James 1:12-18; The First Sunday in Lent; February 22, 2015;
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:12–18, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s a rough world, and getting rougher, it seems. As I look around the congregation I see lots of folks here who are struggling with difficult issues. Cancer and violence, money and work, family and future, disagreement and broken relationships. It doesn’t seem as if things are getting better. In fact, I think Satan is making specific attacks against you all. Trials are a part of the Christian life. If anyone sells Christianity as an easy life, full of riches and blessings, as if once you become a Christian life gets easy, they are lying. Certainly there are riches and blessings of a certain kind, to being a Christian, but not necessarily what is sold by preacher / hucksters.
And there’s more. We not only struggle with what the world has to dish out, we struggle with our own self-made troubles. When you are baptized into the Christian faith you gain a great enemy. He is bent on your destruction. He leads you down the path of your own choosing. He feeds your own desires. He lures you in, like the fish going for the bait on the hook. It feels dangerous, but you go right ahead because you can’t stop the desire. After all that, sin is born. The temptation isn’t sin, but temptation married to desire have sin as their offspring. And sin, set in the heart, after all its promises to satisfy desire, really only brings nothing but death. Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Your life is racked with it. Lost friendships. Regret that keeps you up at night. Hopelessness. You want to blame someone else, but as Pogo says, "We have met the enemy and he is us.” Just look at your own life and take inventory of the troubles you have that will only ultimately be resolved by death.
It’s the lifecycle of sin. Temptation, desire, sin, death. How many times have you lived that? How many times has it ended up where sin ends up? How many times in your life will you do it again? How many times can you count on God’s forgiveness?
Well, that’s the real question isn’t it? Does my temptation, desire, sin, and death lead to hell, permanent punishment, and separation from God, living in my sin and its consequences forever? Or is there some way out? St. James tells us carefully and directly, “Do not be deceived!” Temptation, desire, and sin are dangerous. The first place to realize some relief is early, when you are tempted by your desire. Recognize the lifecycle of sin, break it at the beginning. Recognize that sin is our own problem. We suffer the consequences. James tells us that when we “stand firm” we are blessed.
Now I’m not saying that you should work harder to overcome your temptations, as if you, by yourself could do such a thing. Pray harder, and endure your suffering stronger, be all that you can be! Look inside yourself and find the strength to beat down your temptation. The problem is in your heart. Your sinful nature drags you toward sin and its consequences. No, in your heart is not the place to find help against the lifecycle of sin. Your sinful nature is the very problem.
James actually gives you another idea, another place to look for help. He talks about good gifts that come from God. He talks about being “brought forth” by the word of truth. It’s a kind of lifecycle of salvation. Sin gives birth to death. Jesus, the Word of Life, gives birth to life itself. James is talking about being born of water and spirit just like our Lord says.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6, ESV)
Well, and don’t we have a great example of that very thing here today. Fritz Christian Carter, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Born of the Spirit, brought forth by the Word of Truth. Baptized into Christ.
Sin, disturb my soul no longer:
I am baptized into Christ!
I have comfort even stronger:
Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me
Since my Baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood,
Sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?
LSB 594 © 1991 Robert E. Voelker. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License .NET, no. 100012735.
Good and perfect gifts that come from God the Father, reminding us that the lifecycle of sin is broken by the Word of Truth, Jesus Christ himself on the cross, the lifecycle of life. That is where James says to turn. Turn to the one who has paid the price for your sin already. Turn to the cross and your connection to it in New Birth, given in the water of Holy Baptism. Turn to the Holy Spirit, who pours into you His strength to avoid temptations pull.
The Word of Truth calls us to confess our sin, our shortcomings, our sinful desires, our inability to avoid, and our failure again and again. We confess, he forgives. That is Holy Baptism, the good gift that comes down from the Father of lights. It’s just like Luther writes in the Small Catechism:
What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986 Concordia Publishing House, cph.org
That New Man is the “firstfruits” that James is talking about. A new man that avoids temptation and sin, not because he has some great power to do so, but because he has God himself, working, offering forgiveness, calming the guilty conscience, releasing us in that dear forgiving flood, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for you. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.