‘Christian Ambition’ – 25th July 2021 – The Feast of St James

The order of service:

The order of service as a word document:

21 07 25 St James the Apostle Eucharist

The order of service as a pdf:

21 07 25 St James the Apostle Eucharist

The Livestream link

To participate in the service through YouTube, please click here:


The Readings

Acts 11.27 - 12.2 

At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.


Matthew 20.20 - 28

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’

When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’


Scripture quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By David, a Reader at St Mary's. 

Today the church celebrates St James one of the 12 apostles, the first followers of Jesus. He should not be confused with the other St James also one of the 12 apostles whose feast day is the 1st of May and shared with Saint Philip.
To tell them apart the James we celebrate today is known as James the Great, whereas the other one is known as James the Less. The letter of James in the bible is ascribed to James the Less, which goes to show your writing can be included in the canon of scripture and you can still be considered the less of two James by the church.
But should he be bothered?
What does Christian ambition look like?
Today’s Gospel reading gives us an answer, one that is pretty straightforward and clear cut.
The mother of James and John has come to Jesus to ask a favour. How Matthew portrays this is telling. In the same account in Marks Gospel, which it is believed was written earlier and to which Matthew had access, it is James and John themselves who ask Jesus for the favour. In Lukes Gospel, also written after Mark the incident isn’t mentioned. In a few short years has the church moved from showing the very human, fallible actions of the disciples? Does it instead seek to present an idealised view of their actions and interactions with Jesus?
Maybe. A cautionary tale for us when dealing with events heading out of living memory. It’s very easy to rose tint our view of the past and the figures in it.
But back to the Gospel reading. Jesus has been asked for a favour. James and John would sit at the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom. In the ancient world, as now, these were positions of power and respect. To sit next to the king enabled advisers to speak at will and with relative privacy when engaged in matters of state. This could be for good or ill, think of the character Wormtongue in the Lord of the Rings. He is King Théoden’s advisor and has poured the poison of Saruman into the King’s ear weakening Théoden until Gandalf removes him from the position of power. I’m sure we can recall less fantastical instances of this in our own lives, at work or in the life of the nation, where there are powers struggles and advisors to those in authority have used the position for their own ends.
The favour asked of Jesus falls into the trap of assuming that the kingdom will look like all the other kingdoms. That it will be a place of power games and hierarchy. This isn’t the only time this happens in the Gospels. Jesus was expected by many to boot out the occupying Romans and usher in a golden age for a politically independent kingdom of Israel, with him at its head.
Jesus knows this is not where he is headed. He knows the cup he is about to drink, he death on Good Friday, and is willing to share it. However he makes it clear that the places for the closest advisors are not for him to fill, but the Father.
James does go on to drink the cup that Jesus does and is the first of the apostles to be martyred. Killed by a sword thrust on the orders of Herod Agrippa as recounted by our reading from the Acts of the Apostles. John is said to have died of old age but spent most of his live exiled to the island of Patmos and so lived as a martyr rather than died as one. The other James, the less, is also martyred, reportedly beaten to death by order of the Sanhedrin so that can’t be used to tell them apart.
The other disciples’ reaction to this exchange with Jesus is predictable. They are unimpressed. Jesus, as he often does, uses the situation to teach them something about the kingdom of God. He completely flips the idea of authority and power on its head. In the kingdom those who wish to be considered great must be humble and serve, following the pattern of Jesus. Perhaps in this context being James “the less” is a higher accolade than the “the great”?
I’m sure many of us can think of times when those in authority, in the church, the life of the nation, or in business, have tried to live by different rules to everyone else, to lord it over others with arrogance and tyranny.
This is not to call for anarchy, to have no authorities no one who exercises power. Indeed, authority and power can effect change in the world and the Gospel of Jesus does call for change, justice for the oppressed. But it is to acknowledge that those who do have authority and power must exercise it with the needs of others in mind.
This is Christian ambition. A desire for change to bring about the justice and peace of God’s kingdom.
On Friday I received an email about elections to the General Synod of the Church of England. This body is the church’s parliament, debating issues of importance to the church and the world, and making decisions on the strategic direction of the church and the use of our resources. Its composition is fairly complicated but the majority of lay and clergy members are elected by members of Deanery synods across, of which I and Janet are reps for St Mary’s on the local one. These elections are held every five years and this is an real opportunity to effect change.
Don’t worry. I’m not, as our American brothers and sisters might say, about to declare my candidacy or deliver a stump speech. But I do encourage you to find out about General Synod, what it has debated recently and the issues it will discuss in the coming five years. Speak to me and Janet about the synods and think also if God is calling you to serve on one of them.
To those who are already thinking of standing, again or for the first time. I would say this.
‘whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

The Prayers
Prepared by Veronica.

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, we pray to the Father.

O God, the creator and preserver of us all, we pray for all your peoples in any kind of need. We pray for all those suffering from catastrophic floods and fires at this time and all still suffering as a result of the pandemic. We pray that all of us, in our daily lives, and all with responsibilities of leadership of their nations and groups of nations, will realise our part in creating this imbalance in the world you have entrusted to us, and take action to ensure that future generations will inherit the world you created which provided all that is necessary for all life.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for the church worldwide, that all who profess and call themselves Christians will work together to build up our common life in you. May we be like mustard seed in our communities, striving always to serve our fellow human beings, bringing help to all who need it, following the example of Christ and his apostles, like James, whom we remember today. Help us to support our fellow Christians, whether meeting in large groups or small, remembering that Christ taught that when two or three gather in his name, there He is in the midst of them. We thank you for all who assist us in our worship here at St Mary’s, both ordained and lay.
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We pray for all who are suffering in mind, body and spirit, those with Covid, those grieving for loved ones who have died, and all those professional workers under great stress in meeting the demands of the last year and a half, and still see no end. We pray also for the many people whose operations and treatment have been delayed, that their needs may soon be met. In a moment of quiet we remember all known personally to us who are in special need of your saving grace……..
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, particularly our former Bishop David Lunn, who died a few days ago in Scarborough. We give you thanks and praise for all your faithful servants. We remember those we loved and see no more…………..
Lord in your mercy,
hear our prayer.

Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary, James, John, Mark and all your saints, we commend ourselves and the whole creation to your unfailing love.

Merciful Father,
Accept these prayers                                                                                                                  
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.