Trinity’s Sermon from Sunday

 

 

“Prayers of the Faithful”, a sermon on James 5:13-16
Joe Cailles, pastor Trinity UMC
October 14, 2018, The 20th Sunday after Trinity Sunday

The Prayer of Faith

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.

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
The letter of James is something a mystery. Who James was exactly, we can’t verify. Church tradition says James was the brother of Jesus and the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem. To whom was James writing this letter? We don’t know that either — the text never identifies which Christian community first received this letter. Was it written to James’ people in Jerusalem? We don’t know. What is known is that by the end of the first century, this letter was widely circulated throughout all the churches because the letter of James has both obvious and challenging sense things to say to us about faith and prayer and how we are to unite them for everyday living.
 
Early in the letter James writes, “be do-ers of the word and not only hear-ers.” Don’t just listen to the wonderful wisdom coming at you from the pulpit and from the scriptures but enact it. Don’t just hear what Christ would have us do, Do what Christ would have us do. James also writes, Faith without works is dead. Faith without works is dead, meaning faith as our belief in Christ, or faith in God, the vertical, and works, how we manifest our faith in our everyday lives, the horizontal. Don’t divorce the two, ro they will both be dead.
 
So, James writes, it’s not enough for us to say to a hungry person, I hope and pray God will take care of you. James says, we Christians have a faith responsibility to feed hungry people. James writes, Don’t give the rich folks better treatment than you would give poor folk, because we believe, he have faith, that God loves all of us regardless of how much wealth we have. Don’t gossip, don’t slander one another, rather live to seek in peace with each other as God seeks peaceful reconciliation with all of us.
 
Unite faith and works. Be hear-ers and do-ers of the Word of God. And then finally we have today’s passage form the final chapter in James: Pray. In times of suffering, in times of cheer, in times of sin, pray, for the power of the righteous is powerful and effective.
 
Now telling Christian to pray ought to be like telling fish to swim, like telling fire to burn, and like telling teenagers to eat pizza. Prayer ought to be obvious for us. The challenge from James is to expand our experiences of prayer so that our lives our bigger expressions of our faith.
 
James telling us to pray is so much more that us listing off for God an itemized list of what we want and who we want taken care of. For James and for us today, expanded prayer involves three things: First, Prayer includes not just the need and hopes of each one of us but the needs of the community and the world around us. Second, prayer is not just us speaking to God but us listening for God’s response. Prayer is a conversation. And third just as faith and works are united, and hearing the word and doing the word are united, prayerful conversations with God is united with prayerful responses with God.
 
James writes, Are any among you suffering, they should pray. Are you cheerful, you should pray. And by and large that we do! We’ve got that part. When life is good and peaceful and easy, we’re in harmony with those around us, we give thanks to God. We pray in thanksgiving in church, before we sleep, and before our meals: And when life is hard and painful, when we’re scared and anxious, we are not shy in letting God know about it. God, I am hurting. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
 
But James then tells us that those who are sick and broken in the body should be prayed over by the elders and the church. Let others pray for them. And those who who are sick and broken in their living should confess their sins to one another, not just alone, individually to God, so that healing and forgiveness can travel from God to us and through us. James reminds us that we believe prayer is both individual and communal.
 
And so in our worship here at Trinity to start our prayer time, we share our individual joys and our concerns, our blessings and our burdens, we lift up those we know who need God’s comfort and peace and healing and then, I think you’ve noticed this by now, I tend to expand the payer so we pray not just for the one but for the many, not just for the individual who is in need of healing but the many who do, and then for those who are caring for them. Prayer may start with a singular note of joy or concern, but we do well when we broaden the range and pray a symphony of joys and concerns.
 
We do that because we believe, we know, God isn’t bound to heal only those people we name and because we believe all are in need of God’s presence and God’s light in our lives. The first challenge of our prayers is to expand them beyond our own needs to the community and to the world.
 
The second challenge for us is to make prayer a conversation, not a monologue. We have all been trapped with those folks who can go on and on and on and on without really every stopping for a breath and whose words are like a rushing river without any natural pauses and we end up feeling like a little leaf being carried along in the current without any control.
 
Sometimes, lets confess it, we are the ones with the rushing river words, particularly when we talk to God. “God I’m glad I’ve got hold of you. I have a 10-item list of things you need to know about that are on my heart and I’m so glad I have your attention because otherwise how would you know what needs to happen. Here they are…Amen.”
 
James reminds us the payers of the righteous are powerful and effective, particularly when we make room in our prayers and in our lives for God to respond. Prayers are our word to God united with waiting for and listening to God’s response. Faith and works united. Be hearers and Doers of the word together. Prayer for the individual and the community. Prayer is speaking and listening.
And so all of our prayers here on Sunday have space and silence for waiting and listening.
 
It would be wonderful if conversation with God could be a natural and obvious as good conversation between folks, where we each speak and listen and hear and are heard. But we know, very few of us hear God the way we hear each other. God may not speak to us in ways that are obvious and unambiguous. I’ve not heard the voice of Jesus in the same way that I hear the voices of my wife and sons, but for me the more that I live in the ways that Christ would have me go, and the quicker I am to embrace the words and deeds of kindness and confession and reconciliation, and the more I approach the world with Christ’s hope and humility, and the more I speak out for justice and mercy and peace, then the voice of God and the power of Christ and the responses to my prayers become more obvious to me.
 
I still get it wrong all the time. I still make the same mistakes in prayer and Christian living and occasionally make entirely new mistakes, particularly when I am ignoring what Christ would have me do, when I’m so focused on me and mine, I get it wrong.
 
When we remember our core beliefs that God is Love, that Jesus Christ is the way and the truth and the life, and the Holy Spirit moves among us now, then God’s voice will sing out to us.
 
Our prayers, when we expand them, unite our own souls’ concerns and the concerns of the community. Our prayers unite our voices with God’s voice in holy conversation, and finally our prayerful conversation with God is the first step, not the last step in faithful living. Prayer words without prayerful deeds is as dead as faith without works.
 
After a national tragedy, folks will often tweet and post, “our thoughts and prayers are with them.” And ‘praying for those who are victims.” It’s meant to offer solidarity and compassion when we don’t know what else to do. It’s a heartfelt sentiment, and yet I’ve noticed a backlash against that in the past few years. After gun violence, after national disaster, there are those who want more than thoughts and prayers. They want change. They want action. They don’t want to be hear-ers only but do-ers.
 
For us Christians and for us United Methodists in particular, we get that. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, had a deep and powerful prayer life, often praying at 4:00 a.m. to start his day, which was then to be filled with prayerful good works and deeds. Prayer was his start and then he filled his day with charity and reconciliation and witnessing his faith.
 
For us here at Trinity, we do not offer a 4:00 a.m. prayer group, unless one of you would like to lead it. But in worship, after we listen to God’s word in scripture, we pray, speaking to God and listening to God, and then we look at the week ahead with this bulletin to see how what we’ve just heard and prayed about can fill our days with prayerful good works and deeds. Maybe this is one of the ways God is speaking to us in our prayers!
 
James writes the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective. That’s true not because we’ve submitted to God an itemized list of what each one of us wants God to do right now. Our prayers are righteous and powerful and effective because they transcend any one of us and unite us with our Creating God and with one another. Last week was world communion Sunday, in which we united at the table with Christ and with Christians, past, present and future. Communion is our universal meal, and prayer is our universal language, especially when we let prayer open our eyes and open our souls to the needs of those around us. Prayer is righteous and powerful and effective when we listen as much as we speak, and prayer is righteous and powerful and effective when we let God transform our conversation into good works and good deeds.