Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: We All Belong


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October 7, 2018
Common Sense for Extraordinary Times: We All Belong
Psalm 19:7-14 & James 5:13-20
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones

It is truly beautiful here in the Fall, isn’t it? I grew up in flatter parts of Ohio, so I’ve always been fascinated by hills and mountains. I would go to my grandparents’ home in West Virginia and be just so surprised to see fog on the top of the mountain almost every morning until the sun burnt it away. Feeling surrounded constantly by the mountains overlooking the area. Realizing that no matter where you went, you could never get there in a straight line. You had to wind yourself around the mountains and hills. A store only ten minutes away on a straight line might take a half hour to get there because you had to wind yourself around the mountains.

You can imagine my excitement when my uncle invited me one day to take a hike with him and walk up to the top of the mountain. I couldn’t wait to get going. My excitement dwindled

quickly about ten minutes into our hike. At that point, I began to realize that the walk was going to be all uphill. Now, I know I should have thought of that earlier. My only defense is that, as I said, I grew up in the flat suburbs and later flat farming country in Ohio.

Let me tell you if you haven’t ever experienced it, uphill is hard. It’s work. On and on we trod. I walked until I didn’t think my legs could go any further; I was at the point where my feet hurt and my legs felt as though they got heavier with every step. I got so tired that I couldn’t even lift my head. I looked at my feet urging myself to take just one more step. I looked at my watch and saw we had been hiking for almost 13 minutes. It was then I knew this was going to be a long day.

Finally, I thought we made it. We got to the place where the ground blessedly leveled out. We stopped and looked back at the town far below us. I could make out the top of my grandparent’s house. Glorious view. And my uncle said OK, let’s get going, we have a long way to go. I said “what do you mean we have a long way to go, aren’t we going back down?” “Oh no, I said we were going to the top of the mountain today”. It was then I learned about the foothills, I looked up and sure enough, there was this massive mountain in the background. We had walked a good part of the morning and we were only at the foot of the mountain.

I kind of went into shock at that point, so I don’t remember exactly all the details of that day. Other than there had to be at least five separate times when the ground seemed to level out, and if I thought we were at the top, only to be told we had to keep going. Eventually, we made it to the top. And then began our walk back down the mountain, which was a far easier journey than the one we took to the top.

Now that happened a long, long time ago, so I don’t remember all the details, of course. But I’d remember that feeling of thinking you had reached the top only to see that you weren’t even close. Thinking I had reached the summit only to find somehow somebody had moved the mountain top away from me. I remember wondering if I could ever reach the top of that mountain.

I think one of the reasons I remember it so well is that experience mirrored, in many ways, with my walk with God. Wanting and striving to be good enough for God and doing my best, only to find that the summit, God himself, has moved. Never thought I could be good enough for God.

Do you know that feeling? Some people will work all their lives trying to be good enough for God, clawing up that mountain only to find that just when they thought they had reached where

God is, He had moved a little higher up on the mountain, the stairs farther than we thought. Oh, if I can only reach this point, if I can only do so many good things, if I try to be a better person then God will love and accept me.

Some of us simply never try to get up the mountain at all. We look at our lives, and we look at our sins. Sin that weighs us down, and we know we can never climb a mountain with such a heavy chain around our necks. We look at the mistakes we have made, the bad choices we have made. We look at who we are when we think no one is looking. And the summit, reaching God, is so high, we think why even try.

Some of us stop trying. Oh, we tried to be good enough for God, we’ve tried to live the right way, but we have failed so many times. So many times, we tried, we prayed God forgive me and I’ll never do it again. And we do. And we fail God so many times that we are sure if we ever could be good enough for God, He wouldn’t accept us. The summit would move.

If you’ve ever felt that way, if you’ve ever thought, what’s the use, I can’t reach the summit, I can’t make it, I want you to look again at our Scripture for today. There is something very subtle but incurably powerful, in James’ words today. Look at the people He names. James talks to those that are suffering. Those that are cheerful. Those that are sick. Those that have sinned. And he tells them to pray because if they pray, God will answer.

Now did you catch what is going on? James paints a picture where everyone if they come, will be loved by God, the good, and the bad, the sinner and the saint, the sick and the well, the hurting and those that are cheerful. No matter who you are, God has a place for you. And if we reach out, He will answer us.

You see, our idea that we have to be good enough for God, that we have to work to get accepted, that we can’t make it up the mountain, that we have too many problems, is a lie of the devil. The Bible says all are welcome, all who reach out will be loved. You see, that’s what Grace is all about. Being loved when we are unlovable. Being carried to the top when we can’t walk. Being accepted when we can’t even accept ourselves.

I find even good church folk and believers in Jesus have a hard time with this. We still get caught up in being good enough, working harder, or believing deep in our hearts that God can’t forgive or love or accept us. But I want you to know that He can. Look again at what James says. In a few verses, he touches almost every part of the human condition. So today, whether you are cheerful, or you are sick in your heart, uou may have come here today hurting and no

one knows it, your life might be covered in sin. But James says right here, just as you are, Jesus loves you.

He encourages you to pray. Why pray? One, because prayer creates intimacy with Jesus. And God wants to have that intimate relationship with you. Secondly, because it’s about transformation. You can’t pray and remain the same. Look at what James says, if you are cheerful, give praise and become even more joyous. If you are sick, pray and find healing. If you are hurting, pray and find relief from your pain. If you are sinful, pray and know that Jesus will break the chain that’s weighing you down, draining your spirit. Pray and that fear of failure will leave you.

You know James also encourages us that we need to do the same. Note how he turns the view back to us and calls us to love each other. Are you getting it? As the body of Christ, we are to praise with the cheerful. But also love the sick. Love the hurting, love the failures. We are to be a place where it’s Ok not to be perfect.

Isn’t that what we ought to be? Aren’t we to be like Jesus? Loving those that have never been loved? Telling people who aren’t perfect that God loves them and can change their lives. Now, we can say yes to this, of course. And we should. But let’s remember that we are the church not just the building or where you go on Sunday. But you and I are the church. Has God put some less than perfect people in your life? Will you pray that God will specifically use you as an instrument of His grace? Will you come and experience that love yourself? Amen.