Thursday, October 8, 2009

October 2009 Parish Letter

“Heavenly Father, shepherd of Your people, You raised up James the Just, brother of our Lord, to lead and guide Your Church. Grant that we may follow his example of prayer and reconciliation and be strengthened by the witness of his death. . . .”

[Collect for St. James of Jerusalem]

James the Just is commemorated by the Church on October 23. Some of you might ask, Just who is this “James the Just”? James is known for two major things besides sharing a name with two of Jesus’ apostles: (a) being the brother of Jesus and (b) leading the Jerusalem Church, even suffering martyrdom for his faith.

In this twelve-month period, when Lutherans have been and will gather together in conventions, perhaps it is good to speak about James the Just. The Acts of the Apostles describes a great council held in Jerusalem sometime around AD 50. (The events of the council can be read in Acts 15.) This council faced a great question: What should be done with all the new Gentiles who had been led to faith in Jesus through the preaching of Paul and Barnabas? Was it required of these new believers to abide by all the requirements of the Old Covenant, including circumcision and dietary laws?

As bishop of the Jerusalem Church, James was the chairman of this council. The author of the Acts of the Apostles includes the judgment that he made in consultation with the leaders of the Jerusalem Church, including the chief apostle, Peter. In his decision, James recounts the Old Testament prophecy about the Gentiles’ being given the identity as the Lord God’s people: ’After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’” (Acts 15:16-18) James believed that the great things that Paul and Barnabas told about their mission work among the Gentiles were fulfilling this prophecy.

Regarding the question about the requirements of the Old Covenant, James decided that the Gentiles were not to be bound to all of them. This is laid out in the apostolic decree issued by James and the apostles and elders of Jerusalem: “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”(Acts 15:19-21) The Gentiles would not have to undergo circumcision; their dietary restrictions were limited to not eating meat from strangled animals and consuming blood. As with all believers in Christ, the new Gentile believers were to avoid idolatry and all that it affects.

With this apostolic decree, the Gentile question was solved. Important to note are the descriptions that the author of the Acts of the Apostles gives about this decision: It as seemed good to us, having come to one accord. . . . It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements. . . .”(Acts 15:25, 28) In the decision made by the Jerusalem Church, the unity of Christ’s followers is seen. James leads a convention that produces a great consensus, as the people there are led by the Holy Spirit. So it is when the Spirit of the Lord binds the Body of Christ together.

This unity which the Council of Jerusalem typifies is praised in the Psalm prayed on October 23: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.”(Psalm 133) This dwelling in unity would be found among those who abided by the apostolic decree from Jerusalem. Hebrew Christian and Gentile Christian were part of one Church, bound together by the Holy Spirit. But where the apostolic decree of James was ignored, there this tie was threatened. Unfortunately, such break was recorded in the Scriptures, as seen in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Such is what the actions which do not seem good to the Holy Spirit, not done in one accord, will bring to the Church.

James’ desire for unity based in the wisdom of the Lord God and His teaching is also seen in his letter to the Church. Portions of it have been read during August and September in our parish. In that letter, James writes: Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”(James 1:16-21)

As our congregation, our District, and our Synod—along with other churchbodies—meet in council and convention, it is good to remember James the Just, his instruction, and the decree of the Jerusalem Council. What is good, what leads to one accord, is to believe and act upon the wisdom that the Lord God reveals to us through the testimony of His Spirit. This is found in the Scriptures which have been handed down to us. We should be just as James says: “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” We should be especially quick to hear what the Lord God has declared and deliberate in speaking that truth in love, even when tempers flare and opposition rises.

Such is the example which our Lord’s brother, the Bishop of Jerusalem, has left us. Let us follow it, just as the collect for October 23 says: “following his example in prayer and reconciliation and being strengthened by the witness of his death.” That is the path of harmony and accord on which the Lord God leads us, just as He led His Church in its nascent days through the leadership of James the Just.

~Pastor Zimmerman T

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