Saint James Episcopal Church
203 E. Glendale St.
P.O. Box 1374
Dillon, MT 59725
406-683-2735 (Cell) 334-332-3222
August 4, 2019
I have really enjoyed talking about the Kingdom of God since we entered Ordinary Time some weeks ago. The Kingdom is a vital aspect of our journey as Christian people, so that we know where we are going—not just wandering around in the wilderness.
Remember that we should try not to think of the Kingdom of God as a place or even a destination. The purpose of life is not getting to heaven so much as glorifying God every day of our lives. The Kingdom is more a state of mind, or what T.S. Eliot named in his poem, “Little Gidding,” to be the path of a person’s life, a journey in which: We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.
We have a problem in the Episcopal Church, and it afflicts many good people in the pews. We tend to fall in love with the Church. And it’s no wonder. The Church is beautiful, extremely well cared for, a place of peace and quietness. The Church, and the prayers we offer here, are what George Herbert described as
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, Exalted manna, gladness of the best, Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
So of course we fall in love with the Episcopal Church. But here’s the rub: The Church is not our possession, as much as we might love it, care for it, and call it our own. The Church does not belong to us, whether we have been here for generations or we were baptized here last Sunday.
It gets worse: One of the biggest mistakes we Episcopalians make comes in worshipping the Church itself, the trappings and outward appearances, the memorials and paraments, the beauty of holiness rather than God—who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—not book or pew, not flower or vase, not window or carved wood.
We cannot, and must not, overlook the Lord for gazing upon stained glass and polished brass. We must not, and cannot, forgot that we worship the Lord, and only him shall we serve.
The prophet Hosea warned us of such idolatry, and that is precisely what it is—idolatry, a form of baalism, a worship of wood and stone, of jewels and gold—and he called the people back to true worship of YHWH, the mysterious God of the Desert. Even when the People of Israel were bowing to the baals, YHWH did not destroy them. No, YHWH led them back to true worship with chesed, a Hebrew word meaning “loving-kindness.”
Modern human beings, including Episcopalians, are no strangers to idolatry. In fact, it may be true that the worship of things has become so widespread and so pervasive in our own culture that idolatry is hardly even noticed any more.
Idolatry is the worship of things, but idolatry takes many forms. Many Americans have left all vestiges of their parents’ and grandparents’ religious faith. “Church is boring,” they say. “My church is in the woods, or on the Beaverhead.” And if they are angry or defensive, they might say, “I don’t need some preacher telling me I’m going to hell. I believe in God. Just leave me alone.”
And if that works for you, then Sunday mornings are for golf and tennis and fly-fishing and hunting and a hundred other distractions.
Where I come from, there is a new religion that takes hold with an iron grip every fall. It is COLLEGE FOOTBALL, an affiliation stronger than church or carved idol. People spend thousands of dollars each year on tickets and sky boxes, RVs and game-day condos, without a second thought for the poor, the stranger, the sick, or those in need—except maybe to say, “it’s their own fault anyway, now where’s my Bloody Mary?”
The result is that we now live in an Age of Distraction. Our young people are all on their iPhones or iPads or video games or headphones, and the older ones are distracted by television, gambling, alcohol, prescription drugs, and of course sports.
We need to return to the Age of Responsibility, to which we were called on the Day of Pentecost. We were empowered with the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit, and we have done very little to receive them, develop them, or use them for the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbors and our world.
We need to return to an understanding of the otherness of God. This can be most helpful for a people grown soft and complacent with comfortable religion, with the prosperity gospel, and with the newest idols like 4K High Definition TVs, Four-Wheelers, and only God Knows What’s Next!
We need to remember that we already have a King, and it is this King we serve and worship. This King is All in All for us—not to be taken for granted, not reduced to our “Buddy Jesus” or some kind of spiritual magician. This King is Lord of all. Maker of Heaven and Earth. Ruler of the Universe.
We live in his Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. We don’t occupy it, or rule it, or shape it to fit our needs and designs. We care for this Kingdom of God. And we are responsible for our behavior in the Kingdom of God. As Paul told the Colossians, we have been “raised with Christ to the things that are above” and we are called to live a life that is different—holy and blessed.
“Get rid of the old self,” said Paul, and clothe yourself with the “new self.”
Let’s be honest. You and I know that Paul was high-strung, intense, and given to conflict with others in the churches. But he was often right. He warned the Colossians, “the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things--anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.” Paul knew what had been going on, and he knew that things had to change. “Do not lie to one another.”
Idolatry at its foundation is nothing more than greed, and Jesus warned us plainly, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Pay close attention to Jesus and he will set you right. He will remind you to support the Wood Bank and give to the Food Pantry. He will make you a better person, generous and kind, gentle and loving—and he will fit you for heaven by showing you how to live in his Kingdom now. AMEN.
July 21, 2019
JAMES THE GREATER: SON, BROTHER, DISCIPLE, MARTYR, SAINT
I grew up in a family of six brothers—Mike, Wick, Wells, Jim, Joe, and Andy. Fifty years ago, we lived in what was then a small town, about the size of Dillon, and I have made a lifelong habit of living and working in small towns—with a couple of brief and notable exceptions. It was a good life, a great way to grow up—knowing your neighbors and school teachers, having close friends all the way through school and into adulthood. So what I want to begin telling you about James the son of Zebedee is that I am familiar with how he grew up, the kind of family in which he was probably raised, and the expectations that his parents, his friends and neighbors had of him.
James was the older of two boys born to Zebedee, a Galilean fisherman, and his wife Salome. Very early in their lives, James and his brother John went to work for their father, and they learned to trim the sail and man the oars, to cast and haul and mend the nets. The boys toiled alongside Zebedee, and they worked long hours, at humble, hard, and demanding work, and they committed themselves with a single-minded determination to a life of sacrifice for their parents—whom they loved and admired—and for each other.
There was little time or opportunity for school or study except on the Sabbath, but James and John learned what they could and quickly. Zebedee and Salome encouraged them to read Torah, to learn the sacred stories, and to apply themselves to the ways and truths revealed to the People of God. This was fairly typical of Jewish families living in Palestine in the first century AD.
Then Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”
And passing along by the Sea of Galilee, the Lord first came upon Simon and Andrew casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. It was a clear day, and the sun was in their eyes. They looked up and saw Jesus. And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him.
This is how things happen, you see. There is no time to think and plan and study. No time to contemplate or ruminate or reflect. It’s yes or no. You jump out of the boat and follow Jesus, or not. Or perhaps you realize that you’ve been making up your mind all along.
James and John were good sons, although they left their mother and father with work to do and no explanation. All they could hear and accept was, “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is here; believe in the Good News.”
They were not alone for long. Jesus called eight more young men as they made their journey—disciples, you might call them, students of a rabbi, their teacher, their master. He called many more followers, men and women. And a number of women became his strongest supporters and most devoted friends.
His words were compelling, gentle but overwhelming, kind but demanding of action, sincere and hopeful and filled with grace and blessing and the possibility of new life. They listened eagerly, carefully, and they were changed by what Jesus said. But even more—they were changed by what Jesus did. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He cast out demons. He gave sight to the blind. He taught the way of love over violence and hate; the power of joy over despair. Jesus spoke of God in a new way, with understanding and hope, and he filled their hearts and minds with a peace beyond all understanding.
It was as they came closer to Jerusalem that everything seem to begin to unravel, to come apart, as if the center could not hold. Jesus was not disturbed, but his followers were. That old impatience, that hot-headed temper of James and his brother was returning. The Lord would tease them on occasion, calling them, “the Sons of Thunder,” for their loud conversations and impassioned arguments. And they had learned control, until they encountered the hatred and scorn of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Priests of the Temple. Jesus ordered all of them to avoid violence, especially Simon Peter.
Then came the arrest, the trials before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. The Lord was beaten terribly and condemned to death, and there was nothing James and John and the others could do. They were afraid and uncertain, and most of them hid away in the upper room of the house where they had last all been together. Only the women remained by the Lord’s side, at the foot of the cross, at the edge of chaos.
But hope was not defeated. Crucified, he rose from the dead. Resurrected, he appeared to them countless times over many weeks. And on Pentecost, they received the promised Holy Spirit—and all of them were changed forever. The Lord’s triumph over death became their sure and certain hope. The new powers of the Spirit became their swords and shields. Miraculously, they were no longer afraid.
James and his brothers and sisters in Christ became legendary for their newfound abilities to strengthen and to heal, to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the ends of the earth, and literally, to change the world.
James demonstrated his love and devotion to the Lord most earnestly by becoming the first martyr among the original Twelve Disciples. He was beheaded by soldiers of King Herod, an act which was to stop the spread of the Gospel. Instead, it became fire from heaven and lit up the known world with passion for the love of Christ.
James was not perfect or scholarly. He was not always gentle or easy to get along with. Let’s remember: James and John were called Boanerges, the “Sons of Thunder.” But James was still a follower of Christ. He was a Son, a Brother, a Disciple, an Apostle of the Lord, a Martyr of the Faith, and one of the Saints of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. AMEN.
Sermon 1166, Feast of Saint James