“The Giver God” – Cantate – James 1:13-18

28. April 2013
James 1:13-18

A sermon by Dr. Norman Nagel preached in Cambridge in 1967, revised.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 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, one thing that will always deceive you, is sin. Sin pulls the great advertising deception, and what makes us suckers to such advertising is our own desires. We want to make ourselves big. We want people to envy us. We want to do ourselves good. That sets us up to be played for a fool.

The art of advertising consists largely in playing on our weaknesses, our desires. Just check and see how many advertisements seek to take you in by subtle appeal to your pride or to some desire. “Wear this clothing and you will really wow the girls, or this particular alcohol will make you feel luxuriously upperclass.” People must be fools to be taken in by such stuff, we are tempted to think, but the fact remains that such advertising works and pays. The appropriate way to treat people, then, would seem to be as fools . So don’t blame the advertisers so much. They are only being realistic in the way they treat people.

Not all advertising is false. The product may be a good product and the claims true. But the advertising that sin does is always false both as to the technique of advertising and the product. Nevertheless, it works. It works because we are enticed and drawn away by our own desires, so we get hooked. The dishonest money we thought would do us so much good can only be kept by inflicting injury on our consciences and often inflicting injury on those who really love us. The adultery that promised to be such fun results in bitter personal damage. The drugs that promise happy experiences enslave and wreck a person. In the end, sin sits and laughs at us.

The question then is whether we ever learn our lesson: “once bitten, twice shy.” We acknowledge that we have been played for a fool, which is a difficult acknowledgment to make. Like mother Eve, we would rather make excuses and put the blame elsewhere. We are righteously indignant. Sin should have kept its promise and paid up. We have been cheated. Who is to blame? Not us. So, it must be whoever is behind it all. Like father Adam, we can blame God. If you can pin the blame on God, then you have certainly cleared yourself.

But that dodge simply won’t work. God does not trick or entice into evil. Don’t make that mistake. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. The way sin operates is not the way God operates. We can’t do business with God as we are tricked into doing business with sin. God does not trick us with the offer of a good deal as sin does. He does not make dazzling false promises. Not only is God no swindler, He is not a dealer at all.

God is a giver. With a giver you can receive or reject, but you can’t make a deal. And a deal is what we are always wanting to do, for when we are doing a deal, we can negotiate terms, calculate what we put  into it and what we get out of it. Sin is always ready to play this game with us, for this is the way sin gets the advantage of us. James says that the giver God does not try to get the advantage of us. That sort of thing is ruled out with Him, so we can’t get the advantage of Him either. He doesn’t play that game at all.

The game God plays is giving, and what a game and what giving! Every good thing comes from His giving hands. God simply loves to give, and we can never change Him into a dealer no matter how hard we may try. There is no changing the giver God into any other kind of god. “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” (James 1:17).

You can play all sorts of tricks with shadows. Shadows can play all sorts of alluring tricks. But St. James was not thinking here so much of illusions or motion picture lighting tricks but the shadows of the planets and stars. From the shadowy deceptions of sin, God raises our eyes to the bright splendor of the heavens and the pure lights there. God is called their Father, their Creator. He made these clear lights, yet for all their bright splendor, He is more splendid and constant. As we look at planets and stars, they have their turnings, settings, and eclipses. Their light can fail us, but there is one who does not change or fail.

How do we know God and what He has done? We know Him by His giving. God has brought us to life as His children. Life is always a gift. We can’t make ourselves alive, as is shown in our natural birth. Little Esther did not choose to be delivered. This is also true of our spiritual birth—of our coming to life as the children of God. God used our mother’s bodies to give us the first kind of life. To give us new life as His children, He uses the “word of truth.” For us, this new birth was by the Word joined with the water of Baptism. It was plainly all gift. Life as God’s child begins as a gift, and it is gifts, gifts all the way. We live from the giving hand of God.

