Sermon for Cantate, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, AD 2021

James 1:16-21

The Christian life means a life lived in dependence on Christ, who gives us the Helper, the Holy Spirit. This is what our epistle lesson from James teaches us today. This is good to know not only for those new to the church, as Dan, who will be confirmed today, or those who return like Penny, who will be received by confession of faith. This work of the Holy Spirit is begun at the baptism of all Christians. It is strengthened and fed as the Holy Spirit works through the Word of the Gospel and the Lord’s Supper.
           
We have no divine promises with confirmation, which is merely a human rite, but in confirmation we confess and cling to the promises given to us in our baptism. For baptism was created and instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, and in it we have his promise of the forgiveness of sins. In baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to you and changes you. Your old man, the sinful self, dies, and the new man arises, being resurrected in Christ. Baptism is not just a commitment or a slight change. It is the Holy Spirit making you completely new.
           
This new life is Christ’s life, which the Holy Spirit gives to you. This is why Christ tells the disciples he has to go away. Christ had to go away, to ascend to the Father, so that the Helper, the Holy Spirit could come. It is this Spirit who guides us into all truth, for He is the Spirit of Truth. You might think, why can’t Jesus just tell us Himself? This is how Jesus comes to us, by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not add anything new to what Jesus has done, but by Jesus’ authority He gives what Jesus has to you.
           
On the cross, Jesus took on our sin and guilt and defeated death and the devil for us. There on Golgotha our salvation was accomplished, and it was sealed and confirmed as Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. That Easter, over two thousand years ago, our salvation was won. Yet that salvation is given to us by the Holy Spirit. In the waters of baptism, the Holy Spirit brings us into Christ’s death and resurrection so we really die to sin like Him and are raised to new life like Him. This is what it means to be born again, or, born from above.
           
For as St. James says, 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. As you walk in your baptismal life of repentance and faith, you must not be deceived into thinking there is any good gift that is not from above. Many temptations come in this life to the old and young, wanting to pull you away from trust in Christ and what He has given you in your baptism. For the Christian the temptation to sin means this – will you trust in the promises Christ gives you in your baptism of true life and salvation, or will you trust something else? Will you trade your new birth for something lesser?
           
The reality of your new birth in Christ is more sure and true than anything in the world. It is not just that the life of baptism is the moral life or good life, but it is the only true life. For the perfect gift we have been given comes down from the Father of lights – the One who created the stars and fixed them in their places. Like the stars remain steady and can be used to navigate, our Father remains constant in His Word and promises. There is no change in Him and He will never go back on His Word. Anything else in this world cannot promise this. All others are like wandering planets, unreliable, changeable. Nothing can hold up its promise because all else is passing and temporary. This world will not last forever.
           
Yet by the Word of Regeneration in your baptism, you will last forever. For you are no longer dependent on the passing things of the world, but have been made a new creation. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Soon Christ will return and on that day all heaven and earth will be remade. Yet you are already the firstfruits. Unlike all the rest of creation, in your baptism you have already become part of the new creation. This new creation like the rest waits its full completion, but nevertheless, it has already begun since Jesus rose from the dead.
           
Therefore, even in this life, you should live as those who are the firstfruits of the new creation. Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness – remember that in your baptism the devil has been renounced and defeated. All his ways and works have been renounced and refused as you are born into your new life in Christ. Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In so doing, you are children of your Father, who sent His Son to die for you. You, who were his enemy, but now are His beloved child.
           
He does not leave his children helpless and alone to do it themselves. As Christ has ascended, the Father and the Son have sent the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with you. It is the Holy Spirit still working through your baptism who convicts you of sin and enables you to repent. It is the same Holy Spirit who offers the Word of forgiveness of sins when you repent. It is so important to be where the Holy Spirit is offering these gifts.
           
For the only way to put away filthiness and wickedness is to receive the implanted Word with meekness. Remember the promise of Christ in your baptism. Read the Word of God and hear it preached. This is how everything Christ has accomplished comes to you. Like a seed, the Word of God has been implanted in you in your baptism, and as it is nourished by preaching and the body and blood of Christ it grows with fruits of faithfulness and good works. Cling to this Word like your life depends on it, for it is the only thing able to save your souls.
           
Whether you have been a Christian many years or only a few days, whether you have fallen away at times or remained faithful, receive the implanted Word with meekness. For Christ meekly came, took on human flesh, suffered and died so that you might rise with Him, so that you could be at peace with God. As we heard in the hymn –

God said to His beloved Son:
"It's time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of My crown,
And bring to all salvation.
From sin and sorrow set them free;
Slay bitter death for them that they
May live with You forever.
" (LSB 556.5)
           
As He has accomplished this for you, so He will be continue to help in this life through His means of grace. The Christian life is one lived dependent on Christ. He fights for you. He preserves you. Receive and cling to Him in all humility. As we will also sing:

To me He said: "Stay close to Me,
I am your rock and castle.
Your ransom I Myself will be;
For you I strive and wrestle.
For I am yours, and you are Mine,
And where I am you may remain;
The foe shall not divide us
. (LSB 556.7)
Amen.

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