Tuesday Re-mix –
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:13-16
Passages like this one from Pastor James make us squirm. We see them in scripture and we gloss over them, because they make us uncomfortable. We honestly do not know what to do with them, because, if we’re being honest with ourselves, they bear almost no resemblance at all to the church with whom we are familiar.
The notion of being so involved in one another’s lives, so intertwined together, that we know each other’s struggles and are fully mobilized to help and to pray…the notion that we would be so interdependent on each other that we would share our deepest fears and our hardest temptations, i.e., that we would actually confess our sins to each other…the notion that we would live our lives fully open and exposed to our Christian community, knowing that it is safe and that they will love and support us even with all our flaws…these notions are all foreign to our culture of self-sufficiency and anonymity.
We have reared at least two adult generations of Christians who consider social interdependence a weakness in an individual. Saying, “I am hurting and am needing help” is reserved only for the most severe needs. Daring to share a sin problem with a friend is not only dangerous to us, but is thought by many to be an imposition on that friend. We build up walls of protection around us and we keep our distance. We put on shallow, plastic smiles and we act as if everything is fine, when our lives are in fact crumbling to pieces. In short, we live exactly opposite from the way Christian community is described in scripture.
This is why communities of support groups and recovery groups feel so refreshing to Christians. This is why prison ministries (where there is no pretense left) and street ministries (where only humility and grace remain) have become shining examples of Christian community, while mainstream congregations often remain graceless and aloof. And yes, this is why so much scripture about “one another” feels so very foreign to us.
The question, then, for me to ponder as I listen to Pastor James extol the virtues of Christian community is this: what can I do today in my own life to get one step closer to the kind of intimacy James envisioned when he wrote these words? What is my next step toward community?