The greatest gifts are all given by the Word of God. 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. When the Benediction is spoken to you, the blessing of God is given to you. 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.”

Jesus would be nothing for us if the Word of truth did not tell of Him and give Him to us. A silent movie of Calvary would be nothing more than a tragic piece of newsreel. The soundtrack of God’s Word tells us what is going on there, what is achieved, and gives it to us with the words “for you.” Without the word of truth, the gifts would neither come to us nor would they be known as gifts.

This is true of the gifts of faith and also of all the smaller and more obvious gifts that are listed in the explanation of the First Article in Luther’s Small Catechism:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

Such gifts of the First Article, of creation, are received by many without the Word of God as if they were not gifts at all. They just happened for some reason or other or for no reason at all. They are taken for granted the way a dog takes his tail for granted. Or (more foolish than the dog) the way some people suppose that their good eyesight, muscles, income, and looks are theirs because there is something special about them that calls for their being treated well. God’s Word has to tell us the truth and bring us to recognize all these as gifts of God. Only then do they do we see them as our Father’s providential care.

You may think that is not such a difficult job for the Word of God to do because good eyesight, muscles, income, and looks are things that we naturally desire and often attain. We can be drawn to these by our own desires and gain them by greed, envy, and deceit. When sin promises good things of this sort, we are apt to sin. Rather receive what God has given with thanksgiving, we take what we want by dealing with sin. When God delivers the same goods, we think we have gotten them from Him by some kind of bargain.

People who take this position suppose that they are still in control of the negotiations, but, in fact, they are in a vulnerable position. If they do a deal with sin, they will be played for fools. If they think of doing a deal with God, they will find that God does not play that game. The idea of doing a deal with God can survive only as long as they get the things after which they desires. When they get things they don’t want, those who hold to a negotiating position with God yell that He isn’t playing the game according to the rules of doing a deal. Then they are likely to say, “If God does that to me, I am through with Him. He is not what God ought to be. I don’t believe in Him. He doesn’t exist.”

Of course, the God whom we could do a deal with does not exist. The living God is the giver God. This we know from His word of truth that has made us His children. That gift and all the others the Word of God tells us of, and the Word of God makes them gifts to us from our giving Father God. This is true of your breakfast and your shoes, and not only of such obvious gifts but also of all the things that God gives us. Whatever He gives is a good gift from Him because His word of truth says so. God’s Word settles it, not our judgment or our desires. It tells us all His gifts are good. He gives us His word that He is our Father.

“Father knows best” when spoken by earthly fathers does not always inspire confidence, but when spoken by the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it does. After Calvary we cannot doubt God’s love. God does not give us any shady advertising talk. He tells us straight that He is going to make something of us, which will mean some sorrow and pain. God intends to kill what we are as sinners and make us new. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6).

The Lord does not tempt or entice us as sin does, but He does test us. He tests whether we are the children of Himself, the giver God, or whether we have a god we have made up to serve our desires. 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 come to thank Him. He cannot not be our Father. God is bound by His word.

As children of our Father God, we cannot be blown about by the winds of fortune or played for fools by the shadowy allurements of deceitful sin. We can no more be destroyed than God can be made a liar. We belong to Him and are held to Him by His word of truth. We are the firstfruits. There is large promise in that. The first of the harvest was offered to God as token of the whole harvest, acknowledged as belonging to Him and as gift from Him.

To say firstfruits means there are more gifts to follow. With every gift, God pushes our hands wider open to receive a still larger gift. The bother with us is that we often hold our hands open just enough for little gifts in fear that if the gifts get too big they may overwhelm us. The gifts may begin to take us over, and we may not be able to manage them.  This is a genuine danger, for that is the way of gifts. You know how uneasy you get if somebody gives you lots of gifts-and rather big ones too. This uneasiness is born of our habit of doing deals.

