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Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogate)

May 05, 2024; Rev. Kurt Lantz, Pastor
Easter 7 B. that they may be one.jpg


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Mirror, Mirror in the Word

To those “in the dispersion:

 

Greetings” (James 1:1).

 

 

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” Those are the words of the vain and wicked stepmother of Snow White from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. This queen is a witch who possesses a magic mirror which always tells the truth. Of all the things that she could ask, every morning she turns to the mirror and says, "Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?" The mirror always tells her that she is the fairest. But when Snow White is seven years old, her fairness surpasses that of her stepmother. When the queen again asks her mirror the same question, she gets a great shock. She becomes envious, and from that moment on, her heart turns against Snow White, whom the queen grows to hate increasingly with time.

 

What would possess the beautiful woman to go back continually to the mirror and ask it the same question every day? In today’s Epistle we heard “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23-24). It seems that was the case with the evil stepmother of Snow White. Is it that way with you?

 

Could you possibly be the fairest in the land but not believe it? When you are told, do you immediately forget it? Do your actions show that although you have heard the good news, you are not a doer of it? What does that mean, exactly? The lesson of Scripture in the Epistle of St. James seems clear enough: Look carefully in the mirror and don’t forget what you have seen. Rather, act on what you have heard.

 

We are familiar with the Ten Commandments being used like a mirror. When we teach the catechism we distinguish three ways that the Law of God works. It works upon the whole world like a curb which prevents everything from going right off the cliff. It works like a mirror individually upon us to show us our sin. And it works like a guide to teach us how to live a life that is pleasing to God.

 

When we hold the Ten Commandments up and look at them as a mirror. We want to hear the response that the evil queen was looking for day after day after day, with her repeated question, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all.” But we don’t get the answer we want to hear. We want to hear that it is us, that we are sinless, spotless, unblemished. And when it doesn’t tell us that, but rather reveals to us our sins, then we become murderous like the evil queen.

 

The mirror of God’s holy law shows us what we are apart from Christ. It reveals the old Adam in us, a man full of wrinkles and pock marks, scars and scabs, festering pustules of greed and vanity. The more we look for our own natural beauty and hear that it is not so fair, the more we focus on ourselves and ignore those in need around us. We don’t want to give anything or do anything for anyone else. We want them all to disappear so that we can focus on ourselves. Our sins of omission in not helping the poor, the widows, and the fatherless amount to murder such as that of the evil queen wanting to kill her stepdaughter Snow White.

 

When we hear what the mirror of God’s holy Law tells us we should not be mesmerized by our reflection but prompted to action. We should repent. That is what God’s Word tells us to do. We should not only be hearers of God’s condemning Law, but doers also who respond with a contrite heart and a desire to amend their sinful lives, to do better, to give attention to those in need around us and not be so self-concerned.

 

While our catechism teaches us well and good, in our Epistle Reading it is not the Law of God that is compared to a mirror but the Word of God, which encompasses more than God’s holy Law of condemnation. It also includes God’s holy Gospel of grace, forgiveness, and new life. “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23-24).

 

While God’s holy Law shows us who we are apart from Christ. His holy Gospel shows us who we are in Christ, and the picture is much different. There the face of Jesus shines forth sinless, spotless, and without blemish. He keeps God’s holy Law perfectly from eternity to eternity. He is not self-absorbed but concerned for all others. He has compassion especially upon the poor, the widows, and the fatherless. He hears their cries and answers their prayers.

 

He gave His holy, sinless life into death on the cross in obedience to the will of the heavenly Father because they both wanted to bring salvation to all (not only to the poor, the widow, and the fatherless, but to the ugly, sinful, and rotting such as we see when we look into the mirror of God’s holy Law). But His Law does not give us the whole picture. When the good news of the Gospel, the salvation of sinners through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, we see that despite the old man still living within us, God has made us beautiful and fair in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

It is not right that we hear this gracious Word of God and then go away, forgetting what it shows us about our life in Christ. We ought not be like an evil witch who forgets her own fair beauty in murderous jealousy and envy. Rather, the beauty and innocence which we bear as those who are alive in Christ ought to propel us to do the beautiful works of Christ in the world, especially to those who are vulnerable and in need.

 

The Epistle of James calls this Gospel message a law of liberty, because it sets us free from our compulsive need to keep going back to the mirror to see if we have cleaned up our face. We don’t have to keep checking in to hear if we have made ourselves more beautiful, or eliminated all the competition. We are free from that torturing question the evil queen had to ask each and every morning.

 

Rather, in gazing into the mirror of God’s holy Word, we see that although we deserve to be driven away as outcast lepers of sin and abandoned as the widowed and fatherless whom God has cut off, there shines back at us the loving face of Jesus as our face. We look into the Word of God and we see with Peter and John the empty tomb with only the grave cloths lying there. There is new life where there was once only the expectation of rot and decomposition. We gaze at our new birth in the resurrected life of Jesus and not our decay into death. The Bible tells us that these are the things that even angels long to look into (1 Peter 1:12). Our salvation and new life in Christ is so beautiful that it amazes the angels of God.

 

The holy Word of God, the law of liberty, sets us free to live the life of Jesus into whom we have been reborn. We come to this mirror daily. It shows us our sins, but it also shows us our Saviour. It shows that we have covered in the righteousness of Christ. Our sins, though they be scarlet, have been made white as snow (Isaiah 1:18) in the gracious forgiveness of God.

 

We are therefore encouraged not only to hear this Word, but to believe it and to live in it. That is what the Holy Spirit works in us. Jesus promised that He would send the Spirit (John 16:7) and He has. The Spirit works through the Word of God, that mirror, so that we not only hear but also do. We do when we do not resist what the Spirit says.

 

He says that we have become the children of God. He says that we are forgiven and cleansed, washed with the pure water of Holy Baptism, nourished and fed with the body and blood of Jesus. He lives in us and invigorates our new life of resurrection. Let us not go away from the Word of God and forget what sort we are.

 

How can we? We do not merely have an image projected to us from a piece of glass. We have the mystical union of the believer with the eternal, and divine Son of God. We have the sacramental life flowing through our bodies. We have the indwelling of the eternal Spirit of the living Christ. It is not so easy as to walk away from a mirror. We have the abiding power of God holding us to the testimony of what He has done for us and for our salvation.

 

We are not dead and decaying, but alive and full of the life of Jesus. The love of God that has been shown to unworthy sinners like us, is the love that fills our hearts. We do have love to share with others in their tribulations, with the poor, and widows and orphans, and others.

 

Those who are doers of the Word are those who have truly heard it with a heart that desires to receive what the Word has proclaimed. It proclaims that you are beautiful because Jesus fills you. You will never be beautiful of your own doing. Embracing that kind of a message will only have you acting like the evil queen, trying to eliminate the competition and going back time and time again in a compulsive captivity to see if you have made yourself beautiful.

 

But if you are willing to see Jesus, fairest Lord Jesus, beautiful Saviour, and what He has done for you, then you can see Him in you and you are free to let Him do through you. To be a doer of the Word is to believe that God gave His only Son so that you might have eternal life, through His life in you. It is to live your life knowing that when the heavenly Father looks at you, He sees the beauty of Jesus. Knowing this, the beautiful love of Jesus will be manifest in you.

 

 

“Know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

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