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

Saturday, July 16, 2011

In Case Of (dot, dot, dot), Part 2

2011-07-10 James 05:13-16
"In Case Of..." (Part 2)
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)


Last week, we started a two-part sermon series (because you can't have a series of one), called, "In Case Of (dot, dot, dot)." It arose from the concept that much of the Bible was written to help people "In case of" certain events. And what we found out is that in a lot of the cases, if not most cases, God does not require us to be rocket scientists. We don't have to look like the guys in "Apollo 13" with their white short sleeve shirts and black ties and pocket protectors. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just that the Bible is written to address cases that are much less complicated (usually) than trying to fix a spacecraft with duct tape and aluminum foil.

If you remember, we sang a song together during the Children's Sermon. We sang, "If You're Happy and You Know It." I know when I see a minister doing something like that, I think, "Hmmm. Looks like he couldn't come up with any fresh ideas." And while "fresh ideas" is a relative term, there was a reason it. The reason is - and if you hang out a lot with kids, you know this is true - that if they're happy, they clap their hands. And, they do a lot of other things, too. Squeal, shout, jump up and down. Smile, laugh, et cetera. If they're happy, you know it. The song was obviously written by an adult. Because you don't always know when grown-ups are happy. So there's a second layer of instruction added. It's not just, If you're happy, clap your hands, which would do for a kid. It's: If you're happy - and you KNOW it - clap your hands. Is it possible to be happy and NOT know it? Maybe if you're a rocket scientist. "Oh. I appear to be happy, Captain. I shall now clap my hands together rhythmically." This would also explain why the song has you clapping, stomping, and saying, "Amen" in different verses. Don't try to get the rocket scientists doing all three at exactly the same time. (Do we have any rocket scientists here today?) It goes back to the simple theme, "In Case Of (dot, dot, dot)," you're happy and you know it... what do you do? Clap your hands. See? It's all clear to you now.

Let's practice. Assume for a moment that you're happy. Here we go. (Clap, clap).

Are you happy to be here today? Are you happy to be outside at the Lily Barn? Are you happy to have Bob & Leah & Bill & John leading music? Are you happy we're going to have fried chicken? So, you're happy. And, you know it. Let us clap our hands. Let us stomp our feet. Let us say, "Amen!"

Very convincing.

I have noticed something. Not about you. I have noticed something about other people. It's almost always easier to notice about other people. Maybe you've noticed this, too. I have noticed that sometimes some people will be in environments where you would expect them to be happy... but they're not. In fact, some people, the happier the environment around them, the harder they work at not being happy. They're not the bluebirds of happiness; they're the buckshot of happiness. They're not the hot air balloon of happiness; they're the lead ballast of happiness. And again, please remember. I'm talking about other people. People who aren't here. Because they're the ones it's easiest to talk about.

A couple of years ago, we went to DisneyWorld. DisneyWorld is known to be (quote), "The Happiest Place on Earth." I don't know if there's ever been an independent study to confirm this. There could be happier places. My dog's tail. But let's assume DisneyWorld is correct in its self-assessment, and that among all the places in all the earth, it's the happiest.

So, a couple of years ago, we went to DisneyWorld. In July. Their marketing team rejected the slogan, "The Hottest Place on Earth." But I'm pretty sure DisneyWorld in July is right up there with Death Valley and Kandahar Province. In fact, imagine Death Valley with repetitive music and princesses, and you've got DisneyWorld in July.

So, a couple of years ago, we went to DisneyWorld. In July. And about midday, when the sun is right in line with the ozone hole, and there's so much UV radiation you can actually see people's skeletons under their skin, we're standing in line for Mary Poppins' Merry-go-round, when the line takes us past a mother and a dad, and their two kids. The mother is going absolutely, Raging Bull, George S. Patton, Voldemort bezerk on her two kids. Language to make even Steven Tyler blush. I can neither remember nor repeat everything she said, but the point she was trying to make was, "You have no idea how much money we spent to bring you here, and whether you like it or not, we are going to have fun. We are going to be happy." Meanwhile, the dad has shuffled a few yards away, and is chewing his fingernails and staring at his shoes. It's a small world.

Again, I'm not talking about anyone here. And I'm certainly not talking about my own tendencies. But there are people who it seems can't abide seeing the emotional ecosystem out of balance. Their purpose is to be the equal and opposite reaction to undue happiness. "What a lovely pie! I wonder how many calories are in it." "What adorable wedding gifts! Hope you kept the receipts." "Happy 99th birthday! Guess we won't be seeing you next year."


