Sermon: Sts Philip & James
From Wellington Cathedral of St Paul
Sts Philip & James 2 May 2010 The Revd Jenny Wilkens
- Ephesians 1:3-10
- John 1:43-51
When I lived in Bristol in England, friends invited me to go with them to Pip n Jay's. I thought it was a restaurant or a night club or something - it was only when I got there that I found it was a very lively church and when I had a look at the signboard, I found it was really called St Philip & St James, but everybody called it Pip n Jay's!
Today in our church's calendar we remember St Philip and St James, two of Jesus' disciples who don't have such a high profile as some of the others like Peter or Mary Magdalene so I thought I'd find out a bit more about them.
Philip appears several times in John's gospel, and first of all in the reading we heard this evening, where Jesus is gathering his disciples around him. Jesus found Philip and said to him, Follow me. And he did! Philip was clearly impressed with Jesus, because immediately he went off and found Nathanael and told him, we have found the one Moses and the prophets wrote about, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.
But Nathanael is not so easily impressed, 'can anything good come out of Nazareth?' Nazareth was a very small village at the time, it's a bit like saying can anything good come out of Paekakariki, for example! Philip doesn't argue, he simply says 'Come and see' - come and see for yourself what this man Jesus is like. And Nathanael does, and in turn becomes a follower of Jesus.
The next time Philip appears is when the crowds are flocking to hear Jesus, and come the end of the day are hungry, and Jesus asks Philip Where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat? (John 6:5ff). Perhaps Philip was in charge of catering for the disciples, it seems he could manage for 13, but he's also pretty realistic: Six month's wages wouldn’t buy enough bread for each of them to get a little! But Jesus goes on to feed the crowds from the gift of one boy's offering of five loaves and two fish, the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.
The next time we meet Philip, some Greeks have come to worship at the Passover festival and they come to Philip, saying, Sir, we want to see Jesus. (John 12:21ff). Philip's name is a Greek name, meaning one who loves horses, and it's perhaps because they heard Philip's name that these Greeks had the confidence to approach him.
Philip wasn't too sure about what he should do so Philip went and checked things out with Andrew, and then they both took these Greek visitors to meet Jesus. It's ok to check things out with a friend, and have a friend accompany you when you're not sure of what to do. Jesus realises when he meets these Greeks that the hour has come for him to be glorified, in his death which will bring salvation for all, Jews and Greeks.
When Jesus has his last conversation with his disciples in the Upper Room the night before he dies, Philip tells it to Jesus straight: Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied (John 14:8). Show us what God is like.
Jesus replies to Philip, 'Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.' For Philip, a bit like Thomas, seeing was believing - he wanted to see God, he wanted it cut and dried. He wasn't afraid to bring his questions to Jesus, and he found that if he wanted to see what God was like, the answer was to look at Jesus. It's the same for us - if we want to know what God is like, God is like Jesus.
We don't know any more about Philip from the New Testament, but there is a legend about his martyrdom, that he came to Hierapolis in Turkey and preached with great success, which aroused the enmity of the authorities. Philip was stripped and hung head downwards. But the story goes that Philip ordered the ground to open up and swallow the people and 7000 people were swallowed up! Then Jesus himself appeared and rebuked Philip and restored all the people to life! Then Philip confessed his fault, and made a strange request. He asked that his body when he died should not be wrapped in linen but in papyrus, for he was not worthy that even his dead body should be treated as Jesus' body had been. He died and was buried as he'd requested. And a voice from heaven said that he had received his crown - he was faithful unto death.
Well, that is Philip's story, what about James? First of all we have to sort out which James we are talking about. The James we remember with Philip is not James the fisherman brother of John, both sons of Zebedee. Nor are we talking about James, the brother of Jesus who later became the leader of the church in Jerusalem and is probably the author of the letter of James towards the end of the New Testament.
No, this James is sometimes called James the Less, to differentiate him from James the Great, the fisherman brother of John. I think it's a bit rough to go through life as James the Less, but maybe it kept him humble!
This James was the son of Alphaeus, and Mark's gospel tells us that Matthew was also the son of Alphaeus, so it could be that this James and Matthew were brothers.
This James, son of Alphaeus, is always listed with the disciples Simon the Zealot, Thaddeus, and Judas Iscariot, and it's possible that all four of them were Zealots, that is members of the fiercely patriotic group who advocated resistance against the Romans, including the use of violence if need be. We would call them extremists or terrorists.
Matthew on the other hand was at the other end of the political spectrum. He worked as a tax collector for Herod Antipas, the local king, who was under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Everybody knew that tax-collectors were collaborators with the Romans, they were seen as traitors to their own people, and compromisers of the worst kind.
So it's possible that these two brothers, Matthew and James, were poles apart in their politics and allegiances. They might have grown up together in the same home but now it was quite likely that they had nothing to do with each other and hated each other's guts.
But then Jesus came on the scene, and Jesus called both of them separately to follow him, and like it or not, these two brothers would have found themselves part of Jesus' new family, and new community together, and no doubt had to work very hard at getting along, and growing to trust each other and love each other again.
Jesus came not only to reconcile people to God, but also to reconcile us to each other.
Maybe there's one of your brothers or sisters whom you don't get on with very well, maybe you're like chalk and cheese, quite different, with quite different abilities or interests. Perhaps you feel that in your family you are like James the Less, and someone else is the Greatest!
On the front of our newssheet today is a small prayer by the cartoonist Michael Leunig, which I think both Philip and James would have agreed with. You might like to take this small piece of wisdom as a thought for this week, and pray that in Jesus' company, you will have the strength to put it into action:
‘Love one another and you will be happy’. It’s as simple and difficult as that. There is no other way. Amen.