Crows Nest Uniting Church
Sunday 26 • 27 Sep 2015

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Rev. John Candy

Whose Side Are You On? - James 5:13-20

We’re coming to the end of that month of the year in which many regions of the country see competition at its highest level.
On most Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, stadiums and gymnasiums have been filled with the faithful from all walks of life, as their teams compete to bring honour and glory to their respective team or districts.
This can bring out both the best and worst in players, onlookers and parents.

Many of you will remember with smiles and nods some of the pranks and tricks pulled due to rivalries between schools, teams or university groups.
I won’t ask for a show of hands from those who still harbour a mascot, jumper or flag in their bottom drawer or out in the garage.
Mascots still seem to be popular, but we don’t like some overseas countries often offer prayer and blessing for our school team, district team or side in the national competition.
Our games still seem to generate the sort of rivalry that leads us to decorate club rooms or gyms, and increase our passions.

I wonder if we would go as far as some of the American teams and put up a huge sign that read of such things as “God is on Our Side!”
When such banners go up it must bring gasps of surprise.
I sometimes wonder what the group’s motivation may have been as God apparently didn’t always play well and teams didn’t always win the contest.
Today’s readings reflect a sense of God being on the side of those whose stories we read.
In the Old Testament, Esther, when facing the destruction of her people and possibly herself, trusts that her behaviour and faith in God will deliver her and her people from what awaits them.

The psalmist says plainly, “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side . . .” we would have lost, we would have died!
James says in today’s reading that in facing suffering, illness, or sinfulness, with God on our side, we can be delivered.
In the Mark passage, the disciples wonder if someone not from their circle can indeed do some of the things they’ve been entrusted to do.
In all these readings, it is not so much a matter of whose side God is on, as it is whose side we are on.
Esther could have just as easily rejoiced in her new position of power and not worried beyond herself.
She could have taken the attitude that the Jews were on their own, they could do whatever they needed to get where they needed to be.

The psalmist could have been writing about a people who did not trust in God and whose faith was only in themselves and the words would have reflected a different outcome.
James would not have shared with us this powerful mandate for prayer if his faith did not reflect his willingness to be on God’s side.
Jesus tells his disciples that we control—or should control—how we live our lives to reflect whether we’re on God’s side.
It is a role or vocation that we seek to take on as the baptised. It is a journey that we are called to support the newly baptised on.

To be on God’s side means to have a commitment to go beyond just ourselves and our needs and to open our eyes and ears to God’s leading.
To be like Esther, we must love like God, love our fellow human beings and be genuinely concerned about their well-being and safety.
To be like the psalmist, we must be guided by faith to trust God, do the things God would have us do for the good of each other and not just ourselves.
The psalmist knew that in all things, God must be trusted.
We are called as the baptised to have that faith that says we can pray as we face all things.
Prayer, our conversations with God are important especially as we seek help, healing and the lifting of discomfort of others.
God begins to lift our hurts and pains as well.

True discipleship comes when we help others.
Our call as the baptised involves commitments of deep faith.
To care about others begins with a faith that accepts Gods care for us.
We are called to pray for others on a regular basis understanding that God hears all prayers.
To care about others means that we open our eyes and ears to see and hear the needs of those who are suffering around us.
This may involve leaving our comfort zones, our areas of security and familiarity, to travel to those parts of our community where previously we have been afraid to go or have felt unwanted.

This may also involve opening up doors of communication that will reveal hurts and pains for healing.
To care about others may involve our confronting ourselves about how we’ve lived to this point.
It may mean our having to change from being self-centred to God-centred and other-centred.
Today we could decide to mark the start of a great faith adventure not only for those new members of the faith community.
This faith journey can start anywhere, in a lavish palace, in lush pastures turned to savage battlefields, in the quiet of a prayer room or worship area, or in the comfort and quiet of our own homes.
God is with us. God will continue to be with us.
What better adventure can we hope for, knowing that when we are on God’s side, ours will be a positive journey and life!