Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sermon for St. James

James the Brother of Jesus – October 23, 2011 – Matthew 13:54-58

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Familiarity breeds contempt. That is the old phrase that is often true. Someone might seem great or wonderful, but the more you know him, the more you see his warts, or you realize he doesn’t do everything you want him do how you want him to do it, and then the sheen comes off, and eventually they are despised. Of course, the word familiarity is related to the word family – because if anyone knows our warts, it is those closest to us, our family. Today is the feast of St. James, the brother of Jesus – so it is appropriate for us to consider a bit about family, about the dangers of familiarity breeding contempt, and above all the wonders of Christ Jesus, the God who comes to be in our family.

“And when Jesus had finished these parables, He went away from there, and coming to His hometown He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all His sisters with us? Where did this man get all these things?” When Jesus returns to Nazareth and preaches, He is met with confusion. Why? He’s too familiar. Where does that Jesus get off preaching here – I mean, we know where He lives. We know His family, we remember Him when He was a little boy! They are familiar with Him, and what happens? “And they took offense at Him.” They couldn’t bear to listen to Him, or consider Him – and instead they got offended. The one who brings the wisdom and might and power of God should be far off, should be lofty, should be mysterious… not my buddy James’ brother. It didn’t seem right, it didn’t fit their expectations of how God should act – and so, they disbelieved. “But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.’ And He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.’” Familiarity breeds contempt. And it’s true – when Jay Hobson preached here [at Zion] as a student, it was nice, it was neat, a son of the congregation preaching, we [they] learned and heard and that was nice. It would be a different thing entirely if it wasn’t Jay preaching… but Pastor Hobson, who was called by God to lay down the law when needed… be honest – it’s hard enough for you [Zion] to listen to if I have to say something harsh… if Pastor Hobson had to say it, “Bah, I remember when you were the little brat running around here, and now you think you can tell me something, pshaw!” It’s why you don’t call pastors back to where they came from. Familiarity breeds contempt.

But here’s the problem. It’s not just the people of Nazareth who build up contempt for Christ – it’s everyone. Why? Because sinful man likes to keep God in a nice little box up there up, away from us, safely up there in Heaven where He can send up some blessings but otherwise leave us alone. We don’t want God to walk among us, to walk with us in the Garden in the cool of the day, we’d much rather go hide, thank you very much. The claim that Jesus is God, God come to us, Emmanuel, God with us - is audacious – and people couldn’t bear it. When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” – they took up stones to kill Him. When He said that He was the true temple that would be rebuilt after 3 days, they killed Him. When He said that He was the Stone upon which the Church is built, they rejected Him. When Christ shows that He is God, people are offended.

And the thing is – the same thing goes on today. Even in Christianity today, there’s a lot of talk about Jesus – but it tends to want to keep Jesus at a safe distance. Talk about the Lord’s Supper to people – say that this is Christ Jesus Himself, giving us His true Body and Blood for forgiveness… and watch people go pale and become indignant. Or tell them that yes, at Church on Sunday, we walk in as sinful human beings and our Pastor says, “in the stead and by the command of Christ Jesus, I forgive you all your sins” – the idea that Christ Jesus uses some other sinful sap to forgive your sins – shocking. The idea of Christ Jesus being present, being active in His Word, in His Supper still offends today. This is because sinful man in reality wants nothing to do with Christ, wants God far, far away. But Christ Jesus is not content to remain far off from you. You were bound and captive in sin, and so He comes to you, preaches, proclaims wisdom and His mighty works of salvation and life to you, says to you, “I am the God who has become Man and suffered and died for your sins, who has risen to give you life, you have forgiveness and life in Me.” This is the Gospel, and it up close to us, it is personal, it is in our face – and by the grace of God we have come to rejoice in it.

