Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sermon: Are there Any Among You?

Are there Any Among You?

            Today, I would like to point us to the categories of people found in the church that James writes to. He writes of people who suffer, are sick, wander, and are cheerful.
            I believe if his question, “Are there any among you who” suffer, are sick, wander, and are cheerful were asked to us today, the same implied answer would be given today as was given then—yes, there are. The suffering, sick, wanders, and joyful make up the Christian community.
            And so I ask you today the same question asked then, “Are there any among you… Are there any among you


            Are there any among you
            Who suffer?

            Yes, you mourners
            With aches in those empty spaces where the dead used to reside.
            Unresolved emotions and connections careen off into nowhere.
            It’s like swinging at a baseball only to realize you aren’t holding a bat.
You are among us

            Yes, you abused ones
            You who do not feel safe in your home
            Long quiet from neglect punctuated by punches and bitter words
            Long afraid from threats—sometimes just implied
            Long deprived, unwilling or maybe unable, to speak your terrible truth
You are among us

            Yes, you poor ones
            Caught by staggered wages and automation
            Inflation and globalization gobbling up your daily bread
            It feels like there is little love or dignity in work when it isn’t enough to feed your family
You are among us

            Yes, you who have suffered tragedy after tragedy
            Until it appears normal and you feel like giving up
            Giving into the numb shell-shock of life as you’ve experienced it
You are among us

            To you who suffer, James says pray.
            Pray, yes that God might act—that God’s promises might be brought back before Him, reminding God, rubbing God’s ears with those promises.
            Pray too, that you might hear again those same promises brought before God. That they might become truths to you afresh—again—that you would come to trust God.
            Walk forward, trusting God to be for you and not against you.
            Trust God as you keep on keeping on in the face of your troubles.
            Respond to these indignities of life knowing the dignity of being Children of God.

            Are there any among you
            Who are sick?
            Yes, and it makes you understand why the ancients lumped sin and sickness together. Just as people avoid sinners, even more so they avoid the sick.
            It’s a lonely lot—being sick.
            In a hospital room, daytime Soaps and pain your only friend.
You are among us

            Yes, you overwhelmed by stress and strain, by anxiety or depression.
            You who the world looks at and shrugs “it’s all in your head” “just get over it” “just be tough.”
You are among us

            James commends your brothers and sisters to you—he calls on us all to visit the sick, to renew bonds of fellowship.
            There is a comfort in community that can not be underwhelming or oversold. A visit from those who care for you, from your brothers and sisters in Christ, such a visit can be extraordinary.

            Are there any among you
            Who wander?
            Oh yes, there are those easy targets, those who have shifted their priorities away from community in general, and the Church in particular—church-folk grumble at sports, TV time and the idolatry of overwork.
            And yes, not only are folk who wander away from worship diminishing themselves, but they also diminish the community—we are more fully the body of Christ when we are all together in worship.
            But, they are not the only ones who wander—the pious in the pews do as well. Often we are like the disciples in Mark’s Gospel, “teacher, they will not follow us.”—Notice they are worried about them following us, not following Jesus.

            Think of the raft of political cartoons about the Pope addressing Congress
—a Donkey saying “He’s with me, look what he has to say about care of creation,”
and an Elephant saying, “No, he’s with me, look what he says about the sanctity of life.”
            And then Jesus shows up, coughs, and says, “actually he’s with me.”

            James insists we bring the wanderers back.
            Yes, bring folk back to worship—no doubt that is an important thing.
            But see too that, we wander when we fuse Jesus to ideology or try to get people to follow after us instead of after Jesus—when we elevate anything out beyond our Lord.

            Are there any among you
            Who are cheerful?
            Yes, there are.
            every time you receive what is nourishing and necessary for life—food, clothing, money, good government, good weather or good friends—that is from God—that is something worth being cheerful about.
            As James adds, it is worth being thankful for—worth singing about, worth praising God for, it is worth marking that moment—cultivating, like a growing garden—cultivating that joy.

            And Angela, Jeremy… Kathy… Carter—today is a day to be thankful for. Today we are thankful for this Baptism—marking Carter as belonging to the God who has loves you and never will let you go.
            Thankful for a life that will be lived holding onto God, the God who already holds us tight.
A life clinging to God through suffering, and sickness, and wandering and times of great cheer as well.
A life lived with the God who we find in Jesus, who loves us even when we can not love ourselves.
            Yes, today we are cheerful for the Baptism of this newest Child of God.