The Final Word

Who has the final word? God does. Now, we fight that. So often we want to make every decision. We want things our way. Remember what we read, “{It} is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Let’s not let our self determine how we live, how we make decisions, how life will be. Let God do that. Let God have the final word. We call that trust. We call that faith. James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 23, 2018

“The Final Word”

James 3:13-4:10

Rev. John R. Larson

Ascension  Lutheran Church  Littleton, Colorado


Do you know who always gets the final word in marriage?  The husband does.  Always.  And that is the way that it should be!!  His last word?  “Yes, dear!!”  (And if this isn’t his last word they will be his last words!!)

Having the final word seems to be a big thing in lots of situations.  When I was trying to guide and direct my children during that time in my life when I had hair, they would get into that great argument that never had a solution: One would say to the other: “Did not!”  And in an even louder voice the other responded: “Did too!!”  And for the next few minutes their intelligent argument would just be those two words: “Did not!  Did too!!”  Then the call for mom or dad went out to solve the dilemma.  It sort-of sounds like the political ads we’ll be enduring for the next few months.  People everywhere and in everything want the final word.

James, the brother of Jesus, a great leader in the church, talks about the problem of having the final word.  “Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such ‘wisdom’ does not come from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”  (James 3:13-16)

I bet you want the final word.  I do.  And that is our problem.  Some folks have thanked me for preaching the book of James the last few weeks.  But I’m not so sure what is so great about James!!  It is law.  It accuses.  It demands.  It says that when we think we have the final word we have it all wrong.  But we still think that way.  Among family, at work, in marriage, even toward God we think we have the final word.

The sin of always wanting to have the final word is pride.  We know better than anyone how something should be done.  We’re certain that we are a bit smarter than them.  We understand things but they don’t even have a clue.  Do you remember the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector?  (See Luke 18:9-14)  “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”  (Luke 18:11-12)  Do you know what this guy lacked? God had only given him two hands and he needed a few more to pat himself on the back!!

The final word – look at me!!  The final word – look at us!!  Christians can fall into this type of egotism.  Look at me.  I’m not like that person, or that one.  They’ve messed up their life.  They make all the wrong choices.  They don’t even try to listen to God.  But I’m better than that!!  Churches and denominations can do that too.  We determine that we have the right way to worship, the right style that everyone should use, correct theology, doctrine that is perfectly in order.

We have the final word.  Watch out!!  James asks us to look a little deeper.  “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  (James 4:1)  In the same chapter he says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  (James 4:6-10)

Who has the final word?  Not you.  Not me.  Isn’t that one of the most freeing and powerful truths that we can experience?  We don’t control all of life.  God does.  “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  “Come near to God and he will come near to you.”

Last Sunday The Denver Post wrote an article about Missy Franklin.  Missy, when she was still in high school at Regis, was the star of the 2012 London Olympics.  She would be on Late Night TV wearing her Olympic swimming medals around her neck.  I’d see her on the 6:00 News, Sportscenter on ESPN, she’d be talking to the morning folks on KOA.  She lived a few miles from us in Centennial and all the world knew her name.  When the Rio games came two years ago we knew that her tall body, strong shoulders and huge thighs would power her to more medals.  But she got none.  What a disappointment!!

And Missy Franklin, once the darling of the world, fell into a deep depression.  This young lady who was joyful, bouncy, and exuberant became quiet and withdrawn.  She said, “I had based my identity completely into the sport of swimming.  When the winning stopped it’s ‘Oh, my gosh, what else do I have to offer?’  Like, ‘I am nothing if not swimming, if not successful.’  I just had these horrible thoughts about myself that were so critical – feeling like I wasn’t worthy, I wasn’t doing anything right, I wasn’t worthy of love, of kindness, if I wasn’t able to go out and do the one thing I felt like I was supposed to be doing, which was swimming well.”  (The Denver Post, Sunday, September 16, 2018 10B)

The final word, the only one that mattered for Missy Franklin for a long time was excelling in swimming.  Her whole identity was connected to that.  I think many of us can understand how we connect our worth with what we do, how we succeed.  Some of us connect self-worth with our job and with our performance at work.  For some of us it is performance in a sport or with a team.  We determine who we are by our own final word.

In the article Missy, at just 23, showed great wisdom in learning a lesson that some have never learned, “I like to phrase it as swimming has been a huge part of my life and a huge part of who I am, but it does not define me…My faith has been a huge part of my life since high school, and for me. Personally, when I’m able to live out every day knowing first and foremost that I’m a loved daughter of God, that puts everything in perspective for me.”

Who has the final word?  God does.  Now, we fight that.  So often we want to make every decision.  We want things our way.  Remember what we read, “{It} is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.  For where you have selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”  Let’s not let our self determine how we live, how we make decisions, how life will be.  Let God do that.  Let God have the final word.  We call that trust.  We call that faith.  James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

The Gospel reading for today addresses the same issue of pride, arrogance, “me-first”.  “[Jesus} asked his disciples, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.  He took a little child and had him stand among them.  Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”  (Mark 9:33-37) Jesus was the one who said the littlest was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  He is the one who said that unless we become like little children we will never enter God’s kingdom.  A little child is needy, dependent, small and weak.  God provides everything for every little child, every one of us, deep down to the greatest needs of our soul, to bring us more grace.  Today’s baptism for Ethan Ryan Wilderman is one of those great moments of God having the first word and the final word of grace.

God’s final word is the only word that we need.  The final word is the truth that we are the beloved children of God.  God’s final word is that we are forgiven of sin and restored to the full rights as daughters and sons of God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His rising again to life.  God’s final word is that we enjoy His pleasure now and forever.

We don’t need the final word.  Trust that God’s final word about who we are, how we live, how we die and how we will spend our eternal days is all we need.  Amen!!


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