Sermon for Easter 6, May 21, 2017
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
James 1:22-27 22 Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
See Christ In Your Mirror.
Dear fellow members of the body of Christ,
We live in a world where bits of our lives are captured for preservation in photographs, selfie snap shots, and media posts online. The pictures we take lock elements of our lives in a sort of time-warp that lets us look back to see what we looked like at the various times. As we page through our Facebook pages and scrapbooks of old photographs, we are reminded of how much we change throughout our lives. As we view these pictures, we follow our growth from tiny babies into adulthood, and then the changes as we age. Sometimes, we are startled by what we see as we page through the snap shots of our personal histories.
When James wrote this letter, he didn’t have photography available as an illustration, so he used a mirror for his reference point. His message is that we shouldn’t forget who we are, because who we each are is visible as one looks in his mirror. So, I ask you, when you look in your mirror each day, whom do you see? Do you see your old sinful nature, or do you see someone who has been transformed by his or her growth in faith? My friends, through James, the Holy Spirit encourages each of you to See Christ In Your Mirror.
We start this text reading the simple statement, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Did you ever imagine that you could be deceiving yourself? It’s pretty easy to do, though. We come to church on Sunday morning, and we go home glad that we are Christians, and glad that because of Christ our sins have been forgiven. But then, how do we live? If we don’t live each moment of our lives obeying God’s Law, we may be deceiving ourselves.
It’s kind of shocking to be told that we lie to ourselves. We know from reading the Bible that the devil is a liar, and so, it becomes easy to blame him for our sins much like Flip Wilson did years ago in his comedy routine saying, “The devil made me do it!” But here, the Lord reminds us that we need to take responsibility for ourselves. If we disobey any of God’s Law, we deserve punishment, even if we deceive ourselves into thinking that how we live doesn’t really matter. But, dear friends, our lives do matter to God.
James wrote, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” From your days in Catechism Class, I’m sure your remember the three uses of God’s Law, and that the most important use for Christians is as a mirror. God’s Law shows us what kind of people we are. It reflects our image as sinners, as those condemned to eternal destruction.
However, anyone who hears God’s Word, and doesn’t live according to it, is forgetting something very important for his eternal life: that there are two images of every believer. The other part of God’s Word, the Gospel, shows us that we are each made perfectly holy through what Christ has done for us. So, as your look in the mirror, do you see only the sinner, or do you also See Christ In Your Mirror?
When you look into the mirror of God’s Law, you can’t help but see the condemned sinner. As we page through the spiritual photographs of our lives reflected in the law, we see our guilt reflected there; we see that we each have substituted other things for God. We have misused God’s name from time to time. We have failed to live our lives in perfect worship. At some point in our time here on earth, and usually at many points, we have failed to obey our parents and superiors. Each of us can find snapshots of our lives that show us hating someone, or lusting for someone, or wanting something that isn’t rightfully ours. We have said, or thought, things about others that are not God-pleasing. Thus, the mirror of God’s Law does a really good job of showing us that we deserve to be condemned by God.
But then, if we continue hearing God’s Word, we see a new image reflected in the mirror of the Gospel. James wrote, “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” There are many people in our world who want to make the Gospel a law of works, but that isn’t what James is doing here. James is telling us to see the fulfillment of God’s Law which is Christ Jesus, and never to forget what He has done for us. Jesus came for this very purpose, to obey every statute of the Law perfectly, because, quite frankly, we fail in our obedience.
“The perfect law of liberty,” is that joyful good news that Jesus became our perfect substitute. The holy Son of God came and put Himself in our place, and lived His life in perfect obedience so that every law would be fulfilled. Jesus came and put Himself in our place, also, on that cross at Golgotha so that the debt of sin would be paid for once, for all. Now hear what God has declared for all people: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) We call it God’s great exchange: Jesus took our sin and in exchange, we receive His righteousness. This is what James refers to as “the perfect law of liberty,” that Jesus died to set us free from sin and death.”
In this text we are reminded, also, that we must continue in the liberty Jesus won for us. If we forget what Jesus has done and return to our old sinful ways, we are putting ourselves back under bondage and the curse of the devil. Therefore, we must “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” James tells us that if we continue in the work that God shows in His Word, we will be blessed in what we do. We will be blessed with joyous eternal life in heaven.
Dear Christian friends, this is sanctification at work in us: keeping us continually growing in God’s Word, continually striving for greater obedience to God’s Law. This is the third use of the Law: guiding us how to live a life more pleasing to God, to be a greater blessing to those around us, to demonstrate continually the forgiveness that Jesus won for all, to be a continual representation to an unbelieving world that Jesus has washed us clean of all sin with His holy precious blood, to live as the body of Christ to which we have been called.
Through James, the Holy Spirit relays three examples of how we are to live as the body of Christ saying, “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless.” We are in this world but we live as the body of Christ. How we speak testifies to what we believe. To bridle our tongues doesn’t mean to silence them but to guide them on the way. A little later in this letter James wrote, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3:10) Our mouths witness to what we believe. If we pour out trash talk and vulgar words, we are confessing before God, and the world, that we do not believe in Jesus, but have abandoned the love of Christ.
Right along with what we speak goes how we live. The text says, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” True faith in Christ demonstrates its concern for those around us who have need. The widows and orphans of James’ world were often in dire straits. In our society, there still are those who struggle with the various ills of a troubled world. Being concerned for the less fortunate, and for the afflicted, is part of our work as the body of Christ. And we should be particularly concerned about those who are not yet part of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and those who do not yet have God as their Father. For them, our mouths should declare the Word of the Living God.
As the body of Christ, we, also, are to avoid any hint of immorality. Part of living a Christian life is “to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Certainly we know this isn’t easy. Each and every day of our lives, we are bombarded by the temptations of the world and the weaknesses of our own sinful flesh. Temptations and trials will come our way, yet we should not make it easy for the devil to lead us astray. We should be working to focus all of our efforts on those things that God tells us are pleasing to Him. We should avoid anything He has forbidden and do everything He has commanded.
Yet, on our own, we would certainly fail. Therefore, See Christ In Your Mirror. See that you have been washed clean from all sin at your Baptism. See that Jesus has changed your heart as He brought you to faith through His Word. As you look in your mirror each day, see Christ who through faith lives in you. You are not alone in fighting the temptations that the devil flings against you. Remember that Jesus promised to be with you always, not just here at church, but everywhere you go. As you look in your mirror, see the snap-shots of all that Jesus lived for you in His life. The wonderful, perfect life of your Savior is counted to you when you are brought to faith in Him. That is what God sees as He looks at the believer. God sees that the blood Jesus shed from the cross has washed you clean from every sin.
My friends, as Christians, we live on this planet with two pictures of ourselves always in full view: that we are both saint and sinner at the same time. We know sin is still seen in our lives even though we have been brought to faith in Jesus. But, for those who trust in Jesus, the image of a perfect child of God is also reflected. That is the reflexion to view every day of your life, seeing that you are a redeemed, holy saint in God’s eyes. The perfect holiness of Jesus, brought to you through God’s Word, through Baptism, and through Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament is what God sees when He looks at the believer. So, throw away those pictures of the old sinful man. Focus, instead, on what Jesus has done for you. Focus on Jesus who lives in you. Jesus’ perfect redemption, brought to you through the work of the Holy Spirit, gives you the strength, and the ability, to live more and more each day as the body of Christ. Trust Jesus, let Him live in you, and See Christ In Your Mirror. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto everlasting life. Amen.