9/27/2015 Eighteen Sunday after Pentecost The text is James 5:13-20.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“I have so much to do that if I didn’t spend at least three hours a day in prayer I would never get it all done.” Wow! When was the last time you heard anyone say something like that? I suspect you have never heard those words uttered by anyone. Those words come from Martin Luther and they fly in the face of us modern day Christians. Praying at least 3 hours a day? I don’t think most of us make 3 hours a week and I suspect that many don’t even make 3 hours a month. Prayer seems to be a dying art. It’s quickly going the way of letter writing as texting is taking over. But it shouldn’t be for prayer is the gift which God has given us to get through any and every circumstance we face in our life time. It is one of the most powerful resources God has given us as it can change lives, bringing healing and health, comfort, hope and peace.
Martin Luther was so fervent in prayer because he was very much aware of its power. In 1540 Luther’s great friend and assistant, Frederick Myconius, become sick and was expected to die within a short time. On his bed he wrote a loving farewell note to Luther with a trembling hand. Luther received the letter and instantly sent back a reply: “I command thee in the name of God to live because I still have need of thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will, and may my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God.” Luther’s words may seem shocking to us, as we live in a more sensitive and cautious day, but Luther, known for his bluntness, threw caution to the wind and miraculously, Myconius, who had already lost the ability to speak when Luther’s letter came, revived. In fact, he recovered completely, and he lived six more years to survive Luther himself by two months.
Of course, this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, no matter how earnestly we pray, the cards are stacked against us. Yet, this shouldn’t stop us from bringing things to God. We should pray when we are going through troubling circumstances. When God doesn’t make sense, or when it feels like our world is overwhelming, we should be praying – not shaking our fist at God; not angrily fighting the world; not working it out on own strength; but praying – praying, as we make our way through the life challenges. But prayer isn’t limited to times of struggle and need. We should also pray when all is going well as James tells us to sing songs of praise. Now for those who are musically challenged let me assure you that this doesn’t mean we are now going to have to sing when life is good. The text is literally saying, “Is anyone happy? Use a psalm.” For the psalms, which form a hymn book in the Old Testament, are basically prayers – prayers for all sorts of occasions. So, we are encouraged to talk to God through all situations in life – both the good and the bad.
I received an email earlier this year on the topic, “What Happens in Heaven When We Pray?” It goes like this:
I dreamed that I went to Heaven and an angel was showing me around. We walked side-by-side inside a large workroom filled with angels. My angel guide stopped in front of the first section and said, ‘This is the Receiving Section. Here, all petitions to God said in prayer are received.’ I looked around in this area, and it was terribly busy with so many angels sorting out petitions written on voluminous paper sheets and scraps from people all over the world. Then we moved down a long corridor until we reached the second section. The angel then said to me, ‘This is the Packaging and Delivery Section. Here, the graces and blessings the people asked for are processed and delivered to the living persons who asked for them.’ I noticed again how busy it was there. There were many angels working hard at that station, since so many blessings had been requested and were being packaged for delivery to earth. Finally, at the farthest end of the long corridor, we stopped at the door of a very small station. To my great surprise, only one angel was seated there, idly doing nothing. ‘This is the Acknowledgment Section,” my angel friend quietly admitted to me. He seemed embarrassed. ‘How is it that there is no work going on here?’ I asked. ‘So sad,” the angel sighed, ‘After people receive the blessings that they asked for, very few send back acknowledgments.’ ‘How does one acknowledge God’s blessings?’ I asked. ‘Simple,’ the angel answered. ‘Just say, Thank you, Lord.’
James doesn’t limit his comments on prayer to what we do as individuals, for prayer is also a community event. Praying for each other is what we do in the Body of Christ. So, James says, “should anyone be sick, he or she 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.”
Oh, if healing were just that simple! But we know a simple prayer and a little oil can’t take away all the illness we face, for neither prayer nor anointing oil provides a magic formula for healing. The oil is a sign of the presence of God – His Spirit and His anointing. It is a sign that God’s will is done. But the healing we want and expect will not always come, so somewhere in our prayer life we have to find a balance between never expecting God to heal and requiring him to heal on demand.
But then, when James is talking about praying for the sick, he isn’t just talking about physical healing. With his use of words like “sin,” “forgiveness,” “confession” and “righteous” he is mixing the spiritual and physical. He is connecting human being to human being so that God’s presence becomes known to us in prayer. It is about Christians praying for Christians. It’s about Christians truly caring for each other. And that caring is to go beyond the needs of the sick, the stressed, and those struggling with the burdens of life as James says, “… if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
This means that we are to extend our care beyond our little group. We are to show the genuineness of our faith by our concern for others. If we seldom pray for those in our family who are not yet Christians, something is wrong. If we never pray for the salvation of our friends and colleagues, something is wrong. If we are not concerned about those who are not among us, then something is wrong. One of the most important and worthwhile things you and I can ever do is help others come to faith in Jesus. And that, my friends, begins with prayer.
So pray, my friends, pray for yourself and for others, and let God do the rest. Pray for those in need, put them in God’s hands, and trust that the Lord, who died for our salvation, will do what is best. Give thanks for the blessings you have received and know that the Lord is good. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.