Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 17

Text: James 1:22-25
Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice. If you listen to the word, but do not put it into practice you are like people who look in a mirror and see themselves as they are. They take a good look at themselves and then go away and at once forget what they look like. But if you look closely into the perfect law that sets people free, and keep on paying attention to it and do not simply listen and then forget it, but put it into practiceóyou will be blessed by God in what you do.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

In the story of Snowhite we hear the evil stepmother say, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" She believed that she was the most beautiful woman in the land and wanted her magic mirror to tell her so. But the mirror could not lie. "There is one fairer and more beautiful than you Ė it is Snowhiteí.

We spend time each day looking into a mirror. Some spend a lot longer time in front of the mirror than others, combing their hair until it is sitting just right; putting on make-up, checking for blemishes, shaving, and so on. Others take a quick look, pat down any unruly hair and walk on.

The mirror always tells the truth.
If you have sprouted a few more gray hairs Ė it wonít be shy about telling you.
If you have bags under your eyes Ė it will come right out and show them to you in their full glory.
If you have put on weight Ė it wonít beat about the bush by telling you how great you look. It comes right out with it and shows you in glorious detail the extra bulges.
We look into the mirror first thing in the morning, and it doesnít spare our feelings.
It doesnít gloss over our defects and tell us weíre better looking than we really are.
In fact, the closer you get to the mirror, the more it reveals what we are really like.

So why do we have mirrors in our bathrooms, if it is only going to abuse us?
As unpleasant as it may be to confront our own faces first thing in the morning, we know that if we donít take a look at ourselves, and make some major adjustments, the rest of the world is going to see that morning face!
So we figure, itís better to "face" the truth, and make the changes that are necessary to become presentable.

In the Letter from James, God's Word is compared to a mirror. It always speaks the truth. It tells us clearly
who God is,
what he expects from us,
and what he does for us.
Like the mirror, God's Word is merciless when it comes to telling the truth.
It reflects back to us the blemishes in our lives,
the warts of failure,
ugliness of sin and its effect on our relationships with others,
and how out of shape we are in doing what God wants us to do.

James says,
If you listen to the word, but do not put it into practice you are like people who look in a mirror and see themselves as they are. They take a good look at themselves and then go away and at once forget what they look like.

Put it this way. What would be the point of looking in the mirror, seeing that I had my breakfast all around my mouth, and then just walking away. None whatsoever. The looking was a waste of time.
You would expect me to take out my hanky and wipe my face clean.
James says that when we read the Bible and donít apply it to our lives, itís just like seeing food stuck on our face and leaving it there. The reading and looking were pointless exercises because we didnít act on what we have seen and read.

When we read the Bible, or hear a sermon, weíre supposed to see ourselves in it. Often weíll hear a sermon and say to ourselves, "Boy, I wish so and so could hear this! They need it!" But the funny thing is that youíre the one who is here listening to God's Word. So the message is for you. God is speaking to you.

Without a doubt, one of the most important reasons we read and study and understand the Scriptures is to see the dirt on our faces. God's Word speaks to us plainly and with no beating about the bush. It tells us where we have gone wrong and what needs to be fixed. Without this kind of reflection we donít know whatís wrong and are easily led to think that everything is okay. It would be like the person who wears food in his face all day because he ignored what the mirror told him.

James writes, "Get rid of every filthy habit and all wicked conduct. Submit to God and accept the word that he plants in your hearts, which is able to save you. Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice."

We donít like to hear that sort of thing.
We donít like to think of ourselves as having "filthy habits" or "wicked conduct."
We have a much better idea of what we are like and "filthy habits" are not part of the image of ourselves.
But we have them.
They may be habits that are quite acceptable to the rest of the world but in Godís way of thinking they are filthy habits.
We may just like to gossip Ė which isnít all that bad, right?
The Scriptures condemn gossip as a filthy habit. (James 3:1-12)
We may be in the habit of criticising and judging others in an unkind and unloving way (James 4:11-12). The Bible condemns this as a filthy habit.
We may stereotype people and judge them on the basis of their skin colour or their nationality or their political persuasion or on who their parents were - just as if we had the right to do so (James 2:1-4). Thatís prejudice Ė and itís a filthy habit.
We may be in the habit of letting our anger get out of hand and stinging others with harsh and judgemental words. Thatís a filthy habit (Matt 5:21-25).

