19th Sunday after Pentecost
Some time ago, back before I attended MLC. My pastor at my home congregation and I were working with a prospect member. She was a younger woman who had come in with her boyfriend, he was a member of our church. It was a rather simple straightforward meeting. My pastor had asked if I would walk her through the great exchange presentation with her and that he would be there to answer any difficult questions that might come up. Are you all familiar with what I mean when I say “great exchange?” It’s a simple explanation of Law and Gospel. What a sinner deserves v. what God gives us in Christ, how our sins were put on Jesus and God exchanges our sin for Jesus righteousness freely as a gift! And we are declared not guilty.
Anyway, we got to that part of the discussion – that pure gospel message of sins forgiven in Christ – and instead of nodding in agreement, instead of smiling, her eyes well up with tears and she put her face in her hands. Then straining to hold back the tears she said, “I can’t believe that, I’m sorry.”
My pastor sitting there asked if there was some reason why. At which point she began to cry harder. Her boyfriend put his hand on her back and said, “It’s ok, you can tell them!” She collected herself a bit and said, “I had an abortion.”
See this young woman had gotten an abortion some years ago before she was dating the man who was a member of our church. She did so for all the obvious reasons – because she didn’t want the responsibility of a child. She wanted to continue to live life as she wanted to live it – recklessly and without accepting the consequence for her actions. So, she must have buried the guilt. She must have listened to all the voices that said, “It’s not human life, it’s just a collection of cells.” She joined the chorus of those voices that shout out against and try to drown out our natural human conscience that says taking a life is wrong. For years she buried that guilt she hardened herself to it and now that voice of rebellion against God was echoing in her head so loud that it was virtually impossible for her to hear that Gospel promise that The Lord receives sinners. So submit to him, and then beyond all reason he accepts us!
PART I – He Seeks Us
Like the young woman I used as an example, for all of us, it is often our first reaction and seemingly the easier route, to bury our guilt. Admitting wrong doing or sinfulness of any kind would require us to be knocked down a few pegs. We don’t want to be found out for our sin. Especially if it is a sin that we take some enjoyment in. Especially if it’s a sin that is a part of us, ingrained into our personality or our psyche – if our tongue isn’t tamed, if we are prone to anger, if our eyes are not tamed and linger where they should not. If our hands work only to glorify ourselves and if our feet go where they should not go – What does Jesus say in the gospel for today? Cut them off, pluck them out get rid of them! He’s calling for a drastic change.
James writes, “7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil.”
Admitting our guilt, submitting to God, cutting off that sinful limb of our souls – resisting the devil. That’s hard! There is no doubt about that here.
You know what an addict goes through when they are on the road to recovery, especially if its one of the harder drugs? The withdrawal symptoms are painful and often unbearable – the temptation is to slip back into use of those drugs just to ease the pain. Or what a homosexual person goes through when they abandon their former sinful lifestyle – yet they still struggle with that same-sex attraction. Or when a young man or woman realizes that their partner wants to live together before marriage – The temptation can be overwhelming and oppressing!
But James doesn’t just say submit and resist because, well it’s the right thing to do, it will build character or make you a stronger person – No James says, Submit to God resist the devil!
Resist the devil and He will flee from you! Draw near to God and he will draw near to you! Trying to hide our sin is a futile attempt and altogether pointless. For God is God and he sees us anyway! There is no where we can hide – Except in him! We cannot run to far afield, there is nowhere we can run except back to him.
These commands, submit, resist, draw near, humble yourselves – these are not cold hearted commands! James is urging us to do this, pleading with us to do so. Because in the end there is nowhere else to go, there is no one else to submit to, that is worth submitting to or humbling yourself before. Because there is a promise connected to these commands to submit and resist! The devil will flee from us! God will draw near to us – not as an overbearing judge waving his gavel in anger. But as a loving father who sees his child when they are along way off! He rejoices, and runs down the path to find us he seeks us out that his daughter or son might return home. And the roaring lion the devil will not approach our fathers house. When we go to God in repentance he seeks us with the comfort of the Gospel message, put’s his arms around us and sets a watch over us. The devil cannot harm us. That evil prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none, he’s judged the deed is done and one little word can fell him. Do you know what that “One little Word” is? “Liar!”
PART II – He accepts us
When the devil tries to convince us that our sin is too great. That the divide is to far. That our hearts and our minds are too stained with sin for God to love us. One little word can fell him. “Liar!” Devil you lie! What kind of strange pride does Satan try to fill us with? That we would ever think that our sin is to great for God to forgive!
It’s just like the woman I began talking about today. She said, “How can God forgive me, if I can’t even forgive myself?” This is what was holding her back from seeing the Gospel message! This is what held her back from seeing God as a loving father, that rejoices that his daughter would return. She, herself, was getting in the way! She wasn’t grasping that she is not her own judge, we are not our own judges! God is judge.
Humble yourself before the Lord and he will life you up!
I am not my own judge. We are not our own arbiters. Humble yourself before the Lord. Turn to God in repentance, abandon your sin yes – but also realize this involves throwing off this notion of am I good enough, or am I not good at all.
Our own opinions of ourselves don’t really matter. I’m a sinner I know, I have failed in 10,000 different ways – and yes, the process of humbling ourselves, the process of resisting the devil, submitting to God and repenting – this can often Turn our laughter to mourning and our Joy to grief. Because the process of turning from sin and repenting can often leave us feeling like we don’t deserve the love of God because it causes us to deeply reflect on our own sinfulness and failings. But we are not the ones who determine whether we, or anyone else for that matter, is acceptable in God’s sight – He is.
Believers are humbled by the gospel message and realize that God accepts us not for our own sake but for the sake of Jesus his son. Jesus, who in every sense of the word knew what it meant to submit to God and be humble before God. As Paul says in Philippians, Jesus, Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
When God looks at us, this is what he sees! This is the submission and humility he sees – that of our Savior Jesus. Of course, this is not an excuse to go on sinning, as though it didn’t matter! Rather it’s that we recognize that not even the sin of murder, abortion, slander, lust, lying, covetous, or pride can overshadow what Christ has done for us.
There is no reason then to bury guilt, to hide our sin – there is no reason to act as a judge over ourselves, to look inward and focus on every way that we’ve failed. Rather, right along with St. James, look to the Lord and see that he has sought you out with the Gospel, to comfort you. And that he accepts you for the sake of Jesus. So, submit to the Lord, resist the devils lies, and humble yourself before the Lord, because he receives sinners. Amen.