Grace and peace…
Our text this morning is James 3:1-12, our epistle reading.
There was a man who, after hearing his pastor’s sermon, was struck by powerful feelings of guilt. “I have sinned against God in so many ways,” He concluded, and was determined to try harder and do better.
He realized that sinful thoughts often caught him off-guard, and would be difficult to deal with. His sinful actions, on the other hand, were a product of those thoughts. So he decided to focus on his words, something he had the power to change. It would be good if he could catch himself before he said something he’d regret. He would also have more control over the things he did, and in time, perhaps even over his thoughts.
For a while, his new approach seemed to work. He tried not to speak without first considering how his words would affect other people. As time passed and the guilt faded, he found himself right back where he started, feeling guilty because of things he thought, said, and did. “I’ll try harder,” he said. He recommitted himself to being more diligent, but the harder he tried, the more failed.
This is the story of us, any one of us, every one of us. It’s your story and it’s my story. The question is, what can we do different?
Recently in our epistle reading, James confronted us with the gaps between our faith, our words, and our deeds. God’s law is clear: no matter how hard we try, we are all sinful; we all fall short of what God expects and demands from us.
“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” The tongue is that small fire that can burn-down anything and everything that stands in its path. “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.”
No one is innocent, not you, not me, no one. And to drive that point home, James told us what we’re all capable of. Right now we’re sitting here in the Lord’s House singing, thanking, praising, and praying to God. But once we leave here, it may not be long before we’re cursing at someone or something. We praise God one moment, and with the very same tongue, turn around and speak offensive and hurtful words to or about person. To James, the tongue is proof of our sinful and corrupt nature. We can not harness our tongues, and we can not change our sinful nature. We must find something outside of us, a power greater than our own to make things right. As Paul lamented, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his striped we are healed. All we like sheep have turned – every one to his own way – and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Even when our tongues and our actions are sinful, all is not lost, there is hope. Scripture tells us “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” yet there is one man, one man whose life met what God expects and demands from us. This man bridled his tongue and lived that perfect, obedient life you and I try to live, but cannot.
This one man, Jesus Christ, the Son of Almighty God, deserved none of the suffering He experienced at the hands of those who crucified him. He suffered every moment he hung on the cross, not for his own words and deeds, but for ours; for your sins and for mine; for your tongue and for mine.
In our catechism instruction, our hearts and our minds were filled with both law and gospel, the truths that come from God and His Holy Word. Now, with a new tongue and our mind filled with the Word of God, we have something worth-while to offer; we have something important to say: “For God so loved the world…
There is only one person who has ever achieved the sinless perfection God demands from us: our Savior Jesus Christ. You and I will continue to try to control our tongues and our behavior, but we will fail. And though we must never stop trying, we welcome the forgiveness Christ provides to us through His Body and Blood this morning. For what is impossible for us, righteousness and perfection, is ours through Christ Jesus our Savior. Through Christ’s perfect obedience, God has declared you righteous. Through His Word, God renews you each day, God strengthens you each day, and God leads and guides you each day according to His good will and pleasure, and the time you spend in His Word.
“Wretched man that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Amen.