150906 James 1:17-27

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 September 2015 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: James 1:17-27
Theme: For Christians Every Day Is Labor Day

If you are one of those lucky people who don't have to go into work tomorrow, you might want to thank Matthew Maguire. Maguire was a machinist who (some believe) first proposed this annual observance in 1882 while serving as secretary of the New York Central Labor Union. And about a dozen years later President Grover Cleveland signed legislation that established Labor Day as a national holiday.

Do you see the irony here? To honor our nation's labor movement, to remember the contributions workers have made to the strength and prosperity of our country, millions of Americans will take Monday off and relax. There is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes we need to rest. Sometimes we need to recharge our batteries.

But Christian employees don't just work for the weekend either. God doesn't want us to view our jobs as a necessary evil, as something we have to do so that we can go out and do the things we really enjoy. Even though our jobs will never be as fulfilling or rewarding as the work the Lord gave Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the ability to work remains a blessing. Work is a gift from God. Work gives our lives purpose, and through our work God gives us opportunities to serve.

James isn't specifically addressing employees in our text for today, but he makes a similar point about our lives of Christian service. It doesn't matter if you are too young to get a job, if you are retired from your job or if you are in between jobs. As disciples of Jesus, our Lord has called all of us to serve God and God's people. And our service is not limited to a forty hour work week. We don't take breaks for summer vacations or holidays.


The epistle of James is a book of practical advice for the Christian life. The eleven verses before us are sprinkled with some general encouragements and some very specific commands. But before we get into those specifics, before we talk about what working for the Lord looks like, we need to start where James begins, by reminding us of the important work the Lord has done for us.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (17). Every good thing we have, every blessing we enjoy, whether it is big or small, common or rare, costly or inexpensive, is a gift from God. Martin Luther wrote down a list of some of those gifts in his explanation of the First Article of the Apostles Creed: I believe that God created me and all that exists, and that he gave me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my mind and all my abilities...

Luther's list of blessings continues, but let's pause here. Let's try to personalize some of the blessings already mentioned. What did it take to get you here today? Some of you drove here, and that required the ability to see where you were going, to avoid traffic and obey traffic signs and park your vehicle. And after you parked most of you walked across the parking lot and opened the door and ascended the steps and eventually sat down in your pew. And even if you didn't do any of those things this morning we are all using our eyes to see the hymns, our ears to hear the Word, our hands to pass the offering plate, our mouths to sing and pray.

Our senses, our abilities, the little things we do every day that we so easily take for granted, they are all gifts from our gracious, changeless God. And I haven't even scratched the surface. I haven't even mentioned the greatest gift our heavenly Father has given us. You may have decided to come to church today, but that decision was preceded by another decision, a much more important decision, a decision you and I did not make, a decision no human being could ever make. The decision was the Lord's when "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth" (18).

God could have destroyed Adam and Eve when they disobeyed him in the Garden, but instead he chose to give them a promise of a coming Savior. God could have destroyed every living creature with a flood to punish the world for its wickedness, but instead he chose to spare Noah and his family. God could have given up on his rebellious people when they danced around the golden calf in the wilderness, but instead he chose to forgive them and give them another chance.

God could hold our long list of sins against us too. He could abandon us. He could punish us. God would have every right to sentence us to eternal death, but instead he chose to give us birth through the word of truth. He chose to save us through the Word made flesh. God the Father gave up his Son. God the Son willingly gave up his life. And through the inspired word of truth God the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of saving faith.

The work our Triune God has done on our behalf is truly a labor of love. We don't deserve it, but we are grateful for it. And we want to express our gratitude in tangible ways. We want to live for our living Savior. We want our lives to overflow with good works. And if you are looking for some specific ways to put your Christian faith into practice, just listen to James:

"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires" (19-20). At first James' advice might sound like the scriptural equivalent of "if you don't have anything nice to say about someone, don't say anything at all," but it goes a step beyond that. When Christians don't take the time to listen to each other, when Christians start talking over each other, that's when tempers flare. That's when mole hills turn into mountains. That's when the people of God say and do things they will later regret.

Instead of lashing out in anger, instead of allowing ourselves to be dragged down into the gutter, James challenges Christians to "get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you" (21). Or to put it another way, don't buy into all the garbage the sinful world is trying to sell you. In order to be spiritually healthy, every Christian needs to be fed a steady diet of God's Word.

Because God works through his Word, because the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in our hearts by means of that Word, we desperately need it. We need to be in it. We need to hear it and learn it and meditate on it so that its roots go down deeper and our faith grows stronger. James would be the first person to agree, but he would also insist that faithful Christians will do more than park in the pew and listen to the Scripture lessons and occasionally nod their heads. He continues: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says" (22).

This would be a good place for a pastor to insert an illustration to emphasize this important point, but I can save my creative juices for another sermon because James has provided us with an illustration of his own: "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like" (23-24).

I don't know about you, but that has never happened to me. There have been times when I looked in the mirror and wished that I could forget what I saw, but it didn't happen. That never happens. And that is precisely James' point. People who listen to the Word should be like people who look in the mirror. When we hear God's Word we should remember it. When God's Word tells us what to do and what not to do we should obey it. For the child of God to do otherwise just doesn't make any sense...and yet it happens all the time.

I can still remember a line from a mission festival sermon I heard a few years back at my previous congregation, when the guest preacher described the Lutheran church as the best fed and least exercised church body in the world. Those words have always stuck with me, probably because they convicted me.

Lutheran Christians love God's Word. As Lutherans we take our stand on "sola Scriptura," that we are saved by Scripture alone. So why is it such a struggle for us to get beyond that? Why do we struggle to live out our faith in the world, to do more than just listen to God's Word and call it good, to let the Word (and not the sinful world) dictate how we live our lives?

It's not just me. It's not just you. It's not just Lutherans. We all need to confess that we are guilty of spiritual laziness. We need to acknowledge our unworthiness. We need to plead for forgiveness. And then we need to stop talking and listen. We need to listen to Jesus, who told a crippled man: "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven" (Matthew 9:2). We need to listen to Jesus, who told a sinful woman: "Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 9:11).

In his Word God gives us the same assurance, the same promise, the same command. And when we take our Savior's words to heart, when we follow in our Savior's footsteps and leave our sinful ways behind, when we hear the Word of God and obey it (Luke 11:28), both Jesus and James agree that we will be blessed.

James mentions looking after orphans and widows as one example of "religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless" (27), as evidence of a living and active faith. When we reach out to people who are less fortunate than us, when we lend a hand to people who are in need, the benefits for those people are obvious. But when believers do those things we are not just being a blessing to others. We are blessed too. The Lord blesses us by opening doors for us to serve, by giving us opportunities to let our gospel lights shine, by allowing us to personally experience the meaning of Jesus' words: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

Labor Day was established to recognize the contributions of organized labor and labor unions, but for most people the word "labor" has a little bit different and maybe even a slightly negative connotation. We equate labor with toil, with work that is difficult, with dirty hands and sweaty brows. But for the Christian, labor is not a burden. Our work is not something to be avoided or endured. Working for the Lord is a privilege, a blessing, one small way to thank and praise our Savior for everything he has done for us. And so we welcome those opportunities to serve. We look for those opportunities to serve. We are eager to labor for the Lord today and Monday and every day. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


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