Like so many other feast days – scheduled, as they are, on the days of the namesakes’ deaths – the feast day of St. James the Apostle is a strong rebuke to our aspirations. To our aspirations as human beings, and especially to our aspirations as ministers of Christ’s Church.
James & John: Fishermen No More?
You see, James started off as a mere fisherman. An admirable one, to be sure, because he and his brother John answered Jesus’ call in Mark 1. They left behind their father, their family, and – they grew to hope! – their family’s fishing profession.
James was off on a new adventure, hopeful and headstrong. So much so that, along with his brother John, he earned the nickname “Son of Thunder”! Coming from the Son of Man, that’s no small compliment!
But their headstrong passion proved to be a weakness as well. In Luke 9, after getting rejected in Samaria, the Sons of Thunder offer to call fire down from heaven to consume the Samaritan village! This earns them a stern rebuke from Jesus.
And, even more famously, they approached Jesus with the following request in Mark 10:37:
Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.
Princes? Or Fishermen?
Now, their request is, in effect: “O King Jesus, would you please make us princes?”
And, granted, this is Apocryphal, but I imagine Jesus putting his arms around them and saying the following:
“Princes? Princes?! Boys, if I had wanted princes, I would have called princes! But, I don’t need princes!
No, no, no. What I need are new fishermen! And that’s why I’ve called you!”
You see, James had been hoping for a new position. And instead he received his old profession – transformed!
James was no longer to be a mere fisherman, but a fisher of men.
And not even just a fisher of men like Jeremiah 16 spoke of – for there the fishermen and hunters are instruments of judgment and exile.
No! Instead, James was to go fishing with, go fishing for Jesus, to bring people back from exile.
Now, undoubtedly, this is a step up from fishing for literal fish.
Or is it?
Not necessarily. At least, not in the world’s eyes.
The Death of St. James the Apostle
Here’s Jesus’ actual answer to the “prince” request:
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
And they said to him, “We are able.”
And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Now, granted, this isn’t one of the assigned lectionary passages for today, but I’d like us to look at the beginning of Acts 12:
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.
Swept aside, in just one verse! I doubt that sort of an abrupt, violent end awaited most of the fishermen working for Zebedee’s family business.
Was it worth it?
Was it worth it? Did James receive any sort of a promotion, after all?
Of course, we know the right answer. But do we live it out?
Are we thankful, are we satisfied with our roles as servants within Christ’s Church?
Are we willing to be “just” fishermen, even if it costs us our ambitions? Even if it costs us our lives?
By God’s grace, I hope so.
By God’s grace, may we – with the Apostle James – be able to confess the final words of Psalm 34 with open eyes, and open hearts. Perhaps it will help to imagine the following words on the dying Apostle’s lips:
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.
Affliction will slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
I’d like to think we made a bit of a difference – perhaps in slowing things down enough to let professors find jobs elsewhere before they got fired. Heck, we even made it into The New York Times. (Although, I will say: I’m embarrassed of the picture they chose for the article.)
However, in the long run, we failed.
Cedarville is now a much different place than when I arrived. What’s more, I became so entangled in the mess that I arrived to seminary with some burn wounds – from a prophetic fire that burnt a bit too hot.
I’m thankful for my time at Cedarville, however.
God has been healing those wounds. Beeson Divinity School and Anglicanism have both been balms to my spirit. And, with the healing has come the realization that I would not be who I am today were it not for my four years in Cedarville, Ohio.
Many of the lessons I learned there were sealed with blood, sweat, and tears – as it were. However, those kinds of lessons are often the most important and enduring.
By God’s grace, I hope to carry forward into my future ministry a combination of prophetic fire and patient faithfulness in the face of injustice and suffering.
Here’s the thing, though: I’m worried about the other members of the “Cedarville Diaspora.”
“Cedarville ex-pats”? Take your pick of terms.
No, not so much the professors who were pushed out. They’ve miraculously landed on their feet, and I’ve witnessed God’s powerful work of redemption through them in their current careers and ministries.
See, God has blessed me with a wonderful seminary and church community in which to grow and heal after Cedarville. Without those things, I don’t know where I’d be after the awful ending to my Christian college experience.
Others, however, may be feeling very lonely and angry right now.
If that’s you, or if you know someone to whom this applies, would you let me know if there’s any way I can help you?
I’ll gladly listen to you vent. I’d love to pray for you specifically, and perhaps to share what I’ve found helpful along the journey.
I’m not going to lie. My first reaction when I saw the cover of this book?
