Sermon for Sunday September 27th, 2015, the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 19:7-14; Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; James 5:13-20
Text: James 5:13-20
Theme: The power of God at work through prayer
Have you ever thought about how God’s power is at work through prayer?
While very ill, John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, called to his wife and said, “Read me that Scripture where I first cast my anchor.” After he listened to the beautiful prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, he seemed to forget his weakness. He began to pray, interceding earnestly for his fellowmen. He prayed for the ungodly who had thus far rejected the gospel. He pleaded in behalf of people who had been recently converted. And he requested protection for the Lord’s servants, many of whom were facing persecution. As Knox prayed, his spirit went Home to be with the Lord. The man of whom Queen Mary had said, “I fear his prayers more than I do the armies of my enemies,” ministered through prayer until the moment of his death.
Our Daily Bread. April 11
THE CALL TO PRAY
In today’s Second Lesson, St. James calls Christians to pray, whatever circumstances they find themselves in. If anyone is undergoing hardships or trials, he must pray. If he is happy, he should sing psalms or hymns of praise to the Lord. If anyone is sick, he should call for the elders of the Church to pray over him and anoint him with oil. Such prayers of faith for healing will lead to his recovery and the forgiveness of sins he has committed. Even the mutual confession of faults and sins to one another in the spirit of prayer can bring healing, and that is its real purpose.
Elijah the prophet is noted as an example of how when an ordinary human being whom God counts righteous prays, the effects are great. Of course, Elijah did not pray for a three and a half year drought at his own whim, but he was directed to do this by God, and prayed according to God’s plan to bring the disobedient kingdom of Israel to surrender to His will and to stop their idolatry.
Another example of powerful and effective prayer is the kind of prayer that accompanies a Christian who turns a fellow-Christian from error and sin, back to the way of Christ. This deep intercessory prayer is the means by which a soul can be saved from eternal death, and a multitude of sins forgiven.
But sometimes Christians are simply not focused enough on God to pray effectively, as Martin Luther remarked of himself:
When Luther’s puppy happened to be at the table, he looked for a morsel from his master, and watched with open mouth and motionless eyes; he (Martin Luther) said, ‘Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise he has no thought, wish or hope.”
If we are to be effective in prayer, we must be single-minded in our love for God and in our prayer. This will lead us to pray in all circumstances. Too many times, Christians enduring hardship give way to anger, frustration, blaming their loved ones, and even blaming God. Instead, we must pray, for prayer reinforces our dependence on God, so that we lean on His love and wisdom in our times of crisis. On the other hand, when we are happy and things are going well, we must praise God, who is the ultimate source of all happiness. Some people when they are happy, instead of praising God, merely talk a lot about all sorts of superficial things.
Thomas à Kempis wrote about this:
Why, indeed, do we converse and gossip among ourselves when we so seldom part without a troubled conscience? We do so because we seek comfort from one another’s conversation and wish to ease the mind wearied by diverse thoughts. Hence we talk and think quite fondly of things we like very much or of things we dislike intensely. But, sad to say, we often talk vainly and to no purpose; for this external pleasure effectively bars inward and divine consolation. Therefore we must watch and pray lest time pass idly.
(Ch. 10, Bk. 1, Croft & Bolton (Transl.): Thomas à Kempis: The Imitation of Christ)
Watching and praying is a careful and spiritual approach to all the changes of this life, and it means we must pray and praise God in all things.
When we are sick, we often need the prayers of others to recover well and experience the peace of God. In the first century AD, the elders of the local church were its lay leaders, who administered the church and preached. The practice of a single elder, or presbyter, who was ordained and in charge of a church developed later. Anointing with oil was done by the Apostles when the Lord Jesus Christ sent them on temporary missions (Mark 6:7-13). St. James does not claim that it is the oil itself that heals the sick, but the prayer of faith (James 3:15). Today, the Church needs to continue this prayer of faith for all who are sick, but we must pray with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We must notice that together with healing goes the forgiveness of sins. The same prayer of faith that heals the sick also brings forgiveness of sins. Our Prayer Book honors the companionship of healing and forgiveness by providing opportunity for confession in the rite of Visitation of the Sick (Rubrics, p. 313) and The Communion of the Sick (p. 323).
Historically, the Church has provided the sacrament of reconciliation, or private confession to a priest for those who need it. James 5:16 does not imply that private confession of faults or sins is only to be made to a priest; yet if not to a priest, but to a fellow-believer, that person has to be trustworthy and have the maturity and confidentiality not to gossip to others about the contents of a confession, but to keep it as a matter for prayer. He must be able to pray for the one who confesses sin, and give wise counsel.
Prayer itself requires faith from us. So let us turn from acts of faithlessness and doubt, and approach God in prayer in both times of trial and times of joy, praising Him and thanking Him for His wonderful salvation, healing and all His works!