The path of Christ is a path of self-giving, vulnerable love, and you are called to that path, not with promises of safety but with confidence that the great Self-Giver is on the path with you in all things.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The feast of St. James, Apostle
Texts: Mark 10:35-45; Acts 11:27 – 12:3a; 1 Kings 19:9-18
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Fear and anxiety. That’s behind Elijah’s behavior. James’ and John’s, too.
And it’s legitimate in both cases.
Elijah’s hiding in a cave because the people of Israel have forsaken God’s covenant, torn down God’s altars, killed a number of prophets, and want to kill Elijah. God asks Elijah, “what are you doing here?” Elijah thinks it should be obvious: he’s trying to keep safe.
James and John ask a favor from Jesus that offends the others. But Jesus has just told his followers three separate times that he’s heading to Jerusalem to be killed. Maybe James, whose martyrdom we remember today, and his brother John, were trying to ignore the thought “we’re following someone on a path to certain torture and death and that might mean danger for us.” So tell us, they say, that it will be safe and we’ll be honored if we follow you.
God’s surprising answer to these concerns has nothing to do with being safe.
God says to Elijah, ignoring the doubled litany of fears, “fine, but I need you to go out and anoint a couple kings, and anoint your own successor.” There’s no reassurance that all will be well. No promise of safety. Just a mission God needs done.
And when God-in-our-flesh runs into James and his brother’s nervous hope for reassurance, the message is the same. If you’re following me, you have a path that goes through the same place mine does. It means being a servant to others, not rewards or safety. After all, the two honored places on Jesus’ right and left will be filled very soon by two criminals executed with him.
In short, Jesus says what he always says: my way is a way of self-giving, vulnerable love. If you want to follow me, that’s your way, too.
Now, I wonder: are you weary of always hearing about self-giving, vulnerable love?
You’d certainly be justified thinking that you hear it from this pulpit a lot. My only answer is, I’ll stop preaching it when Jesus stops calling us to it. Self-giving, vulnerable love is quite simply the thread that ties the whole Scriptures together, from the Hebrew Bible to the writings of the early Church. And Jesus’ teaching and modeling centers it all. The way of following Christ is love of God and love of neighbor, period. And God’s love for the cosmos, and each individual creature and creation, including you, is the shape of that Christly love. A love willing to lose all, to be wounded, even to die – that’s the line that weaves throughout all Scripture.
And Jesus gave his followers fair warning of this. Three times he gave them a stop sign: hold on, folks. I’m going to be killed on this path. Stop and consider whether you want to keep following. But, like Peter after the first one, James and his brother blew through all these warnings and, instead, asked for safety and security.
God’s call to you is to live your vulnerability and love in the world to change it. That, Elijah, and James, and the others learned, isn’t negotiable.
What is, of course, negotiable is whether you want to follow such a call or not.
It’s doubtful any who hear this sermon will be killed by a sword for their faithfulness, like James. But there are costs to this servant life God-with-us calls you to take.
Those of us who live with the privilege our society affords certain skin colors or gender identifications or social status and wealth, need to step away from that so we’re one with the rest of God’s children. Every part of that stepping away will cost. It will cost in the changing of the mind, changing of habits, changing of lifestyle. It will cost. It will hurt. It will not feel safe.
And everything else Jesus calls us to is the same. Forgiving someone close to you fully and freely will cost. It will hurt. It will not feel safe. Risking kindness and love to those whom you hate or who hate you, will cost. It will hurt. It will not feel safe. Participating in God’s justice and peace, including actively working against racism and violence and patriarchalism and climate abuse and all that ails our world, will cost. It will hurt. It will not feel safe.
And, as our vicar reminded us a couple weeks ago, even the Holy Spirit stirring in your heart is going to be unsettling at times. If the Spirit is changing you from within to be more like Christ, that’s going to cost in a lot of ways. It will hurt. It will not feel safe.
That’s your stop sign, the warning to those who wish to follow Christ.
But be careful not to blow through it and hope it’s all OK. That happens if you hear this call to Christly self-giving, vulnerable love week after week, and read it in your Bible, and it doesn’t change how you think of your life, your path, your choices.
God doesn’t give me the option to ignore this call and then pretend I’m still following Christ. God doesn’t give you the option of hearing the call and going back into your cave of safety untouched and then pretending you’re still following Christ.
You and I can definitely try to find a safe way to live our lives. A way that doesn’t challenge. A way that doesn’t commit us to being servants to others instead of being in control. A way that doesn’t ever affect how we live our day, make our choices, treat our neighbor, think about our world. We can hope for the good seats at God’s table or hope that if we hide in our bubbles we’ll be fine. That’s certainly an option.
What’s not an option is calling that way a faithful one. It is not discipleship. It is not of Christ. Elijah’s fears are met with a new job. James and John were warned that what happens to Jesus will likely happen to them. All could have avoided the danger. But then they wouldn’t be following God.
That’s the honesty God-with-us asks today. Take whatever path you choose. But be truthful – to yourself and to God at least – if you’re not willing to follow Christ’s path.
But remember: you and I are called to be servants, offering our lives for the world, by the God who is the great Servant.
The Triune God who made all things entered the creation and offered God’s life in self-giving, vulnerable love, showing this is the path to healing and life for each person, each creature, the whole creation. The one calling you to be a self-giving, vulnerable servant to all is the Servant kneeling at your feet, washing them in love, offering you life and hope and healing. That’s the wonder of Christ’s call.
If we follow, we do it with strength and grace and courage from the One who already walked this path. This path will cost you. It will hurt you. It won’t be safe. But you’ll never be alone on it, and nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ. James and so many others witness to this truth on the path of Christ, and to the healing of the world that God will do through you when you follow it.
In the name of Jesus. Amen