Sunday, July 25, 2021

Genesis 9:8-17; The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; July 25, 2021;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”” (Genesis 9:8–17, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Today, I'm going to tell you a story. By a story I don't mean something that is fiction. This story is absolutely true and happened exactly as the Bible tells it. This is the story of the great flood that destroyed all the Earth except for the seven members of Noah's family that were safely tucked inside the ark. One of the things I want you to understand from this story is that it is not a cute children's tale. Instead, it is a story of God's anger and wrath over sin. For us it's tainted by children's pictures of cute animals going into the ark two by two. When we see it that way, we miss the depth of God's anger and his righteous judgment over sin.

It needs to be understood, the world was completely corrupt. The Bible says The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5, ESV)

It says that God was "grieved" that he had made man. At this point, I think you and I should shudder. For the people that covered the earth at that time were really no different than what we are. They were people living their lives according to their own thoughts and desires. This is indeed what we so often do. Here I want you to think about Psalm 51:

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:3–5, ESV) And although we find it hard to believe, God was completely justified, "blameless in his judgment." As we have talked about so many times all sin comes from our inability to live in a perfect relationship with God. The inability to love God with our whole heart our whole soul and our whole mind.

And yet, God is always gracious. In the midst of the promised destruction God saves Noah and his family. The Bible says Noah was a "righteous man and walked with God". That doesn't mean the Noah did not sin. It simply means that his outward character was completely different from those surrounding him. Noah was publicly known to worship Yahweh. God commanded Noah to build an ark. In the ark God would save two of every creature of the Earth. Every animal that had the breath of life in it. Noah faithfully obeyed God. He built the ark. According to God's command the ark was to be 450 feet long 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. If you go the whole length of our property along Sumner Avenue, and go from the street to the first window here in the church, and twice as high as the church from the basement floor to the peek of the roof, that's the size of the ark. Rather than looking like a boat, the ark was probably more like a big box with the slanted roof and an open slot for air and light all around the top. In it God would save Noah and his family and every "kind" of animal that lived on the earth. And when all were inside God sealed the door and sent the flood to the earth. It was a disaster. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights. The water came from everywhere. It covered the whole earth to 15 feet over the highest mountain. The terror of our spring tornado is nothing compared to the terror of those people on whose God judgment fell. And make no mistake it was God's judgment.

[God] blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.” (Genesis 7:23, ESV)

When the judgment was over, and the land was able to sustain life again, Noah and his family and all the animals came out of the ark. Then standing there on Mount Ararat in the aftermath of God's judgment over sin, God made a promise. Never again would all creatures be cut off by a flood over the whole Earth. And as a reminder God set against the darkness of the clouds the bright colors of the rainbow. It was a sign, not to the people, but a reminder to God himself that he would never again destroy the earth in such a way. When you see a rainbow, instead of thinking about Judy Garland, leprechauns and gay pride parades, you should fear and love God for he is gracious and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. It is the visible sign of his grace and mercy. Listen to Martin Luther:

Our merciful God always placed some outward and visible sign of His grace alongside the Word, so that men, reminded by the outward sign and work or Sacrament, would believe with greater assurance that God is kind and merciful. Thus after the Flood the rainbow appeared in order to serve as a convincing proof that in the future God would not give vent to His wrath against the world by a similar punishment…To us in the New Testament, Baptism and the Eucharist have been given as visible signs of grace, so that we might firmly believe that our sins have been forgiven through Christ’s suffering and that we have been redeemed by His death. (Luther’s Works (American Edition) 1:248. This connection between the rainbow-sign and the sacramental signs of baptism and Eucharist is common in Luther: LW 2:144; 20:67–8; 35:86; 36:174; 37:135; and 54:56.)

The rainbow is God's visible sign that he will not destroy the earth with water again. It stretches from horizon to horizon. It reaches up into the menacing clouds as a reminder to God and us of God's far-reaching mercy.

