Hebrews 4:12-16 (Call to Worship)
Psalm 37:1-9; 23-24
You know nothing damages our dignity or bruises our ego quite like stumbling.
Here at the church, we’ve seen people who were dressed in their finest, stumble and fall flat on their faces as they were walking into the building.
I’ve watched as a soloist, stepping up to the pulpit with music in hand, stumbled all over the mic cord...
We’ve all looked-on as a guaranteed touchdown was missed because an ordinarily sure footed receiver, with no one around within 20-yards, missed the catch of a lifetime... because he stumbled - a turf tackle...
I’ve looked into the faces of a bride and groom as they stumbled in unison, usually over the bride’s dress. I’ve seen individuals in marching bands stumble in their formations... Watched shoppers stumble over displays in stores... And I’ve witnessed a proud graduate stumble across the stage while receiving her diploma.
Of course, I do my share of stumbling, too... I usually stumble UP the stairs here at the church! I don’t seem to have a problem coming down the stairs, but I stumble up the stairs all the time.
The point being... we all relate to stumbling, don’t we?
Stumbling is a part of life. I’m sure we can all remember a time when we’ve stumbled and fallen. Again, there’s nothing quite as humiliating or embarrassing as tripping over our dignity and spilling our ego/pride all over the place in the process. Especially, if we fall in front of others.
Of course, the first thing we usually do, is take a quick look around to see who may have witnessed our clumsiness. We hope that no one saw us stumble, but we’re not always so fortunate.
Yet, there’s something I’ve noticed when it comes to stumbling... because most of the time, when I trip and when I fall, when I stumble, others tend to look at me... not with condemnation or with judgment or with sarcastic humor... not even with laughter... but, with sympathy. Others tend to identify with the embarrassment of falling, and there seems to be a mutual understanding... a common sense of embarrassment... and a deep sense of support.
In fact, most of the time, the “real time” response of most people is to actually help the person who has stumbled to get back up to get on their feet.
And looking back on all the times I can remember stumbling (or watching others stumble), I cannot recall a single occasion when anyone who stumbled was held down. I CAN remember that there was instant concern for the bruised feelings and physical welfare of the person who’d fallen. Now once we’ve made sure the stumbler isn’t hurt... the laughter usually commences.
Of course, I’ve also noticed that pretty much everyone who tripped-up, got back-up on their feet, the shrugged it off... they brushed aside the momentary humiliation of their tumble... and forged ahead.
And in those moments there’s something to be learned when it comes to this business of stumbling.
In his letter that we began looking at last Sunday, James has a way of cutting to the heart of the matter… James has a way of a pricking our conscience by stressing what we already know. Because hidden within James there’s a truth that we can ignore: and the truth is, “we all stumble in many ways.”
In other words, no one is perfect… to stumble is to be normal… it’s a fact of life… stumbling actually guarantees our “humanness” and normalness.
Of course, James also goes on to remind us of another truth that we all know too well: and that truth is, we often stumble in what we say, the things we speak.
When it comes to the tongue we often blow it! James tells us back in chapter 2 verse 10, that stumbling brings about guilt… Even if it’s only in one small area, like our tongue. We know that’s the truth!
Maybe, like me, you’ve stumbled recently. Maybe you’ve said things that you regret - or you acted in ways that you regret. You feel guilty... you feel like a failure. You feel like you’ve let yourself down, and that you’ve let God down.
You wish like crazy, that you had never opened your mouth… or acted in the way you acted… or responded the way you responded. It makes you miserable... it discourages you in your walk with Christ, and you’d like nothing more than to hide - or better yet - you’d like crawl off and wallow in your shame for a while.
But the truth is there’s no time for that! You and I are called to get up out of our self-pity... brush off the dirt... brush off the shame... and walk in the promise of God‘s forgiveness.
Forgiveness enables us to move on even when we’ve fallen short, even when we have stumbled in front of God and everyone!
Of course, the truth is... instead of receiving the normal reaction of concern and support... every now and again you’ll find that someone who watched you fall... who saw you slip... someone who witnessed you stumble... will try and hold you down, or to badmouth you, to speak poorly of you, because you’ve slipped.
And, our response as followers of Jesus Christ... is to ignore them completely. They have simply forgotten that James 3:2 includes them! “We all stumble in many ways.” The only difference is that you didn’t get to see them stumble. But they have, no doubt about it, and they will again. And so will you and I...
What all of this adds up to is... God wants to use you and me - as clumsy as we are, to further his love, and mercy, and grace. Jesus loves us... Christ will restore us, no matter how many times we stumble... no matter our failings... but only if we are willing to get up.
So, whether it involves our feet, or our tongues, stumbling is part of life. What really matters is what we do after we’ve stumbled.
Because what we do after we’ve stumbled, always points to who, and Whose we are.