Sermon on James 1:16 – 21 (by Martin Damašek)

Dear brothers and sisters,

as we, Czechs, say, I have prepared a trap or a pit for myself by choosing the letter of James for my preaching. It is rather a difficult epistle to deal with.

The great battle and spiritual warfare started in Paradise with seducing Eve and then having Adam lured too. And this fight and struggle is still going on.  Often, we think it was/is a simple fight between the devil and the humanity and sometimes we may easily slip into naïve thinking that man is kind of innocent in this struggle. Eve (Adam) was tempted but the luring (seducing) would have been in vain had not she (he) had the sinful desire (v. 14). We are tempted but the evil foe would have no chance if our will did not deceive ourselves into finding joy and lust in evil (v.14), primarily in our own pride. We are tempted but we deceive ourselves (v. 14). Therefore, “Do not be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.” (v. 16). Let us stop here, brothers and sisters: What are we, ourselves, lured or seduced or deceived by? Do we not often desire more to be smarter than to desire to love? For knowledge human beings have been killing each other, like Mengele in Auschwitz. But we do not have to go so far all the way to the totalitarian regimes: We too kill a love for our neighbor by proving ourselves to be smarter. The root of both sins is the same: Our pride or self-esteem.

For the same pride and envy Cain killed his brother. Let us stop here again, brothers and sisters: Does that story not sound familiar to you? Why my brother´s and not mine? If not mine then neither his! As a Czech saying goes: If my goat has only one eye, then, my neighbor´s goat will have no eye. How familiar to our own every day evil passions! This is being called “…dragged away by…own evil desire…” (v. 14).

However, God desires righteousness (v. 20) and to this end He has given us the law to inform us of the good and wrong (v. 14), to restrain us from evil and to give us a mirror in which we see our sin and wretchedness that results in death (v. 15). The law demands us to be attentive to God (v. 19) and to our neighbor and parents, as well as other authorities when they protect life and common good and peace (v. 19) and the Lord warns us not to be angry with our neighbor (Matthew 5:22). Let us stop here once more, brothers and sisters: Do we not sometime pretend and live as if God did not see us or as if my body and my time were just mine? Do we not envy our neighbor like Cain? Do we not gossip about our neighbor? Do we not envy a beautiful girlfriend or a handsome boyfriend to our neighbor? Are we never angry with our neighbor and say things that we should have not said?

Plainly, in our own lives we see that the law is unable to justify us, instead, it clearly convicts us as it is easily proven by the reality: Moral filth and evil is prevalent (v. 21). Corrupted creatures with sinful will (Romans 7:21 – 25) cannot advance or better themselves, we are slaves “…to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25). We are wretches! Or, as Luther used to say, filthy bags of worms and the world is a stinky pit.

Thus, any good news of help and rescue must come from outside of us (extra nos).

The good news, the gospel, is that every good and perfect gift comes from above (v. 17), from the Father of heavenly lights (v. 17, let there be light, as the kids draw some months ago) who had always willed our rescue even before we were born and has given us His Word of Truth: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 7:25. This saving Word is the same that created the world, the same that spoke to Abraham and Moses, the same Word that came and dwelled among us and the same Word of Truth that stood before Pilate. In Him, there is no change of love like in us, no change of love like in a lover that loves at one point and wants to kill at the second one, no shadow in the character of love of the Word of Truth suffering and bleeding for us on the wood of the tree. What a hope and wonderful news that there is someone who does love us in this perfect and unceasing and unchanging way, otherwise we would be just desperate victims of our passions!

God has taken our condition and lot, in Christ He suffered it all, He became as close to us as it is possible and took our lot on the cross where he finished the struggle. It is finished, it is done, He brought the good and perfect gift and we are to “humbly accept” (v. 21). Again: It takes more humbleness and humility to accept since all our pride and self-esteem is denied by the act of acceptance.

This way God, who delivers me through the cross of Jesus Christ (Romans 7:25), makes His church (us) the most precious first fruits of all the creation (v. 18) – what a freedom, what a joy and what an amazing grace that saves a wretch like me!

And what is there left for us when we see our Lord and God upon the throne of the bloody cross and winning the battle of history with His resurrection? Nothing! Nothing since He has done it all and we can add none to His perfect and loving gift. Nothing but to accept the Truth that Pilate was so desperately asking for, to jubilate in the freedom of the cross and to preach the only good news that “can save you” (v. 21).