St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the Feast of St. Philip and St. James
May 1, 2022
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”
Of how much are you totally certain? Your name, your birth date, your parents, your life story, American history, the Bible, the Lord: are these all things on which you would bet your life? If you’re certain about God, then do you live your life like you’re certain? If you believe that He is, how much faith do you have in the prayers you pray to Him? How sure are you that He has a plan for your life?
Today we celebrate two saints who share this feast day: Philip and James. Their names may confuse you, for there are two Philips in the New Testament, and at least three Jameses. This Philip was the Apostle, not a later deacon. And our James was also an Apostle, but not the one we usually speak of, James the brother of John, sons of Zebedee. No, this was James the less, son of a man named Alphaeus, but who was also called Cleophas. James’ mother was named Mary, and she was at the cross. James the less had a very committed family: they were committed to Christ. It was Cleophas (or Alphaeus) who traveled to Emmaus with someone and with Jesus in disguise that Easter day. We just read a passage from the Epistle of St. James, who was neither of these Jameses, but was the brother of Jesus and who became the Bishop of Jerusalem. Why so many Jameses? Our New Testament name of James is from Iacobus, Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob was a common Jewish name, but we just say James.
Now, who were these men? Philip was outspoken. Jesus said to Philip, “Follow me,” and he did, going to his friend Nathanael, with the certainty that he had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. “Come and see.” Before Jesus fed 5,000, He asked Philip where they might buy bread, to test him. Foreign Jews who’d come to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem heard about Jesus and came to Philip asking that they might meet the famous prophet of Galilee. On the night of the Last Supper, Philip asked Jesus, “If you show us the Father, it will be enough for us.” Jesus replied, “Haven’t I been with you long enough for you to know me, Philip? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father as well.” John 14:8-9
Of James the less, we have no special stories, except that he was an apostle chosen by Christ, and given the task to go into the world and die as a witness for what he knew to be true. St. Mark’s account of the Crucifixion recounts that, “there were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome…” Mark 15:40 Beyond his name coming into the lists of Apostles, we don’t know about his life. We use the color red for this day because we believe that all the Apostles except John were martyred for the faith.
Now, how much faith do you need to be willing to die? What do you believe in strongly enough to put your life on the line for it? There are some things pretty certain, and yet, are they? How can you be sure?
You know your birthdate: it’s on your driver’s license. But is it accurate? You were there, I know, but you were preoccupied at the time and you probably didn’t take note of the date. Someone else told you later, and you had to remember it, but what if that isn’t true? My father-in-law had 2 recorded birthdays in two different years. And they’re both wrong, including his driver’s license. He was born on a 3rd date—but the practice in Iran at that time was not so exact as today. I’ve known a lady born in Wyoming who was never issued a birth certificate because the doctor knew she wouldn’t survive a day. She died in her nineties. She was married to a man born in Texas. But if you went back to the place of his birth, today it’s Mexico. The Rio Grande shifted its course and by natural occurrence, Mexico conquered his place of birth. So, was he born in the US, or Mexico? He used to refer to himself as a wetback.
And your name: is it really who you are? My brother-in-law is Cyrus Zal, yet he was born Bahman Zarnegar—a name that, for an America lawyer, was unlikely to inspire confidence or recognition. There’s nothing uncommon in this. Most married women take their husband’s last name. Folks go by nicknames. Until I was about 5 I didn’t even know my real name: I was always called by my nickname—and no, I will not tell you what that was.
People rewrite history all the time. History is written by the victors, and it’s staggering to read accounts of history that challenge our common beliefs about what things were about, why people really did whatever they did. Henry VIII did not seek to create a religion separate from Rome, but only to continue the Catholic Church with himself as the head of it in England. He wasn’t seeking a divorce, either, but an annulment. And the Crusades were, at one point, waged more to regain possession of the Orthodox Church that had severed ties with Rome than to reclaim Israel from the Mohammedans. But we write our own histories.
Are we sure about Christ? Are we certain about God? Is this a true Church, or do we seek another, even better, more accurate reflection of divine truth and salvation? Are you sure that Christ has saved you? and are you living in that certainty? Would you die for the Jesus you know through the Scriptures, through your worship, through the Sacraments you have received, through your prayers? Would you die for Him?
Philip and James were willing. Their faith was strong. Faith is the key element required in your salvation: where do you put your faith? Has your faith been tested, and has it held? Where did it break down? St. James, the brother of our Lord, wrote in today’s Epistle, “Consider it all joy, brothers, when you meet trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full result, that you may be complete, lacking in nothing.” It is, therefore, good to have your faith tested, for you will learn your limits.
A test pilot takes an airplane beyond the limits of its design to find out what point that aircraft fails, and therefore where future pilots must beware, and where engineers must build-in safety systems. Failure gives us an outline of how strong we are, and where we are weak. If we walk by faith, and not by sight, we will do a lot of bumping things in the dark until we see where things are. Then, by faith, we walk with certainty.
James goes on: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and wisdom will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting [nothing wavering], for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by wind. Don’t let him expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:2-8
Being double-minded is trying to keep your cake and eat it too. Betting on all the horses in a race. Getting married, but keeping your eyes out for something better. Choosing an occupation, but always wishing you were doing something else. Becoming a Christian, but wondering if there is a better deal offered somewhere else.
If you are so unsure, the smallest test of that faith will bend and snap you. A loved one dies. An illness gets worse. A relationship ends. A child goes wrong. Suddenly, God looks not so much like your friend, but your torturer. Your prayers are sullen, lack feeling, sound uncertain. You wish yourself elsewhere, happy in another life, living under another name, with another birth date, born of other parents, doing something else, married to a rich person. If we are so fickle, what good are we?
We live by faith. Be certain of nothing else in this world but that there is a God and His Son died for you. St. Paul wrote: “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why would one also hope for what he sees? When we hope for what we can’t see, we wait for it eagerly.” Romans 8:24-25 Jesus said, “Don’t let your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it weren’t so, I’d have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; so that where I am, there you may be also.”
You believe Him, don’t you? Then don’t let doubts and double-minded thoughts trouble your heart. This is certain, a true thing among all the uncertainties of our time. “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me… Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. Truly, I say to you, He that believes on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever you shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask any thing in my name, I will do it.”
If you believe that, you can do anything. Not the things you think of, but the things God wants you to do—impossible things, miraculous things. That’s your life story, the true story, if only you have faith in the One who is writing your story before you live it. Your prayers should welcome miracles. Your life can reflect the wonder that’s yet to be.
Peter walked on water. He and John called for the healing of a lame man, who then jumped up and began to dance. Paul raised a dead boy to life. Saints today are praying and seeing miracles. You are saint, my friends. God hears your prayers of faith. How big is your faith to ask of Him the things His heart would want to see done around you in your life? Is the seat next to you empty? Pray for one soul to find it and make it theirs. Be a flame in the hands of Christ borne into this world, ready to light the path for your feet and the feet of others who, in their secret hearts, have wished for someone like you who knows the way to God.