Christ Centered Resources

So that you may be healed

Rev. Ed Searcy

James 3:13-18
University Hill United Church : Sun, October 1, 2000
"Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 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. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 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. 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. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 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.” If you ever thought that Christian faith was about ‘believing the right things’ then all you have to do is to read the book of James to find out just how very wrong you were. Christian faith is not about believing the right things. Christian faith is about being a certain kind of people. To read the short book of James at one sitting is to discover that a Christian community: endures suffering gives generously is quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger bridles its tongue cares for widows and orphans shows as much care for the poor as for the rick avoids foul language and swearing is peaceful and practices humility does not boast says no evil against another avoids money is patient does not grumble. And then we come to the last verses of the book, the ones which are addressed to us today. What else does a community of Christians do? When suffering, they pray. When cheerful, they sing. When sick, they ask the church elders to pray over them and to anoint them with oil They confess their sins to one another. They forgive each other. And when they are in great danger of wandering into trouble they care for each other’s lives. James knows that following Christ is not something that comes naturally or easily. Following Christ is a discipline that takes practice. James knows that we become what we practice and that if we wish to be disciples of Jesus that we will need to live with others who practice Jesus’ disciplined way James is church-building here. He is building the church not by knocking on doors or putting out a ‘Welcome’ sign or by holding rummage sales. He is building the church by asking - by demanding, even - that we be disciplined enough together to act as Christians. We are in training to be the people God intends us to be. James is our trainer, pointing us to the disciplines which will get us there, badgering us when we fall short or find excuses. Because it is not easy being the people of God in this world. “Are any among you suffering? They should pray.” Perhaps this seems obvious. But think of the alternatives. How many who suffer choose instead to become bitter or apathetic or to despair or to become angry beyond control? Suffering can lead us to run round around in circles in fear or confusion. The hurt that causes our suffering can lead to many different responses. James teaches us that in Christian community the first response to suffering is prayer, not because prayer will solve everything but because that is who are, that is the discipline we practice, that is how we follow Christ. Through prayer we are formed into a people who always trust that suffering can be overcome and who know that, finally, suffering is beyond our control.. “Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.” This, too, seems obvious until you see how rare songs of praise are in this day and age. In a technological age we leave singing to the radio and the cd player. Singing together to God as we are doing here this morning and again this evening is a counter-cultural activity. Praising God with voices united is subversive because it changes things in ways that often go unnoticed by those in power, who think that they are in control. Singing praise to God shapes us into a people who know in our bones that it is ultimately God who has power and who is in control and who deserves our praise. “Are any among you sick?” Look what James would have us do when one of our number becomes ill. He would have the elders of the church pray over them and anoint them with oil. And look ... James asks us confess our sins to one another. He knows nothing of confessing to a priest in the confessional. Nor does he expect simply silent disembodied confessions to God. James knows what AA knows, that healing can come only with mutual confession. “Pray for one another”, says James, “so that you may be healed”. Well, to be honest, we aren’t in the habit of this kind of prayer. We stopped praying over the sick and anointing the ill with oil long ago. We believed those who told us that such practices were ancient superstitions. And we rarely confess our sins to one another. Telling the truth about the ways in which we have broken our promises to God is too terrifying when our community is out of practice. James knows this. He wants us to imagine the kind of church we will yet become in order to be able to anoint a sick person. Just imagine what kind of a loving, caring, trusting community we will have become when we make it a habit to confess to one another. It won’t happen all by itself. It will take work. It will take time. It will take discipline. It will take practice. It will take openness to the surprising Holy Spirit in our midst. That is what I thought when I read the very last verse of the letter of James: “whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins”. This seems so out of keeping with the modern world ... a world in which everyone is free to wander wherever they choose, But we are to practice saving one another from danger when we stray, watching out for one another when we are tempted to drop the disciplines and stop practising the faith. In other words, we are called to be in this not simply for ourselves but primarily for one another. Imagine that! Imagine discovering that someone notices when you fall away from the community ... and then phones to invite you over for tea, to save you from becoming lost ... forgotten ... ignored. Imagine falling into despair, wandering aimlessly in grief, becoming suicidal in depression and yet being held tenaciously in the arms of a church which is determined to love you back to life. Imagine that this is what it means to rediscover Christian hospitality. Imagine that a hospitable church does not simply greet strangers warmly at the door. To be welcomed into the life of a Christian people is to find companions who pray with you when you suffer and who sing with you when you rejoice. Here, when one is sick hospitality takes the physical shape of the prayers of the elders and of anointing with oil. When we sin hospitality is a safe place here in the church to tell the whole sad truth and it is a people called church who are practised in the demanding ways of forgiveness. Yes, imagine that we are becoming a faithful community of disciples. Imagine that the Holy Spirit is cultivating a surprising people in this place. Imagine that this is the gospel-truth. Because, of course, it is. (with thanks to Rev. Doug Goodwin)