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Pentecost 18B Sermon
James 5: 13-20
September 26, 2021


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James 5:13-20

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are 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. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore 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. 17Elijah 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. 18Then 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, 20you 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.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

We have come to the conclusion of our five-week series on our second readings, which all come from the letter of James. James writes to people who need encouragement. They have heard stories of Jesus’ life, how he healed and loved and performed miracles for all people, especially those without significant money or status, but he never discriminated regardless of those things either. The foundation of God’s free gift of grace has been proclaimed, just as it has for each of us, and James is encouraging those first century Christians to act and speak out of love for the one who first loved them and called them to love their neighbors as much as they love God.

We heard how even something as seemingly insignificant as your tongue can start a great wildfire, destroying relationships and lives around us. We are encouraged to only use our words for blessings, because curses and blessings should not come from the same place, just as sweet and brackish water cannot come from the same spring. James has distinguished between wisdom from above and wisdom from below in such a way that we are not only to rely on the physical and social sciences to inform us how to live (which are important), but we are to connect with the spiritual in a way that encourages us to adopt the values from above - things like humility, curiosity, generosity and gratitude.

Confident in the foundation of our relationship with God, we now have a few basic instructions on how we are called to live each day, reflecting that confidence in all that we say and all that we do. To be honest, it can be overwhelming. Many of us wonder how we can always do these things? How do we keep from slipping up, from thinking terrible thoughts or saying harmful words to someone all the time? How do we constantly help our neighbors with their lives, their property, their reputations, their health? Does this mean that we never tend to our own needs or cares? Does this mean that we should always be stressed out and anxious over fears that we might be too selfish in life when we purchase something we like or travel to someplace we’ve always wanted to see, or take some time to simply dwell in God’s presence with those who we love who also bring us joy? Obviously not!

Our lives are built upon grace - the grace of God through Jesus Christ who has called us to discipleship, blessed us with the gifts we need to love God and our neighbors, AND gives us permission to love ourselves and give ourselves grace when we need it too. Making the Christian life into a work that is necessary to be loved by God is not the message of James’ letter. James is encouraging us to respond to that love and grace showered upon us first and foremost because we are grateful for what God has done for us. Our relationship with God is not transactional like economic theories like capitalism, where a fair price is negotiated for a product or service so that a profit can be made by the provider. It is not even like socialism where some big entity holds all of the assets and asserts that all is shared equally with everyone. Our relationship with God is totally a result of God creating us, claiming us, and walking with us in the good times and the bad times in order to increase our joys and comfort our sorrows. That is not transactional, that is gift!

So, in this final passage we have encouragement for all people, no matter what our abilities, gifts or talents may be, and that is the encouragement to pray. Everyone can pray, and James reminds us that this is true regardless of our circumstances - if you are suffering, cheerful, in need of healing, in need of confessing our sins, in need of forgiving someone else. We can even pray if we are in need of rain or in need of the rain to stop! We are in constant need of prayer right now in our community, let alone our world. Regardless of your politics or opinions, you see with me the challenges with violence in our own communities of Columbus and at the OSU campus; the situation in Afghanistan is certainly not over and will continue to be volatile for years to come; the southern border of the US is in crisis mode with detention facilities stretched to their limits. People of Haiti being taken back to their country stricken with poverty. People in the US are out of work and meanwhile companies cannot find employees needed to stay open. The supply chain is hit and miss with needed parts and commodities for life. School are being tested during the pandemic - students testing positive, whole classes sent home, school nurses being stressed, a shortage of bus drivers, and support staff working overtime to keep things afloat. Wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, wars, terrorism, and all of this on top of our loved ones and their families who are in our prayers this morning battling cancer or poverty or any number of challenges to their health. If one was to sit back and consider all that we could be praying for there would be no time for doing the good works that complete our faith, as James says we are to do.

So maybe, just maybe, your prayers are the works that you are called to do in order to complete your faith. And by prayer, I don’t just mean giving God your laundry list of things to do … I mean sitting quietly in gratitude for the blessings that are ours despite the immense challenges of this existence. Lifting up concern for your neighbor, for your family, for your friends, for yourself; and putting those things in God’s hands. All of us are instant gratification people, not just the young among us!! We all want answers now and results now. But when we pray, we do so confidently - knowing that God hears and is just as concerned about all of those things as we are. And God is most certainly about the task of bringing life out of death, peace out of violence, renewal out of destruction. It may not be as any of us think it should be or envision it being, but the same God who has loved us by grace will save us and the whole world by that same grace. According to James, the best way that we can connect with that grace is through prayer.

Recently a friend of mine who is a pastor in NW Ohio shared an article on social media about pastors and the pandemic. The gist of the article is that the first wave and shut-down of the pandemic was like running a marathon, to keep things going and to keep ourselves and everyone well, physically and spiritually. When the first wave seemed to be waning, we were all ready for a break to catch our breaths and get ready for what was next … but before we knew it, the next wave with the Delta Variant has hit and we are right back to it; it is as if a person is forced into running another marathon without the benefit of adequate rest in between the two. That analogy can be applied to many other fields besides the church - schools and educators, the medical professionals, essential services … the list goes on. Please know that you are constantly in my prayers as we run this second leg of back-to-back marathons. Please ask for patience for me, society and yourself as we dwell in God’s grace and anticipate God’s healing. Please ask for healing and for people to do what is best for the collective good. Please pray for educators and support staff, caregivers, church professionals, essential workers of all kinds and for business owners as well. Also, give thanks that in the midst of this strange and difficult time, we can still experience God’s grace in many ways - not least of them the ability to come together in worship, learning, serving and fellowship to encourage each other and dwell in God’s presence. Amen.