Easter 4, 2016
The Epistle. James 1:17-21
The Gospel. St. John 16:5-15
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Since we are clearly still in Easter, our focus remains on the resurrection of Christ. In particular our attention being called over the last few weeks to the revealing of the risen Christ to the Disciples.
The passage from the Gospel of John today reiterates to us the fact that Jesus took great pains to prepare His Disciples for the things which were to happen to Him and to them.
And His eventual departure from them…back into heaven at the Ascension.
Once Jesus would ascend into Heaven, He warns them that they will carry the great message of His resurrection and salvation through faith in Him….and the reception of their testimony will not be one of open arms and warm welcome.
He tells them, many of those you are trying to convince will move against you. They will throw you out of the Synagogue. They will harass you. They will even seek to kill you.
But I'm saying these things to you to keep you from falling away.
I am saying these things to you to strengthen you when the times of persecution come.
There will be great confusion once I am gone.
There will be chaos in some quarters.
There will be rumors and stories and all kinds of opinions about what is happening and what it all means.
You need to stay faithful to what I'm telling you so you are not led astray, or become afraid, or deluded.
All of this will happen, (He tells them) because those who oppose you don't know God. They don't know the Father; therefore, they will react this way to you.
But I have said these things to you so when they come for you, you will remember what I told you and you will stand firm.
But I'm saying these things to you to keep you from falling away.
In fact, it is to your advantage that I do go, because if I do, then the Helper will come.
The Holy Spirit will come.
If I'm still here, the Holy Spirit’s ministry will not be as effective…it will be limited…. because you have me with you…and this is not the way the Father desires things be.
When I'm gone, the Holy Spirit will provide you power to withstand all of this.
Though I am gone and my absence might be a sign of victory to your enemies, or a sign of being left alone to you….it is not…and you are not.
If God’s power is made perfect in weakness, then here is a way to prove that.
You will feel weak and vulnerable because I am not with you, but with the Holy Spirit’s presence, you will do and see greater things than you did and saw while you had me with you.
The Holy Spirit is also known as the Spirit of Truth. He is called that because He will lead you into all truth.
In fact, you can know it is the truth, because He does not speak on His own authority. He speaks what He hears from the Father.
He will declare to you the things that are to come.
He will glorify me by taking what is mine and declaring it to you.
He will bring to your minds the things I have told you.
I am going away and you will need to remember what I told you while I was with you. The Holy Spirit will do just that. Fear not.
Now this is essentially a paraphrase of what Jesus was saying to them before He died….taken from the Gospel account today.
This account today is timed perfectly, as we too, await the return of the Lord, and also because during this interval we too meet with opposition, antagonism, indifference…to the Christian faith.
To the world, Christianity is either irrelevant or oppressive.
It has nothing to do with every day life, or it has everything to do with every day life and it needs to be pushed aside because it is oppressive, judgmental, bigoted, narrow minded, or closed-minded.
This is where the Gospel takes us today with regard to the Holy Spirit’s work of convincing the world or reproving the world of sin.
There is something greater going on here than just with Christians. The world is heading for judgment.
The Holy Spirit that Jesus promised would come…has come and He is working right now, in us and through us, to carry out His ends.
Reproving the world of sin, because people do not believe in Christ.
Paul says that God: “…who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.”
Our sufficiency is from God.
We are God’s ministers, through whom the Holy Spirit works in redeeming the world.
And through our passage from James chapter 1 today, we see further how the Spirit works in us and through us.
Spiritual gifts are bestowed upon us by God. Every good and every perfect gift is from above, says James.
In fact, we are first born from above through the Spirit, and now we are instruments through which the Spirit works to redeem mankind as a kind of first fruits of His creation.
Of His good pleasure, not of compulsion nor or any merit on our part, God chose us…has given us new birth into a living hope, as Peter says.
Christians…those called out, separated out by God, and regenerated by Him, are His first fruits. We have been set-aside for His purposes.
Jeremiah in the Old Testament says that Israel was holy to the LORD…the first fruits of His harvest. We are the New Testament, New Covenant version…the counterpart of this very same thing.
One commentator on James says this: “God engaged in the work of regeneration through his own will and good pleasure: He chose to give us birth; “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18).
God’s will is the reason for all his actions, motivated by love and mercy. God can have no higher motive. “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16); he begins with us first.
When Moses speaks about the origin of God’s love for Israel, he says, “The Lord … [chose] you … because the Lord loved you” (Deuteronomy 7:7–8); he had no other motive. “He rescued me because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18:19); that was the only reason he did it, because he wanted to.
“I will … love them freely” (Hosea 14:4); there is the beginning of it all.
What does this do to us? It stirs up in us an admiration of the mercy of God for one thing and of prime importance. Knowing that nothing motivates and animates the heart of God except His own will and nature.
Nothing outside of Him influences His decision to love us or to save us.
We prayed this morning in our Collect to set the theme and the emphasis this way: “O ALMIGHTY God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men…”
What greater force is there to tame our unruly wills and affections? (Affections being our emotions)
So, what greater force is there to tame our unruly wills and emotions than the knowledge that God, of His own good pleasure, has saved us?...despite us being unruly.
Knowledge such as this is what motivates James to tell us what we are to do in the mean time.
“…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness…”
Being quick to hear means having a teachable ear….a teachable mind. Be open to what the Word of God teaches us. Be open to changing and conforming to it. This is the only way the unruly will of man can be transformed into what God desires.
Though James is here directing our attention to what the Word of God says, we can carry this instruction into many other areas of life.
In all settings, we are to be wise. Slow to jump to conclusions. Slow to making and giving opinions, lest they be rash and uninformed. Being thoughtful before speaking…always seeking to tame the unruly will and emotions.
Put away from us in all situations, wickedness…wicked desires…filthiness. We all know when we run into these situations. There is no need here to try it list them all or itemize them all. We all know these situations when they arise.
And we do because the Spirit alerts us to them.
No Christian should be ignorant in these things…or deluded about them.
Commentator on James poses these questions to us: “Are there no graces to be perfected and increased, no corruptions to be put to death, no good resolutions to be strengthened? Certainly no one needs ordinances more than those people who do not need them. The spirit is a tender thing. Things that are most delicate are most dependent. Brambles grow by themselves, but the vine needs supports.
Our Collect continued this way….asking God:
“Grant unto thy people, that they may love what you command of us, and desire all that you promise to us;
We ask God, in light of all of what has been said here today, that He would grant to us the desire to love what He commands of us.
He commands that we be faithful.
He commands that we resist all that would drag us away from the faith.
He commands that despite all of the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
So true joys are found not in the world…chasing after worldly things…temporal things, rapidly changing things.
Rather true joys are found when our hearts are fixed. Not restless and always searching for new enticements. New idols to worship.
So the structure of all of this is: Because Christ is risen, all that He promised would happen to both His Disciples and all who follow Christ afterward.
All will suffer in one way or another for being a follower of Christ…because He has chosen both them and us to be partakers of the sufferings…which bring about a better end.
The temperament of the Christian is to always be one of slowness to speak and to get angry…A patient spirit in all things.
Bringing into subjection an unruly will. Setting a right course for our emotions…our affections.
All of what Jesus said and what He commanded through James today, was to keep them (and us) from falling away.
The resurrection tells us that these things have begun. What Christ promised to His Disciples has begun and it continues to this day.
His Resurrection is a sign that the promises He made such as sending the Holy Spirit are fulfilled and continue to this day.
That the work of the Spirit to cultivate in us a quickness to hear…and a slowness to wrath.
True joys are found only in the fixed promises of Jesus Christ.
The fixed promises He makes to keep us from falling away.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.