April 25, 2021 4.25.21
Well, friends, we are going to jump right in this morning, I’m going to try and keep this message on the shorter end as I have quite a bit to share later when we get to the Life of the Church, it’ll be a second little sermonette of sorts, so consider today a 2 for 1 sermon special. Typically crowds go crazy for 2 for 1 specials, though I’m guessing people have never or rarely said that about sermons before.
This morning we’re going to tie a bow on our sermon series on the book of James as we come to final passage in thiss letter. It’s been 5 weeks now since we last opened this book, and like a minor chord that needs to be resolved, or that lingering feeling in between sneezes, we’ve got to finish this thing, not so much because it’ll bug me if we don’t (though it certainly would), but more importantly because there’s a good and timely word for us here in James’s word today.
So let’s dive right in:
If I were to summarize one of the key takeaways of our passage this morning, it very well might be this:
Invite others into your sickness and suffering
Or maybe in other words, go public with and let others into your sickness and suffering.
Immediately after James says that those who are suffering should pray and those who are cheerful should sing songs of praise, he says this:
14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church
Here James builds on this initial sequence, saying that not only should we take our seasons of suffering and seasons of cheer, the highs and lows of life, and take them to God in prayer and worship and praise, but that in addition, he says that we should invite others, into our sickness and suffering, that we should, at least on a small scale, go public with them, by sharing them with the church elders.
And of course, here’s why James encourages those who are sick to call upon the elders. Here’s the purpose or reason behind all of this. He says,
and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
The purpose is clear: James wants us to share our sickness and suffering with others so that they can pray for us. Now certainly, when we are sick, we can pray to the Lord on our behalf, and we likely do. But goodness, there’s something to be said for when others pray for us. There’s something comforting and powerful when others lift us up in prayer, when people will hold our pain and worry and anxiety in prayer, carry our burdens with us, and intercede to God on our behalf. So often when we are sick or in distress, we struggle to articulate our thoughts or string together a sentence or two in prayer, and it’s in those moments that we want someone to come alongside and pray with us and for us.
James says invite others into your sickness and suffering … so that they can pray with us and for us.
But yet, what exactly should we expect in terms of the outcome of these prayers that are prayed? Like what exactly should we hope for or anticipate to come from the prayers that are prayed over us, or the ones we pray on behalf of others?
Well, here James says, 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up;
James seems to be making this declarative, straightforward statement. That the prayer of faith, will, as if it’s a sure guaranteed thing, will save the sick. And though this might sound encouraging, chances are it may actually feel discouraging. because we think to ourselves, “Wait, hold on, I’ve prayed for people when they are sick, and prayed for them to get well, and it never happened, or their condition slowly declined, or worse they soon after passed away.”
And so it makes us wonder, is James saying that if we or the people around us simply have enough faith, that God will always heal or that if God doesn’t heal, it’s our fault for not having enough faith? It’s a little unsettling, isn’t it?
Well, here’s what’s interesting about James’s words here and can help make sense of some of all this and that is, his words here seem to be intentionally ambiguous.
For example, when James says, “The prayer of faith will save the sick,” that could mean that they will be saved and healed physically from their illness and restored to fullness of health, but yet it could also mean that they will be saved and healed spiritually because that word save has multiply meanings in the bible in the same ways it does in English today, where at church this morning we might say, “We are saved by grace through faith,” and then at the YMCA later today we might learn that the lifeguard “saved the child from drowning.” Saving can be physical or spiritual. Even the phrase, “raise them up,” could go both ways, it could mean, raise them literally out of their sick bed and yet it could also be alluding to how followers of Jesus will be raised from the dead when Jesus returns. In the end, it all seems a bit ambiguous.
And the point seems to be this: when we invite others into our sickness and suffering, and when we invite them to pray for us, sometimes God might bless us or the individual with physical healing, and other times it may be more of a spiritual healing, whether it be the person experiencing peace in midst of their illness or maybe even in fact, someone coming to a saving faith in Jesus Christ on their deathbed in their final days.
Now again, that’s not to say that God is unable to heal someone physically from a serious illness or medical condition, and even more, it’s not to say that we should be reluctant or hesitant to pray for physical healing. We should pray them boldly and faithfully when the situation calls for it and sometimes, yes sometimes, God answers those prayers for physical healing.
We did a grandma swap earlier this weekend, Callie’s mom headed home, my mom is now here and yesterday on our way home from the Bozeman airport my mom was retelling me this story about a neighborhood friend of ours, he was a few years younger than me, he was just a teenager at the time, collapsed in the middle of a basketball game after going through cardiac arrest. His dad and others did CPR on their way to the hospital and for a while there it was unclear if he was going to make it, and even if he did unclear just how much long term brain damage there would be. And so in response, a whole bunch of people filled his hospital room, surrounding his hospital bed in prayer, praying deep prayers of faith in ways the doctors and nurses had rarely ever seen, and miraculously God healed him. Today he’s a fully functioning, thriving, married adult with very little if any long term effects from that cardiac arrest long ago.
Our God, through the prayers of faith on our behalf, does indeed sometimes bring physical healing.
