Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 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.” (James 3:13–4:10, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In your bulletin is a color copy of the painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tedema titled "the Death of the First Born" (1872). I want you to look at the painting carefully. This famous painting is set in Egypt after the 10th plague sent by God to release his people from slavery in Egypt. The first thing that strikes you about the painting is Pharaoh's eyes. Here's a man who thought he was wise. In fact he thought he was God. Moses and Aaron stand in the upper right-hand corner of the painting looking over the dreadful scene. Pharaoh holds in his arms his dead son, the firstborn. His stare is vacant. Gone are the days when he believed he was stronger than the God of the Hebrews. Gone is the laughter of his son. Gone is his relationship with his queen. Gone is his pride. This is a defeated man. One could hope that at this moment, when all was lost, Pharaoh would bend his knee to the one true God and humble himself. But it is not to be. We know how the story ends. Pharaoh's army's drowned in the depth of the Red Sea. Death upon death has Pharaoh's pride brought upon his family and his nation. The Bible simply says "and Pharaoh's heart was hardened". In fact I think in the empty gaze of Pharaoh's eyes you can see the anger welling up. He's about to order his armies out to destroy the Hebrews. This is where pride ends.
In our text, St. James addresses no less a problem to the Christians in his letter. What he sees is fellow Christians quarreling and fighting, all because of their pride. He sees Christians choosing their own desires over God's will for their communion. Their sin is no less than Pharaoh's. Their sin is the same sin that led Adam and Eve to eat the fruit forbidden by God. Pride is the oldest sin in the world.
James does not speak delicately. God opposes the proud. Pride before God will be judged. It destroys relationships. It destroys communities. It destroys trust. St. James in fact calls it "demonic". From the pit of hell you may say. He says also, "for where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice."
We see it everywhere. Everywhere people are caught up in their own desires, their own pride. They hold themselves and their standing above their neighbors. They forget that God calls us to care for those nearest to us. So often it is pride that prevents it. We have what we have because we have earned it. They don't have because they are lazy and deserve what they don't have.
And yet here, James stabs the Word into our own hearts. We are guilty of pride ourselves. We marvel at Pharaoh after all that he had seen and yet thought that he could wrestle with God and win. With each plague worse than the previous, leading to the death of his son. But when we look honestly we understand that in our life over and over again pride leads us to the place where Pharaoh is. Pride leads to despair. Pride leads to loss. Pride leads to death. That is the result of our sin.
All we need do is paint our faces around Pharaoh's eyes. We see there our pride. Our pride that leads to murder. Oh, not actual bloodshed, but the pride that places our wants above the needs of our neighbor. And therefore breaks the commandment that says,
You shall not murder.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.
Our pride that leads to quarreling because our pride can never be wrong. We would rather destroy our relationships than admit our shortcomings. And our pride that says all we have is for our own pleasure.
And James says to us, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (4:6) and so our pride convicts us. We stand before God sinful creatures deserving his full condemnation.
And what are we to do? Is there anything that can save us from this body of death?
Look again at Pharaoh. Look again at his eyes. This time look at him as a different Father. This Father mourns the death of his only Son, His first born. Notice how the dead son is painted in a very Christlike pose. The Father holds in his arms his Son slaughtered by human pride. This Father, the God of the universe, can turn this death into something more. This Father raises His Son from death to new life. Now look into the eyes of a Heavenly Father. "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name… Forgive us our trespasses", we say. Forgive us our pride. Forgive us our selfishness. And this Father does. He sent his only Son to the cross. And there he bears our sinful pride. And there the Father sees it all. There the Father punishes it all. He separates himself from Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus suffers the hell of pride's punishment. And it is ours that he suffers. It is for us. And also for us, he rises from the dead.
"Draw near to God…" St. James says. "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded." Don't make the mistake of Pharaoh, humble yourselves before God. See yourself as a prideful sinful human being in need of his Grace, his forgiveness. This is the prayer of repentance. Listen to Psalm 119
Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word! Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word.” (Psalm 119:169–170, ESV)
Forgiveness follows repentance. Not because of repentance but because of the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sin is forgiven at the cross and delivered to you through God's word. It is received by the repentant heart. In the repentant heart lives anew in the joy of that forgiveness. And puts away pride and selfishness. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.