Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 2:1-10, 14-18
Dear spirits for whom God yearns jealously: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Saint James, for the third week in a row, hammers us with the Law. He is unrelenting. Two weeks ago he told us faith without works is dead and cannot save us. Last week he accused us of setting the entire course of our lives on hell fire with our tongues. Today he is calling us adulterers. Not because of breaking the Sixth Commandment, but the First Commandment. He is saying we’ve been unfaithful to God in the love we have shown to the world.
How much time have you spent hearing God’s Word compared to how much time you have spent listening to the world? How much time have you spent pursuing worldly activities compared to how much time you have spent pursuing spiritual activities? How much money have you spent on worldly things compared to how much you have given to God? As Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:21)
We are either following the wisdom that comes down from above, or the wisdom that is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. There is no other wisdom. We are either serving God and our neighbour or we are serving ourselves. We are either following God’s will for our lives, of we are following the will of our flesh, the world, and the devil.
We think we can have it both ways. We think we can be friends with the world and still be friends with God. Scripture says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” A life that is devoted to selfish ambition, selfish gain, and selfish passion is a life that has no room for God. It is a life that makes us enemies of God. Yet, we are jealous and covet what God hasn’t given us and we get upset with God because we don’t have all our desires. We covet the things of this world. We are jealous of those who have more worldly things than we have.
God is jealous for us. Our text says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us.” God wants us, but we want the world. God wants us, but we want our passions. God wants us, but we want selfish things of the world for ourselves.
God’s jealousy is not wrong, but ours is. God’s jealousy can be compared to a husband’s jealousy when his wife spends all her time with other men and is unfaithful to him. That’s why James uses similar language as the Old Testament prophets, calling our unfaithfulness adultery.
God created us. We are His people. He has redeemed us with the blood of His own Son. But we are chasing after the things of this world. We want all kinds of things other than God. When we don’t get them, we get upset with God. What kind of backwards people are we?
James calls this double-mindedness. It’s like the wife who comes home from other men every once in a while to tell her husband how much she loves him. It is double-mindedness to try and be friends with the world and friends with God. It is spiritual adultery.
Our Scripture lesson hammers home the Law, but James also continuously also tells us that it is impossible to fulfil the Law. Last week he said man can tame all kinds of wild animals, but no one is able to tame the tongue. This week he says we are double-minded, which we cannot stop being until we are dead. We cannot remove our sinful minds from our heads. We cannot rip out the sinful desires and jealousy and covetousness out of our brains.
So what then? Why did the Holy Spirit inspire James to write these things if we cannot do them? Why is God commanding the impossible?
First, it is because He wants us to know His will for us as His creatures. He wants to teach us what is holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7:12), and He wants us to strive for them.
Even more, God wants to impress upon us our sinful nature and the impossibility of us saving ourselves so that we would humble ourselves and mourn over our sin.
“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Humble yourselves before God because of your sin, and He will forgive you your sin and raise you up.
Humbling ourselves is what we do when we confess, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.” (Public Confession in Divine Service setting three, LSB 184)
This is humility. It is confessing our worthlessness before God and begging Him for mercy. It is drawing near to God, for He draws near to us. It is being wretched and mourning and weeping over our sin. It is humbling ourselves before God because we know He will exalt us. It is knowing that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
Grace. God gives you grace. He does not leave you in your wretchedness, mourning, and weeping because He does not leave you in your sin. He gives you grace. He exalts you. He forgives you all your sin in Absolution and takes your sin away from you. He cleanses your hands and purifies your hearts. He does this all on account of Jesus fulfilling the requirements of the Law in your place. He does this on account of Jesus’ suffering and death for your sins. He does this on account of Jesus taking the punishment that you deserve.
God is jealous over you and does not want the world to get you, so He gives you the forgiveness of sins and takes you exclusively for Himself as His pure, holy, forgiven child. He doesn’t just do this once. He does it again and again until you need no more forgiveness, that is to say, until He takes you home to be with Him to the sinless perfection of Paradise.
In Paradise, we will not sin any more. This is one of the greatest joys to which we look forward. We will never again sin against our Creator. We will never again have desires that are contrary to His will for us. Long forgotten will be the selfish ambitions, selfish gains, and selfish passions of this world. Long forgotten will be the world that will be burning along with all those things we used to care about. We will no longer be double-minded, but we will want everything that is holy and righteous and good. We will no longer have the wretchedness, mourning, and weeping of sin, but only laughter and joy forevermore. And we will be faithful to God, as He is faithful to us. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
[A note to readers: beginning in Advent, we will begin using the One-Year Lectionary.]