James 5:13-20, “. . . tell your mistakes and hurts to each other, pray for each other . . .”
So happy New Year to you! Did you know that last week started the New Year? Well, it does if you follow the Jewish calendar. Nearly a week ago now, a day called Rosh Hashanah, marked the beginning of the year 5767. Imagine trying to write that on your checks. On September 22-24, folks who celebrate the Jewish holidays began perhaps the holiest time of their year, a time of re-evaluating their lives, of refocusing, of self-evaluation. This is the beginning of the year, the beginning of creating themselves anew.
But we do this too, those of us who follow the Christian calendar. On New Year’s Eve we say things like, “I am going to start exercising” or “I am going to quit smoking” or “I am going to be a better person this next year”.
The beginning of a new year is that time where we all get the chance to start again, to make changes, to strive toward something new in our lives, to be closer to the God who made us, the God who is always about the business of making all things new.
I had never realized this before this week, but the holiday of Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish New Year because it is the day when Jewish folks believe that the world was created. That’s right. Down to the very date. So this past weekend, I celebrated my birthday, but lo and behold, it was also the birthday for the whole wide world! Makes my birthday seem pretty darn small in comparison.
The idea is that on that day, five thousand seven hundred and sixty-seven years ago, God made the world. And every year, that day is celebrated as the beginning of the world, but also as a new beginning in the lives of everyone in that congregation . . . a time to be with your fellow believers, your friends and neighbors, as everyone looks into their hearts, looks at their congregation, as people work to reach outward and to reach inward and experience creation again. Not a bad holiday in my opinion.
Imagine the scene . . . in the beginning . . . before there was anything or anyone but God . . . When I imagine it, it just seems so quiet to me. You may have read the poem called “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson.
Johnson writes, “And God stepped out on space, And he looked around and said: I’m lonely—I’ll make me a world. And far as the eye of God could see, Darkness covered everything, Blacker than a hundred midnights, Down in a cypress swamp. Then God smiled, And the light broke, And the darkness rolled up on one side, And the light stood shining on the other, And God said: That’s good!” Johnson goes on to describe how God makes the sun and the moon by rolling up light in God’s hands. God makes the seas and the land and the fish and birds and all the other creatures. Johnson writes, “Then God walked around, And God looked around On all that he had made. He looked at his sun, And he looked at his moon, And he looked at his little stars; He looked on his world With all its living things, And God said: I’m lonely still.”
Imagine it. Picture God walking around the world that God had created, full of creatures and life . . . and still . . . in the same way that we may feel that we have this or that, we have a place to live and food to eat, but there is still that loneliness . . . there is still that emptiness . . . that need to be with others.
And Johnson writes, “Then God sat down—On the side of a hill where he could think; By a deep, wide river he sat down; With his head in his hands God thought and thought, Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!”
God creates humanity . . . And the Bible does not necessarily tell us that God created because God was lonely . . . but we know that our God wishes to be in relationship with us. God wants to be in covenant with you and with me . . . and for us to be in relationship with each other . . . relationships that build up and do not tear down. Relationships where we share our joys and our concerns. Where when we’ve got something to laugh about, we laugh. And when we have got something to cry about, we cry together, sharing our pain and our tears. That is the power of creating again. It is re-creating to be in community, to share these joys and concerns with each other.
I remember back in the church that I served a fellow named Willie. He had been hearing impaired for as long as anyone in that community could remember. He had married and moved away and essentially his wife had been his ears for many years. But then tragically she died. And there was Willie, moving back home, but having a great deal of trouble finding his way in the world.
So he went back to his home church, his home community. And we welcomed him. I even had one church member ask if I could give a copy of my sermon notes to Willie so that he could read along; I hadn’t thought of it. But then every morning, one copy of my notes went to Willie and one stayed with me.
Willie saw his doctor one day. They talked about a cochlear implant; this was a possible treatment for him and could mean that he could regain hearing. Many people in that community rallied and supported Willie with prayers and with the financial burden of the surgery.
And then one week Willie walked into church, and he could hear.
He could hear just how good the choir sounded. He could hear the voices of the children. That Monday, Willie went down to the doctor’s office where they turned on the device that they surgically implanted in his head just a few weeks ago. They turned it on . . . and Willie could hear.
And what a joy for him! But what a joy for that congregation too! I mean it wasn’t exactly as if Jesus showed up and spit on his fingers and stuck them in Willie’s ears, but what a miracle this was. I have no qualms whatsoever in calling it that. This was a miracle in our midst. What a wonderful new beginning that has come out of a time of pain; sometimes that is how healing works.
You see, we share our hurts. We share our pains. We share the worries that we have. We share the places in our lives where we struggle and where we fall short and where we sin. This is what our epistle reading from James is trying to communicate to us.
And when you hear the word “sin”, please don’t just think about cussing and lying or whatever it is that people do that you think is sin. Sin is whatever misses the mark; this is what the word means in the original Greek. The Greek word is harmatia, meaning “to miss the mark”, as if you are shooting an arrow and don’t hit what you are aiming for. Sin is not just an act; it is a condition, a state in which the world is not as it should be.
This is what James is trying to tell us . . . that there is a Balm in Gilead . . . that that healing can be found here as we share our joys and as we share our concerns together in our community, in our congregations.
One thing that struck me this week, as I was studying this reading from James, as I was thinking about community, as I was thinking about sin and healing, as I was celebrating my own birthday, and as I was learning about Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of creation again, that thing that struck me is that we are all in a process of creating again . . . of becoming new again . . . as we look forward at our hopes and dreams for ourselves and our congregations . . . and it strikes me again that the only we way we get there, the only way we make it through, the way to experiencing creation again and again is through our relationship with God . . . and through our relationships with each other.
We are being recreated again!
So reach out to each other!
Share your praise where there is praise!
Share your pain where there is pain!
And thanks be to a God who bring us into this community together!