So also, God gives us the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion as visible signs of the forgiveness of sins that Jesus Christ won on the cross for us. But unlike the rainbow these are not just signs. Through these gifts, these visible gifts, God brings to us what Jesus Christ did for us. When we see our sin and are well aware of the just punishment for our sin, that is eternal death, we are comforted by the visible signs of the Sacraments. Just like Noah and his family were comforted by the visible sign of the rainbow. The sacraments we have are also God's promises to us. Baptism is the flood that drowns our old sinful nature and cleanses us from sin. The whole earth was cleansed by water from sin. In Baptism God makes promises to us individually. All that Jesus did his life, death, and resurrection are ours. So also, we have the visible elements of bread and wine in Holy Communion that feeds us during our life journey, just as Noah fed the animals on the ark, during their journey. Sacraments are our pointers back to Jesus Christ and all that he is done for us. The rainbow was Noah and his family's pointer forward to God's grace in Jesus Christ. God promised not to punish the world in this way for its sin. Instead, God himself would come in human flesh and bear the whole world's sin on the cross.

The Bible does speak of a second worldwide catastrophe at the end of history. Jesus himself says that this is "coming soon". All will be surprised at the coming "just as it was in the days of Noah" (Luke 17:26). And in fact, in the medieval days of the church, there was a common image of Christ the stern judge enthroned upon a rainbow. It was a reminder that he would come again to judge the whole world, the living and the dead. But because of God's gracious promises in Jesus Christ, shown to us in the sacraments, and the image of the rainbow, we have God as our gracious Lord. Because Jesus has indeed taken our sin to the cross and suffered the punishment for all of that. Te need not fear the judgment at the end of time. For Jesus is our judge, but he is also and more importantly our Savior. Again, listen to Luther:

“Therefore we who come to Christ want to have him as a gracious Lord. The rainbow on which he sits enthroned does not terrify me; it appears for my salvation. We do not look upon him as a judge. He will call for us. He will not reject us.” (Luther’s Works (American Edition) 23:61)


The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Matthew 6:24-34; Eighth Sunday after the Pentecost, July 18, 2021;

Matthew 6:24-34; Eighth Sunday after the Pentecost, July 18, 2021;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:24-34 ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Don’t Worry Be Happy” that’s a song isn’t it… a song from the 70’s? It sounds a lot like what Jesus is saying here doesn’t it?

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Here is a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don't worry be happy
In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don't worry, be happy......
(Don't Worry, Be Happy, From the Movie "Cocktails", Performed by Bobby McFerrin)

I think it is good advice, don’t you? Don’t worry… be happy… but it’s easier said than done. There’s so much to worry about; too much moisture, or not enough; too much wind, or not enough; too many visitors, not enough workers, high grocery prices, should I drive to Duluth or buy them here; health care costs through the ceiling; will my daughter be alright as she begins a life on her own?; what am I going to do with the kids the rest of the summer; family feuds; global warming; global pandemic (or not?); natural and unnatural disasters; presidential elections; illegal immigration; uncooperative neighbors; new neighbors; unwanted new residents; old friends leaving / dying; loss of independence; too much change in the church; not enough change in the church; on and on it goes… it’s enough to give you an ulcer. What does Jesus think he’s saying anyway? Life is difficult. It’s a struggle to get the stuff we need… and getting harder. How can he say, “Don’t worry?”

Well, it’s a good question to ask. What is Jesus trying to say here exactly? And more specifically what is he saying to you and me? Well… to really understand what he’s saying we have to take off our shoes, put on our sandals, and sit down on the dusty ground of first century Palestine. We have to put ourselves in the crowd that was listening to Jesus. This might be harder than you think. Especially for people who are as wealthy as we are. Yep, I said wealthy. Oh, I know, we don’t think of ourselves as wealthy. We seem to struggle every day for the stuff we need (or think we need). But the majority of the folks gathered around Jesus didn’t have nearly what we have. They lived day to day, hand to mouth. To put it in perspective I heard it this way.

