1st Sunday in Lent (B)
James 1:12-18
February 18, 2018
 Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
I’m sure that most of you have heard the phrase, “To err is human.” We can’t argue with that, can we? We err, we make mistakes, fairly regularly. Do you know the second part of the phrase? You might be thinking, “To forgive is divine”, and you’d be right. But I think there’s a better way to end it, a way that is a little more accurate when it comes to us. “To err is human, to blame someone else is even more human.” Am I wrong? Casting blame is a common response. “You didn’t tell me. She made me angry. I’m too busy.” It’s everyone else’s fault, it’s certainly not mine. The blame game is certainly a popular one and we all play it at one time or another.
Do you remember who was the first to be blamed? It was God! Adam and Eve are standing there in front of Him and they’ve just done something that will have repercussions for billions of people. They should be quaking in their fig leaves as God asks them, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” This is the perfect time to fess up to what they did, but not Adam. He quickly blames God. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” “You did it God! If you hadn’t given me the woman, I never would’ve done it.”
Boy, blaming God, now that’s brave. We would never do that, would we? Oh yes, we do. Generations of Adam’s descendants have done the same thing. Don’t believe me? “I wouldn’t lust if God hadn’t made beautiful women. I wouldn’t drink but my life is hard. God gave me the desires that I have. I was born this way.” When we blame God, we’re saying our sin isn’t really our fault. If God didn’t want me to do something, He wouldn’t have tempted me, right? If I can blame God, I’m off the hook.
Saint James though tells us to knock it off. He says, “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.” God is perfect and holy and sinless so how can we blame Him for sin? God didn’t make us sinful and He doesn’t do anything that would lead us to sin. Rather it’s the Sin we are born with that leads us into temptation and sin. You may be born a certain way, susceptible to certain temptations, but that’s not God’s fault. You can’t embrace sinful behavior because it’s something that you think is right. God isn’t going to make us so that we do what He doesn’t want us to do. That’s crazy. Instead, God is perfect, the giver of only good things. So, don’t blame Him for your sins or for the temptations that you encounter.
How many of you remember the comedian Flip Wilson? Because I was pretty young when he was in his heyday, I wouldn’t have paid any attention to him, except for some reason my grandparents had a Flip Wilson doll. When you pulled the string on its back it would say one of Flip’s catchphrases, including, “The Devil made me do it”. Now he’s a good one to blame! That’s who Eve blamed after Adam threw her and God under the bus. God said to her, “What is this that you have done?” to which she replies, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Satan is epitome of evil. He’s a liar and a murderer so we can blame him, right? “The Devil made me mad. The Devil made me lust or hate or covet. The Devil’s temptation was so good, I couldn’t help myself.” The Devil is the cause of all the sin and ugliness in the world, so obviously whatever I do is his fault.
But does the Devil really have that much power? He doesn’t. He’s not all powerful or all knowing. He’s not everywhere all the time. He can’t control you like some evil puppeteer. He’s an invisible spirit who can’t force you to do anything. He tempts, but you can’t blame him. Because when he casts his tempting lures, you’re the one who decides to take the bait.
I suppose if we can’t blame Satan we can certainly blame the world and those around us for our sins, right? The shooter in Florida had a hard home life. There’s violence in school because there’s no prayer in school. Kids are messed up because of video games and violent movies. I can’t help myself, they made me do it. I only lusted because she was dressed provocatively. They made me. They tempted me. It’s not my fault my neighbor flaunts what I wish I had. And one of the most despicable instances of blame, “She (or he) made me hit them.” You can’t blame the world or those around you for your sins because, like the Devil, other people can’t make you sin. They’ll tempt you and they’ll test your Christian resolve, but you make the decision to sin.
What we don’t want to hear is that the blame falls squarely on us. You can’t blame God, the Devil, or the world, because you’re the ones who act. James says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” We’ve been sinful since we were conceived, and our sinful condition leads us to following our desires. The world says to follow your heart, but don’t! To encourage our sinful urges gives birth to a wide variety of sins. Worse than that though, James says, “Desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Death is the result of holding on to our sins, encouraging and embracing them, living in them and not feeling sorrow, or what we call contrition, over what we’ve done.
Augustine, who was born in 354 A.D., said, “I can’t keep the birds from flying over my head, but I can keep them from building a nest in my hair.” In other words, temptation is all around us. There’s no avoiding it because it comes at us from so many different directions. Does that mean we just give up? That we resign ourselves to being sinful? To be at the mercy of the way we were born? Absolutely not! We recognize the temptations and resist them. We are called to resist temptations by holding on to God’s Word, by praying and by taking every thought captive to Christ. To embrace temptation is to embrace death, so when we fall for them, we don’t blame anyone but ourselves, and we repent.
The season of Lent is a good time for us to face up to the extent of our sin and our tendency to blame others because we’re getting ready to celebrate our Lord’s death, and this is where the temptation of Jesus comes in. The Gospel account of Christ’s encounter with the devil isn’t about how to resist temptation. Now we should follow Jesus’ example of using Scripture to counter temptations, but that’s not what the Gospel text is all about. For forty days Jesus was tempted as we are in every way: to lie, to lust, to steal, to covet, to hate, to murder, to take God’s name in vain, to worship money, to not worship properly, and to blame. And despite being tempted while hungry and tired, not once did Jesus take Satan’s bait. Not once did He act on a temptation put before Him, and this means more than just that Jesus was sinless.
It means that because He never sinned, His obedience is yours too. You sin, you fall for temptations, but because of Christ’s perfect, sinless obedience, you get credit for what He did. He did what you couldn’t do and now you’re forgiven for not being perfect as He was. But it’s not just His obedience that helps you, it’s also the fact that He took the blame for you.
We’re the sinners! You and me. We’re the only ones to blame for succumbing to temptation and what happens? Jesus takes the blame for our sin and dies instead of us.
James says, “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.” This should be Jesus! He deserved the crown for persevering in the face of temptation and instead He gets a crown of thorns. He gets the blame and we get the crown for persevering. This doesn’t seem right! But it is, for this is in keeping with God’s promises to us. As the Lord promises through King David in Psalm 103, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…He does not deal with us according to our sins…as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.”
You are forgiven because Christ has taken the blame for you and died for you. The letter to the Hebrews says, “For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” He is your source of strength when confronted by Satan’s lures and He’s the source of forgiveness when you fall. He is your only source of help and hope, and He’s always present for you.
In the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus gave us we pray, “Lead us into temptation.” This doesn’t mean we’re asking God to not tempt us, because God doesn’t tempt us to sin. Rather in this petition we’re asking God to rescue us from temptations, to not let us fall prey to them. We pray this because God has promised to hear our prayers. He has given His Son to take the blame for us and now we can resist temptations whether they come from within us or outside of us. God is the giver of all good things – forgiveness, strength, and His Holy Spirit. These things, forgiveness, faith and the Holy Spirit mean that you will one day receive the Crown of Life.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen