17th Sunday after Pentecost
September 20, 2015
“Let These All Be Gone”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages is the Second Lesson that was previously read from James chapters 3 and 4.
My dear friends in Christ,
It won’t be too much longer now that we will be singing that great hymn of the Reformation. We love to sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” and rightly so. But how about these lines from Luther’s last stanza taken from the old Lutheran Hymnal? “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Let these all be gone” (TLH 262:4). How does that really sound to you…to lose all your possessions, your spouse, your very life? What if all those good things of this world were taken from you? What then? In America we look to the things of this world, the everyday stuff of life, as life itself, and indeed our future; we equate the quality of life with the quantity of stuff we have. Is that how you think? If so…repent! Or, rather, sing. Sing the rest of that last stanza: “Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.” You should know that if the world and all that’s a part of it were taken from you, by faith in Jesus Christ, the kingdom is still yours. True life consists not in the world and the trappings or stuff of life, but in faith that clings to Jesus alone.
The Christians that James was addressing (50 AD) needed to hear that, and, obviously by looking at our society, so do we. James asked them, and us, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (4:1 ESV). What causes you to fight and quarrel? How many times have pastors had to counsel husbands and wives and families and congregations because of fighting and quarreling that has as its source the things of this world, passions such as money? How many families have been broken apart over contested estates? How many brothers and sisters won’t speak to each other because someone got the silver set that the other wanted when mom died? Little wonder St. Paul reminds us that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim 6:10 ESV). These same pangs are what have afflicted the congregation, the Christians, to whom James is writing. Then, just as it is now, God was being replaced by the things of the world; we put more importance on the things that God gives than we do upon God Himself.
Such was the temptation of our first parents in the garden. The tempter came to turn them away from God and his Word. The tempter came to tell them that if they no longer listened to God, they would be “like God” (Gen 3:5). They would then have control over their own lives in knowing good and evil. They would give up the knowledge of only good, only God, and become gods, knowing both good and evil and thus become makers of their own destiny. They would live not by the Word of God alone, but by the bread of the world, the things – the stuff – of the world. Such was the temptation acted upon by our first parents. Such was sin of the Christians in James’ day. They had become adulterers. They had joined themselves with the evil one and with the false gods of their own desires, the world, and their own flesh. So we too are tempted in the same way, and we all too often fall, as did our first parents, as do Christians of all times.
But, in response we also have been given a different Spirit (4:5). We have been given the Holy Spirit and faith that returns to the one true God. We have been given, by the same Spirit, faith to renounce the world, the devil, and our flesh. That Spirit and that faith were first given to us in our Baptism. It is in our Baptism that we now live, not as our own gods, but by faith in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in whom we are named in Baptism. It is always to that name that we humbly return in repentance, to receive more grace, because we know that in that name there is forgiveness for our sin, there is a sure and certain future for us. So James tells us, “Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ ” (4:5–6 ESV). More grace is what God gives to the humble, and that is what we need. Not more stuff that causes us to quarrel and fight…we need more grace.
Humility in God’s sight is the kind that Jesus showed. When Jesus came into our flesh to bring us more grace, he came down from heaven and “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6–8 ESV). Jesus humbled himself to be like us, to do away with our sin and death by His suffering and death and His rising to life. Jesus became a servant for our sake. He was indeed truly God, but became truly man for us and for our salvation. He took our place in death, and now he gives us a place in life.
As Luther also says, “what does this mean?” What should our response be to all of this? Should we throw away all our stuff? Should we give away all our money? Should we forgo plans to prepare for our financial futures? Live like hermits so we never fight with anyone? Well, the answer is no. Material things are gifts from God and they are to be used to His glory. Paul did not write that “money is THE root of all evil”, as it is often misquoted, but he wrote, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Money in and of itself is not bad – it is a gift from God. But as you deal with worldly possessions, always take into consideration are your possessions handling you, or are you handling your possessions? Who’s in control…the gift or the Giver?
What a tremendous opportunity we have before us. As we Support Lutheran World Relief and their “Clean Water” initiative today, and as we prepare to set a budget for 2016 next month, we can show that we are being good stewards who are in charge of our possessions and not the other way around. We may still, though, fight and quarrel and covet and ask wrongly, but even in these we have forgiveness with God who gives what we REALLY need…more grace.
So “take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won; The kingdom ours remaineth” (TLH 262:4). We return to our God every day in our Baptism, denouncing the false gods that are in this world and even denouncing ourselves at times, so that we might receive more grace, forgiveness, and life through Jesus Christ, our Savior. That is our only true joy and hope, and in such a way, and in only that way, the kingdom of God is truly ours forever.