Thursday, May 7, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Easter (James 1:16-21)

“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.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this evening comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of James. Dear friends in Christ: do not be deceived, my beloved brothers, do not be deceived. Do not be deceived by what your eyes see, by what your experience tells you. All you see around you is change; one moment is different than the last, not to mention one day, one week, one year, one century. The only constant in this world is change. What was new one day is obsolete the next, what was once young is now old, what was once polished and shiny is now dingy and rust-covered. Hair turns grey and eyes grow dim; joints wear out and organs fail. Friendship grows cold, attitudes shift. The wind blows, and man flutters away. Do not be deceived. There is nothing in your experience that is immune to change; even the lights of the heavens move and shift, they dance across the sky as the seasons change. But there is a constant; there is something—or someone—who is impervious to change, who stands as a fixed pillar in the whirling chaos: God. Do not be deceived; what characterizes His creation does not characterize Him. In Him, Him alone “there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

He does not change His nature, He does not change His attitude, He does not change His identity. He is a giver, One who bestows wondrous treasures upon His creation, and that will never change. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, from the Father of lights.” He who created the very lights of the heavens, the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night, gives all good things to His creatures. There is nothing good in this world that did not come from Him. The One who gives you light richly and daily provides you with all that your need to support this body and life. He it is who gave you life as His gift, knitting you together in the womb of your mother. And He it is who gives you new life, a new birth from above through Christ in the waters of the font. “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creation.”

Do not be deceived; what is true in the Garden is true in the Church. He gave life through His Word, saying “let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” while forming the man from the earth, and He gives new life through His Word made flesh, saying “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” while pouring water over our heads. Not by God’s creation, but by our sin, our first birth gave us life in this world but doomed us to death; solely by God’s work, by the power of His Word crucified and risen, our second birth put us to death in this world, but destined us for life. Both His work, both His power, both His gifts. Our God has not changed; He has always been, and will always be, a giver.

Do not be deceived, you cannot change this God; you cannot make the One who is a giver into a dealer, a trader, a negotiator. He is a giver, period; that is His identity from everlasting to everlasting, world without end. You can’t negotiate with a giver, you cannot make deals or arrangements. You can receive or reject, but you cannot make a trade, you can’t haggle. A giver wants nothing to do with such nonsense; He simply wants to give. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” A receiver simply listens, simply hears, simply offers thanks for what has been given. A dealer can’t be quiet, he won’t stop talking, he is in constant negotiation mode. Dealers talk, receivers listen. And we are always talking. We are always trying to negotiate with our giver God, trying desperately to make Him into a dealer like ourselves. We want to trade in some obedience, some piety, some good deeds for His favor. We know from our own experience how uneasy we get when someone gives us many expensive gifts. We feel like an obligation has been laid upon us, that we are now required to give back just as much. We view gifts as transactions, and we are looking at our account and calculating how much it will cost to pay up.

That is how we treat our God; we want Him to change into a seller of goods. We all do this, no matter how ‘Lutheran’ we are; we all try to negotiate with a God who simply gives. We refuse to sit still, shut our mouths, and receive. We either think that we need to somehow pay back our giver God for what He has given us, like when Tom Hanks tells Matt Damon to “earn this” in Saving Private Ryan, or else we think that though our piety, through our good works we have put God in our debt, and now He owes us. And when he doesn’t pay up, we get angry. Anger is a posture of demand and entitlement; the one who gets angry at God or men has no appreciation that everything he has is a gift. We cannot be quiet and receive; we chatter on and on about our rights, we demand what we ‘deserve,’ we cannot quit trying to point God to what we have done for Him and demanding our due. Do not be deceived, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” Anger is the posture of demanding our rights, of calling for our wages, of bringing our God to the negotiating table and demanding that He pay up.

Humility, on the other hand, is the posture of reception and gratitude, of receiving all things from God as gifts, not as our due. “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampart wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls.” Do not be deceived, God refuses to make a deal with us, to negotiate, to receive any price; He simply gives, because that is who He is, and He will not change. He gives all that is needed for this life and for the life to come. He gives His best, He gives His Son. The Word is made flesh as God’s gift to His people. He will not receive any trade, He will not bargain; He will simply give, and He will give His Son into death, so that you will have life in His name. The angry man thinks he has a bone to pick with God; the humble man sees his sins, despairs of them, and clings to the One who does not change, the One who has given every good gift, even forgiveness, life, and salvation, through the death and resurrection of His Son. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” We humbly and joyfully receive the good gifts, the gifts that sustain this body and life; but incomparably greater are the perfect gifts, the gifts which flow from the pierced hands, feet, and side of Jesus, the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. In baptism, the perfect gift, the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, is planted within you, and your soul is saved.

Do not be deceived, God does not change; everything else in this world changes in each and every moment, from men and grass to the sun and moon, but God does not change. He stands as the pillar in the midst of the whirlwind, the rock that we can cling to when this world seems to be in utter chaos. He will not change; He is today, and He will forever remain, a giver. And the only disposition one can take toward such a giver is humble reception. The angry, self-righteous person shows God his good works, his offering totals, his church attendance record, his positions in the church, and demands that God respond. The humble, meek person shows God His own promises, which are all yes in Christ; he shows God Christ’s cross, and calls on the God who does not change to keep those promises. Both cry out to God, but their attitude and the basis of their cry is completely different. Because God does not change, we can hold Him to His promises, we can call on Him to deliver us, we can cling to Christ’s cross when our world is falling apart. We listen, not speak, because we have nothing to give, nothing to say, and everything to receive, everything to hear. “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.” Do not be deceived, the Incarnation was no change in our unchangeable God; He who gives all things gave the perfect gift down to this earth to be lifted up high upon the cross, so that every perfect gift would belong to His people, to you and to me. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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