Sermon on James 1
This last week, your parish council and I made our way to Grace Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes to talk about vitality. About practicing resurrection. Questions were asked of us in areas of what it is we are doing in our parish, what we hope to see happen. But also, what is there of what we can do. We talked about the notion of inviting and investing in people as a form of discipleship and evangelism. You know, the idea of actually talking about our faith with others.
A question was asked though of – what if you are not that kind of person? What if you are not one who’s default is to share about church or the Gospel with others? Almost a summation of life for many of us. Is the Gospel worth sharing for you? Well, today is good news for you in that area.
I say this because I know that many of us hear the “be doers of the word and not hearer’s only” and we jump automatically to thoughts of doing something, or lack thereof. To judgement. Judgement of the church for things we think it should be doing and doesn’t. Judgement of fellow Christians because we are doing more then them for Jesus. Judgement of our pastors because we want them to preach in a different way than they do. Judgement of our world, specifically our politicians, because - “they just aren’t good like we are.”
Well, James is a good place for us to be this month. To actually read and try and understand our faith in this Jesus and the good news by actually reading this text.
So what does James actually say here? Well, the chapter opens with a call to humility. Meekness actually. Meekness in the face of trials and tribulations. Actually telling us that trials produce endurance in faith. Tribulation being part of the Christian life. Being humbled by hardships, we turn to that which is bigger than us – God. What have you gone through in your life that has centered you on Christ? Is it worth telling to someone?
James then tells us that the one who is poor should know that he is rich in Christ. The one who is rich should know that his identity in Christ makes all his stuff, his grandeur look like dirty filthy rags, because it will all go away, like dried up grass on a hot summer day.
Then he says to us that we have to hold to this knowledge, that God is our refuge and foundation, our source, because everything good comes from him, not us. This includes the new birth you received in Christ. Life out of death. That you are a dead man walking, with God as the one who has birthed you through his word. Like Jesus calling to Lazarus, “Come forth!”, so are we. Lazarus being Jesus’ friend who had died and Jesus raised him from the dead. So then, Christ in His Word is standing at the edge of your tomb shouting your name to come to him. Breathing into you the resurrection that needs to happen by his word each day.
Think of your various devices you have at home. A computer. Tablet. Phone. Camera. Tools. These things with batteries. The power runs out, they need to be plugged in, right? Recharged. So, too, are we. Our batteries are dead. We can’t do it of our own, but God the Father comes and grabs us in Christ, envelopes us in his Spirit, and grants us life in him. Not us doing it but Jesus. That’s the Gospel. The Good News. The word announced to you that you are dead, but Jesus is life, and he gives that freely to you without any doing on your part.
This is where we then come to the being a doer versus a hearer. A hearer for James is one who listens. Hears these things. Likes them. Thinks they are nice ideas, or the dude saying them is an eloquent speaker, or whatever. Goes away and thinks nothing of it again. A doer of the word, in the eyes of James, is like someone who gets up in the morning and looks in the mirror to see what sort of damage happened in the night. To look at all the blemishes, the bruises, the wrinkles, the zits. The hearer looks and thinks nothing of it. The “doer”, according to James, is one who looks into the mirror, sees the blemishes, finds new ones, and remains there. Staring into that mirror. Being humbled by the graveness of their sin but even more the amazement of their Savior.
On Friday I turned forty years old. I expect to be having a midlife crisis soon, so keep an I on my facebook page. I might buy a Corvette. I was humbled this week in realizing two things about myself. One, I can’t stop time, and two, I am really bald. Jolene Harris sent me a picture of her son Drew sitting on my lap at Nacho Night and my head was down. Imagine my surprise in realizing I have less hair now than I did a year ago. Each year that passes, each new wrinkle should cause us to desire this new life in Christ, because we sure as hell can’t make it happen ourselves. Yet it’s there that God’s grace comes. That implanted word in you speaking to you of a God of the Living. One who is the Almighty Creator. Who is the one who sees our blemishes, our faults, our aging demeanors and speaks forgiveness to you, to save you from despair. To realize the pain and death and resurrection of Christ was for your sake, not just a nice story.
James calls this word, this mirror, this voice you are to be a “doer” of, as the law of freedom. That’s an interesting phrase. The law of freedom. Because the law, as we interpret it, is not freedom. We are good at coming up with our own laws. Rules to hold each other accountable. In fact, many of us confuse the “work” we are called to do here with what we think is the Gospel. Many think the gospel is “love your neighbor as yourself.” Not ever imagining that the Gospel is Jesus speaking to you here and now – “I forgive you for not loving your neighbor as yourself.” Because the law, the actual law of God comes to me in that command, love your neighbor, and I learn that I am really bad at it. If I have to be reminded, if I have to be told or commanded to do something, it tells me I am not doing it. Luther said the law is perfect in what it commands but is unable to create what it demands. Meaning that even if I come to you and scream – LOVE ME! – me yelling and telling you that, the statement is true, that you should love me, but it won’t cause the love. It will probably cause a punch in the face. The law reminds us of what we can’t do so that we might turn to the mercy of God, to the forgiveness that comes in the Gospel, to hear that Word of life again and realize that it’s for me.
I say this because I can come up here and tell you to love your neighbor, or love me. But everyone of you has a particular idea of love in your mind. What it is. What it looks like. And if someone doesn’t love us in that way, we get angry, we want to shout it from the roof tops that so-and-so is not loving their neighbor. But the law of freedom is such that it gives each of us the freedom to love in whatever way God uses us to love, without worry of meeting requirements to do certain things to earn his approval.
This word that is Christ is alive in you as one forgiving you of all the times you are not a “doer”. Forgiving you for not dwelling in the word of truth and life. Of turning to so many things other than Jesus. Crafting religion in order to destroy rather than raise the dead. That is the call from James here. This word that saves souls, and does not condemn them. This word of Christ that makes its home in you through the Spirit. This Word that blesses all you do because the law of our own design is dead, and the law of freedom in Christ has come. The freedom to love in whatever way we can. No checklist. Nothing to compare to apart from what Christ has done in you and how that comes out in love for others. Not in vast gigantic works of righteousness but in simple ways of visiting the weak, the abandoned, the lonely. Because our dwelling in Christ causes us to know we are weak, abandoned, and lonely without him. Loving our enemies because dwelling in his Word, looking into the mirror of Christ, making a home there to know his word of truth, you realize you were an enemy of God and now have been drawn near by his blood, his death for you, so we too are called to love those who are our enemies. Knowing our sin so well, those blemishes in the mirror, that our Jesus looks so much sweeter. The goodness of God being at work in you through the Spirit of the Lord to work in you right now to live in love where you are, compelled by God’s mercy to live in that mercy, that you might be merciful. Thanks be to God. Amen.