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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

"In Case Of..."

2011-07-10 James 05:13-16
"In Case Of..."
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Today we're starting a two-part series, called, "In Case Of" (dot, dot, dot). It's a two-part series, which is about as short as you can get and still call it a series. "In Case Of" (dot, dot, dot). You know what that is. You see signs like this all over the place. "In case of... fire" (don't tweet about it until you're out of the building). "In case of... sudden loss of cabin pressure" (after you stop screaming put the plastic bowl over your face). You see these signs all over the place. You know what they're talking about. You know how it works. In fact, a lot of these signs are so obvious, you wonder, did someone really need to go to all the expense of designing the sign, and making the sign, and installing the sign? Like, "In case of emergency, dial 911." Wow. All this time I've been dialing my brother in-law in Texas.

I got to this brilliant theme for a series because I was thinking about today's Anthem, called, "If My People Will Pray," which is based on 2 Chronicles 7:11-16, which Scott read (because he's the Choir Director), which led me to the Book of James, chapter 5, which Andy read (I would have had him read from the Book of Andy, but there isn't one), where it says, "If you're suffering (or if you're in trouble), pray; if you're happy, sing; and if you're sick, call the doctor. And so it dawned on me, after 49 and a-half years, that a whole lot of the Bible is a collection of signs that say, "In case of" (dot, dot, dot). The passages today that lead from the Anthem to the Old Testament to the New Testament are exactly that: signs that say, "In case of" (dot, dot, dot).

"In case of drought," (dot, dot, dot). "In case of locust plague," (dot, dot, dot). "In case of oozing boil epidemic," (dot, dot, dot). Those are the Old Testament signs. "In case of trouble" (dot, dot, dot). "In case of extreme happiness" (dot, dot, dot). "In case of illness" (dot, dot, dot). Those are from the New Testament. They are signs that are so obvious, it makes me wonder why God bothered to put them in the Bible in the first place.


I could be wrong (I often am). But I'm guessing I'm not the first person in the world who lacks the skill of discerning the obvious, and then needing help knowing what to do. We all need help with, "In case of."

Like, if you have kids. "In case of" it's winter. School's been called off, snow is blowing sideways, and your kids are heading outside. Why do you always have to say, "Put a jacket on"? You know, you'd think this would be obvious, at least by the time they're college freshmen. But no. We still need, "In case of winter (dot, dot, dot), do not wear flip-flops."

Or, if you like new stuff. "In case of" it's another week until payday. Your checking account is low. Your savings account is... savings (s-a-v-i-n-g-s)... I know. They're a foreign concept to a lot of Americans. The envelopes are empty. But look, that new [insert desperately needed item here] has just gone on sale at [insert favorite store here]. By sheer coincidence, you just got a letter that the credit limit on your Chase card (interesting name) has been increased, because you and the bank have a relationship, and because they like you so much. You would think this would be obvious, at least after the fourteenth time you've fallen for it. But no. We still need, "In case of mounting debt (dot, dot, dot) do not give in to the buying urge."

"In case of" drinking, don't drive. "In case of" the beach, wear sunblock. "In case of" bicycles, put on your helmet. "In case of Mexican food" take your heartburn meds.

It's like the whole world has developed a giant case of the "In Case Of's." It's why we buy insurance. It's why we supplement Social Security. It's why we worry. It's why we do so much of everything we do. Because there's always going to be an "In case of" we aren't ready for. And sometimes, dealing with the "In case of's" of tomorrow takes our minds off the ones we ought to be paying attention to today.

So a lot of times (dot, dot, dot), the "In case of's" are why we come to church. A lot of times, if not most of the time, they're why we pray. And, probably less often, read our Bibles. A certain case comes up for which there is no precedent. Or, a case comes up where we don't like the usual "In case of" remedy. Yes, it's cold outside, but we don't want to wear a jacket. Yes, our health has gotten sloppy, but we don't want to exercise. So we don't know what to do. Or we want to find something else to do. So we look to God. We look for a sign. We look for God to provide a big sign that says, "In case of."

So, let's look at the scriptures for today, which are "In case of's" and see if and how they might apply to us.


In 2 Chronicles 7, great and wise King Solomon has finished building the temple in Jerusalem, and God is blessing it. God is assuring Solomon that now that the building project is over, God will pay extra-special attention to the kingdom of Israel. The extra attention comes in the form of an "In case of." I was not exaggerating about the droughts, or the plagues of locusts. I did get a little inventive with the boils. God wasn't that specific about the kind of epidemic. The precise details aren't as important as the assurance. The assurance is that "In case of" any number of bad things that might devastate the land, verse 14 says, "if my people... will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

This is God's very simple "In case of." But based on what we know about the way people are, of any age, and of any nation, I'm guessing when Solomon announced the word of God to the people, they all said, "Yup, yup, yup. Not a problem. Sounds like a plan. We're behind you 100%." Kind of like it's summertime and God's saying, "You know, when it's winter, and the snow is blowing sideways, I want you to put your jacket on." You got it, God.

