Mediation on James 5:13-20
Sept. 23, 2018
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 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. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you 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.
We have many reasons to be cheerful today after the wonderful outreach event we hosted at the church on Friday night! The Silent Auction and Spaghetti Dinner were an example of how staff and volunteers at the church and preschool are working together for a powerful ministry to our community.
We have many reasons to sing songs of praise to the Lord for His faithfulness! God blesses those who labor to touch hearts and lives, drawing others closer to Him. We are motivated to do the good works God leads us to do, as James teaches us in the second chapter of his letter, so that our faith may be shown and Christ may be known by our works!
The Lord is preparing all our hearts and minds so he can use us even more. An image came to mind yesterday, thinking and praying about the church. I remembered when I wove a reed basket in elementary school. I imagined God as the weaver. Have you ever woven a basket with reeds? You can’t use fresh cut reeds. You have to first dry them out completely in bunches —that takes time—3 to 7 days, depending on local humidity. In Florida, probably more than a week! Once they are dried out and you are ready to weave, you have to rehydrate the reeds, putting a couple at a time in warm (not hot) water and letting them soak about 10 minutes until they are pliable but not soggy. When you weave, you use only one reed at a time. It can be a slow process, especially for the beginner.
I imagined we are that basket that God is weaving together—the church, with all its ministries, including the preschool; we are not only a work of art, we are becoming a strong, useful vessel God can use more and more! In His time.
We all have the same job to do while our weaver works. Just wait! Be patient! And pray, in faith! Pray God will heal us and make us whole.
Prayer and healing of the community are the main topics of our reading in James. But it might seem random if you only read this piece of the 5th and final chapter and nothing more. The letter was meant to be read its entirety, all at once. Knowing what came before is important to our understanding this text. So, here’s a quick recap: James has already told the church to be joyful during times of trial and suffering for God is building our faith. He says we reveal our faith by caring for people in need and other good works. Ask the Lord for wisdom, for he generously gives wisdom to all who ask. Don’t be greedy; stop doubting, coveting, and favoring the rich. Stop evil talk, for the “tongue is a fire.” Stop your “conflicts and disputes,” because it’s really about pride and satisfying your own cravings and desires. Don’t judge one another. Don’t boast of what you will do tomorrow, for tomorrow belongs to the Lord. Don’t oppress the poor who labor in your fields.
Then, just before today’s reading, James says, “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” Everything that James wrote before this in the letter is leading to this teaching. Instead of doubting, evil talk, and becoming embroiled in conflict and disputes, the Church needs to start living like it believes in the promise of Christ’s return for His beloved—and the hope of everlasting life with him. “Strengthen your hearts,” he says in v. 8, “For the coming of the Lord is near.” Job is our example, he says in 5:11, of one who suffered, but “showed endurance,” ultimately revealing “the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”
On the other hand, suffering in the Body of Christ should not be ignored. Remember, this is the writer who says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to care for widows and orphans in their distress…” What does James mean by “suffering?” NT scholar Scot McKnight says the word James uses for suffering, kakopatheo, appears in 2 Timothy (2:9 and 4:5) and may “describe physical persecution” (McKnight, 432), “hardship in war,” or “ordinary hardships in life.” It could mean depression or it could mean the same thing as the word translated “sick” in James 5:14. In any case, if you are suffering, you should pray.
Next, James contrasts those who are suffering with those who are “cheerful.” If you are cheerful, euthymeo, you are not necessarily the “life is good” happy, smiley person all the time. The word Euthymeo “evokes enthusiasm, courage, and a confident faith…often in the context of stress.” These are the encouragers of the community. Those who are cheerful should “sing songs of praise to God,” thanking the Lord and giving God the credit for His gift of “enthusiasm, courage and confident faith” (McKnight, 435). We have many encouragers in our flock, whose enthusiasm lifts others up.
