Let us pray. Blessed Lord, since You have caused all holy Scripture to be written for our learning, grant that we may so hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of Your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which You have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Reading – James 1:19–25
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You can’t help but wonder if James had heard Jesus deliver the Sermon on the Mount. It seems to lurk in the background a lot in his epistle. Jesus had spoken of those who hear his words and do them. He called them like wise men who build their house on a rock. Winds, storms, rain lashed it, but it stood. It stood through it all. It lasted. And the contrast, please note, is not with those who don’t hear his words. The contrast is exactly the one James makes: those who hear the words of Jesus but do not do what they hear. Just info. Just data stored in the memory or not, at least it passes through the mind for a while. Jesus says that hearing but not doing results in houses that come crashing down when the storms come; they’ve been built on sand. So this is a word NOT to those who never bother to darken the door of the church and hear the word, but to those who are always sitting in pews listening. It’s aimed at you. At me.
Striking, then, that the first thing our reading today wants us to do is to be quick to listen and conversely slow to speak. Two ears. One mouth. There’s a reason. And the warning against the rush to anger which is the rush to judgment. Our getting angry, all worked up, never produces the righteousness that God is after, either in us or in others. So if we are to “do” the Word we hear there, we’ll slow down. We’ll pray God as we do in Evening Prayer: “Set a watch before my mouth, O Lord, and guard the door of my lips.” Instead of being hasty with our mouths, we’ll stop and consider. Think how often in Proverbs God warns us against haste in our talking! Maybe James also remembered hearing Jesus say that for every idle word we utter we will have to give an account.
Our words, our anger, they can’t do much. But God’s words are different. They can do a lot. So James urges you to be done with all filthiness and rampant wickedness and in its place receive with meekness the implanted Word and he tells you that this Word is able to save, to heal your souls. It CAN produce the righteousness God requires. Implanted. Coming from the outside in. Someone putting it there. So many ways it can happen. You here listening. Opening your Bible at home. One way I love to receive the implanted word is to listen to the Scriptures on audible come prelent or Lent each year. From start to finish, the words pour in and wash over you. I listen not just because it’s absolutely fascinating (it certainly can be!) or boring (if I hear about the long lob of the liver one more time in Leviticus, really?!), but because God’s made this promise about His Word. It can save me. It can save my soul. Yours too. It’s the actor and the doer first. And you only come to act after you have let it come to live inside me and do its job of giving you faith and trust. It plants divine life in you like a seed.That’s what it means to save you and heal you: to cause faith to grow up in you that you have been loved in Christ with a love that is vast and immeasurable. Through what you hear, by the Spirit’s might, you then hold tight to your Jesus.
But, as He would say: “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not DO what I say?” So imagine a conversation with my son back when he was a teen and planted in front of the computer playing games. “David, take out the trash.” And he says: “Got it, Dad. You want me to take out the trash!” And a half hour later, I notice David hasn’t moved and the trash is still sitting there. I say: “David, take OUT the trash.” If he were to pull the very sinful move Lutherans are prone to, he’d reply: “Ah, Dad. You’re right. I’m a dog. You told me to do it and I haven’t done it. I’m sorry.” Meanwhile, his eyes would be fixed on his computer game and he’d keep playing. “DAVID! TAKE out the trash now.” Finally, I might get through to him. You see, he was hearing, but he wasn’t doing. God wants you to do both. Hear and in the strength of what you hear, to do.
To have Jesus as your Lord is to let His Word shape and impel actions. Faith does that. Is affects how you live. Glues together what you hear with what you do. Example If I know that Jesus tells me “judge not and you will not be judged, condemn not and you will not be condemned”, and I dismiss His words with a “oh, well, everyone judges; you have to”, what good does that do? If I know that Jesus wants me to forgive those who hate me, to pray for them and bless them, and instead all I do is harbor grudges and anger in my heart, what good does that knowledge, that hearing, actually do?
James says when we hear, but don’t do, we’re like people with alzheimer’s glancing in a mirror and then immediately forgets what we saw, maybe even who we are. He contrasts it with the person who stares steadily into what he calls the perfect law of liberty, the finished law of freedom, and I’d argue that is JESUS, and that transforms the person from forgetful hearer to a doer who acts.
So here’s my challenge to you as we prepare to enter this Lent. It’s a challenge to myself as well. What if we weren’t David. What if we gave up the excuses. What if we listened and took to heart everything Jesus says to us in His Word. And what if instead of treating that as mere information, we received it as marching orders from Him to whom we bow the knee as our Lord? What if we began to do what we hear. To stop talking about prayer and instead to pray. To stop talking about love, and instead love. To stop making excuses about fasting or giving, and instead to fast and to give.
What if? I’ll tell what what if: we will end up being blessed. Blessed in our doing. Venturing out on the words of Jesus you won’t come out the losers. He ventured everything and trusted His Father and He is no loser. He triumphed from garden to cross to empty tomb. He triumphed because He heard and He obeyed. “Sacrifice and burnt offering you have not desired, but you have given me an open ear... Lo, it is written of me in the book, I have come to do Thy will, O God.” That perfect keeping of the Father’s will He accomplished, that is your perfect righteousness AND it is also His standing invitation for you to join Him in His life. A life where you HEAR, receive the implanted word, and in its light DO. You will be blessed with Jesus.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Hymn: #577 Almighty God, Your Word is Cast
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
For meekness to receive the implanted Word that is able to save our souls, let us pray to the Lord.
For grace to do the Word that we have heard, let us pray to the Lord.
For hearts that long to gaze into the perfect law of liberty, let us pray to the Lord.
For forgiveness for every time we have treated God’s Word as information and not as the instructions and promises of our King, let us pray to the Lord.
For all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit, especially for Norman, Susan, Roger, Ruth, Allan, Jan and those we name in our hearts this day…., let us pray to the Lord.
For all who serve as military chaplains, and especially Joseph Watson, that they may sow the comfort of the precious Word into the hearts of our armed forces, let us pray to the Lord.
For every good and perfect gift which comes down from the Father of lights, who never changes, let us ask in the words that Christ Himself taught us, saying: