Prayer: Powerful and Effective

“Prayer: Powerful and Effective”

James 5-16 prayer of righteous, words

James 5:13-20 (5:16) – September 30, 2018

If anyone has been following the news in the past weeks out of Washington, you know that journalists have been trying hard to get as much information as possible about the people and the situations involved. Journalists always are on the lookout for reliable information. They want to answer some basic questions: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. If you can answer those five questions clearly, you will have a good, solid news story.

The past two weeks have been a roller coaster for many people. With the nail-biting news about the Supreme Court nomination, many people across the United States have been sitting on the edge of their seats. While I am not going to play politics or tell anyone which Washington politician or opinion is right or wrong, as a pastoral caregiver I do pay close attention to people’s emotions and reactions.

What I have seen in these past days are the overwhelming number of people with heightened emotions and reactions to anxious, even fearful situations. As someone involved in pastoral care and trained as a chaplain, I notice these things. In our scripture reading today, we find the apostle James talking straight about how to pray, and thus deal with things similar to these: heightened emotions and reactions to anxious situations.

The apostle James was a practical kind of guy. We can see that from this short letter, the only letter he wrote, included in the New Testament. He gives some practical advice to his readers on how to live a faithful and effective Christian life: how to live faithfully with others in society, how to control the tongue, how to turn away from evil and towards God. Here, in the fifth chapter of James, he turns to prayer. As we look at this passage, James tells his friends how to pray, in very practical terms, almost the same way as a news reporter might tell it.

Here are the first verses of our scripture reading, from one of my favorite modern translations of the Bible, The Message, by Eugene Peterson. “Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out.”

James covers the bases here. People who are hurting, happy, sick, sinning. In other words, he tells us Who ought to pray. Anyone ought to! Anyone who needs God’s help or anyone who has received God’s blessing ought to pray. That means anyone—all of us.

What is the next question? What should we pray about? Anything, and everything. That is the wonder and power of prayer. So many things to pray about, but James gives some great descriptions. He tells us what kinds of situations, in just a few words.

When should we pray? Anytime is a great time to pray. When we are hurting, or feeling great, or sick, or sinning? In each case, we are invited by James to bring everything to the Lord in prayer. Whenever we are in trouble, or in need to healing, or for forgiveness from sin? That is the time for prayer. Anytime.

Where are we to pray? Absolutely anywhere. This is one that James does not directly address, but we can see James tells us we are able to pray any time we need help from God. So, it just makes sense that you and I can pray anywhere we happen to be. Wherever we are, God is with us. God is everywhere.

The last question is, Why should we pray? The simple answer? Because God answers prayer. Verse 16 tells us “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Did everyone hear? “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Except, I have been hearing from a large number of people during the past two weeks. Such difficult and traumatic events are extremely hurtful, especially for people who have had similar things happen to them. Psychologically speaking, the mention of a similar traumatic event can very well cause someone else to vividly relive their personal experience, no matter how long ago it happened. Trauma is imprinted on the brain in a unique way. It’s like the brain flags the specific memories as super-important. Those flagged memories can surface or re-surface at unpredictable times, when someone reminds you of something traumatic that happened. Like, for example, this serious discussion in the news of harassment and assault.

During the past two weeks, calls to rape and sexual abuse help lines have skyrocketed, anywhere from doubling to running four times as many as in a similar time period. Online, in social media, and personally, I have heard more people tell of harrowing incidents of rape and sexual abuse, and the horrible responses received when these actions were reported. Plus, I have both read and heard of situations where no one ever reported these horrific acts—until now.

Though I don’t who or what you believe, I think all of us can agree that as God’s people, we all need regular repentance and soul-searching, no matter what. We are also all in need of healing, personally, and certainly communally. Isn’t that what James tells us here?

When I was a chaplain, working in critical care units like the Emergency Department, Intensive Care, and trauma support all over the hospital, my primary job would be that of compassionate listener—even before prayer, and also as a heartfelt part of prayer. I suggest for all of us to consider a heart of compassion and a gentle hand of mercy. It’s time to put our defenses down and instead experience the vulnerability of listening to one another.

“If someone has a story to tell, the greatest gift you can offer is simply to listen. You don’t need to have answers or wisdom. You probably don’t need to say anything except, ‘I hear you. I believe you. I’m sorry you experienced that.’ In the compassionate version of the world I yearn for, we offer one another solidarity, a listening ear, and a tender heart. “ [1]

As this letter tells us, the apostle James was practical. He also had quite the reputation for prayer. We all know the familiar saying “Listen to what I do, not what I say.” That was James. He would not tell his friends and followers to pray if he didn’t follow Jesus in prayer himself.

Through the power of prayer, total personal and communal healing can occur. James was following the example of Jesus who taught his disciples to pray and showed them that people can be healed through prayer.” [2] James spent so much time in prayer that he had the nickname “Old Camel Knees,” since his knees were so hard and callused from staying on them in prayer for hours on end.

As one commentator said, “we must be active participants in the process. Whether it is the healing touch of the laying on of hands or a simple hug from a sister or brother in Christ or the potent power of prayer or the relief of corporate confession, active participation in the Body of Christ is preventative medicine at its best.[3]

What are we waiting for? “Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Amen. Alleluia.

 

(My sincere thanks to Charles Kirkpatrick, for his Object Lessons & Children’s Sermons, Coloring Pages, Puzzles. Sermons4Kids.com. https://www.sermons4kids.com/5Ws_of_prayer.htm  I borrowed freely from this children’s activity for this sermon.)

(What follows is the Response our church had after the sermon. Instead of a Prayer of Hymn of Response, we had the following activity.)

Amidst the prescriptions James prescribes, the anointing of the sick is one that we do not do enough of, and one I want to offer to this congregation, to this family of faith during the worship service.

We read again these verses from our scripture passage from James chapter 5: “Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out.”

Come, let us worship God, and claim our desire to be made whole – spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

And if anyone is just sick and tired of the current state of the world, come and be prayed over and be anointed with oil, a sign of the possibility of healing, inside and out.  

 

In the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, be strengthened and made whole, filled with God’s grace; may you know the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Dear Comforting God, thank You for hearing and answering our prayers. Help us to remember that You want to heal us when we are sick, help us when we are in trouble, forgive us when we sin, and rejoice with us when we are happy. In the healing name of Jesus, Amen.

[1] https://fosteringyourfaith.com/2018/09/30/time-for-compassion/

Rev. Dr. Susan J. Foster (Sue) is the pastor of the East Woodstock Congregational (UCC) Church in CT.

[2] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=52

Commentary, James 5:13-16, Christopher Michael Jones, The African American Lectionary, 2008.

[3] http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/09/rx-for-broken-lives-and-faltering-faith/

“Rx for Broken Lives and Faltering Faith,” Sharron R Blezard, Stewardship of Life, 2012.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

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Generous With Our Purpose

“Generous With Our Purpose”

John 2:10 – February 22, 2015

Big events can be a big headache. Taking care of the venue, and preparing where the big party is going to be celebrated is one big concern. The entertainment, the decorations are more challenges. So is keeping track of all of the food and drink. How much is too much? And what if I don’t have enough? What happens if I run out?

This is exactly what happened at a wedding at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, in Cana of Galilee. Let’s zoom in, and take a closer look. Jesus was invited to the wedding as a guest. His disciples were invited, and probably many other people He knew. And His mother, too.

In the first century, Jewish custom held that most any wedding would be an event of celebration for several days. Our Scripture passage today shows an affluent Jewish family—with some servants and a household steward. We read that the family provided extravagant feasting for days. In the case of today’s Scripture, if there were any miscalculation or lack in provisions in food or drink, not only the bride and groom but also their families would most likely suffer great humiliation.