Before God it is completely out of place. We can only have such an uneasiness before God if we are still thinking of doing a deal with Him. That we nevertheless have such uneasiness is betrayed by our notions of not letting our religion go too far, not too much Word of God, not church every Sunday, or not devotions every day. Some parts of our lives we simply must keep under our own control. To the extent that we still negotiate terms with God, we are setting ourselves up for a fearful crash. The God that can be negotiated with does not exist. If that is the one with whom we think we do business, our end is darkness.

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. Nothing remote or beyond the bright blue sky about this. 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 have had it.

But in James 1, we get the starting point: 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 joyous harvest. When we shall “sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!” (Psalm 98:1)

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Ascension ’12 – Psalm 110:1; Luke 24:44-53

17. May 2012
Psalm 110:1-4;  Luke 24:44-53

Solomon asked this question: Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know! (Proverbs 30:4).

No question is more important. The answer to this question is the essential Christian confession. Just as it was asked of the disciples, But who do you say that I am?, so it is asked of every Christian. Your entire faith hangs on your answer. Do you say He is a prophet? Do you say He is John the Baptist? Or do you answer with Peter, You are the Messiah of God (Luke 9:20)?

To confess Jesus as the Christ or Messiah is to confess His office as anointed one and King of Kings. If He is not divinely appointed to the office of Messiah then his sacrifice is in vain. If He is simply called Christ but does not fulfill the duties of his calling, then Jesus was merely a noble figure and a righteous dude.

Who is Jesus? Everything hangs on this question. If He is savior, then you are saved. If He is king, then you have a kingdom. If He is Lord, then He has conquered our foes and reigns victorious. To have an anointed king is one thing. Many heathen and hypocrite throughout Scripture and time call Jesus Lord but have a radically different notion of what this means. Maybe a Lord prophet? Or Lord king like David?

You recall the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, who came together and led Him into their council to try Him on Good Friday. They asked Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, tell us.” But He said to them,  “If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.” Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?” So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.” And they said, “What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth” (Luke 20:66-71). From then on they sought to kill him.

Simply knowing He is the Son of God, or the Lord, is not enough. Okay, Lord, true, and king, also true. But how does this king go about kinging? This is all important. For Jesus rules but in a particular way and not the way the elders of the people expected or even wanted.

Psalm 110 begins this way: The LORD says to my Lord; “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” For David, the answer to the question, who do you say that I am? is: My Lord and my God. And how does David say the Lord reigns? Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool. In other words, Jesus, the one sent by the Father, will crush his enemies with His heel. The Son of God is sent to reign in righteousness and to anoint with oil of gladness. How? Recall the promise to Eve. A crushing blow by the heel was promised to her offspring. A boot smash to the head of the evil dragon, who is called Satan and the Devil. Our king kings by crushing Satan under our feet. His reign is over, his warfare ended.

Yes, he torments us day and night, seeking some to devour, some Christian fortress to overthrow. Yet, he can harm us none, the victory has been won, the kingdom ours remaineth. And along with the dragon, all his evil schemes and devices are destroyed. Sin is forgiven. Death has no more sting. The gates of hell are barred and heaven is opened.

Remember that Jesus prays the Psalms. They are his hymnal, prayerbook, devotional, and even his catechism. They are on His lips day and night. They are His Word. They guide Him on the way. They speak clearly of the Holy Trinity, of the Sacraments, and of the Church. That is, they speak of Jesus. Every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God is Jesus, the Word made flesh.

Thus, when you hear the psalms, you not only hear David singing with lute and lyre, you hear Jesus praying in Synagogue, temple, and in Gethsemene. When Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, its because He was learning of Himself by His own Word in the Psalms.

Even more so, when you pray the Psalms, you hear Jesus himself. That is, when you hear the Psalms you hear the promise and fulfillment of Jesus. He is David’s Lord who sits at the right of God. He is the one who makes our enemies our footstool. This is the kind of King you have, One sent by the eternal God to crush your enemies under His foot. He is the one, in whom everything written […] in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms [is] fulfilled (Luke 24:44).

