St. Philip and St. James
If you were going to have a day when you celebrated the career and service to our country provided by General Douglas MacArthur, what events would you choose to highlight? Would you talk about that fact while serving in World War I as an officer he was awarded seven Silver Stars and the Distinguished Service Cross, and that he for a second time he was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor? Would you talk about the remarkable leadership he provided in defeating the Japanese during World War II? Would you talk about the brilliant amphibious landing at Inchon, Korea that MacArthur planned, and how it forced the North Koreans to retreat rapidly from South Korea?
Or would you talk about how despite knowing about the attack on Pearl Harbor, MacArthur left his air force in the Philippines on the ground and allowed it to be decimated by Japanese air raids? Would you talk about how on the orders of President Roosevelt, MacArthur left his forces in the Philipines to face defeat, the Bataan death march and years in the terrible conditions of being prisoners of war at the hands of the Japanese? Would you talk about how MacArthur did not truly believe the Chinese were a threat in the Korean War, which led to terrible defeats when they attacked, and ultimately led to MacArthur being removed from command by President Truman?
It seems safe to say that you would focus on the first group of events. After all the purpose of the day would be to celebrate General MacArthur and not to make him look bad. Bearing this in mind, the selection of the Gospel reading for the Feast of St. Philip and St. James seems rather odd. It is a text that frankly, doesn’t make Philip look very good. There are texts in John’s Gospel that show him doing good things. But while this text doesn’t depict Philip in one of his more shining moments, it does contain key truths that Philip, James and the other apostles learned from our Lord and have passed on to us.
Today is the Feast of St. Philip and St. James. Now for starters, let me tell you what we know about James. He was an apostle of Jesus Christ. He was the son of Alphaeus. That’s it. That’s all Scripture says. Of course, there was another James, the brother of John, who was an apostle. We learn a great deal about him since he was in the inner circle of Peter, James and John whom our Lord took with him on several important occasions including his transfiguration and the time in the Garden of Gethsemane. That James was the first apostle martyred for confessing Jesus Christ as Lord. In order to distinguish them, today’s James is called “the younger” or perhaps more aptly, “the less.” James the less, not exactly the designation you would choose for yourself.
However, James was an apostle of Jesus Christ. This means that out of all the disciples who followed Jesus, he was one of twelve chosen by Jesus to play a unique role. Matthew tells us that Jesus sent James and the apostles out to preach. He commanded them: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” This is what James did.
James and Philip were apostles. That means they were the authorized representatives of Jesus Christ. They received his teaching. They witnessed his miracles. Most importantly they were witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ who had been crucified and buried. For forty days they were with the risen Lord and were taught by him.
The existence of the apostles was a one time event, because by definition they were those who were with Jesus during his earthly ministry and resurrection until his ascension. It is their witness that we receive through the Gospels. It is their authoritative teaching – that we receive in the New Testament. It is through their word that Jesus Christ calls us to faith and teaches us what to believe. We confess the apostolic Church, because through the apostles God has given us the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Last Sunday I mentioned that John’s Gospel contains three chapters that tell us about what Jesus said on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Our text today is the beginning of this, and right from the start we learn that Jesus will be leaving. He says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Our Lord told the disciples not to be troubled. He called them to faith in God and to faith in him. He said he was going away but promised that he would return. While we are fascinated by the language of a house with rooms, the really important point is when Jesus says, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Our Lord said that he would take them to himself. Where Jesus was, there they would be also – they would be with Jesus.
Then Jesus added, “And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas was completely puzzled by this. He said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Then Jesus responded with well known words that reveal the destination is not a place. Instead it is God himself. And the way is not the route on a map, but a person – the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Jesus alone is the way to the Father because he is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world by his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. John tells us in the first chapter of the Gospel that Jesus Christ is the Word become flesh – he is the incarnate Son of God. Then he adds, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.” It is God the Son who has revealed the Father by carrying out the saving work of the Father’s will for us.
Our Lord said that to know him was to know the Father. To see Jesus was to see the Father. And then our man Philip responded: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus answered him: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”
Philip wanted something beyond Jesus. He wanted something more direct. Martin Luther identified Philip’s statement as a classic example of the theology of glory. And we are no different from Philip, because the theology of glory is the temptation that dwells in all of us because of the fallen nature. We want God to act in ways by which he directly reveal himself. We want to him act in ways that reveal success and power. That’s what we want to see in the Church. That’s what we want to see in our lives.
Have you noticed how no losing coach or player being interviewed after a game ever begins his statement by saying, “First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for making this possible.” Winning coaches and players often say things like this in interviews. We view these statements as being very positive witnesses to the faith. But why is it that no one says this when they lose and fail? The reason is that we don’t view loss and failure as examples of God being at work. We define God’s work as glory, power, and success. That’s what we want to see.
Philip didn’t recognize that in Jesus, he was seeing the Father. He was hearing the Father’s words. He was seeing the Father at work. He didn’t because God was doing it in a hidden way. In a way that required faith to be perceived.
Jesus was man. He was, of course, more than just a man - he was God in the flesh. But God was present through the located means of the flesh of Jesus. That didn’t look glorious. Certainly, Jesus performed miracles. But you know what else happened? Jesus met with rejection and opposition. The Jewish religious leaders – those who had the power – rejected him.
That opposition and power directed against Jesus culminated in the events we just remembered during Holy Week. Jesus ended up as a man dying on the cross. The crucified Christ did not look like the revelation of the Father. It did not look like God acting in a mighty way. It did not in any way look like success.
During Holy Week Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus described his death as his glorification. He did so because it was in this way that he rescued us from sin and the devil. He did so because as we celebrate during this Easter season, he did not stay dead. Instead, on the third day Jesus rose from the dead and defeated death. He did so because the risen and exalted Lord returned to the Father in his ascension, just as he said he would.
It is because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we are now able to know that he reveals the Father to us; that he speaks the Father’s words; that he carries out the Father’s works. And just as God’s saving action was hidden in the midst of the weakness of the cross, so also is his work today. The Gospel itself is something that our family and friends easily reject and ignore. Baptism looks like it is just water poured on someone’s head. The Sacrament of the Altar looks like it is just bread and wine.
But for those who know and believe in the crucified and risen Lord, we recognize them for what they really are. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation. Baptism is water through which the Spirit gives us new life. The Sacrament of the Altar is the true body and blood of Christ, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.
We heard last week how Philip and the other apostles met the risen the Lord on two Sundays in a row as he appeared in the midst of the room where they were. Because Jesus had risen from the dead, Philip went forth like the other apostles to proclaim the crucified and risen Lord.
Yet bringing people to Jesus was not something entirely new to Philip. I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon that there are biblical texts that show Philip doing good things. We learn in the first chapter of John’s Gospel that while in Galilee, Jesus found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Then we are told, “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’” When Nathanael responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Through the witness of St. Philip and St. James we have come to know Jesus Christ as our crucified and risen Lord, who will return in glory on the Last Day. We know and believe in Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life – the One through whom we come to the Father. Our role as Christians is now very simple. It is to share this good news about Jesus with others and invite them to meet Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life as we say: “Come and see.”