What about today? What are some challenges or needs that we might have right now? People all over the world have lack of funds, logistical problems, or miscalculations and find themselves lacking provisions every day. What about lacks or needs due to physical situations? Unemployment, illness, or suffering of other kinds? These things are nothing new, sadly. They can be overwhelming. I’m just one, puny person on this whole planet. Billions of people live today! Who am I to expect that Jesus even knows about my needs for food and drink?

Let’s go back to Cana, in Galilee. A couple of days of partying had already passed. It was the third day of the big wedding celebration, and a few people found out they had run out of wine. They ran to tell the chief steward. Oh, no! What was to be done? With a big crowd like he had in the house, I suspect he couldn’t just send out to the local liquor store for more supplies.

It was then that Mary, the mother of Jesus, got involved. Somehow, Mary heard about the lack of wine, too. She hurried to her son Jesus and told Him about it.

What about us, today? When we have needs or lacks, what do we do? Do we try to be tough, and go it on our own? Are we self-sufficient, not needing or asking for any help? Are we frozen by the need, unwilling or unable to budge? Or are we open and willing, like Mary, ready to trust Jesus, to go to Him for assistance?

Mary asked her son Jesus to help out. “They have no wine,” is what she said. There was some back and forth between mother and son. Jesus says, clearly, “What does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”     (Just wait, I’ll get to that comment, in a minute.)

Here we have Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, God in human form. God the Son, the Logos, the one who spoke at the beginning, and created the universe. Who formed our world and placed the stars in space. Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother, is asking Him to change His mind, to change His plans, to change His timetable.

Mary eventually told the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary trusts in Jesus. His mother trusts that whatever He will say or do is going to work.

Nearby were some large containers, for ceremonial washing. That’s stone containers, holding about twenty to thirty gallons apiece. With such a crowd of people, a lot of water was needed for everyone to wash before eating. Jesus told the servants to fill the large containers with water. After doing so, Jesus said, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”

What the servants brought to the steward was no longer water. It had miraculously changed to wine. And not any garden-variety wine, no! The good stuff. The best wine to be had!

Here we have Jesus—willing to change His plans, change His timetable. Willing to change His mind—because generosity puts people first!

Our Lord Jesus offers compassion and generosity to the people at the wedding celebration in Cana. And not only to them, Jesus offers a practical, tangible demonstration of compassion, generosity and kindness to all of us, today, as well! Here in this passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus shows Himself to be all this—so that anyone who reads these paragraphs will be able to see that this kind, generous, miracle-working God is the kind of God who is available to them, too!

Jesus caused this superior wine to be made available. I find it interesting that Jesus is sometimes portrayed as the True Bridegroom for the Church, after His resurrection. The True Bridegroom provides the best wine for all the people at the wedding, showing them His rich abundance and generosity.

What about us? When we finally come to Jesus with our need, with our problem, what then? Do we trust in Jesus with all our hearts? True, some are held back by many things. Fear is a big hesitation. Insecurity and doubt are two others. Will we offer what common things we have (the containers of water, in this case)? Jesus miraculously can change them to wine. Jesus can help us wherever or whenever we need it, providing for us out of His abundance!

The assistance can come directly from God, but this help may come from another source, too. Wherever or whomever the kind, generous help comes from, praise God! Jesus is generous to us, comes alongside of us and provides miraculously for our needs, too.

The six large containers held a whole lot of water. So Jesus changed it into a whole lot of wine. The good wine, at that! Jesus provided generously! He provided out of His abundance, His extravagance. Wonderful job, Jesus!

What is going on in your life today? Where do you need a touch from God? Jesus and His abundance, His extravagance, His generosity can come into your life today. Jesus wants to give you and me joy and blessing. Even good times and laughter, in abundance. We can see from the good wine He miraculously provided at the wedding at Cana that He can and will.

What a generous God we serve!

Praise God! Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)