If you have more than one pair of shoes, if you decide what you are going to eat each day, you are wealthy, by the world’s standards. (Unknown)

In fact, most of us have never been there, most of us have never been poor by that definition. But these are the people Jesus is speaking to. So, when Jesus says “don’t worry about what you will eat or drink or wear” he’s talking to people who really don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. He’s talking to people who scratch every day just to put food on the table. Obesity isn’t a problem for them, like it is for us, starvation is a daily possibility. And Jesus tells them not to worry…

You know, one problem I have is that I get too serious about things. It’s a shortcoming I have. I tell a joke, and nobody laughs because they don’t expect it. We look at Jesus that way, too. But one of his greatest teaching tools is humor. I think we miss this about Jesus. And here’s a good example.

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns… Picture in your mind what Jesus is saying. Little wild birds, driving their little bitty tractors through the fields planting seed… little bird sized combines with little birdie satellite dishes for XM radio… and perched high in the treetops, little bird grain silos full of grain stored up for the winter. No, it doesn’t happen, does it. The birds don’t do any of that. They are provided all that they need from God. They pluck around on the ground and pick up the seed that are dropped from the combine. They search through the tall grass for the early worm.

and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Or how about those flowers.
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,

Imagine the picture of flowers, sitting row upon row in the fashion sweat shop, Easter lilies, pansies, and chrysanthemums, bent over row upon row of sewing machines. Roses pushing their high fashion clothing racks through the streets of New York. No, that doesn’t happen. God provides what they need… and more beautiful than the richest cloths of Hollywood.

Jesus wants you to know that you are of far more worth than flowers or birds. That’s what he’s telling the folks around him. That’s what he’s telling you. He takes care of all of their needs. He takes care of your needs too. In our sinful nature, the problem is, we don’t recognize real need. We think we need cable television, computers and cell phones. We think we need 16 pairs of shoes and 99 kinds of breakfast cereal. In fact, if we really looked at our lives and our possessions carefully, we’d see very clearly that we have much more than we need. It is only selfishness that keeps it in our possession. We make excuses for not sharing it, like telling ourselves things like “I’d help them, but they’ll just drink it away” or “I helped them once but they didn’t use it properly” or “God helps those who help themselves.” “I need to save for a rainy day.” We count success, both personal and in the church by the size of the savings account. Money is simply a resource he gives his people and the church to be used in service to our neighbors and to serve the message of Jesus' love and forgiveness for all. Jesus gives fair warning.

You cannot serve God and money.

Notice he doesn’t say “don’t” serve God and money. He says you can’t do it. When our eyes are on our bank account they are not on Jesus. When our eyes are on Jesus, we won’t worry about the bank account.

Jesus also gives the solution.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

But be careful! Jesus isn’t telling you what to do. He’s telling you to look for what he is doing. The problem is language here. It’s that phrase “Kingdom of God” that throws us a curve. When we hear kingdom, we think of territory or government. But that’s not what Jesus is talking about at all. St. Matthew in his Gospel tells us what the Kingdom of God is.

And [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. (Matthew 4:23 ESV) And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 9:35 ESV) When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. (Matthew 11:1 ESV)

Jesus is God, the King, come to fix the world, to bring the Kingdom of God. Jesus is God the king come to remove the effects of sin in his world. Jesus, the King, comes through the preaching and teaching of his Word.

Jesus doesn’t help those who help themselves; Jesus helps those who are helpless. Given the choice to serve God or money (because we can’t do both) our sinful nature would pick money every time. We hoard, covet, cheat and steal for it. Our selfishness runs too deep for us to change. In fact, whenever we worry, we assume the power of the King and try to take it into our own hands.

