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Easter 5 – James 1:16-21

by pastorjuhl ~ May 11th, 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            Today’s Collect proclaims God makes the minds of Your faithful to be of one will. The Epistle shows two different wills at war: the will of God and the will of sin. God’s will is for us to receive His gifts, both earthly gifts and spiritual gifts. This is why James says 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.

The will of sin works in shadows and variations. Trying to figure out how sin does its evil deeds is like trying to nail gelatin to a wall. It can’t be done. Sin is a changeling, a shape-shifter. First it’s here, then it’s there. Sin wants to cut deals. Sin wants to take all credit for something or partial credit at the least. Sin makes God the enemy and you the hero. Sin looks at God’s gifts and calls them rubbish. God’s gifts are an arrogant figurehead’s way of trying to buy your attention.

Do not be deceived. Don’t be tricked. There are some things you can rely on and some things you can’t. One thing you can never rely on is sin. Sin always deceives. Sin has a willing audience: our lust. We want to be somebody. We want people to envy us. We want to be the real good guy. What we end up doing is playing the fool.

We never learn our lesson. When God gives good things, they look like bad things. When we discover that God only gives good things to His creation, we are duped. Sin should have kept its promise and paid up. We have been cheated. Where does the blame go? Not us. We were only following directions. If you can blame God, then perhaps you have an alibi.

The alibi won’t work. God does not work by trickery. Do not be deceived. God does not work the way sin works. Sin makes big promises, but doesn’t follow through on the big promises. God always follows through on His promises, even when those promises seem to bring us bad tidings. God gives good things. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. God simply loves to give. We can never change Him into some sort of wheeler-dealer.

What God gives is forgiveness, life, grace, peace, and joy. Of His own will He brought us forth by the Word of Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. God spoke and the world came into being. Everything He created was good. Nevertheless, we wish to deal with Him, hoping to catch Him when He’s not paying attention. God must have something better for us if only we bargain for it. Maybe there’s a coupon for a better deal. Perhaps God has a secret menu, a list of good things He’s holding back from us. If only I could get something from Him without Him knowing it.

God is not a Chinese restaurant or a fast-food franchise. God is a giver of gifts, good gifts. Among the many changes of this life, He fixes our hearts where true joys are found. Sin and the devil want you to believe there are true joys outside of God’s realm. They want you to believe that Jesus Christ is not a Savior as much as He is only an example for you to follow and do. They want you to believe that the Christian faith is all about following a moral code and what happens to weaklings when they don’t follow the code.

Jesus is not about examples and codes. Jesus is the Good and Perfect Gift given by the giving God. A silent movie of Calvary would be nothing more than footage of a tragic crucifixion. The soundtrack of God’s Word tells us what’s going on there, what is achieved, and gives it to us with the words for you.

The Word of God not only tells what these gifts are but also conveys them. When the word of forgiveness is spoken to you, forgiveness is given to you. This is called performative speech. When the Benediction is spoken to you, the blessing of God is given to you. It’s not a pious wish or hope. There are no strings attached. It is a blessing, whether or not you believe it. In the sacraments, the Word is joined with extra means of conveying the gifts. It is then as if God takes your hand and presses His gift into it with the assurance, “Now you have really got it. Without a shadow of doubt, it is surely yours.” Without the Word of truth, the gifts would neither come to us nor would they be known as gifts.

Consider also the gifts outside the Divine Service. God gives you body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He gives clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all you have. Many receive these earthly gifts as if they are an entitlement. It’s like stake money in a poker game. God hands you $200 as you walk into a casino and pats you on the back, wishing you good luck as you go. Not so. God’s Word tells you these are gifts given to you. He created them and preserves them. You did nothing to earn or deserve your eyesight, let alone your wallet or your pantsuit.

But what about those gifts that seem to be a temptation. The Lord does not tempt or entice us as sin does, but He does test us. He tests whether we are His children, children of the giver God, or whether we have a god we have made up to serve our lusts. Affliction is such a test. When affliction cleanses us of trust in a false god and draws us closer to the living, giving Father God, then affliction is a good gift for which we can thank Him. God cannot not be our Father, for He is bound by His Word.

As we live as the children of the Father of lights, the giver God, He will keep on pouring out His gifts, and they will overwhelm us more and more. The Epistle of James is mostly about what God’s gifts do to us, how they work out in our lives. The gifts shape how you use your tongue, how you treat widows and orphans, the hungry, people with money, people you employ. James points out that if you think your religion is just a good deal you have done with God for yourself, you are in a heap of trouble.

We get the starting point in James chapter one: The giver God, from whom comes every good and every perfect gift, has made us His children with His word of truth. As God pours the gifts, with each fresh gift, He gives us another nudge, “Come on, join in My game. Help Me give My gifts away.” God’s children play the game their Father’s way. To everybody else, to the deal-doers, it looks crazy, but, in fact, it is the best fun in all the world.

With hands held wide to Him for His gifts, we will be moved and shaped by those gifts forward from firstfruits to the final joyful harvest. When we shall sing unto the Lord a new song; for He hath done marvelous things.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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