And what is more we are very good at justifying why we are caught up in such and such a bad habit. And so we make little effort to change things. For example, it isnít my fault that I get angry Ė other people drive to it.

Habits take a lot of work to break.
The first step in breaking them is recognizing weíre doing it.
And so when God's Word speaks to us about any of these, it is like a mirror that we look into and see what we are really like. Just as we might be disgusted what we see in the mirror in the morning, we should also be ashamed of the filthy habits and wicked conduct that we see reflected back to us from God's Word.
James says,
"You are guilty of sin and the Law condemns you as a lawbreaker. Whoever breaks one commandment is guilty of breaking them all" (James 2:9,10).

It is not goo enough to listen to God's Word, shake your head in agreement and then forget it. Listen and put it into practice. Let the Word that you hear have an impact on your life. Let it show you that all is not right with your relationship with God and the way you are treating other people is not acceptable to God.

To be able to do this, we must accept that the Bible is God's Word to you. We need to place ourselves under the authority of the scriptures and recognise that this is God speaking and that it is his message to each one of us. God wants us to be happy and live peaceful lives and so he has a word to say about how this is achieved.

The Bible isnít a whole of dos and donít aimed at making life dull and boring. God wants us to live the lives that he created us for. When we realise this, we are all the more willing to listen and put into practice what we are being told. If we take our car to a mechanic and he says that the funny noise coming from the motor is serious and some urgent repairs need to be made, we would be foolish to ignore his advice and drive away. Thatís just asking for trouble. Our Maker has some important advice for each of us and likewise it is foolish to ignore it and continue on our merry way as if he hadnít said anything to us.

Letís go on from here. For Christians the mirror of God's Word has something else to say to us. When we ask, "Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the fairest of them?" God's Word comes back with the answer, "You are the fairest of them all!"

But how can that be when the biblical mirror has just reflected how much dirt there is our lives? How can that be when we see so many filthy habits in our lives? We have done our best but still God's mirror keeps on showing us that our conduct is wicked far too many times a day.

God's mirror tells us that we are "the fairest of them all" because of Jesus our Saviour. Because of what he has done for us in his death and resurrection we can look into the mirror and see ourselves without spot or blemish. Jesus has made us clean. On a wooden cross outside Jerusalem he sacrificed himself in order to get rid of anything that would mar our complexion in the sight of God. Through faith in Jesus, we are told that God has forgiven us. We are clean. We who are dirty and untidy have now been declared "not dirty", "not guilty". Because of God's saving love we are beautiful in his eyes; we are the fairest of them all.

There is something of a paradox here. On the one hand, the mirror of God's Word tells us we are sinners, imperfect, and that we readily indulge in filthy habits and wicked conduct. But on the other hand, the mirror of God's Word tells us that through Jesus we are forgiven, made clean and that we are indeed, "the fairest of them all". We are sinners who continually step outside of God's plan for us and yet his love doesnít stop and even went to the extreme of dying for us and welcoming us back into his family.

I could carry this mirror imagery just one step further and say, "How do I act as a person whom God calls "the fairest of them"? Thatís why we need to keep on going back to the mirror of God's Word, so that we can rediscover again and again
what is God's way of living,
what is God's way of dealing with my family,
what does God want to do about the person who irritates me or the neighbour who is so anti-Christian,
what does God want to do with the filthy habits and wicked conduct that keeps on taking control of my life?

Donít just listen to the Word of God. Do what it says. Receive it. Read it. Review it. Remember it. Do it, responding to it as the Holy Spirit leads you. James nicely concludes by saying,
If you do what it (God's Word) says and don't forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it (James 1:25).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
31st August, 2003

More Sermons

Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
All material written by Vince Gerhardy is copyright, but permission is freely given for limited use.
Please email for permission, or with questions or comments about this web site.