But look for the Kingdom of God. Jesus, the King, comes. Jesus, the King, removes sin’s effects by taking the punishment for our selfishness to the cross. The King does what Kings are supposed to do. He takes care of the needs of his people. He starts with our greatest need, the need for forgiveness. He takes our worries into his hands and takes them to the cross. Jesus’ blood dripping from the cross washes away the sinful stench of selfishness through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5) in the water and the word in Holy Baptism. Jesus’ broken body bears the burden of our serving the wrong master, money. He puts forgiveness right into us with his Holy Supper. Jesus sweetly speaks forgiveness into our ears and our hearts with his Word. He reminds us that we are free from the money master. We are free not to worry about our needs because God, the King, Jesus Christ, our Savior, has them all under his control. We are free to serve the needs of others. We are free to look at the wealth that God has given us and use it in service to other people, even (and especially) people who don’t deserve it. We are free to think about what God has given us as gifts for the help of other people (by the way, that includes our own families). We are free from worrying about ourselves because Jesus has us in hand. Listen to those wonderful words from the Prophet Isaiah we heard a moment ago.

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:15-16a ESV)

That’s not just an idle reference. Isaiah is talking about how slaves were tattooed with their master’s names on the palms of their hands. This was done so the slaves would remember who they were working for. Jesus engraves your name on the palms of his hands. He serves you with his life, death and resurrection. Everything he did he did for you. He will never forget you. Even death will not separate you from him. If you are looking for the Kingdom of God, look no further than Jesus doing what he does for you. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Amos 7:7–15; The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost; July 11, 2021;

Amos 7:7–15; The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost; July 11, 2021;

This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, “ ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’ ” And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:7–15, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I love to go to the zoo. I like pachyderms. Their big and intelligent. But there are always those big cats, especially the lion, the King of beasts. When you stand outside his cage and look and see that big, powerful guy, he is usually laying lazily. He's got big paws and sharp teeth. When he looks at you, he looks at you like dinner. I, for one, am glad that he's in the cage and I'm out of the cage. If there's one thing I know for sure, after visiting the zoo and seeing the lion. I want to keep the lion in the cage.

This is what the King Jeroboam, and his priest Amaziah want to do. They want to keep The Lion in the cage. The book of Amos is about, the Roaring Lion. God has called an unlikely prophet, Amos (previously a shepherd and a vinedresser) to be his voice and roar out with charges against the people of Israel, and especially the King Jeroboam. Listen how the book of Amos begins:

The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. And he said: “The Lord roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds mourn, and the top of Carmel withers.”” (Amos 1:1–2, ESV)

God gives Amos the vision of the plumb line. He is standing beside the wall which is Israel, and the wall is all out of kilter. The people of Israel have strayed from who God wants them to be and how he wants them to be his people. Corrupt judges rule among the people. They are easily bribed. The poor go without what they need. Immorality of all kinds is rampant. So, God roars against Israel. The people are worshiping false gods. High places have been set up for the gods of the Canaanites. And the King Jeroboam, he forgot who is really in charge. Israel was not like the other nations. The King was not supreme, it was to be God. So, God says. You will not escape my justice. I have warned you before. This time destruction is coming. The sword will be raised against the King. God is no small voice here. He's no tame kitty cat. The Lion is coming out of the cage.

But Amos is inviting God's people to be God's people and to live in a different way, God's way. If you're tired of the way things, are you are invited you to a new way of life. Where everything is backwards and upside down the last are first and first are last. Where the poor are blessed, and mighty ones are cast down. This is the same kingdom that Jesus proclaims when he comes. He says, "the kingdom of God is at hand." Think of Mary's Magnificat that we sing through our evening service of Vespers.

His arm now baring,
His strength declaring—
Sing the greatness of the Lord!
The proud He scatters,
Their rule He shatters—
Sing the greatness of the Lord!
Oppression halted;
The meek exalted.
Full are the hungry;
Empty, the wealthy— LSB 922

Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection brings about this radical kingdom. Amos is talking about Jesus here and the new life that he brings through the forgiveness of sins.

The King and his priest Amaziah want to keep the cat in the cage. They don't like what Amos is preaching. They see the prophet as a troublemaker. They're not going to change their ways. They can't believe that Amos' words were God's words. So, Amaziah warns Amos, "Get out. Take your words against the King and go away."

And here we too stand. God's word accuses us of these very things. We care more for ourselves than the poor. We set up our false gods of our money and our family and our security and our country. We sit quietly in our churches all neighbors all around us go without hearing God's word forgiveness for them in Jesus Christ. And while they suffer under the load of the problems of the world. Amos invites us too, to a way of life that is radically different. A life where the first are last and the last are first. A life where we live for others instead of for ourselves. And sometimes we even tell God to get out. "I don't want to hear your word against me."

Amos refuses to give in. God's word must be heard. He stands in a long line of prophets, Moses, Daniel, Elijah, Elisha, and Isaiah and of course he stands before the great prophet Jesus. Jesus is the end-all of all the prophets who stand before the high priest and make the good confession. He does that. He calls everyone into a new life in him, a new life in God the father. A radical life where forgiveness reigns. A radical life that is lived for the sake of others. A new life that he, God himself in human flesh, brings. They couldn't believe that Jesus was God in the flash come to speak his word directly to them. Jesus told them so and they killed him for it.

But in Jesus death on the cross forgiveness of sins is made. He suffers and dies for all the selfishness of the world. Because of his sacrifice we can live a life that is radically different. Through faith in Jesus’ life death and resurrection we have forgiveness of sins. We have a right relationship with God. Our sins are forgiven, we need not be concerned about our relationship to him. We can live that radical life where we put ourselves last and others first. Where we show God's mercy and love in time of need. And even more so, proclaim the forgiveness of sins in the cross of Jesus Christ for all people. This is the victory won for us by the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev). This is the new radical way of life we are called to through Holy Baptism, our connection to Jesus Christ and his life his death and his resurrection for us.

Amos, like the prophets before and after him, stands to make the good confession. He speaks God's word to the needy and dying world. He says what must be said. Sinful people deserve God's anger, wrath, and punishment. But God is gracious and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Repent and believe in God's forgiveness.

We stand here in Grand Marais, Minnesota, and make the same confession. Here we are called by God's Word to bring God's love and mercy to this community where God has placed us. There is an old evangelism method it uses the question "If you were to die tonight and God were to ask you, "Why should I let you into heaven," how would you answer?" Imagine if we went around knocking on our neighbor's doors. We might say something like this. "Hello, my name is Jonathan, I'm from Trinity Lutheran Church, if we died tonight would you care?" The answer to that question may indeed tell us how we're doing and living God's radical new life for us.

But this is exactly why we gather isn't it? We gather to hear of God's grace and mercy to us. To receive in word and water and bread and wine God's forgiveness. Especially forgiveness for being self-centered and not caring about the people around us. And for not being the church that he has called us to be. Not bearing one another's burdens, let alone the burdens of the people who live around us. But we are the body of Christ. We are here to bear one another's burdens. Jesus makes it so in his presence through the work of the Holy Spirit. Martin Luther said about the Lord's supper, "When you go to the sacrament you lay your burden on Christ and the community gathered. When you leave you pick up the burdens of one another and so fulfill the love of Christ." (Martin Luther via Rev. Matthew Harrison). It is the wonder of that gift that enables us to bear the burdens of the community around us. To show God's mercy in their deepest need. And specially to bring them the Good News about the forgiveness of sins one through Jesus Christ on the cross. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

James 2:1-10,14 – 18; the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; July 4, 2021;

James 2:1-10,14 – 18; the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; July 4, 2021;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:1–10, ESV)
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:14–18, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

St. James does two things here. First it is a clear example of God's expectations for those who are called into Christ's "honorable name". Quite literally there he says, "the good name which has been called upon you." One of the things it so easy for us to do is show partiality. You can see it happening here. How much easier it is to pay attention to the new Dr. who is coming to town income among us, then the shaggy person off the street, or the person who struggles with English. You would not mean to do it, it's just that is so much easier to speak to a well-dressed well-kept person than it is to speak to someone who struggles with our language or doesn't have the same standard for acceptable human behavior. It is a part of our sinful human nature to pay more attention to the person who has wealth because we desire to have wealth like him.