Then James moves to a new theme —sickness, sin and healing. The word he uses for sickness can mean “physical, spiritual (or) mental weakness…or on the verge of death” (McKnight, 434). If one member is seriously ill, the whole community is affected. James puts the responsibility for calling for the elders to come and “pray over them” on the one who is sick. The one who is sick—did you notice?— must also have faith in the healing power of prayer and confession.
I love that he brings in a reference to Elijah, the beloved prophet of Israel, near the end, when he urges the church to believe in the power of their prayers. For he was “a human being like us,” James says, and yet when he prayed “fervently” that it might not rain, “for three years and six months, it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.”
Friends, this Tuesday is the anniversary of my ordination to the ministry of word and sacrament—Sept. 25, 2011. This is a very special time for me, remembering when I first heard that call and answered, with all my heart, “Here I am. Send me.” On that day, I was asked the constitutional questions in our Directory for Worship—and you who are ordained as elders and deacons will recognize these, for your answered these, too, and made the same promises:
Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?
Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?
Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?
Will you be governed by our church’s polity, and will you abide by its discipline?
Will you be a friend among your colleagues in ministry, working with them, subject to the ordering of God’s Word and Spirit?
Will you in your own life seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world?
Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?
Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?
I said yes, with God’s help.
And then, I was asked the questions that only ministers are asked: Will you be a faithful minister of the Word and Sacrament, proclaiming the good news in Word and Sacrament, teaching faith and caring for people? Will you be active in government and discipline, serving in the councils of the church; and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?
I said yes.
And then, a ruling elder asked you these questions:
Do we, the members of the church, accept Karen as our pastor, chosen by God through the voice of this congregation to guide us in the way of Jesus Christ?
Do we agree to pray for her, to encourage her, to respect her decisions, and to follow as she guides us, serving Jesus Christ, who alone is Head of the Church?
Do we promise to pay her fairly and provide for her welfare as she works among us; to stand by her in trouble and share her joys?
Will we listen to the Word she preaches, welcome her pastoral care, and honor her authority as she seeks to honor and obey Jesus Christ our Lord?
And you said yes.
And then you, the Church, laid your hands on me and prayed for me —and promised to continue praying for me.
I have felt the strength of your prayers and encouragement.
And I have prayed for you and will continue to encourage you to do the powerful ministry that God has called us to do. I will serve with you, with all my heart.
You were a strong witness for the Lord on Friday night, reaching out to bless others, giving generously of your time, talents and resources. I was so inspired by you! The preschool is the kind of incarnational ministry that I want to do, when we embody the gospel and reveal Christ through our relationships, our words and deeds, by being who God has called us to be. You have chosen to fully invest yourselves in this fruitful ministry to our community, because you love the Lord and you love His Church.
We are like a reed basket that God our maker is weaving together. In His time, our church will grow stronger, a beautiful vessel that God will use even more for His purposes. If we listen to and obey James’ teachings on how to live in beloved community, we will live looking to the future—not worrying about tomorrow—but living in joyful anticipation of the Lord, who is with us now and whose time of coming is drawing near!
Let us be patient, then, and encourage each other. Trust in the God of Elijah, who held back the rain when he fervently prayed and gave rain when he prayed again, so the earth could yield its harvest. Our prayers are as powerful as Elijah’s, when we pray in faith. Pray for one another. Pray for your church.
Pray God will heal us and make us whole.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for hearing our prayers and for your love and grace that we have done nothing to earn. We lift our voices to sing praises to your Holy name! We pray for healing for all who are sick or grieving in our church family. Help us to be patient, wait and pray during times of suffering. Give us the gift of cheerfulness and stir us to encourage one another. We thank you for equipping us to do compassionate ministry for your sake. Thank you for our church and all its ministries, including the preschool, and for our director, teachers and volunteers. Thank you, most of all, for the children. Draw them closer to you and open up more opportunities for us to nurture their faith. Bless them and their families, Lord, watch over them, and keep them in your tender care. In Christ we pray. Amen.