In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
We live in a day of rage. It is so easy to be upset, angry, offended at anything these days. It happens in politics. It happens behind the wheel of a car. It happens in your family and your church. People get angry at something a pastor or someone else in church does or says and we Canadians, in particular, vote with our feet. Never come back again. Cutting off years of relationships and faith. We leave angry. And that anger simmers. It doesn’t bed down. It sticks around. It sticks around because the wound isn’t healed. But when you leave, you don’t want it healed, you want to be justified. Right. And such anger makes you feel pure, justified in your reaction. That rage keeps simmering telling you that you are right because you’ve been slighted, and are justifiably angry over whatever the issue is. And it may even be true. Your anger may be over a legitimate issue of justice. Over things that are wrong.Things that ought not be. But bare this in mind: the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:20)
Which is why Scripture says, “In your anger do not sin.” (Eph. 4:26-27) For though anger can be justifiable and right—for it can be a reaction to that which is unjust—your anger, your rage, your wrath does not generally act in love. But in the blinding rage of self-justification. Which tends to let loose your hurt, your feelings of helplessness, of victimization, of insufficiency. It gives vent to your guilt and shame. It looses it on whomever is in front of you. And usually that is the person you love the most. They are often “safe” outlets for your anger—the safety valve—even though they may not be the ones whom you are angry at. So anger, which may be based on justice—what is right and what is wrong, and the wrongs that you are seeing being done—does not produce God’s righteousness. (James 1:20)
Now, I don’t know about you. But I hear that phrase “God’s righteousness” and I think “the good action God expects of me.” This is what Luther thought too before He understood the Gospel. The Bible goes on and on about “God’s righteousness”. And Luther hated God for it. For he knew, intimately—for he had a very sensitive conscience—his sin. His sin was always before him. (Ps. 51:3) And he came to hate God’s righteous expectations, for he knew that he could never, ever measure up. He was not the “good” person he supposed he was, or that we all tend to think we are. He was soiled by desire. By evil thoughts that flowed forth in angry words. He couldn’t control that evil desire. He couldn’t get rid of it. When he wanted to do right evil was right there with him. (Rom. 7:18-21) And he hated the righteousness of God for it was not something he could produce in himself.
But over many years of reading Scripture he came to realize that the righteousness of God is not primarily God’s expectations of you, but rather God’s own behaviour and attitudes. God in and of Himself is righteous. He is just. And therefore a righteous judge who always does rightly. (Ps. 51:4) But His righteousness flows out of Himself in His steadfast love, and his unending mercy. (Isa. 12:1-2; Lam. 3:22) For He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Exod. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Ps. 86:5, 15; Ps. 103:8; Ps. 145:8; Neh. 9:31; Jon. 4:2; Joel 2:13, etc.) God’s righteousness flows forth in His action. In particular, Luther discovered that God’s really ought to be translated as God’s “justification”. I.e., God’s declaring you innocent, not guilty, of your sins, on account of what He Himself has done to let you off the hook. That is hardly just. Justice is: you get what you deserve. But God is your Father. (James 1:17) He does not want you to get what you deserve, but rather what is good for you. What will benefit you. What will train you up in paths of righteousness. Sometimes what you need is some discipline to learn to do differently. Sometimes what you need is mercy so that you do not get what you deserve, for that would destroy you. That’s what the Lord does. He turns away His natural just passion for anger—that instinct for justice against us, against our actions. (Isa. 12:1) And He does it by EXALTING Himself, exalting His name—Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews (John 19:19)—in the midst of Israel. (Isa. 12:6, 2) He lifts up Himself on the cross to take the just penalty you deserve. That’s what loving Father’s do. They turn away what would destroy you by paying the penalty your actions deserve for you. So Jesus out of love for you and His Father lifts Himself up on the cross becoming your salvation letting you draw water from the well of salvation of Holy Baptism. (Isa. 12:6) THESE THINGS must be declared in all the earth. (Isa. 12:4; John 16:8, 13-15; James 1:18, 21)
Just as the Holy Spirit will declare these things in all the earth: sin, righteousness (or justification), and the judgement of Satan. (John 16:8) The whole world hears, by the work of Holy Spirit through His sent messengers, that they are sinners (John 16:9); that Jesus has gone to the Father taking His Holy precious blood to the mercy seat of the Father in heaven, so that you can be justified (declared righteous); (John 16:10) and the Holy Spirit declares to the world that their ruler is JUDGED. (John 16:11) Sin, justification, judgement. All of this means that you are free. Free of sin. Free of Satan. A justified receiver of every good and perfect gift. (James 1:17)
All these good gifts—these complete gifts, complete justification, complete casting out of Satan—are given by the Father of lights. (James 1:18) He births you by His word of truth. (James 1:18) By Jesus. (John 1:1, 14) That’s why you come to church. To hear & receive Jesus. His justification of you. Because we should be slow to speak and quick to listen. (James 1:19) But we aren’t. And anger seems such a fine & churchly, righteous, justifying emotion. Ain’t no one more righteous than the one who is righteously angry. But anger does not WORK the justification of God. That is worked by Jesus who sent it out into the world by His Holy Spirit, on the wings of His word, who inspires you to speak this justifying word. It is this blessed word of truth which births you and those who believe what they hear. (James 1:18; Rom. 10:17)
So lay aside the filthiness of your soul. Don’t speak from its anger or its abundant wickedness. For there is lots of anger inside each and everyone of us. Afterall, if you are not angry in this wicked world, you are likely so chill, so apathetic you are dead. But lay it aside. And receive. Passively. Listeningly. The implanted Word. Which is able to save you. (James 1:21; Rom 1:16; 10:17)
And when received, the implanted word grows. (James 1:18, 21) It grows and produces a harvest of righteousness. Faith which justifies before the Lord, and righteous actions. (James 1:22-27) Actions which flow in love, from faith, toward your neighbour. Faith which curbs your rage and makes you quick to listen. Slow to speak. Slow to anger. (James 1:19) For that’s the fruit of this glorious faith in Jesus: salvation living in peace with the neighbours God calls you to serve.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church