Caring for Each Other – September 30, 2018

Caring for Each Other

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

James 5:13-20

September 30, 2018

Main Idea: We are to care for each other.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

How do we care for each other?  This is a question that is central to our families, our communities, and our world.  This past Thursday our nation was united in watching the Senate Judiciary Committee on TV.  We were riveted by the testimony of the two people called to speak.  We were not united in how we perceived the hearing.  We did not see unity across the committee, we did not see respect, or trust, or friendship, in fact, we saw bitter anger and accusations.  Our nation is divided like that committee; divided by political party, gender, race, income, privilege, and education.  In our social media driven world we have little incentive to reach out to those with whom we disagree.  We are encouraged to put them down, oppose them, even fear them.  There has been a serious breakdown in civility and respect in our common life.  This is harmful to our democracy and harmful to us all.

As Christians, we are called to a better way, to model an expansive and generous faith and community.  For the month of September we have been pondering the beautiful and challenging Letter of James. It has been the perfect text for us to explore what it means to be a community of faith.  James shows us how to live together empowered and guided by God.  We are to care for each other as God cares for us.

In the first week of our series James called us to be doers of the Word who understand that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (1:27). James urged us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger for [our] anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”(1:19)  Maybe “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger” should be framed and hung on the walls of Congress!

In the second week of this series James challenged us to recognize that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (2:17). James challenged his community and ours to welcome everyone equally and to choose between “the way of the world” and “the way of God.”  The way of the world is the vertical axis where life is about finding our spot on the ladder, looking up with envy at those above us, looking down with judgement at those below us, and always striving to move up while blocking anyone from passing us. The way of God is the horizontal axis where life is about recognizing the good gifts that God gives to all of creation; looking side to side and seeing that all are gifted, all are loved, and all deserve to have what they need.

Last week James showed us how to live a good life, something to which we all aspire.  The secret to a good life is wisdom from above. “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” (3:17-18) The wisdom from below comes from “bitter envy and selfish ambition … bringing disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (3:14,16) The wisdom from above is the only wisdom to bring peace and life.

Today’s text comes from the very end of the letter and it sketches out how a community lives by the wisdom from above; praying together and caring for each other.

Now before we get into today’s text, I need to lift up two problematic issues.  First is the idea or the wish that if we just pray hard enough or just the right way we will get what we want.  Prayer is not magic.  Prayer does not work that way.  God hears our prayers and is with us in our struggles but circumstances do not always turn out the way we would like. This is a difficult truth.

The second problematic issue that this text raises is the connection between illness and sin.  God does not make us sick as a punishment for sin. (repeat?) But illness and sin are related in that both illness and sin isolate individuals from their community.  When we are ill, we cannot participate as we might like, if our illness is infectious, we threaten the health of others.  When we sin, we damage ourselves and/or others, we threaten the bonds of our community. So James gives instructions for both conditions; how to keep and strengthen the bonds which connect us.

These instructions to the community encourage everyone’s participation, especially those who are sick or otherwise vulnerable. Eugene Peterson puts the text this way. “Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out. Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.” (5:13-16, The Message) James envisions a community where the sick and the sinful ask for help and receive it, where the weakest members are given the most care, where everyone is honest and open about their shortcomings and still is loved and supported.

For James every circumstance of life is an opportunity for prayer; prayers of praise and thanksgiving, prayers of supplication, and prayers of confession. Prayer is not just individuals talking to God. It is the community talking together and listening together to God and to each other. Communal prayer has power as those praying together are encouraged and guided to serve together.  Communal prayer leads to concrete action as it lifts up the needs of others and imagines a better world more aligned with God’s purpose. “In communal prayer we have the opportunity to listen for and be God’s voice in the world. (Kathy Dawson, FOTW p. 114)

When we pray our prayers of praise and thanksgiving we remember the blessings with which God showers us every day. In this prayer we say “Thank you.” This supports an attitude of gratitude. Some days it is easier than others to recognize our blessings but to sing God’s praise is to recognize that all that we have and all that we are and all that we do are great gifts from God.  Simply to be here and able to pray is a gift.

When we pray our prayers of supplication we remember those in need. In this prayer we say “Please”. We share our own needs with God and we lift up the needs of others.  We begin to see the world the way God sees it.  Our care and concern for others is deepened.

When we pray our prayers of confession we remember the ways in which we struggle and fall short. In this prayer we say “I’m sorry”. We count on God hearing our confession and forgiving us.   James tells us to confess not only to God but to each other so that we can support and encourage each other in our weaknesses. In other parts of the letter James warns about judging others.  He calls us to listen to each other openly and honestly. To confess is to understand that we can learn and grow from our mistakes.

The Letter of James is all about building and supporting the community of faith.  Its final verses are about reaching out to those who might be wandering away.  All are to be welcomed and brought back into the fold. All are to be prayed for and cared for.  In our divided and hurting society, we have an opportunity to model a strong, caring community which values everyone and empowers everyone to be who God calls them to be.  What a gift this is for the world!  May it be so.

Let us pray,

Listening God, we thank you for the love and wisdom with which you guide us every day.  Help us to care for each other as you care for us.  Let us be a model of your love in the world.  Amen.