James 1: 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23For 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. 24For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
26If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
We all know this. We know the hearer of whom our text speaks, the hearer, who one likens to 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.” And this man is not some neighbor of yours in the church or your opponent. No, you are the man. When you leave your house you steal a quick look in the mirror, a fleeting glance, to see if your hat and tie are in the right place. And then you sit in the church and hear the word of God, hear the Scripture readings, hear the sermon– and the impression remains as superficial, as transitory as the impression of the quick look in the mirror before. It is hardly remembered. It doesn’t bring any deep experience, at least not a serious, deep experience that shakes ones being. It brings no joy for the gospel, which is really the source and zenith of all true joy in the world. At best it brings a feeling of uneasiness, perhaps of boredom. Perhaps it leads to an analysis of the sermon, and the pastor on the way home. But it has nothing to do with any real spiritual judgment, which according to Paul is the right and duty of the congregation, a judgment determining if what the pastor has said is really true.
Not true, we all- I willingly unite myself – have often been annoyed by the sermon without asking if the real reason for our discontentment is to actually be found in ourselves. When a hearer cannot agree with a sermon, it is not always the sermon and the preacher that are to blame. Listening to a sermon is an activity, an art that needs to be learned. To listen to and receive a sermon properly, requires a measure of Christian formation and spiritual open-mindedness that few of us posses in this day. What this formation and open-mindedness means, that I, if I may say so, have experienced most strongly among very simple people, farmers and workers and their wives in Franconian and Prussian village churches. The lack of this spiritual formation, however, leaves nothing to replace it, at the very least the thundering rhetoric and the arousal of feelings with all the means of eloquence many people expect of the preacher so that they don’t fall asleep. That we ourselves are really the deepest reason for our not hearing or our empty hearing, is no less the reason that this same incompetence of hearing also stands in opposition to the Holy Scripture. Hand on heart, beloved friends, who of us today can listen to a chapter of Romans the same as our grandparents. I fear many simple farmers in Altmuhtal or in Schwabia, in Siegerland or Minden-Ravensburg would put many learned theologians to shame on that. But how long will these people be there with us? Here, beloved congregation is the deepest distress of our church. The deepest distress is not that we can no longer have a church newsletter, but that we can no longer read our Bibles. A distress that becomes more perceptible as we see in our catholic Christians a hunger and thirst awakened in them by the long missing Biblical word, as we perhaps have not experienced for generations! I think, we all know, what empty hearing is”.
 Sasse, Sermon on James 1:22-27, Rogate 1941 Trans. by Bror Erickson