Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost September 25-26, 2021
“Another Gift” James 5:13-20
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
People give up on church. They no longer have time for organized religion. Worship becomes sporadic. They no longer have a sense of belonging to a congregation. I see it because I am a pastor and one of the charges that God has given me is to care for the people of this place. I see people leave quietly or loudly, sometimes over a long period of time, or abruptly – but I see it. You may see it as well.
A few months ago, Margo Pasha, a member of Ascension, sent me an article titled, “3 Reasons I Won’t Give Up On Church”, by Meg Bucher. She begins, “You may be experiencing mixed feelings about the church. You may have experienced deep hurt or even abuse, or simply have been turned off by the vitriol and politics the church becomes caught up in, emotions rise and offenses increase. The church has seen some ugly times. And yet, even in her ugliness, her infighting, her scandal and shame, Jesus still calls her His bride. Although it may be hard to see sometimes what’s so lovely about this flawed and stumbling body of believers, I won’t give up on her.”
My neighborhood school put up a sign a few weeks before school opened that was big and loud and demanded to be seen. It read, “Better Together”. Have you seen those signs? It may be at the school or the gym or the place where you work, but the word is being spoken that we are better together. That is the first reason of the three why I won’t give up on church. The first reason why I won’t give up on the church is “The Obedience to God’s Command to Love One Another.” Why should we gather together as a community? Why, even if some can’t meet yet within the church building must we still remain connected to others in this fellowship? We do so that we may love one another. God has not made us for isolation and individualism, He has made us for community. Jesus in John 13 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Verses 34-35)
The second of her reasons not to give up on church is that within church, this community of struggling sinners and God’s glorious saints, We Experience the Presence of God. “Church is a place we come to be in the presence of God. It’s a filling, convicting, encouraging presence which brings us back to who He is and reminds us Whose we are.” Jesus is the one who said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)
The third of her reasons is Human Beings Were Created For Community. The letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Church is not perfect. This church is not perfect. But God is. As Bucher says, “Church is not just a place we come to on Sundays, or for meetings and events. It’s a place to find other people to follow Jesus with.” “Oh, to be a vessel of God’s love in a world which desperately needs hope and peace. This is our charge as the church to show up and obediently seek Him and serve others.”
I titled the sermon, “Another Gift”. Do you have any idea what gift I would be speaking about? What gifts does God give you? Well – life, all the things you need to live. Then there is Jesus, forgiveness of sins, peace in your soul, eternal life and the resurrection of your body. I bet there are a million more that I have not mentioned.
This gift I am talking about is the gift He gives us in the face of other believers in Jesus. James 5 is about another gift God is giving you. Being part of a church means that you are connected to many other people in the gift of your prayers for them and the prayers of others for you. You are not alone. They are not alone. We have one another. We need one another.
James says, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs or praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:13-15, 16b)
Your prayer for another person is a gift of love and faith and hope for them. We may give to another many things – we may give them our attention, our time but don’t stop there – bring them before God is your constant prayer. In praying for another you create a deep connection with them. Prayer is asking God to do what is perfect in their life. And when you would come to another and ask them to pray for you, or for another person, or a situation you know, you are inviting them into your needs or your pain. I won’t give up on the church because I have great needs that are too heavy for me to bear alone, nor should I bear them alone. He has given you, all of you, to me, that I would pray for you. He has given all of me to you. And He has given each to the other.
The gift that we are given is the gift of being true to others. There is no need for masks or covering up ourselves. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) Is it possible not only to tell God the sins and the hardest things in life, is it also possible to tell another person, whom we trust, the hard and painful things? At times our faith is pure joy. We have a peace that no one can take away, we are assured that God treasures us and loves us. Your sins and mine have been buried in the deepest ocean. Jesus is our Savior and Lord. Joy is ours. As Jesus said, “And no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:22)
But sometimes life is missing the laughter. Sometimes the guilt and mistakes and the sin is too heavy. That is why I won’t give up on the church. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” You too can tell another that the worst of sins was received by Jesus on the cross. They too can tell you that in Jesus you are a new creation. Do you want healing in the deepest parts of your soul? A fellow follower of Jesus can give you that. You can do that for another.
The book of James has been called the “Proverbs of the New Testament.” It is direct. It is filled with wisdom. It has command after command. About one-half of the verses begin with the imperative – “Do this; do that”. Do you know what another gift is? It is the gift of having a responsibility for another person. “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20) Why won’t I give up on church? Because God gives me the gift of others who truly care about my life and faith and my eternity. Don’t ever do this with a “holier-than-thou” attitude, don’t do this with a shocked look that someone would struggle so with temptation and failure – do this with humility and pure love. Paul says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)
When you care for another, when you give them a gift of wisdom about the choices they are making, you are caring not only for them but also for those their life will direct and influence. In the Old Testament word given to Daniel we read, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)
A lady named Irene told me about a picture her father spoke of to describe what God brings to His people in life. She said, Every day God brings you into a large room filled with presents that are wonderfully wrapped. That day you get to open one. And then He brings you back the next day and once again you get to open another. And that room, no matter how many days you live, is always filled with such gifts. You’ll never get to the last one.
There is always another gift. That is what God always does. I’m glad that God chooses to do it among us – His people. Pray for each other. Love each other. Encourage each other. Give each other God’s gifts. Amen!!