And yet, other times he doesn’t. And even more, there are also occasions, especially when someone is advanced in age and has lived a full life, where the person who is sick does not want physical healing, they don’t want a miraculous healing. A couple months ago one of our long time church members, Clara Hazelbaker, passed away. And I myself and a couple others, visited her and prayed for her during her final days at Barrett Hospital, not for a miraculous healing or more years here on this earth, for as she articulated, that’s not what she wanted, she was at peace and ready to go, in her words. And so in moments like that, you may find yourself praying for the person and family to experience the Lord’s peace and comfort, or maybe in other situations reassuring them of their faith in Christ and how not even death can separate us from God’s love, other times it’s for meaningful memories and final moments with the family, things such as that.
To summarize, James encourages us to invite others into our sickness and suffering and sin, so that others can rally around us, support us, and lift us up in prayer, sometimes with hope of physical healing, other times with the hope of spiritual healing, with the understanding that sometimes he’ll answer those prayers in the moment, and other times we’re left unsure if or how or when he’ll answer them.
Now, with all that said, here are a few points of practical application:
If you are willing, friends, invite me into your sickness and suffering. And this can be for sicknesses big and small and anywhere in between. For example, are you having an upcoming surgery or is there an upcoming doctor’s appointment or exam that’s making you feel particularly anxious? If you’re up for it, let me know the day and time of when that’s happening. It allows me to put it on my calendar and pray for you during that time. And if you want I can text you scripture readings and prayers that you can read and refer back to.
If you’d like to pray before a surgery or procedure at Barrett Hospital, I’d be honored to come to meet you in the waiting room and pray with your beforehand, yes, even if it’s at 6am in the morning. Or say you’ve got an appointment in Missoula or Butte or Bozeman, I’d be honored to pray with you as you’re on the road.
And if you’re ever thinking to yourself, gosh, I don’t want to bother Daniel with something like that, I don’t want to interrupt or inconvenience him, I’m sure he’s got other stuff to do … well friends, I’m hard pressed to name a more valuable way to serve or more important use of my time.
Of course, you don’t have to call me, notice it says the elders of the church, and so maybe you call folks like Ron, or Graham or Terry or Laura or Raquel or myself, or invite us all to come over together as a group to pray with you. Now, I didn’t tell our elders I’d be volunteering them for this, but hey, I didn’t say this, James this. And more importantly I’m sure they’d be honored to come alongside in those moments as well. Or maybe you invite someone from our care team – it’s a group of people who each regularly check in and care for some of our widows and older members – they would be perfect people to share with as well. Of if you’ve got a close friend, a prayer warrior, invite them in to your sickness and suffering as well. Above all, invite someone in and don’t suffer alone.
Now, let’s flip this around. How about praying for and rallying around others in their sickness and suffering. For example, write condolence cards, or “get well soon” cards to members of our church family. Whether it be for Bev Rehm or Kitty Eaton, Inez Reynolds and Irene Miller. And don’t underestimate the power of a card, it’s something that people can come back to and re-read time and time again, serving as encouragement or a pick me up on a hard day. And so friends, write them a card, write a short prayer, a verse of scripture.
Friends, invite others into your sickness and suffering and be at the ready when others invite you into theirs.
And I’ll finish with this. As I mentioned at the start, we’re wrapping up the book of James this morning. And as I was studying this week, I was trying to figure out, why is this passage in here? What’s its purpose and how does it connect to the themes in the rest of the book. And though this is a bit of a hunch on my part, I think I’ve connected the dots and that is,
Much of the second half of the book of James was about addressing division and conflict and turmoil within the churches he wrote to, and here in this final passage, I think James gives them and gives us the blueprint for establishing and maintaining church unity and health.
Here we have the recipe, the playbook, for establishing and maintaining church unity and health.
As I’ll share more in just a few minutes, in regard to our mask policy, we’ve got a situation that has the potential to really test our unity and health and our love for one another. There’s no easy answer on this one and middle ground is increasingly hard to find.
But yet, what if we committed to living out the commands and exhortations that James gives us here in this passage?
That we would a church family where as James commands, that we would confess our sins to one another, that we would confess where we have failed to love our brother or sister in Christ. That we would make the first move with one another, saying, here’s what I did, here’s why it was wrong, will you forgive me? Confession is powerful, healing stuff and when done regularly and genuinely, can not only heal relationships but even more strengthen them.
That we would be a church family where as James commands, that we would pray for one another. And not just when some is in crisis, but regularly, in the good or bad or mundane. The famous evangelist Billy Graham once said, “You cannot pray for someone and hate them at the same time.” And though hate is likely too strong of a word at times to describe how we feel towards another, I think he’s right on, that the very act of praying for someone else, yes, even those we disagree with and fail to see eye to eye with, will soften our hearts towards and humanize the others in our midst.
And that finally we would be a church family where as James commands, we would invite people into our sickness and suffering. To do, requires humility and vulnerability, to do so is so often an invitation for others to see us in our weakness and frailty, our doubts and fears and anxieties. It’s a bold and beautiful admission of help and reminder of our neediness.
Confess, pray and invite others into to your suffering. Think about what that has done and could continue to do for us as a church family and as a community. Think about how that would soften our hearts for another, increase our compassion and love for one another, and expand our empathy. Put together, I’m convinced it’s the recipe for church unity and our relational health.
And so as we wrestle with and navigate our way through our differences and disagreement, friends, let’s at the same time remember James’s final words here today.