Monday, September 17, 2012

Sermon -- 16th Sunday after Pentecost (September 16, 2012)

MARK 7:31–37 / JAMES 1:17-27

In the name + of Jesus.

     Our Lord does not work in theories.  He did not create the heavens and the earth in theory or metaphorically.  He spoke and the heavens, the earth, and everything in them came into being.  Jesus did not have compassion on the mute and deaf man in theory.  He pulled the man aside.  He put his fingers in his hears.  He touched the man’s tongue and proclaimed, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” (Mark 7:34)  The man was not healed metaphorically.  His ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. (Mark 7:35)  Jesus’ compassion and his healing were very real.
     In the same way, sin and all of its consequences are very real. You are not sinners in theory.  You have committed real rebellion against God and his commandments.  Your guilt is not just a feeling you need to get over.  The guilt of sin covers you whether you feel it or not.  It is not just that you feel guilty; it is that you bear real guilt.  And the consequence of all of this – besides enduring real aches, pains, and frustrations in a sinful world – is a real death.  Funerals and cemeteries are not theoretical.  They are the consequences of sin.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you.  Sin and death cling to you.  God’s judgment is against you, and rightly so.  You need a Savior.
     God’s love for you has brought forth your salvation.  God’s love is not theory.  God does not love you because you think he should.  God does not withhold his condemnation because you would rather he did not condemn.  God’s judgment is real, but his judgment was really carried out on Jesus Christ.  Jesus is true God who became true man.  Your flesh and blood Savior was nailed to a cross where he shed real blood to pay for real sinners.  He was crucified, died, and was buried.  On the third day, he rose from the dead.  Jesus lives and reigns – not metaphorically or in theory.  Jesus does not live because he lives in your heart or in your memory.  Jesus really rose physically from the grave – seen and heard and touched by his disciples.  So, you have a real Savior from sin and death.  You have a real forgiveness from God and a real pardon for all your guilt.  You have a real victory over the grave.  You have a real eternal life in a real heaven waiting for you.
     If God’s promises were only theory or if your salvation were metaphoric, the world would have reason to mock you or pity you.  You would truly be deceiving yourself just to muddle through life and make things bearable.  But Jesus is not a psychotherapist; he is a Savior.  Your faith does not rest on fantasy.  Your salvation is no charade.  God does not work in theories.  He is a real God who proclaims true forgiveness, a divine love, and a lasting peace.  A crucified and risen Savior has redeemed you.  He has washed you in your baptism to make you his own.  This is how Jesus has worked in you to make you a child of God.
     St. James wrote his epistle to the children of God.  He reminds you that, as God’s children, your life is not to be lived merely as theory either.  Jesus works in you so that he will also work through you.  A true and living faith does not sit idly or use forgiveness as a license to engage in anger, filth, or wickedness.  A true and living faith recognizes that sins are not theoretically bad because it can lead to bad things.  Sure, your anger can get you fired from your job.  A filthy mouth can get your friends to leave you. Your wickedness could land you in court.  You can probably deal with a loss of friends or a job.  Sins, however, cannot be overcome.  They are inherently evil because sins are rebellion against God and his word.
     Therefore, James writes: Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25)
     Do not forget who you are.  Jesus has worked in you to make you a child of God, and Jesus continues to work through you so that you live a godly life.  You are the first fruits of all that God has created.  You have been set apart to be people who do the works of God – showing mercy, serving in love, demonstrating patience, kindness, and self-control.  Jesus works in you to work through you.  He makes you the salt of the earth to preserve it from plunging into ruin more quickly.  He makes you the light of the world to reflect God’s goodness and mercy to others.  Your works will probably never make headlines.  They may even go unnoticed by many.  But your works are always done to benefit others.  Your works always bring honor to God who is praised through you.  Jesus works in you to bless others through you.
     The Christian life is not lived in theory.  St. James notes that this is impossible.  Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)  He who thinks he can believe like a Christian and be excused from living like one deceives himself.  Faith and life cannot be separated from one another.  Even people who do not care one lick about God expect God’s people to be godly.  The problem is that your life never matches what you should, in theory, be.  The Christian life is not lived in theory, but it is not lived perfectly either.  God’s Law continues to show that your works are imperfect and that you are a sinner.
     Though you want to be doers of the word, you do not do as you want.  That is why St. James wrote: If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (James 1:23-24)  Remember that you are still people who need Jesus’ salvation.  The Lord is not pleased with your life because you are doing more or greater things than your neighbor.  It is not a contest anyway.  When people boast of their works, it is probably because they put their faith in how many works they do or in how impressive their works are.  Faith does not produce works so that you can be impressed with yourself.  God’s pleasure for you does not come from how productive you are.  God is pleased with you because Jesus Christ has cleansed you in his blood.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:27)  Do not forget what you look like before God and why you look that way.  You are baptized and, therefore, clothed in Christ.  Jesus works in you so that he will work through you.
     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 is God’s word which saves your souls.  You are saved not by your works, but by Jesus’ works.  And it is God’s word which has been planted in you which has taken root in your hearts to grow and to bring forth the fruits which God desires.  Jesus has worked in you to save you, and Jesus works through you to bring forth good works.  Therefore, Jesus is the source of your entire life.  He is the one who produces all good from you.  He is the one who bestows all good upon you.  And he is the one who grants you eternal goodness in Paradise.
     This is no mere theory.  It is the very word of God.  It is God’s true love which saves you and works in your life.  It is a real salvation, a real comfort, and a real peace.  You are the true children of God, living in joy now and in peace forever.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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