You see, we have this thing called gravity. It's a known fact that what goes up must come down. We have this thing called experience. We know that even at the happiest place on earth, sooner or later, you've gotta leave, and go hunt for your car. We have this highly-honed and strategically sensitive sense of skepticism. Because stuff always seems to go south. And I don't mean "south" in a good, NASCAR way. I mean in an Enron way. Or a government loan from China way. Or a people you thought would stay married forever way. Or a Jewish kid walking home from day camp way. It's gravity. It's experience. It's reality.

So, with enough gravity, with enough experience, with enough reality being shoved in our faces day after day we get suspicious. People actually get worried if they're feeling too happy. Because, you know, life balances out. You get too ecstatic, look out for the tsunami. Things could be worse. And if you wait, they will be. We've got this pessimistic, sarcastic, worried vibe going on in the world. We've got this anti-trust atmosphere. And the way the world is these days, it's just good defense.

But it's not what God intended.

I don't believe God intended things to go like this. In fact, in reading the Bible, I'm more and more convinced God never dreamed we could get like this. I don't believe God ever imagined us saying things like, "Yeah, life is pretty good right now, but I don't want to get too happy because I might jinx it." I can imagine God tearing out his beard and crying over stuff like that.

According to scripture, according to today's scripture (which is also last week's scripture), God had something totally different in mind.


The New Testament scripture today is from the Letter of James, which I really like, and not just because of the name. I like James because he's not fluffy. It's a very practical, realistic book. And yet, way unlike me, he's not the least bit skeptical, or sarcastic, or disappointed. It's a very plain-language, down-to-earth book that goes by the mantra, "In case of (dot, dot, dot), here you go." You don't have to guess why this James has you singing, "If you're happy and you know it."

And so, in Chapter 5, verses 13 & 14, he says, "Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise."

In case of this, do that. In case of that, do this. There you go. James is simple, without being simple-minded. He knows people like to bicker, and complain, and gossip, and exceed their debt ceiling. He knows every party needs a pooper. But here's the thing. He doesn't build his view of the world around it. He doesn't let the dread of disappointment spoil his spirit.

Are you in trouble? Pray. Are you happy? Sing songs of praise.
But if it's so simple, if it's so straightforward, how come so much of the time, we flip it upside down?

In a world of skepticism and fear, if we were writing the Bible, it would say, "Are you happy? Pray." Pray, because precisely at the time when things are going too good, is when they turn the worst. Pray you don't jinx it. Pray you don't get overly happy, and embarrass yourself, and someone with a phone videos you, and they post it on YouTube, and you get a million hits, wearing a tiara and talking babytalk to the cat. Pray those vacation pictures don't hit Facebook. Pray your happy retirement income doesn't make a slurping sound as it swirls down the drain. Are you close to getting overly happy? Then, pray.

But the Bible doesn't say that. It says, Are you happy? If you are happy, and if you are blessed enough to know it, sing. Sing songs of praise. Sing songs of thanksgiving. You might even do a little dance. With proper supervision, of course. Keep your dance partner at arms' length. If you're happy, and if you're blessed enough to know you're happy while millions in the world can't be, sing for those who can't. Sing for those who've watched joy whiz by. Sing songs of praise, because you can, and you know it.

Pray, when you can't sing. If we get it right we sing when we're happy and we know it, and we pray when we're not, and we know it. "If you're in trouble, pray." In a world where things could always be worse, and probably will, if we were writing the Bible, it would say, "Are you in trouble? Just put on a happy face." "Take your medicine." James talks about the flipside of "If you're happy, sing," with, "If you're not happy, pray." Pray.

Prayer, is about the most opposite you can get from what the world tells us to do. We don't want prayer; we want action. If something's broken, fix it. The system's down. Fix it. The economy's broken. Fix it. The car has hail damage. Fix it. The kid has a tooth that sticks out like this. Fix it.

Confession time. You know, men like to fix things. Or, to put it another way, men like things that can be fixed. One of the dumbest mistakes husbands make - husbands who aren't here - is when she's having a bad day, you come in and before you've heard all the details - which can take quite some time - Mr. Fix It puts on the fix-it hat and says, "Well, just (dot, dot, dot)." "Just tell your boss (dot, dot, dot)." "Just tell the children (dot, dot, dot)" "Just don't worry about it." "Just..."