I'm guessing it's also safe to say that when the droughts, locusts, and boils hit, the people conveniently forgot what to do "In case of." Is that reasonable to think? Are you with me on this? Do you think the people really wanted to humble themselves? Do you think they really wanted to interrupt their routines to pray? Or, seek God's face? Do you think they really wanted to turn from their wicked ways (whatever those were)? To those of us reading the Bible, it seems kind of obvious. Of course God would have this kind of "In case of." Everybody already knew they were supposed to humble themselves, and pray, and seek God's face, and turn from their wicked ways (dot, dot, dot)... and life would improve. It's obvious to any follower of God that if you do these things, the physical, spiritual, and emotional landscape will be healed. But if it's so obvious, why does God have to say it?

Fast forward to the New Testament. In the Letter written by the Apostle James, chapter 5. Here's a letter written to these new groups of people, called "Christians," who met in these newfangled organizations, called, "churches," who were trying to figure out what to do, "In case of (dot, dot, dot)."

Verse 13 & 14: Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 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.

(A side note, here, on having the elders anoint you with oil. Some people take that literally, and find it to be a very healing, meaningful, spirit-filled practice. I don't want to diminish that in any way. But you also have to remember that back in those days, an elder with a bottle of olive oil was the closest thing they had to an M.D. So I think if James were writing today, he might say something like, "If you're sick, go to the doctor.")

So, once again, the Bible gives us these gems of obvious "In case of's." In case of trouble, pray; in case of happy, sing; in case of illness, go to the doctor. And once again, it's not too much of a stretch to think that everybody in James' congregation already knew these things. Praying, singing, and going to the doctor. It's obvious to any follower of God that if you do these things, the physical, spiritual, and emotional landscape will be healed. But if it's so obvious, why does God have to say it?

If common sense is such an abundant natural resource, why does it lay unused so much of the time?


You come to church pretty much every week, give or take a Sunday, especially in the summer. We do pretty much the same thing every time. And in all my years of ministry, I've never heard a person say, "Hey. We said the Lord's Prayer last Sunday. Why do we have to say it again this week?" I've never heard anyone say, "Hey. I confessed all my sins last week. Why do I have to do it again this Sunday?" Or, "I read some of the Bible last year. I'm good."

Somewhere, in some church, there's probably someone who walks in for the first time and says, "Jesus loves me? This I did not know." But probably not here. Probably not someone who grew up in this part of creation.

You come here pretty much every Sunday. And maybe sometimes you hear something you've never heard before. Or you hear something familiar in a brand-new way. I hope so. But the fact of the matter is, God has been saying the same "In case of's" for two or three thousand years. They're pretty obvious. They're not complicated. If this, then that. Even someone who doesn't believe in God can guess how it's going to work.

But God keeps saying them. Because you need to keep hearing them. Because your ability to ignore, to forget, your talent to twist, convolute, and excuse is just as persistent as God's ability to tell you what you need to do to heal the landscape of your heart, body, and earth.

So ask yourself, "What am I doing that I already know defies the common sensibility of God?" Are you suffering? Pray. Are you happy? Sing. And if your singing causes suffering in other people, then tell the people who can sing how much you appreciate them. Are you sick? Find a doctor. Is someone you know sick? Drive them to the doctor. Are you constantly grouching at your kids, barking at your dog, or arguing with your spouse? Ask for help. That's another shockingly simple thing Jesus said, "Ask, and you shall receive." Whatever your "In case of" (dot, dot, dot) happens to be, trust me on this... and trust the Bible on this... 99.9999% of the time, someone else has had a case of those same dots before. If it were not so, why would God keep saying it, from cover to cover?


Here we are, a church of people who know this pretty obvious stuff. The next question is, how do we put it to work? Well, that's next week's sermon. And it's going to be proclaimed up at the Lily Barn. You'll have to come to Townsend to hear how it all ends. Kind of like "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 2." Charles Snodgrass will be here, and he'll be preaching about something else, entirely. He'll answer some questions and question some answers, too. But probably not the same ones.

Either way, I'll tell you in advance what you already know: It's not rocket science. I'm not that smart. I came this close to flunking Calculus, so rocket science was never in my future. We have the same challenge God put to Solomon and Solomon put to the people. We have the same challenge the Apostle James put to his teeny start-up of a church. In the case of we, as the Body of Christ... In the case that we, as the living hands, as the living feet, as the living heart and mind of Jesus Christ... In the case that we set aside all our combined abilities to ignore, to forget, to twist, and to convolute, the simple truths of love... the simple outcomes of compassion... the simple common sense of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us... In the case that we became masters of the obvious, how healed would this landscape be? How pleased, how amazed, how proud would God be? You already know the answers: More healed. Very pleased. Pretty amazed, and pretty proud.

So, here's the challenge.

Not just on a Sunday. On any day this week. On any day when you're doing the same things, and thinking about the same things, and worrying about the same things, and thinking about giving in to the same temptations... what "case of" are you "in"? What uncommonly common thing could you do differently to change your landscape, and to become more healed?