IT more than life itself—as we see today with St. James the Greater, Apostle and Martyr. The Apostles all would certainly have encouraged us in what we are doing this morning—setting aside a day of feasting to remember them, the most glorious of all, to get us chasing after IT ourselves…

Now, I would wager the modern world (to say nothing of the ancient!) finds that utterly repellent, goes: “Ugh! Gross! That is so Selfish! Thank God we have come to see that Unselfishness is the greatest of the virtues, and have moved beyond such childlike and selfish pursuits for glory and honor, praise and approval, having become altruistichaving learned to ignore our own deepest desires, and to care more for others than for ourselves!”

And yet, here we are: commemorating St. James the Elder, Apostle and Martyr today (we could have done the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, but I like the old tradition better—of observing the feast days for the saints whenever they come on a Sunday, as today with St. James’ the Greater (a more literal translation of his ancient title than “elder”—and yes, Virginia, there was a St. James the Less too; like it’s a competition not an exhibition!). “Oh, pastor! We worry about you! But why do stuff like this? We thought you were working on that selfish/childish thing of yours?”

Well, I am; I’m trying to be more selfish, more childish because, truth be told: I’m a glory hound, too. I want what Saints James, John, Peter, and Paul are having—more than life itself, honestly. And I’m not only not sorry for that, but actually: I would urge you with all the wit, erudition, (and boyish charm 🙂 that God has given me to join me in the chase for Glory yourselves—to be saints like James the Greater, yourself…

Especially in these two qualities St. James exemplifies in our Gospel today: 1) he’s childish. Only a child would demand glory like James does. I know being childish is considered a bad thing, in our world. But, somewhere (in the Bible, I think?) Jesus says becoming thoroughly childish is like… the one thing needful? Like the only way to enter heaven? It is—because, Thing 2) he’s selfish but not self-centered: whereas adults pretend to be interested in others but really think only of themselves, James, is like a little kid—his mind is directed toward a thousand things, not one of which is himself. He takes the best (even at our expense) and glories in other, greater, holy, divine things.

You’re still skeptical, even more than last week at this point in the sermon. Well, let’s go at it another Way:

James and John are, beyond dispute, Saints—very great ones—exemplary, in fact. Jesus says so in the Bible (and the favorite Lutheran saint, St. Paul, says they are both greater than he is, BTW). And they, beyond dispute, are glory hounds. That’s what our Gospel for the commemoration of St. James the Greater shows and why it’s chosen for today!

James and John come up to Jesus and say “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” [Because Jesus told them whatever they ask him in prayer they will get.] And Jesus goes, with a wry grin, “What do you want?” And they say, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left—in your glory.” Jesus says “You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink and be baptized with my baptism?” They say, “We are able!” And Jesus says they are able indeed, but those spots they’re asking for are not his to grant, but are already assigned

Now, to be blunt, save time: the only way you could deny that being a glory hound like James and John is a Good Thing, perhaps the one thing needful?, is if you think Jesus rebukes them for asking this. But does he? Where does Jesus say: “You’re asking the wrong thing!” to James and John? Well, nowhere! It is the other 10 Apostles who are indignant with James and John, not Jesus, let the the reader understand!

Jesus calls them together not to rebuke them for being glory hounds, but, rather, to warn them they are looking for love, er Glory, in all the wrong places. The crucified Jesus is the Glorious One. His great glory is from serving, dying, not bossing or lording. James and John want to sit at Christ’s right and left hands, to bask in his glory. This is the Way! But only by holy baptism and Jesus’ blood, will they ever surely find the glory they seek—shining from a cross on Golgotha.

The only caveat is that IT might be more and greater than you could ever imagine!

C.S. Lewis, in my favorite of all his writings, a little essay called “The Weight of Glory” which you all should read, notes that glory is undeniably one of the essential components of Heaven’s Bliss and it is pictured in a twofold way: first, as fame or approval, and second, as shining brilliantly. Lewis says we struggle with both concepts because, as Modern People, we’ve substituted Unselfishness for Love as the greatest virtue and false modesty for glory. This makes us think that the quest for glory is not virtuous or godly.

Lewis admits: we’re rightly scornful of those who seek fame in the sense of human approval. But pleasing God, being famous with HIM, approved by Him, delighted in by Him is exactly what we are made for—to, at Last!—hear God say to us: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” That’s glory! That’s Heaven’s Bliss, right there! That’ll makes us shine like the Son!

Lewis describes it well:

“I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a good child as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised—like a dog or a horse. Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years, prevented me from understanding what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike of pleasures—the specific pleasure of the inferior, of a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator. I am not forgetting how horribly this most innocent desire is parodied in our human ambitions, or how very quickly, in my own experience, it turns into the deadly poison of self-admiration. But I thought I could detect a moment—very short!—before this happened, during which the satisfaction of having pleased those whom I rightly loved and rightly feared was pure… What will happen then, when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly all belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please? There will be no room for vanity then! She will be free from the miserable illusion that it was her doing. With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made her to be… Perfect humility dispenses with modesty. If God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself.”

“Oh, the glory of it all/ was lost on me…” but it can be found by glory hounds, crucified like St. James with Christ, by baptism, through faith, in the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.


About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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