4th Sunday after Easter, 2008

The Fourth Sunday After Easter
April 20, 2008
Verse 17 of St. James 1:17-21
“The Perfect Gift”

It is usually throughout the day on the cable marketing television channels, and on Saturdays over one or two of the local non-network channels that one is enticed to purchase some item or article that in some way is supposed to benefit and enhance your life. We are introduced to the newest time saving devices, from improved Ginsu knives to the latest easy-to-clean barbecue grille, from super-sonic vacuums to 5 horse power, gas-operated leaf blowers. Call now and have your credit card ready!

Twenty four hours of the day, there is always something being advertised on commercial television that is almost guaranteed to get dad off the sofa and away from the televised game and off to Lowe’s, or mom into a shopping mode and off to the neighborhood Mall. I’ll get out the car, and honey, you grab the kids!

Some advertisers even hawk their product as the ‘perfect’ gift. Jewelers especially boast having the ‘perfect’ diamond ring for the hopeful fiancé to give his fiancée, or the ‘perfect’ necklace, pendant or bracelet for the husband to give his wife, or the boyfriend to give his girlfriend – whether it is for a proposal, a wedding, an anniversary or birthday, a last minute Christmas gift, or simply Valentine’s Day.

Now as near-perfection as we are told these items may be, or as one may hope them to be, there is one gift, only one kind of gift that is truly superior to any other gift of any kind. And that is when it is a gift that comes from God.

‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.’ Some gifts we give to others, some gifts we receive from others, are not always the best and some would even fail the test of ‘second’ best. No so with God! By contrast, the things that come down from God are all alike good and excellent and perfect. And that is because God is not subject to change. ‘With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning’ means He does not alter like the heavenly bodies which are in continual motion, or the shadows which they cast. God is not subject to ‘mood’ swings, as we are. Hence the gifts He gives and His practice of giving are without flaw or prejudice. His gifts are always good and perfect!

Now Tony and Shannon, the three god-parents and the accompanying families are here this morning because of a good and beautiful and excellent and perfect gift which Tony and Shannon received from the gracious and beneficent hand of Almighty God. God’s gift to them, their little 7 months old baby girl, was truly a ‘miracle’ baby. Taken from the womb at 7 months, weighing 1 pound + 10 ounces as she entered this world, hospitalized for 4 months, suffering subsequent set-backs while there, she finally made it home to her parents about the time the world was commemorating the Nativity of the Perfect Child, our blessed Lord and Saviour.

Her parents had given to each other the best gift that they could give; they pledged them-selves each to the other as they were perfectly joined in God’s ordinance of Holy Matrimony. Three miscarriages later they were blessed with Kathryn Dianne – His perfect gift to them. As Shannon and Tony, wanting to have a child of their own, faced those three earlier disappointments, they must have thought of the countless little lives that have been intentionally aborted because they were either an embarrassment or an inconvenience to the prospective parent.

I have thought it ironic that those who favor abortion call themselves ‘pro-choice,’ as if the defenseless unborn (as its future is being decided) is given any choice in the matter. And what of the babies that are born, yet unwanted? And those that are simply abandoned and/or ‘trashed’ after their birth? God does not look lightly upon those who destroy or discard His precious and perfect gift! But I’ve digressed from today’s epistle.

St. James says, ‘Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits.’ Especially in the Gospel according to St. John, the revelation is that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the only-begotten Son of God, the Divine Logos, the Word was made flesh (incarnated) and dwelt among us. As many times in the epistles of St. Paul as in that of St. James this morning, this same only-begotten in turn begat he us, as his spiritual offspring. ‘Of his own will begat He us with the Word of Truth.’

The purpose for his First Coming was to redeem us, save us and make us perfect. And with his coming comes his command, ‘Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is Perfect. We are to become what he begat us to be – the first fruits of his creatures. Now ‘first fruits’ can mean best in quality and it can mean first in time; and in this instance it could mean both.

We are to be perfect: best in quality. Remember how a rich man came to Jesus and asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus reminded him of the commandments. And the man said to him that he had observed all the commandments from his youth. Jesus said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Go, sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ At this saying the man became sad, for he was very rich. And he went away. He had wanted to be perfect before God. And when Jesus told him in his situation what becoming perfect would require of him, his countenance fell and he fell away with it. Upon his own inquiry, Jesus had simply told him what would be needed if he wished to be best in quality; to be among the ‘first fruits.’ And he could not attain unto it.

The ‘first fruits ‘ can also mean the first time. In the Mosaic Law, the first fruits, literally the first-born, of men and of animals belong to the Lord. And in fact, are to be sacrificed to the Lord; or redeemed by the sacrifice of a sanctioned substitute. Remember Abraham and Isaac his first-born son, and how God called on Abraham to sacrifice Isaac his first-born as a burnt offering upon the altar. Although that must have seemed an unthinkable thing to Abraham, Abraham was perfect in obedience to the word of the Lord. He took Isaac with him and went afar off, and bound him and placed him upon the altar he had constructed of stones in the wilderness.

And he reached for the knife and put forth his hand to strike the blow, when the angel of the Lord prevented him from doing so. And God rewarded Abraham for his perfect obedience by sparing his only son. The life of the young lad was then redeemed: something else was sacrificed in his stead. God indeed provided ‘the sacrifice’ as God had promised, and as Abraham had promised Isaac on the way to the place. For immediately upon the stay of execution, a ram caught by its horns in a nearby thicket Abraham sacrificed and offered to God as a burnt offering in place of Isaac.

Three names come to mind: three individuals who were considered as perfect in the eyes of the Lord, for their perfect obedience to the Will of God: Noah, Job and Abraham. ‘Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is Perfect. And they were!

In the New Testament, following his baptism by John Baptist, John hails Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ The only-begotten of the Father will be the Lamb of the Perfect Sacrifice. This first-born Hebrew son will not be redeemed by a ram or any animal substitute. Instead, he himself will be his own Perfect Sacrifice; the Perfect Sacrifice that will redeem us, considered his ‘first-born,’ that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.’ He is the Perfect Sacrifice that makes us perfect before the Father: By his stripes ye are healed. We are made perfect, not by virtue of what we do for God, but in virtue of what He, in Christ, hath done for us.

But it is time to return to what happened at the baptismal font. The first time I saw this little child, I thought to myself, ‘Wow! What a beautiful creature she is. What a ‘perfect’ little bundle of joy! Well now, this morning she was made truly perfect! She was offered to God as the first-born of this new family. She was brought by them in perfect obedience to receive the sacrament of Holy Baptism. She has been made perfect in Christ. Henceforth, she is not simply their child, but she is now his child. For whom Christ died and rose again.

And of hers, and of ours, is the Kingdom of Heaven, if we continue in his perfection, and ‘receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save our souls,’ and if we ‘prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.’