Lessons: Isaiah 12:1-6, James 1:16-21, John 16:5-15
Hymns: LSB 463, 459, 790, 741, 475
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today we will focus on our Epistle lesson, from the book of James, especially the verse that can be considered the theme for the entire book of James, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
It’s sad when people do not live by these words. Anger, resentment, and hurt all result from disobeying these words of James. James teaches us to be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. We are to listen without being so quick to condemn, for anger does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).
Some have been describing our country as the Divined States of America. Many are gravitating toward polar extremes and becoming galvanized in their positions. This results in being the opposite of what God teaches—that many are slow to hear, swift to speak and swift to anger. And let’s be clear: some issues allow for flexibility, while others do not. There can be differing viewpoints on regulations, taxation, or foreign policy. But some moral matters are settled by God, and continually prove to be the only right way. God made boys boys and girls girls. He defines marriage. He creates life in the womb. And when people get caught up with those in the wrong on these matters, that’s where we need to remember the words of James. Let’s not quickly judge or condemn. Instead, let’s teach, patiently explaining the better way.
Lots of people are screaming inside for help, for they have become caught up in sin. Maybe they’re addicted to alcohol or porn or overeating or overspending. Maybe they’ve cheated, are abusive, or delight in gossip. They want help. They don’t know where to turn.
They usually figure they cannot turn to the Church. After all, they think Church will condemn them. They think that if they turn to a fellow Christian in the Church, that person will be dismissive or disparaging, saying, “You low-down no-good piece of scum! How dare you behave that way!”
That’s why James says we must be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. If brothers and sisters in Christ are hurting—if they are screaming for help—the last thing to do is pour salt in their wounds. It is a horrible thing when believers in the name of Christ quickly condemn and offer no forgiveness and no help.
Of course, this does not mean that we ignore sin. If someone admits sin to us, we don’t say, “Well, your sin really isn’t so bad. Don’t get all bent out of shape over that. There’s much worse you could do.” For, such statements are equally bad. Why? Because we are still denying them the Gospel. We are teaching them that God only condemns the worst of the worst and not anything else. Remember the words of James 2:10, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
What, then, is the appropriate response when hurting souls come to us? We have compassion on them, and we don’t sugar-coat the truth. We still acknowledge that their sin is sin, but we focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We assure those who are sorry of their sin that Jesus bled and died for them—that He has taken that sin away—that their sin is not only forgivable, but also forgiven by Jesus who already paid for that sin on the cross.
But all too often, people do not turn to the right people for help when they are hurting. Since they don’t think the Church will help them, they usually turn to non-Christian so-called professionals who will listen to them. They turn to people who will probably lie to them and say their sin really isn’t sin. They turn to people who will embrace their behavior, rather than help them change from it.
God established the Church to forgive sins. Do you have things which weigh you down? Are you burdened by years of sin? Christ’s Church is here to help you by directing you to Jesus and His Word.
For James says, “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” The Word has already been implanted in you. That Word was given to you in your Baptism. James is urging you to take advantage of what is already yours—take advantage of the Word—take advantage of Christ’s gifts—take advantage of the Absolution—take advantage of Scripture—take advantage of your pastor who speaks Christ’s Word into your ears.
Do you have sins which weigh you down? All of you do—unless, of course, your heart is hard, or you deceive yourself. If your sins terrify you, receive with meekness Word of God. Hear how your sins are taken away. Hear how Christ bled and died for you. Hear that Jesus already atoned for your sin on the cross.
There is only one way to heaven. That way isn’t by ignoring sin or simply being sorry. It isn’t making up for all your wrongs and repaying all your debts. It isn’t downplaying your sin. The only way to heaven is this: through the forgiveness of sins earned by Jesus in your place on the cross and graciously granted to you through His Word.
That is why James teaches us that this Word saves your souls. Without the Word, you cannot have salvation, for the Holy Spirit operates only through the Word of God. He convicts you of sin, and righteousness, and judgment. He works faith in you through the Word of God. He delivers the forgiveness of sins Jesus earned for you on the cross through His Word.
Therefore, we receive this Word with meekness, which means we receive the Word with humility, with submission to our Lord, with gentleness and gratefulness. We hear the Word of God as God’s very words. We don’t let modern ways of thought replace God’s Word.
We don’t place our reason above the Word.
God certainly gave us reason. And reason is good. Reason has allowed us to advance as far as we have with technology. Reason allows us to survive. But not all use of reason is good.
When it comes to the Christian faith, we employ God-given reason. We use reason when we ask, “What does this mean?” To answer this question, we must use the right kind of reason. The right kind of reason is this: the reason that looks for answers in the Word of God—the reason employed to let Scripture interpret Scripture—reason to look up passages, look up parallel passages, and let the Scriptures teach us the answer. This is known as ministerial reason—God-given reason in which we submit to what Scripture teaches.
Just as there is a good use of reason, there is also a bad use of reason. This type is known as magisterial reason. This type of reason is used when we read our ideas into the text or when we try to explain away the Scriptures to suit our opinions or modern ways of thought.
Here’s an example of magisterial reason: since only the Word saves, many then reason that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper cannot save. They mock us Lutherans for believing that Baptism saves (1 Peter 3:21) and the Lord’s Supper delivers to us the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28). They use their reason to conclude that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are really our works.
But they are not our works. They are works of God. There is no quality in me as a pastor that makes the bread the Body of Jesus. There is no quality in me that makes the wine the Blood of Jesus. So why, then, do we believe the bread is the Body of Jesus and the wine is the Blood of Jesus? The answer is simple: the Word. The same Word that saves our souls is that Word which makes the Sacrament a sacrament. The Word present with the elements of bread and wine declares that this meal is the Body and Blood of Jesus. And this Word in the sacraments delivers to you the forgiveness of sins for the salvation of your bodies and souls.
The Word was implanted in you through the visible Word of Baptism. Many believe Baptism is simply the work of man. They claim Baptism is our commitment to Jesus. But that isn’t what the Word of God teaches us. Rather than believing the rationalistic scoffers of the Word, let us believe what the Word itself says about Baptism. For the Word of God declares that Baptism now saves you.
How does Baptism save? Through that same Word. The Word of God—God’s Name—is spoken upon you in your Baptism. And when God gives you His Name, He grants you all the blessing of being a member of His family and His Kingdom. That Word is implanted in you through Baptism.
Therefore, continue to receive the saving Word of Christ in meekness. Continue to hear it. Be in that Word—day in and day out—for through that Word, God is working in you your salvation. Through that Word, He comforts you. Through that Word, He forgives you. Through that Word, He sets you free from your burdens and guilt.
If you are looking for help, don’t turn away from God’s Word. Turn to it. Receive with meekness that Word which saves your soul. Receive His Word in all the ways it comes to you—through the Word heard and read, through the visible Word in the Sacraments, through the Absolution, and through the voice of your pastor.
For in that Word, you receive the comfort that you are saved—that heaven is yours—that Christ our Lord loves you—that you are reconciled to your Father in Heaven—that all your sin is cancelled out. Thanks be to God! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen