Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sermon for Sept 30, 2012; James 5:13-20

Rev. George Miller
James 5:13-20
“We Are All In This Together”
Sept 30, 2012

James is a unique book. For centuries people have debated its worthiness; there are those who believe it does not belong in the Bible.

While some feel motivated to do good deeds when they read this book, others feel as if they have been overly-burdened with tasks too great for anyone to do.

If you read James, it sounds as if God has instilled a merit badge system and we are to spend the rest of our lives rushing around trying to help old ladies across the street.

Part of what I believe James is trying to teach us about is ministry.

Ministry is an action.

It is an action we are all empowered to do: to reach out to one another, to say a needed word, to be present where that person is in their lives.

Ministry is also frustrating.

There are things we can not do. We can not restore jobs, we can not repair every relationship, we can’t wave a wand that erases cancer, and we can’t promise that things will get better.

Sometimes the most one can do is sit with another and acknowledge their pain.

…and sometimes those are the very moments when the true ministry takes place, when healing begins...

Let me give you an example.

Last week the television program “New Girl” had its season debut. It’s a comedy about a young woman named Jess who shares an apartment with three men.

On Tuesday’s episode, Jess loses her job as a school teacher. Because she is the eternal optimist who always sees the glass as half full, she puts up a strong front. She tries to find the silver lining, thinking of all the things she can now do with her free time.

One of her roommates, Nick, is the eternal pessimist. For him, the glass is always half empty, so he waits for her to break down in defeat.

That moment occurs when Jess takes a job as a cocktail waitress and amidst a group of drunken part-goers she realizes this isn’t who she is. She’s a teacher; that’s all she knows.

It’s as if everything has been taken from her and now she is in exile. She flees the bar and sulks in the parking lot, sitting atop the hood of her car.

Out of compassion, Nick, comes over. Instead of shaming her, he sits with her on the car hood and states “Life stinks. Then it gets better. Then it stinks again. And then it really stinks.”

His observation may have sounded bleak, but in a way it was like a prayer of lament. And it was just what Jess needed to hear. It assured her that she was not alone.

She laughs, he laughs, and then she rests her head on his shoulder…

I think that in some ways Nick was doing what James is trying to suggest: that as Christians we are to support one another in the good and bad times.

The author states “Are any of you suffering? They should pray…Are any among you sick? They should call the elders of the church and have them pray over them…”

Now, I don’t know just how much of James’ sentiments I fully agree with. First, I got to be honest: I find praying for myself to not be such an easy thing to do.

Sure- I’ll pray in church, I’ll pray for people in the hospital, but to pray for myself? I’m not so certain I know how.

Plus, I don’t know about you, but those days where life stinks, I just don’t have the emotional, spiritual energy to pray.

I may say a quick “O God help me” but never have I done an elaborate prayer like “Oh Jesus, Son of God, Beloved Child of Mary, I beseech thee to take away my pain….”

And in some ways, isn’t telling people to pray for themselves during difficult times almost unrealistic?

It would be like telling a car with a flat tire to get up and race in 12 Hours of Sebring.

It would be like telling a deflated balloon to float.

Second, I don’t know about you, but when I get bad news or feel unwell, the last thing I want to do is rush out and tell the world, let alone ask someone to pray for me.

It’s almost like admitting I’m helpless; who likes to admit that?

What James would say is that it’s not just about us as individuals; it’s about us as a unified whole. That when one of us is unwell, it affects us all.

Because of this, he places a large emphasis on the church elders, stating that “The prayer of faith will save the sick…”

What is James saying? It depends on what you think “sick” and “save” mean.

In its original Greek, the word translated here as “sick” can also mean “weak”, as in “weak-in-spirit.”

And there are plenty of things that can make us weak and deflate our tires: loss of a job that defines us, loss of a relationship that shapes us, loss of ability which humbles us.

And does the word “save” have to mean “born again” or made perfect?

Or can “saved” mean “survivor,” “able to see another day”, “chipped but not broken”?

If we were to follow this way of thinking, then perhaps what James is telling us is that when another person is in a situation in which they are sitting on the hood of car, we have the chance to be there with them, to be present to them and speak in such a way that they feel able to face another day.

Not just the pastor, not just the Head of the Caring Committee, not just the Chaplain.

But we, us; every single person here. We are empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the compassion of Jesus Christ.

We may not have the answers, we may not be able to solve their problems, mend their bones or cure their cancer.

But we have the opportunity to be Christ to them. Not to judge or blame them, nor to create unfair expectations, but to be present, to acknowledge that what they are going through is rough; to witness to their pain.

Why? Because chances are we have all been there ourselves.

Each of us has had to sit on our own share of car hoods. We all have our own flat tires and deflated balloons which we’ve had to learn to live with.

And because of that, we know that even when the present moment feels horrible, in Christ there is a way to endure; there are glimmers of hope.

In conclusion, sometimes we get to celebrate what God has done for us. Other times we celebrate what God is doing through us.

James reminds us that as people of faith it is not always about us as individuals, but it is also about others and how we can be Christ to them.

Sometimes it’s sitting with another on the hood of their car admitting that life stinks, and then it gets better and then it stinks again, and finding a way to laugh about it.

Because believe it or not, in that admission exists the possibility of hope and the reminder that we are all in this together.

And sometimes just knowing that becomes “enough.”

For that we can say “amen” and give thanks to God for another day.

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