(I'm to the point where I believe it ought to say in the Bible, actually this should be Commandment Number 11, whether you're male or female, or married, or single, or whatever else you are, anytime you hear yourself saying the word, "Just," stop. Any time you hear yourself advising someone to "just" do this, or "just" do that, or "just" do anything, stop. Because squeezed into that tiny, four-letter word, "just" is about a hundred other words that mean, "Your troubles... whatever they are... your troubles are "just" not that important." "Your troubles are "just" all in your head." "Your troubles are "just" trivial." See if you can go a whole day - or maybe a whole hour - without saying the word, "just." See if it doesn't make other people happy. If it works, you'll know it.)

James the Apostle says, "If you're in trouble, pray." And then, in verse 16, he gives just (oh, crumbs, I said it)... in verse 16, he gives the brief but important instruction on how to pray, and how to pray in a way that heals. He says, "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."

Do you want to pray prayers that are righteous and effective? Do you want to pray prayers that may heal your troubles - and may heal the troubles of other people, too? (Notice, the Bible doesn't say, "fix." This is not a fix-it guide. It's a healing guide. There's a difference.) Do you want to pray prayers that are righteous and effective? Then, pray this way. Here it is. Here's the secret formula. Pray like this:

"Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other, so that you may be healed."

The other day, I was on my way to a presbytery committee meeting. And right there, you know it's got three strikes against it. Presbytery. Committee. And, Meeting. And I was in a foul mood. I was driving up 275, thinking about all the problems that this committee needs to fix. And I was already practicing what I'd say if I really told the committee what I really thought. (Any of you ever do that?) I was thinking about all the things I could be doing if I wasn't wasting my time with this meeting. I was not happy. And I knew it.

And then, this line of scripture that I've been living with for two Sundays now, comes to me. This line that says, "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other, so that you may be healed." So I'm driving along, and figure, hey, what the heck. So I try it. And here's what I realize. I realize that I have to confess that I don't have any idea how to fix whatever troubles I'm so mad at these other people for not fixing. I'm mad because I know how I'd like things to be, but I'm totally lost as to how to get there. I'm mad because they don't have any better ideas than I do. And I guess I'm mad because I don't like confessing these things.

The Bible says, If you're happy, and you know it, sing. Clap your hands. Stomp your feet. Say, "Amen!" Let your face really show it, without worrying about jinxing it.

And the Bible also says, If you're not happy, and you know it, pray. Pray prayers of confession for the people you're unhappy with. And I guess that implies you'll pray not only for each other, but also WITH each other. You might not fix anything. But you'll be a little more healed. A little more righteous. A little more effective.


Is anyone in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy, let them sing.

Are you happy? Well, then, know it. Own it. Claim it. If you're blessed enough to be happy, then sing songs of praise. Or praise those who sing. Praise those who sing and sing well so you don't have to.

Are you troubled? Are you not happy? Know that, too. Own it, claim it, and confess it. Sometimes it's enough to confess it to yourself. Sometimes it helps to confess it to a friend, or a therapist, or someone here at church. Sometimes the troubles can only be healed by confessing with and praying with the person who makes you not happy. If you can do that, then good. Maybe that's too scary. Or too dangerous. Or impossible. Maybe you'll have to let God fill in some of those gaps.


We, as a church, are working to close some of those gaps. And I think James the Apostle would be proud. This morning, Sharon talked about what we, as a church, are asking you to do, together. It's not rocket science; it's prayer. It's simple, daily prayer. We have it on paper, for those of you who like that. We'll also have it on Facebook for those of you who don't like paper products. You have to "Like" Lake Hills Presbyterian Church. We're not asking you to "Love" it, just "Like" it. If you don't know how to "Like" things, ask a teenager or a college student. There are several here today and they look just like you, only younger. (Oh, I said, "Just," again.)

The idea is that we take our happy or our troubled or our whatever. And we know it. We take it, and we consciously acknowledge it. And we direct it toward God. And we do this as a church. The idea is that we are more than just a bunch of individuals who feel happy or troubled and keep it inside, thinking it'll pass if we don't sing or pray or do anything with it... the idea is that we are a church who takes this happy, this trouble, this whatever, and channels it, focuses it, and takes it to God, together. Would you do that? Will you do that? Would you help us do that more?

Let's start right now. Let's re-devote ourselves to the simple guidance of scripture. Let's pray, and then sing. And let's take what we have, and make it one in Christ Jesus.