James 5: 13-20
(19th Sunday after Pentecost)
On February 12, 2002 then U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld was asked this question by a reporter: “…is there any evidence to indicate that Iraq has attempted to or is willing to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction? Because there are reports that there is no evidence…” Secretary Rumsfeld responded with this infamous answer: “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”
The simplest things in life are the ones we most often over-complicate, like telling the truth. In our scripture today James is writing to a church that is having a hard time with something simple as well—being faithful. They are struggling with their purpose. James doesn’t come right out and say this but I think we can infer it. Why else would James tell them to get back to basics? Why else would James tell them to keep it simple: pray, reach out for help, minister to one another, confess, reconcile, and stick with one another. Keep it simple James tells them.
I don’t know about you but, It’s a message I need to hear—keep it simple. Things are hard right now. When things get hard, when we approach the limits of our abilities to cope, the anxiety goes up and we look to relieve that anxiety by placing it on someone else, inappropriately most often. Notice anti-vaccination protesters outside hospitals, notice verbal and physical violence directed at Asian, Muslim and black people. I noticed it this week when I lost my you know what after my wife re-arranged the furniture in our sun room. You see, when I get anxious, stressed, overwhelmed it really helps me for things to stay the same. I’m comforted by routine. Andrea deals with the same stressors by re-arranging and changing her environment. We both find comfort in controlling our surroundings, just in different ways. Isn’t marriage great? When things are hard, faith is hard. Faith seems like an imposition divorced from the reality of our lives. The truth is it can be, if faith is bunch of shoulds or oughts it leads us into guilt and shame and we want to run away from that. In hard times when it comes to faith, when it comes to connecting with God keep it simple.
So, here it is. Here is my great theological insight for this week—be kind. We are all overloaded, over-stressed, over-anxious so keep it simple and be kind. Many of us are struggling, cut each other some slack and be kind. Keep it simple, get back to basics and we’ll get back, not to the God of should or oughts, but the God of grace. It begins with being kind to ourselves. Each one of us has to figure out what that looks like. For me, it involves not judging myself too harshly for my over-reaction to the sunroom furntiture re-arranging. Being kind also involves getting underneath the anger to understand what is really happening and taking care of myself. This is important because you can’t be kind to others, in any genuine sense without being kind to yourself. You can fake it to a certain extent but eventually the resentment and exhaustion comes out.
Keep it simple—be kind. What a lovely thing it was this week to receive a note in the mail from Jennifer Allan, our Chair of Council saying how much she appreciated my leadership and guidance over these last many COVID months. Jennifer sent notes as well to Heather and Council members. Not only that, she also included a little slab of Reid’s chocolate. Keep it simple—be kind. When you can, add chocolate.
That’s what I’ve got for you this week. It’s not deep, I feel as one of the resident theologians here that I should offer you something more on the nature of faith. Another time. I take comfort in being reminded of a quote by the great British author, Aldous Huxley that you might know if you happen to receive e-mails from Parkminster member Doris Jakobsh. She has it on her e-mail signature line, “It’s a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and then to find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than, try to be a little kinder…” Keep it simple friends, life is hard right now. May this come to us as gift and grace. Amen.