“Bring Them Home” 9/4/16 James 5:19-20 LMPC Ben Sloan
For a video of this sermon, click here.
Each of the four Gospels end with Jesus telling us to go out and be witnesses. James ends his book asking us to bring the wanderer home. Did you know that the Mission statement of LMPC says, “Lake Murray Presbyterian Church exists to bring the wandering heart home to Christ.” I think this may have been based on these verses.
“Brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring them back, remember this. Whoever saves a sinner from the error of their ways will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Eleven years ago last week Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. I am grateful Hurricane Hermine was not nearly as bad. The U.S. Coastguard flew over New Orleans and most of down town was under water. At the peak, the coastguard was rescuing 750 an hour by boat and 100 an hour by air with 5,600 coast guard rescuers at work. At the end 33,000 people were rescued by the Coast Guard in the Katrina event. Thirty-three thousand people were allowed to go back to their families. There is no better feeling than the rescue of a life from death. James says that if you are a Christian, you are in the rescue business. We are all called to invite and bring people back to their one true home. One of the most spiritual experiences you can have is inviting someone to Christ. When you identify with Christ by being bold and believing He can make a difference in someone’s life, it will bolster you spiritually. If you have any benefit from being a Christian, that is a reason to not keep that benefit to yourself- but invite others to the hope of Christ.
I. THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO HAVE WANDERED AWAY- Even in the early church there are people who wander away from the truth. There is a line in the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount” that says, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” We do have a tendency to wander. The image is of a sheep that wanders away from the shepherd and the flock. Sheep are always wandering away and putting themselves in danger with predators. Usually the way it happens is that the sheep will just start munching on grass with their head down. They are not focused on the shepherd- or the flock- just on the grass in front of them until all of a sudden, when it gets dark, they realize they are very far away.
The very old Presbyterian way- that has frankly led to one of the key factors of losing half our membership since 1983 (3 million to 1.5 million), is that we assume that because someone grew up coming to church that they have internally incorporated the faith. Just because you have sat in a math class doesn’t mean you are a mathematician. I can testify that just because you sit in French class, and even do good on the tests doesn’t mean you know French. Yet we somehow make this very naïve assumption that if you are brought to church you know what we believe, actually believe it, and then follow that belief. Now there are a lot of advantages to growing up in church. Steve Spurrier talked about these last week. He said that it is no accident that the three who won Heisman trophies at Florida were all minister’s children. He also pointed out that Last year was his worst team and for the first time he couldn’t get any of them to attend the voluntary chapel. Being around church people can be a blessing- perhaps it is because we want to try to be holy and loving. But it can be a curse when someone messes up.
II. THE BENEFIT OF INVITING A WANDERER BACK- James gives two benefits for helping someone find faith- or re-find their faith: Saving from death and covering sins.
1) He will save them from death- In our secular world, we downplay that faith can save you from death, and we even downplay the greatest universal reality- we will die. I have seen people in this community who have let their children wander as if Christ was just a bad option and His church was just another institution. I know one young man who came to our church. We tried to get him to come to confirmation class but his parents saw it as unnecessary and he refused to come. This pas week he shot someone and is in jail. This is pretty extreme, but it is not something I am making up. You choose your road, and God and faith in Him saves us from a load of trouble. Sometimes we act like this is an insurance policy that we may or may not need. Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous as a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.”
2) Covers a multitude of sins- Bringing someone back- not only prevents going down the path to death, it covers over the mistakes we have made. Coming back to God is how we get our mistakes erased. We help erase another’s mistakes, and it also helps us to come back ourselves. Prov. 10:12 says, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.”
Love covers all transgressions. God’s love for us is the ultimate covering. His love calls to us- it calls us home- and we can join our voices to His and call others to come home too.
On September 18- just two weeks from now is Back to Church Sunday. Truth is, anyday is back to church Sunday, but when people study what Sunday people come back to church more than any other besides Christmas and Easter this is it. Andrea Palpant Dilley writes for CNN. She was the daughter of missionaries and went to a smart- mission oriented Presbyterian Church. Yet as a young adult she scraped off her Christian sticker on her car and then dropped out- with her doubts and her just being tired of trying to be good. She went through years of vapid empty hard drinking, fooling around with older men- basically the classic rebellion against God and faith. But one day she came back. She came back not because all of her doubts were solved or that church is so much more entertaining now- but she came knowing that her doubt belongs in church and that God helps her unbelief. Once a man told Jesus- “I believe help my unbelief” (Mk. 9:24). Flannery O’Connor called this the foundational prayer. I also believe God honors my longing. The writer and theologian Frederick Buechner said “Faith is homesickness.” C.S. Lewis called it “Sehnsucht,” a longing for a far-off country.
Jesus invites us home. Has a supper waiting for us- the Lord’s supper.
Jesus’ main job was to invite us back. Our job too.