“If Anyone Wanders…”
19My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5: 19-20, NRSV)
andering is not typically thought of as a good course in life. MERRIAM-WEBSTER defines it as “moving about without a fixed course.” It means “to ramble,” “to meander, “to stray,” “to err.”
Most of us enjoy rambling around the mall, occasionally. We have no fixed course except Starbucks or perhaps a 90% off sale at Dillards. Or we might just sit down in the soft seats and wait on the wife to get through “meandering” around.
When traveling I like to keep a bit of spontaneity in the day. We were in Paris a couple of years ago and I had planned to not plan, but Marilyn and Lyn had planned Gerald’s and my week. We did not necessarily see more museums by following a specific schedule, but we did know more accurately at what we were looking. The wives did allow for some occasional unplanned adventures when we just turned right or left at the hotel door and wandered off looking for a restaurant. We soon discovered that all of the restaurants in Paris are good. Most of us love to wander at times.
However, our text is dealing with the high theological concept of one wandering away from their faith in God and from their experience with Christ.
Let me quickly point out that it is not a bad thing to wonder; to ponder seriously our faith that has been our guide at times when we have wandered too far off course. We Methodists take pride in our need to think deeply about our own personal theology; and, we have to wonder a bit when we are off wandering.
I think that our letter from James is intended to encourage the early Christian Church to accept the fact that believers who have wandered from the accepted theological norms, or some who have fallen back into sinful practices, could be restored to the Church. In other words, those who backslide can also ‘front slide.
Whenever believers had lost faith in the early churches which were scattered around the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, it was usually a former fellow believer who went to them and encouraged them to come on back home to faith in Christ.
Some of you have been used to restore lost fellows. It is a great thrill to be used by God in this delicate process of restoration. Others have gone out to homes and have been a part of restoring an almost broken household. Often times the layperson is more effective than an ordained pastor in encouraging “lost lambs” to mend their ways.
God does not want to lose any of His children. A familiar image of Jesus that we carry around in our minds is that of the Good Shepherd extending his arm while holding a tree branch in the other hand, reaching out to save a wandered off lamb from falling off the mountain side to its death.
We have sung a familiar hymn that underlines our belief that Jesus is constantly keeping track of us; “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” which says that, “we know that He watches us.”
Some of you must know some individual or family who has wandered away from this church. Our text is calling you to go talk to them and encourage them to come home.
And your reward will be great as you are blessed by God. James says, “…whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (v.20) This means that the process of reclamation will not only bring good to the formerly lost one but it will bring joy to the one used for God’s purpose.
This is one of the areas of lay ministry that is too often overlooked. Some of us are already making a mental list of persons who you could phone, or meet with, or to whom you could write a note. And, you might be the only one who will be effective.
One of the great things about the intimacy of a Sunday School Class is that people get to know each other so well that they feel familiar enough to keep up with each other.
Sunday School Class relationships last forever and it is hard to get off their list. We all need a few friends who would come to save us if we ever wandered away from God and your Sunday School Class.
We all have some familiarity with Francis Thompson’s epic poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” in which he described how it must be to have been lost from God and how it is possible to be restored. Indeed, God Almighty is pictured as The Hound of Heaven who will seek us out wherever we are, theologically; and who will make every effort to win us back.
Communion Sunday would be a good time to come home! We will already be kneeling at the Chancel and will have received an invitation to end our wandering.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor