The epistle of James has always been a kind of enigma. Martin Luther famously called it an epistle of straw. Jesus is explicitly mentioned only twice in its 5 chapters. James can be read in such a way as to conflict with Paul's theology of faith as the sole means to salvation. He puts a lot of emphasis on works. But it seems fairly clear that he writes about practical works of faith, not works for salvation. I see it as a realistic book on living out faith in a community of faith.
I've used today's passage as my guide for how we ought to pray for one another. “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”
He goes on, “Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.” We gather for worship and sing songs of praise. Our fellowship is certainly about more than just helping each other in trouble. We share joy, we share good news, we share in good things that happen to our fellow worshipers. We don't usually sing with them as such, but we do sing song of praise every Sunday morning. Praises for blessing and praises for fellowship and praises for God's presence in our live. Even something like a game day is a way we celebrate our fellowship
“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another,” Again, something we do every Sunday morning. And James includes a promise with this instruction, “so that you may be healed.” This can be a difficult statement to understand. I've done; we've all done; plenty of praying for people who haven't been healed. Are we doing something wrong? I don't think so. One of my pet peeves of those who are strong advocates of healing through prayer is that if it doesn't work that means your faith is too weak. Well, it is not the strength of our faith that heals us, but God in rare occasions has seen fit to heal miraculously. It it due to God's grace and not our faith. To pull Paul back into this sermon, he reminds us that God's blessing comes as a gift of God, not by works so that none may boast... boast of our goodness or faithfulness. God's grace is our only basis for boasting.
Tieler Giles in this week's devotional These Days had a good take on the power of prayer. “We have a privilege to take part in God's sovereign plan through the gift of prayer. Our prayers can move the one who moves the world. When we partner with the divine, connecting our faith with God's power, supernatural things happen. Through prayer we are strengthened, shaped, and transformed from the inside out. Prayer is one of the most powerful and active things we can do. Fervent prayer moves beyond our fears and limited expectations and engages our whole heart, mind and spirit.”
I admit I don't understand the workings of prayer. But God has called us— commanded us to pray. And somehow, our prayers connect our faith with God's power. And somehow our prayers bear on the workings of the divine creator. It reminds us that we should never take our responsibility to pray for one another lightly!
There are a few of us who gather quarterly to take part in these instructions of James. I call it, not a healing service, but a wellness service or a wholeness servcie. We pray for those who are suffering, who are sick. But we pray for God to work in their lives that their whole being is touched by God's spirit and they can find, as the Horatio Spafford wrote in his time of great sorrow, “It is well with my soul.”
As your pastor, I feel a heavy burden to fulfill this responsibility of prayer and to provide opportunities for the congregation to share in this powerful call to pray. Today, rather than a separate wellness service, I'm making it part of the sermon. I keep a list of people for whom we've prayed and we lift them up by name and pray for healing, for patience, for joy, and the knowledge that God is with them. And we leave it with God trusting that God is in control; “thy will be done.”
So I will share my current list of people for whom we've been praying along with the liturgy of the wellness service. We do this with minds open to God's will but expectant for God's blessings.
Explain and share
James used the short phrase “the prayer of faith.” I consider that any prayer offered in the understanding of God's sovereignly is a prayer of faith. Years ago, I read a statement on the prayers of the faithful that has stuck with me. I wish I could give you the source or the exact quote, but here's how I remember it: If the machinery of this world were removed, we would be amazed at how much of the world is moved by the power of prayer. And so we offer God our prayers for wellness.
We are created with miraculous bodies that can heal in so many ways. But we are also created with fragile bodies that are susceptible to viruses, broken bones, cancer, depression, death.... But God... God loves you more than we can imagine, God cares about our cares. Trust in that love and care. We are invited to share all our sorrows, griefs, and joys with God and with each other in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. May we never neglect this important responsibility in your faith journey. Amen.
Hymn: Does Jesus Care? 416 HLC