Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. What do you want in life? Think about it. What do you really want in life? The way you answer that question is probably going to be vastly different than the people around you based on a variety of factors like your age, your stage in life, your talents & interests, and any number of other things. But regardless of who you are, this is a question you need to be thinking about: What do you want in life? Believe it or not, when I was in high school, more than anything I wanted to be a professional soccer player. And I’m not going to lie, I was a pretty good soccer player.
My freshman year I was an instant starter on the team and already one of the best players. By my sophomore year, I became a team captain and was named to the all-conference team. By my junior year I decided that I was going to go “all in”, so I put myself through rigorous workouts, spending hours and hours every day biking, running, doing sprints and other drills, spending time in the weight room. And by my senior year, I was nominated for the state all-star team. I was a pretty good soccer player. I even provided the game winning assist in that all-star game. But that state all-star game was the last time I ever played in a competitive soccer match. Maybe it was because I realized that the odds of a gangly nerd like me becoming a professional athlete were slim-to-none or maybe it was a combination of other factors, but somewhere along the way, I just didn’t want it anymore—I didn’t want to be a professional soccer player. My desire was gone. Now, I don’t tell you this story because I want to brag, I tell you this story to illustrate something—desire is what drives us. Desire is what causes us to get up in the morning and give the day a go. Our desires motivate us to do the things that we do and to become the kind of person that we want to be. When that desire is gone, we find ourselves purposeless and lazy. Now, just to be clear, I completely recognize that this is starting to sound like the start to a motivational speech that ends with me telling you to dig deep down inside of yourself and pursue your dreams (or something else corny like that). But this is where this sermon takes a sharp left turn. I want to keep this idea of desire in mind as we turn to James 1.
2. In the first section of our reading from, the apostle has something to say about desire: 12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:12-15). Let’s start by talking about what James has to say about desires here. Starting in verse 13, James is basically saying, “Don’t blame God when you go through difficult times—it’s not his fault. When you’re tempted, it’s your own fault. Why? Because there’s a problem with your desires. Your desires are flawed and they lead you to sin, and sin always ends in death.” James might as well be citing Proverbs 14:12, which says: There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. In other words, without the Holy Spirit sanctifying our desires, they’ll lead us to our ruin. Because here’s the thing: we humans have a tendency to pursue the wrong desires in our life. We know what we should be pursuing, but we make excuses and we allow our own desire for comfort to win over our desire for Jesus. So, the words of James 1:12 kind of hang over our head: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Man, I sure love Jesus and I want that crown of life that James talks about, but I just don’t know if I have it in me to “remain steadfast” for the long haul. I don’t know about you, but I am the king of excuses. I’ve given up on more things that I’ve set my mind to than I can count. How can I stop this madness? How can I get myself to “remain steadfast”?
3. Well, the last three verses of our reading give us an answer to this question: 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (James 1:16-18). Translation: you can’t stop yourself from this mad cycle of giving up and allowing your desire for comfort to win over your desire for Jesus. You can’t do anything about it…but the Lord can. Everything good and perfect and beautiful in this world is a gift from God. Look closer at verse 18 again: Of his own will he brought us forth (literally: he gave birth to us) by the word of truth. Here’s a Confirmation 101 question for you: Where are we born of the Word? In Baptism! That’s the answer to the question. How can I stop this madness? Baptism. How can I get myself to “remain steadfast”? Baptism—not because the water gives us some special super-human will power. No…baptism does these things because of the word of truth behind it. See, by virtue of our baptism, Jesus’ forgiveness is yours each day. Or, to use the words of Martin Luther: Baptism indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Did you catch the key word there? Daily. Baptism is a daily process where the Holy Spirit forgives us our sins and gives us the strength that we need to remain steadfast in our desire for Jesus.
4. So, let’s bring this all together for a second and talk about what this means for us practically. At the beginning of this sermon, I asked the question, “What do you want in life?” There are a lot of good, right, and beneficial ways to answer that question, but let me tell you what every good, right, and beneficial answer to this question will have in common: a wholehearted pursuit of Jesus. If that scares you a little bit, then that’s probably a good thing honestly because we live in a world that teaches us to “do what feels good.” But need I remind you of Proverbs 14:12 again? There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. So, whatever it is that you desire to pursue in this life, make sure that it involves Jesus or it won’t end well. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about some token acknowledgement of Jesus like periodic church attendance, prayer before meals, and a few other “token” things to check off your list. I’m talking about a real desire for him that involves communing daily with him through reading his word and through prayer. I’m talking about a true desire to know him and experience his presence more deeply. Now, don’t get me wrong, our faith isn’t dependent on our feelings. You haven’t lost your faith simply because you aren’t “feeling it” today. But true faith in Jesus means trusting that Jesus sustains us by his Spirit with the word of truth—an objective word that speaks truth to our fickle emotions and has the power to re-orient our desires back to Jesus. Thanks be to God that it is his work, not ours, that accomplishes this and that we have a God who gives generously to all without finding fault (James 1:5).
In the name of Jesus. Amen.