No! Of course you’re not indispensable. What use could this crap possibly be to the Church, or to me – simultaneously a pastor and a pastor-in-training.
Then, however, I read the book. And I suggest you do, too!
(Note: affiliate link. I get paid if you make a purchase.)
Seth Godin, bald marketing extraordinaire, is convinced that a paradigm shift has taken place. I’ll quote from his annotated table of contents (which, by the way, I wish all books had):
We have gone from two teams (management and labor) to a third team, the linchpins. These are people who own their own means of production, who can make a difference, lead us, and connect us. The death of the factory means that the entire system we have built our lives around is now upside down. This is either a huge opportunity or a giant threat. Revolutions are frightening because the new benefits sometimes lag behind the old pain. This time, the opportunity is to bring your best self to the marketplace and be rewarded for it (vii).
For the past few generations, we’ve grown used to the implicit deal: If you go to school, learn how to follow instructions, work hard, and show up on time, we’ll take care of you.
But, at least in many sectors, the bargain has fallen apart.
So, Godin advises us to become linchpins in whatever industry we find ourselves. We must treat our work as art, and combine a variety of skills to address complex situations.
We must be able to figure out what to do next, without it being spelled out for us in an instruction manual.
OK, great. But what does this have to do with CHURCH?
I believe pastors are uniquely situated to be linchpins.
They are the leaders of a largely volunteer organization. And, Pastoral Epistles notwithstanding, there is no instruction manual (God forbid we treat the Bible like an instruction manual!).
So they must treat their work as art. If they just phone it in and serve their time, they’ll be left with only the people who phone it in and serve their time as church members!
I believe Christians are uniquely situated to be linchpins in their workplaces.
I plan to write more about this in future posts, but it’s ridiculous how much of the self-help advice out there these days aligns with the things Christians should be the very best at!
A bunch of Godin’s advice centers around treating other people as full human beings, and on giving freely without the expectation of debt or compensation (See chapters “The Powerful Culture of Gifts” and “The Culture of Connection”).
I don’t know about you, but that sounds familiar.
As pastors focus on leading by example – by being linchpins themselves – they could start explicit conversations about the connections between worship on Sunday and work (which should also be worship) on the other six days.
Finally, I believe that each church is uniquely situated to be a linchpin in its community.
What if churches were known for showing artful, personal, and prodigal love to their communities, without expectation of increased attendance on a Sunday morning?
What if we were seeker-sensitive, without selling out to the “latest” corporate and marketing strategies (which, often enough, rely upon the old paradigm)?
What if, especially in North America, we stopped complaining about “persecution,” and started creatively taking advantage of the situations in which we find ourselves?
I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I’m convinced they’re worth asking!
Godin is convinced that people are starving for personal connection in a world filled with faceless factories and multinational corporations.
I’m convinced that the Church – the Body of Christ – has just the food to feed those starving.
Specifically, as I wrote in my journal this very morning:
I’m scared – I’m scared of wasting my life, I’m scared of not being worth anything outside of the classroom.
Fear drives so many aspects of our lives – from how we dress, to how we raise our children, to how we elect our leaders. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, fear can play a large role in what/whom we worship.
For example, perhaps we worship God out of a fear of going to hell, or a fear of our inherited religion being wrong. We secretly worry that, like Donald Miller’s father accuses him in the movie Blue Like Jazz, we “only believe that stuff ‘cuz [we]’re afraid to hang out with people that don’t.”
Or perhaps we don’t worship God – and instead worship a god of our choice/invention – because we’re afraid of the implications of God’s existence.
Now, there is, I’m persuaded, a holy fear. A salutary reverence and awe in the face of the divine.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here, I’m talking about the paralyzingfear – the cold sweat, the white knuckles, the tension headaches.
I’m talking about the same kind of fear as Seth Godin:
for those with lower back issues traditional posterior chain exercises such as deadlifts, good mornings, etc. may exacerbate the condition, while swings may not. For those looking to strengthen the lower back and unable to use these traditional exercises the swing may be just the thing they’re looking for
Thanks to the full-body movement of the swing, you really don’t need to use a lot of weight to feel a difference. For example, I’ve been squatting 225 lbs. in maintenance mode recently, and after the first day of kettlebell swings with a 35 lb. kettlebell, my glutes and hamstrings were more sore than they’d been in months!
I’ve been very impressed with the results of a basic kettlebell workout, and it will enable me to get exercise at home during the semester, when going to the gym is more of a stretch.
Would you like to give kettlebell swings a try?
First, learn the proper form and then look for a kettlebell to give it a try.