How does the anointed Lord do this great work for you? He places your and His enemies under His feet. The full weight of the Lord of Glory hanging upon the old rugged cross bore down upon the slithering snake and crushed him. Yes, the dragon thought he had won, just as it was written that the Christ should suffer. But so also it is written and on the third day rise from the dead. Satan’s seeming victory was his defeat, for death could not hold our Lord. By His death He destroyed death and by His rising He brought life and immortality to light.

This festival of Ascension is more than confessing Jesus as Lord. It is more than simply stating He has destroyed your enemies. Or even that He has obeyed the Father’s will. It speaks of the joyous ascension of Jesus to sit at the right hand of the Father. Yes, dear Christians, this is the great blessing and a gift of this holy day. Our Lord Jesus Christ’s ascension is a source of great blessing. By His ascension to the right hand of the Father, he showers us upon us every fruit of the cross and every good gift from the Father. While heaven received Him (Acts 3:21), all who dwell in Him, whether in heaven or on earth are joined in His reign.

From this right hand, the gift of the Father, that is, the Spirit proceeds from both He and the Son, to call, gather, and enlighten the whole Christian church on earth. From this right hand of power, our Lord Himself blesses us with all His blessings of Word and Sacrament. Repentance and forgiveness of sins [are] proclaimed in His name to all nations (Luke 24:47).

From the right hand of power, Christ himself preaches to us. He calls us to drown the old Adam of sin and death in our Baptism. He calls us to put to death the works of unrighteousness in those precious waters. He calls us to turn from our old ways and to return to Him. This dying to self and rising to Christ happens each day in baptismal remembrance and each week in the proclamation of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit […] There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him (1 Peter 3:18-22).

From the right hand of the Father and by His resurrection Jesus Christ has been given all authority in heaven on earth. Thereby He grants us this saving baptism, the answer of a good conscience before God. So also from the same seat of power, He institutes and gives us His own body and blood to eat and drink. From the eternal throne, He serves as more than King but as our great high priest.

We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man (Hebrews 8:1b-2). All the sacrifices of old, the blood of bulls and goats, daily offered, could never take away sins. But this Man [Jesus], after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:12-13).

For Christ is the anointed king, the dutiful priest, and also the eternal sacrifice. He is the eternal sacrifice that is given to you to eat and drink. By this holy food you are in holy communion with the Son of God, David’s Lord, who sits at the right hand of the Father. You dwell in heaven, feasting with prophets and saints, angels and archangels. For now your life is hidden with Christ in God but when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:3-4).

Do you now know what a blessing it is for Christ to be seated at the right hand of the Father? There He rules the heavens and the earth as Lord. There He serves as the great high priest, making intercession for the people. There is blesses you with the Word of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He graciously pours out, by water and Word, a saving flood, to drown your old man and sin, and make you clean in His own blood. This blood, too, is poured out and body given into your mouths for forgiveness of sins, the strengthening of faith, the proclamation of the Lord’s death until He comes.

The blessing of the Ascension is made known in the life of the church. We see this blessing in your faith in the Lord Jesus. We see the love of the saints. We see young and old alike growing in wisdom and knowledge of Jesus. The eyes of the heart are enlightened with understanding of the Scriptures. You know the hope of your calling and have and continue to received every richness of Jesus’s inheritance. All this comes because Christ himself was raised from the dead and seated by the Father at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.  And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:20b-23).

All the blessings of the Ascension will reach their fulfillment on the last day, when He will come again in the cloud. Then, Christ, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, will call out to those who have died and they too will rise like Him. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:24). Thus, our Lord reigns as Lord and King, keeping all enemies under His feet, until the last day, when that finally even death is destroyed forever. But we know and believe that death has already been destroyed in Jesus’ own sacrifice. We rejoice now in blessed hope for when our Lord who reigns will bring us to Him eternally.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana