1 Corinthians 15:1-8
Disciples are like buses today – you wait for ages, and then two turn up at once. Today’s the nearest Sunday to the day in the church calendar when we celebrate the feast of two of the apostles: Philip and James. We celebrate two of them together because of the church that is dedicated to them in Rome, where their bones were buried. That church is now called the Church of the Twelve Apostles, but Philip and James have stuck together as a celebration.
Our readings were chosen with one for each of the two saints. From John’s gospel we read a conversation between Jesus and the disciples, first Thomas and then Philip. Philip’s the one who asks Jesus to show the Father to them. He wants to see God, and of course Jesus replies that if Philip can see him he can see God. In the first chapter of John’s gospel it was Philip who told Nathanael that he had found the Messiah and told him to come and see for himself. What we can see from the Bible about Philip is that he was a sincere and straight-forward person, and someone who wanted to see god and to show him to others.
From the first letter to the church in Corinth, we heard of the risen Christ appearing to James. James is mentioned quite a few times in the gospels, although there’s some ambiguity over which James is which, however they all have something in common, and that something is that James is the one building up the disciples, the one who looks after the other disciples, the one who makes sure they’re looking after each other. James was bishop of Jerusalem, and he and Peter settled the issue about accepting non-Jews into the faith without having to undergo circumcision, which was also about building up the group of followers.
So, in Philip and James, we see together the two aspects of the Church – the missionary aspect and the community aspect. Philip brought others to Jesus, and James built up the community. Surely, as a church we also need to grow into a deeper understanding of those two aspects, missionary and community, and how they depend upon each other.
If all the disciples had been Philips, if our church were made up of many Philips, it wouldn’t work. We’d be brilliant at telling people about Jesus, about bringing them to join us, continually recruiting new people, but what would they find when they came? What would happen when there were problems in the fellowship? Who would do the work of looking after things? How would people be nurtured and helped to develop? We need Philips, of course, but it would be a disaster if everyone was a Philip.
Similarly, if all the disciples had been James, they’d have been a great bunch of folk, happy, loving, caring, a real community. But they’d have died off one by one without new recruits joining them. If our church were only made up of James then we’d have a brilliant sense of community, an amazing life together, but we wouldn’t be so fussed about making an effort to recruit new folk to join us. We need James, of course, but it would be a disaster if everyone was a James.
So, we remember two important folk from a long time, not just because they were good people, but because they have important lessons for us today. Our church, any church, which wants to be alive and lead people to God, needs to engage seriously with both Philip and James, to take both mission and community as serious aspects of what it means to be the church in our time and place.
There are countless ways we engage in mission, like Philip, in this church: faithful worship, people crossing our doors every days to use rooms, to eat and drink, provision of groups for children, and most important of all by us, the members, living Christian lives every day which shows our faith in word and deed to those we meet. The questions, though, are always are we doing enough, are we doing too much (and so impairing the quality of what we do), are doing things in the most effective way we could. Yes, we’re obviously doing the mission like Philip, but are we doing the right amount in the best way?
Similarly, there are countless ways we build up our community, nurturing one another, like James, in this church: our pastoral care, our friendships, our social events, our Bible Studies, our efforts to include everyone. But there are always questions. Do we include everyone as well as we might, or just those who are more like us, those we like? Do we do too much, overwhelming people who want to slip into a discrete corner, or too little not noticing folk who want to play a bigger part? Of course we’re building community, like James, but are we doing it as best we can?
And the big question, most importantly, is do we balance mission and community well? Do we have enough of each, not too much of one at the expense of too little of the other?
These two saints who happened to be buried together actually bring us a vital challenge. Do we balance the two equally important aspects of mission and community building?
And let us always remember the purpose of our mission and of our community is to introduce people to Christ, so that they can grow in his love. Tonight we gather at his table, and he offers us the opportunity to grow in our relationship with, and also to share that transforming love with those we meet. So, may this celebration help us to truly experience Jesus as our Way, our Truth, and our Life, then we will indeed be both a missionary and community church.