Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on James 5:13-20
Dear people who pray: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
We should pray to God because He has commanded us to pray and because He has promised to hear us. But sometimes we are a little sheepish with our prayers. We are timid with our requests to God.
Is it because we are not sure that we’re praying for the right thing? Perhaps. We heard last week that if we ask wrongly, to spend it on our passions, God will not give us what we ask (Jas 4:3). This should actually comfort us in the sense that if we are asking God for something that is not good for us; something that would lead us into sin; something that would lead us away from Him – He will not give it to us. So we don’t have to be afraid of praying for the wrong thing. If it is the wrong thing, God will not give it to us.
Perhaps we are timid to pray because we are worried that God won’t give us what we are praying for. We are worried it might crush us not to have our request granted. This should not be a worry either. Because God only gives us what is good for us, if He doesn’t grant our request, we should not be crushed, but rather understand our request was not for the best. If God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we would like, it is because He is answering our prayers in the way He would like – He who knows better than we what is best.
Perhaps we are timid to pray because our conscience is bothering us over our sin. If that is the case, James writes, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Then we are given the example of Elijah. He prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three and a half years it didn’t rain. Is it because Elijah was a great prophet with a special connection to God that such a prayer was answered? Our lesson makes a point of saying that Elijah was a man with a nature like ours – a nature that is human; a nature that is weak; a nature that is sinful. Yet, the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Was Elijah righteous in himself? No, Scripture tells us no one is in himself righteous in God’s sight; none is righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:10,20).
This is why James writes of confession. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Certainly confession and absolution is always available from your pastor. Confess your sins and “receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.” (SC V)
When we have sinned against our neighbour, we should also confess that sin to them. That’s why James says, “Confess your sins to one another.” It is reciprocal. Sins should be reconciled and forgiven so that they will not hinder our prayers being answered. This is why we also pray in the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. What does this mean? We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.” (SC III)
Absolution makes you righteous before God, because Absolution covers a multitude of sins. Absolution forgives transgressions and covers sin. Absolution declares you righteous so that the Lord will count no iniquity against you. Because your sins are covered by the blood of Jesus who gave His body to death and shed His blood for your sin, Absolution declares you righteous.
As righteous, your prayers will be heard by God. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Especially in this context, our lesson is talking about prayers for healing from sickness. “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” Do not be timid to pray for healing from sickness. Declared righteous, your prayer has great power as it is working. It is not your power at work in prayer, but the power of God almighty who can heal the sick and raise the dead. Pray for healing. You have the command from God to pray and you have His promise that He will hear you. God can heal where doctors fail.
Tell me though, what healing is best? Healing in this life where God saves you from sickness and raises you out of your sick bed? Or healing in the next life where God saves you from your sins eternally and raises you from the dead? Healing in this life where you will get sick again, or healing in the next life where you will be healed and never again get sick?
“The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” Confess your sins and receive forgiveness and you will be saved and the Lord will raise you up on the Last Day.
Since God answers our prayers in the way He knows is best, we may be praying for healing in this life, but He is going to give us something far better. He is going to give us eternal healing in the life to come. He is going to give us eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth that Jesus ascended to prepare for us.
After accomplishing our salvation through His innocent suffering and death, He ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us. After taking the guilt of our sins so that the multitude of our sins is covered, He ascended to prepare a place for us without sickness, sorrow, or sin. After dying our death on the cross, He ascended to prepare a place of life for us – eternal life.
Pray boldly for healing, and know that God will answer your prayer and save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. Because your sins are covered, your righteous prayer will be heard. Your prayer has great power when it is working. You will be saved, and God will raise you from the dead to eternal life. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
[A note to readers: starting in Advent, we will be following the one-year lectionary.]