9/30/2018 Nineteenth 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.
Today’s passage from James is one of those texts that I am sure raised Luther’s hackles. Why? Because on the surface, it would have us think that we are in control. We are in control when it comes to the outcome of prayer…if we pray hard enough, often enough and with gusto, God will surely give us the answer we want. But is that true?
Journalist Larry King once told the story about three farmers who gathered daily in a field during a horrible drought. The men got down on their knees, looked upward, and prayed fervently that the skies would open, and they’d get a much-needed rain. Unfortunately, the heavens remained silent, and the petitioners became discouraged. They continued to meet, however, every day for prayer. One morning a stranger came up to them and asked them what they are doing. They responded, “We’re praying for rain.” The newcomer looked at each of them and shook his head, “No, I don’t think so.” The first farmer answered, “Of course we’re praying. We are down on our knees pleading for rain. Look around, see the drought. We haven’t had rain in more than a year!” The visitor, after glancing at all three once more, replied, “No. If you were really praying for rain, one of you would have brought an umbrella.”
Prayers are matters of faith…they are not matters of needs and desires. And in the story, if those men had displayed faith in the God who created all things, a God who would provide what was needful, they would have brought an umbrella. But what happens when you have faith and pray in faith and don’t receive what you seek? Is it your fault for not praying hard enough, often enough, or rightly enough – as if somehow, your prayers control God? Is it the fault of others who pray for you – for surely God should provide for your needs because they ask? Or in prayer have you sought your will and not God’s will for you in your current circumstances?
In my lifetime, I have prayed fervently for many things. I have prayed through tears of anguish. I have prayed for things I dreamed of having. I have prayed with deep concern for those around me. As I look back on those prayers, I find that God indeed has dealt graciously with me and others…not by giving me a “yes” to every prayer, but by supporting me through dark times, encouraging me to strive to do my best, teaching me how to be his arms and legs as I reach out to those in need, guiding me over the stumbling blocks that come from prayers that seem to go unanswered, showing me what it is to be part of his family, and letting me know that he is there for me. The world may seem to be spinning out of control, but God has everything in hand.
On the surface, this passage from James would also have us think that we are in control of our own fate and the fate of others who wander from the truth. Now there are a number of ways in which you can wander. You can wander from the truth by believing something false or by not believing something true, but also you can wander from the truth by living in a way that’s contrary to what you believe or profess. With that being the case, who among us has not had a period of wandering? I wandered for years during my teens. And what drove me back to the faith had nothing to do with people chasing after me. It dealt with God shoving me back into the fold through the death of my brother.
Before that time, due to the circumstances of my life, I had given up on God. I had bought into the notion that I was in control of my own fate. But God was patient with me and used my internal conflict surrounding my 22-year old brother’s demise to show me the fallacy of my way. I was not, nor will I ever be in control. All I have is God to lean on when life gets wonky.
Of course, God does use human beings to bring back those who wander. In a sense, God used my brother Wally to do just that. And God can use you and me, too. And yet, what we do in the name of God to help others return to faith doesn’t earn us brownie points. We are all sinners. We are all wanders. We are all saved the same way…through the gift of Jesus Christ. We are not in control of our fate or the fate of others. Thank God that that is not so…for that is too heavy a burden to bear. Thank God that God is in control. And it is God’s will that none of us should be lost. May God’s will be done!
So, what do we do with the book of James – as James leaves open too many thoughts that can draw us away from faith and hope in Jesus Christ, and can lead us to buy into the fallacy that we are in control of God and our own fate? Because of our tendency to look at what James is saying in this way, Luther would have the book removed from the Bible. And yet, James has its place as it shows us that what we do is a reflection of faith within. So, keep on praying, keep on doing, keep on believing, knowing that God is the one in control.
My friends, God has the best in mind for all of us. We may not see that when we are stuck in the details of our own struggles. My friends, God has the best in mind for all us, so God uses us to share the faith that is within us. My friends, God has the best in mind for all of us. God and God alone has the way to eternal life. That way has been prepared for us and all wanderers by Jesus Christ who laid down his life so that we might find life in him.
Believe and give control over to God. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.