St. James grew to understand this. From the Gospels we learn that James wasn’t too impressed with his brother Jesus. Jesus in our text notes that a prophet is without honor in his own home – the same held true for Jesus. James got embarrassed by the preaching, in fact, it’s so bad that on the Cross Jesus has to tell John to care for Mary – that’s how put out James was by Jesus – James couldn’t be counted on to care for Mary. James had been offended that God would dare to come to close to him. And yet, by Acts Chapter 15, we see that James is a pastor in Jerusalem, and well respected at that. We have even the letter James writes to the Church, admonishing us towards faith in Jesus and true love and works that flow from there. By the grace of God James stopped fearing that up close and personal aspect of the Christian faith. Our faith is not built on our own terms, it’s not our going to God, but rather it is built on the fact that God Himself comes to us, that Christ Jesus brings us His own life and salvation that let us endure this world – indeed, this is what shapes our lives as Christians.

Christ confronts sin in our lives. This is what He does. When you have sinned, when you have that anger, that hurt, that pain, that jealousy – Christ Jesus comes to you by His Word and takes that sin away, says that you are forgiven. And He does this to you through what we end up calling the means of grace, the way in which Christ’s own mercy and love come to you. It gets spoken to you – that’s my job as pastor in particular, to speak Christ Jesus and His mercy to you publicly and privately. It is poured upon your head in Baptism, it is placed upon your tongue in the Supper. This is what you have received, this is what you continue to receive – it is by receiving this forgiveness, by receiving Christ that you have life. But here is the thing – God also uses you to be His agent, His tool, His workmanship to bring His grace and mercy and love into other peoples’ lives. The love that Christ has given to you, the forgiveness that He has give you – you give to others.

Consider this for a moment – someone wrongs you. Hates you, reviles you, mocks you. As a Christian, what are you called to do? To show love, to serve, to pray for the one who persecutes you. Why? Because that is what Christ does, because that is what Christ does to you, and that is what Christ makes you to be. Christ makes you to be His own agent of love – you speak, you show, you give Christ and His love to the people you come across in your life. When you care for another, that is giving them the care that God would have them receive. That’s the point of the Commandments in the Small Catechism – that we recognize that we are to be a blessing to our neighbor. This is why James teaches, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed or lacking in daily food, and one of you says, ‘go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Faith recognizes that God intervenes in our lives, that Christ Jesus comes barging in and gives us forgiveness, provides for us, gives us all that we need for this life and the life of the world to come. If we see this, if we know this – then we will also see and understand the times when Jesus gives these same things to our neighbors through us. Do you not know that God is at work in you and through you, that You are His servant – that by your actions God provides for your neighbor, that in your words of comfort and encouragement God builds up your neighbor, that through your mercy God shows mercy to your neighbor? God uses you, uses your actions to accomplish His good. Our works do not create our faith, but where there is faith, there will be works, because faith comes from God getting involved in your life, and works are just God getting involved in your neighbor’s life through you. This is what Paul teaches as well in Ephesians – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Jesus bursts into your life, gives you grace and mercy, and you are saved, not by what you have done, but alone and only by what He has done. And Paul continues, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And the same Christ Jesus who comes to you, who gives you life, then uses that life He has given you to serve and care for and give life to others.

Of course, our sinful flesh rebels against this. Our sinful flesh wants nothing to do with God and nothing to do with our neighbor, for sin loves neither God nor neighbor. But you are not bound to sin – Christ Jesus has not only come into this world to suffer and die for the sins of the world, but He has come to you, washed and forgiven you, and declared you to be His own – indeed He has proclaimed you to be His brother, indeed, His own body. He has made you to be His own workmanship, created you anew and given you new life. Satan and sin and the world try to make you forget this, ignore this – but Christ Jesus is your Lord. He sends His Word to you – even His Word spoken by His earthly brother James, even His Word spoken by the people He has placed into your life, all so that this truth, this reality that you are forgiven would ever be before you. His Word draws you away from selfishness and sin and places your focus ever more upon Christ Jesus and His love for you. God grant that we be ever more focused upon Christ, so that by the power of Christ Jesus, here and present in our lives, we might grow in faith towards God and love towards one another. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

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