This is clearly not God's way. God shows no partiality. He calls all people to faith in Christ. He gives the same gifts to rich and poor. Notice how Holy Baptism treats all people the same. God's name is "called out" upon them and water is poured over their head. God adopts using his name. He washes away sin for the sake of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. It's all the same for rich or poor, socially acceptable or not. The name of God cuts across language and cultural barriers and does exactly what God calls it out to do. Listen again to Luther's Small Catechism: (Lutheran Service Book, p. 325)

What benefits does Baptism give?

It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)

So, in our dealings with all people God would have us treat all people as ones for whom our Lord died.

But while God shows no partiality, we often do. Furthermore, we know when it is wrong. We ourselves would not want to be treated the way we often find ourselves treating others, the poor, suffering, and those outside of our own cultural understanding. We simply do not "fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures." It's Jesus himself who tells us about The Second Table of the Law, that Commandments four through 10, are summed up in "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18) And in case you think it's no big deal, James says:

"But if you show partiality you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it."

And here's where we fall into the real problem, isn't it? We look at our own sins and try to lightly set them aside. It's easy to look at others and convict them of breaking the law. But when we look at ourselves, we excuse our sins, those that we call “minor sins.” James is clear. To show partiality is to break the law completely and to be liable for judgment. The section that's been cut out of our reading for this morning reads like this:

For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So, speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:11–13, ESV)

Here it tells us that people who break the law by not showing mercy can expect no mercy. When we speak in terms of breaking God's commandments "to expect no mercy" from God means to be condemned to eternal punishment. God created hell specifically for those who show no mercy and refuse to keep his commandments.

So, what are we, condemned by own partiality, to do? James tells us that also.

So, speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. We are to be judged under the law of liberty. What does this mean? Listen to St. Paul, St. Peter, and our Lord himself:

• For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, ESV)

• Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:16, ESV)

• So, Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”” (John 8:31–32, ESV) The "truth" that Jesus speaks about here is himself. The truth of his life death and resurrection for your sin. The truth of his suffering your hell on the cross. The truth of him taking your judgment, which is your guilt, to death and the grave. So, you are not judged by your good works which would lead you only to hell, instead you are judged through Christ. In Holy Baptism your sins are washed away because God's name was called out upon you. And all that Jesus did in his life death and resurrection are yours, especially the judgment that was called down upon him instead of you. So, you are free. This is the "law of liberty". You are free from God's eternal punishment. You are free from the sin that plagues you, even your sin of partiality. And since you are free from it you can do is St. Peter says, live as a servant of Christ instead of a servant of yourself.

This leads us to the second point that St. James is making. None of this makes sense without faith in Christ. Faith in Christ means faith in his work for the forgiveness of our sins. Trust that he has done all it is necessary for us. This faith is active in good works because this faith works for the benefit of those being served. In the absence of this faith good works are done for us. We do them in the vain hope that God will count these works in our salvation. These works are our "filthy rags" in God's sight. (Isa 64:6) To do our good works and hold them up in place of Christ is to say I don't need Jesus. There is no greater rejection of God than to say I don't need Jesus.

Active faith in Jesus cannot be separated from the works that faith displays. It is just as much of an error to say faith exists without works as it is to say works save us. It is faith alone, sola fide, which saves us, faith in the good work of Jesus Christ for us. You cannot see faith. It presides in the heart and the head. His confessed on the lips. It is shown in action. This is exactly what St. James says.

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

Here I would like to make a minor adjustment in the translation. St. James is not talking about the faith he has but the Christian faith in general. A better way to read this would be "show me your faith apart from the works, and I will show you the faith by my works." He's not talking about faith that you can't see inside him he's talking about the Christian faith. Faith in a living Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose again from the dead. A tangible real faith. "The Faith". A denial of one's own sin. A real clinging to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. And not just a faith that knows of Jesus but one that lives Jesus. When the confesses sin and forgiveness. The demons know about Jesus and all that he did but they live opposed to all that he is. They are destined for hell. My brothers and sisters in Christ our faith is real and living an active. It is not a head faith only but a heart faith as well. Those who cling to Jesus in faith for their forgiveness live as if that forgiveness makes a difference. This is what the Christian faith is. This is the faith that you and I confess.


The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen