22. May 2022
James 1:(21)22-27; John 16:23-33
“Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
The life of the Christian is received as a gift. From the time you first heard the Word of God preached and taught into your ears to when you hear the Word of absolution is spoken and you respond with “Amen” with your dying breath—God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are working all things, even moving heaven and earth, to bring you into the faith, continually restore you to faithfulness, and keep you in confidence.
Today, Jesus speaks categorically of the gift of faith. You have been joined to Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, by your Baptism. Because you are Jesus’ brother and a co-heir of His kingdom, His Father is your Father. And because Jesus has restored you to God’s family through His substitutionary suffering and death, you can now speak to God as your loving Father. As the Father loves Jesus, so He loves you. And because you love His Son, you also love the Father.
This relationship of love, restored by Jesus’ blood-bought forgiveness, is the life of prayer. Jesus intercedes on your behalf before the Father, and the Father hears and answers His prayers for you. And Jesus promises to hear your prayers in His name and offer them to the Father on your behalf. As God’s own child, you can gladly say, “Our Father,” “Lord, have mercy,” Hear my prayer,” and “in the Name of Jesus.” The response of faith to your prayers and the prayers offered on your behalf to the Father in the name of Jesus is “Amen.” Yea, yea, it shall be so yesterday, today, and forever!
The life of the Christian is the life of prayer—morning and evening, noontime and mealtime, Sabbath, and weekday. As we have received the implanted Word, we pray that Word back to Jesus. St. Luke tells us that the first Christians “continued in…the prayers.” So, we begin with the prayer Jesus taught us, “Our Father,” and grow into the morning, evening, and meal prayers of our youth, and then blossom into the whole liturgical prayer life of the Church. We learn to pray the Catechism, the Psalms, the traditional collects, the hymns, spiritual songs, and the liturgies of the Church. Every time you gather with fellow Christians to pray, you continue in the faith received from Jesus.
St. James reminds us today that the new life received by the Spirit, in the Son, and from the Father has its way with us in more than prayer. “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which can save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” As beloved children of God, baptized into fellowship with God the Trinity and all those likewise saved, the lifeblood of Jesus courses through your veins, giving you life, and in whom we move and have our being. The Spirit is the breath of God that has given you new life and keeps breathing life in you.
The Spirit’s means of keeping you with Jesus are not self-appointed. You don’t get to tell Jesus what it means to live as a Christian other than telling Him how to save you. It’s all gifts from top to bottom, received in humility as a child on Christmas morning. This is St. James’ point when he says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” How do you “do” the Word? By receiving the works that the Word gives you! You can’t say you are a Christian, trusting in His Word, and then deny the life of faith given by that Word.
Thus, St. James debunks the “spiritual but not religious” myth in a few short verses. Everyone believes in something and lives their life according to that belief. Everyone is religious, believes in someone, and lives in that trust. It may be as childish as trusting in your favorite team and religiously conforming your life to their schedule, wearing the green and gold vestments, hanging their iconography in your home, and branding your vehicles. Or you may trust in an even more treacherous idol, like the god of Mammon, whose all-consuming religiosity can consume you as you try acquire as much as possible.
Vain religion is present in the church as much as the world. The Reformers recognized this in the endless rites and rituals of the medieval church and abandoned many of them. So, we lament how the rite of Confirmation doesn’t seem to do what it’s supposed to do. The catechumens confess the faith. They promise to receive the gifts of faith regularly and consistently. And why did the Reformers unanimously remove this manufactured rite from the church’s life of the Lutheran confession for over two hundred years? But think back on the children and adults who have been confirmed over the recent decades but who absented themselves. What went wrong? Are they not just as James describes, “Like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was?”
The problem is simple but not easy to hear. Despite all the hard work leading up to this day and the pageantry of the rite, there is no promise from God that the ceremony can do anything. It’s a human tradition that is meant to draw the Christian further in and further up into the life of faith, not away from it. The reason it doesn’t “work” is that rite is not a means of the Spirit. On the other hand, God has given with His promises your Baptism, your reception of the Lord’s Supper, the forgiveness of sins proclaimed into your ears, the normal hearing of God’s Word in preaching and teaching, or the life faithfully lived according to the Lord’s calling and giving. These have God’s Word to promise to give, sustain, preserve, and deliver them.
The Faith received in Baptism restores you to the family of God, and within this holy institution, you live in love toward God and one another by the same Word. Christ Jesus has appointed for His body what His body is to do. It’s all a gift of His love for giving His love to you, your children, and your children’s children. The faith needed is defined by the Word—trust in Jesus who died for you, and the religion of the baptized is also determined by the Word—living in the gifts Jesus freely gives.
Our catechumens today, with a little reminder, can tell me what the life of the Christian looks like. They can tell you what it means to be “doers of the Word, not hearers only.” And God willing, you can, too. Luther articulated them in six chief parts of the Small Catechism. Do you want to know what you believe? Remember the faithful exposition of God’s Word in the catechism. Think of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Lord’s Supper, and Confession and Absolution by the Office of the Keys. Do you want to know what the faithful do? Remain in what you have learned from God’s Word and given in the brief form in the catechism. Receive the gifts confessed and believed. Say the daily prayers. Follow the Table of Duties.
We rejoice today with Leah and Ella as they once again confess the faith of their Baptism and as they promise to continue to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” It’s always lovely to hear Christians confess their faith in Jesus boldly and their joy in the ongoing reception of the gifts He freely gives. The only difference between today and last Sunday or next Sunday is that they’ll be making the same confession amid the congregation rather than up in front and solo. This is just as we all have been doing each week and will continue to do until our dying breath. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are working all things, even moving heaven and earth, to bring you into the faith, continually restore you to faithfulness, and keep you in confidence. May God grant it by His Spirit and through His Word. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin