What Would Jesus Undo? Indifference

What Would Jesus Undo? Indifference
September 27, 2015
St. Timothy’s United Methodist Church
Rev. Mark M. Norman Vickers
James 5: 13-20

James 5: 13-20 New International Version (NIV)
The Prayer of Faith
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.
14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. 19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

We are ending our sermon series on “What Would Jesus Undo?” today and the focus word of dedication is “indifference.” Indifference in the New Testament is not very different than the indifference we experience in today’s society, with the exception that in society today, we seem to jump over, cloud, and hide our indifferences in the light of hoping they will not be discovered. 

Why is that? Why don’t we want our indifferences aired in the public venue? My theological hypothesis is that when our indifferences are aired we see where we fail. We see where we have fallen short! Where we have fallen short in the task of the Christian message. 

We hear immediately the “call to task” by James to the community of faith to pray for the suffering, those happy we rejoice with together, we anoint those who need the ritual and the saving approach to their healing, and we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another so that all may be healed. 

We hear without reservation the need to be in community with one another in order to NOT LIVE in “indifference.” One of the ways in which we live in community and hope to keep our indifferences above board is to put things in the open. 

One of the key factors for James’ writing was that he was writing during a time of theological and religious fertility in the church and needed to be at the forefront of addressing these issues. James was definitely not an apologist. Hence, are we not at the pivotal time for us in this day and time in the Church? Just think, over the past week and a half, the world has been mesmerized by the words, work, and action of the Pope of the Catholic Church! The world, even in the midst of its violence, poverty, sarcasm, hatred, and oppression, has come to a standstill in order to observe the most powerful and now visible man in contemporary religion. How great is that? How marvelous is that? It’s great and it’s marvelous, but it is also scary. Scary in the fact that it takes the presence of a religious leader, no matter what denomination, to be front and center in order for us to take notice! I myself, and close friends, have been in awe watching and listening to what he says. We have been captivated by his presence on our soil. I was captivated by the fact last week, when I stood at the Southern-most point in the eastern United States and I was 90 miles from where the Pope was celebrating Mass! It was a “goose bump” experience, yet it caused me to think about what James had really been dealing with in his post-Christ writings to people who were “in the know!”

Is it not time for us to be like James and to call upon the action of the church in order to put our lives in perspective? I believe it is, I believe it’s time as I believe Jesus would have us take up the task of putting our “indifferences” away! 

Yet you know, before you can put your indifferences away, you have to locate them!James gives us three central concerns in which to locate our indifferences: First, we need to take care in how we speak. The words that come out of our mouths are oftentimes non-filtered, not prayed over, not even thought over. James is concerned that the words shared in the community of faith are to be words that are compassionate, educational, affirmative, and instructive to the way of Jesus. We need to examine carefully the words we share. Now, I’m not talking about your occasional cuss word, or “potty mouth,” I’m talking about the deep words that we speak to one another that linger for centuries! Words that never go away. Sure, they can be formulated in those cuss words and potty mouth sayings, but my guess is that they are more embedded in your everyday conversation you have with your loved one, your friend in a sharing group, your Sunday school class, or the people you worship with! We need to take serious care in how we speak!! “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words never leave me!”  

Second, we need to give great care to those in distress. Here again, I don’t mean that we have to hand out money to everyone who stands on a street corner. What I think James means here is that we must lend a listening ear to that person who is struggling with a dark side demon in their life and you are the only person whom they feel comfortable talking with! To show care means to show an open and compassionate heart! Of course, that usually doesn’t sit well in our comfort zone, cecause the people who we gravitate toward are the people whom we identify with! I do believe that when we were given the Great Commission “to go and make disciples,” it did not translate into, “Go to the country club and pick up all your friends!” Now, if your friends are like my friends and need to be led to Christ, then by all means lead them that way! But I think James steps it up a notch here. I think he wants us to show care to those in distress who make us feel uncomfortable, the friends that call us every two days to talk about their dying parent or their dying spouse. About the loss of their job, their house, their marriage. My friends, I think that James’ point is to show comfort to those who are Holy distressed! That, my friends, takes patience and the endurance of Jesus. 

Third, we need to be careful what we let into our lives. We live in a world where there is so much coming our way it is mind blowing. The amount of data, information, news, that comes our way is overwhelming. As I read this passage over and over, I kept hearing James talk about the notion of Holy Filtering. What a concept! Being able, in a world so fast, to take time to filter what is worthwhile in living a Holy Life! That, my friends, is the ultimate in spiritual discipline, in my book. Quite honestly, my life has slowed down since last August. It has slowed down to a different pace of life. I have become a single parent, a father of a college student, a single male in a scary environment, but I have learned to listen in a different way. I have worked to listen to what God has for me in my life. I wish my journey on no one! God forbid! But yesterday I learned that two of my best friends are not long for this mortal life and it grieves me greatly. But, what I don’t grieve is the fact that I have been allowed to be in their life and they in mine. In a fast-paced world, we need to filter what is important in our Holy living. We need to filter what is important in Holy Indifference, and what is “Junk Indifference.”

James reminds us in this passage that the focus that brings all three of these things into light is prayer. It is prayer that brings all of them together. Prayer is then the central point of our removing our indifferences. 

With prayer being central, we have to hear what James says in that prayer is not a private matter, at least for James in this context. We hear early on that prayer is the gathering of the community, it is what keeps us together, it’s what calls us into accountability. 

Finally, we hear from James that prayer is the treatment for illness. James correlates the understanding of prayer and direct healing with physical illness. As well and good as that is, I think it can be taken a level above. I think we can also understand that prayer is the spiritual therapy for what one commentator calls, “the toxicities of the world”—i.e., “our indifferences.”

When encompassed in a world that is incredibly fond of itself, it becomes rather scary that we are struggling to call ourselves into question, to pray for one another, and to hold each other accountable in love. We live in a dangerous world of pain, anger, hate, bigotry, oppression and the like, yet as Christians we are called above all aspects of the world to be “different,” to get rid of the “indifferences” and to live in a harmony to the best of our ability. Now harmony isn’t a Utopian experience or the presence of the “no pain zone,” it is truly the aspiration and attempt of the Church to live and work together in spit of our human “indifferences.” It is the attempt to live and work in a manner that prospers the world of God’s children to the best of their ability. It is the work of God’s children to “work together” in order that the Kingdom is realized in and among the “indifferences” of the world. 

James brings to us in this text an understanding that we are to be there for one another; even when we stray, even when we falter we are to be aligned with one another especially in prayer and in action. Even though his language is very “sinner saving,” it has to be understood that James’ theology and mentality is focused around the need for us, as a Christian community, to gather around each other when the indifference of life surrounds us! 

Over the past four weeks we have looked deeply into the situations—in our life as well as the lives of the biblical characters—that need to be “undone” by the words and actions of Jesus Christ and those who follow Him. I believe that all of them fit this understanding of “indifference.” All of them need to be undone by us as followers of Christ in a manner that encompasses love, discipline, passion, and compassion. 

It is my prayer that we take these seriously and work as active Christians to assist in helping Jesus undo these afflictions of the world. So when we are conflicted with playing favorites, talking in a toxic manner, being arrogant, or when we are faced with the indifference of others and ourselves, we are moved by the beloved action of Jesus and His disciples to undo what is wrong in the world. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! AMEN.