This week’s appointed epistle text has much to say about prayer and healing. It seems fitting that we linger with that text. And particularly ponder when prayers seems unanswered and suffering seems beyond what a loving and reasonable God should allow.
A word to RLC members who have been receiving e-vos: As I complete this call at Resurrection on October 14 I will be culling RLC members from the distribution list. October 10 will be the last Wednesday that I will be sending an e-vo to you. It is important to make the cleanest and healthiest break possible when a pastor leaves so that all can move on to the next season to which God is leading them. It has been a joy to serve as one of your pastors. Godspeed as you press into the next steps of your long, storied and faithful journey.
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. 17 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. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 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.
Prayer is real and powerful and efficacious. It is a practice of people who long to follow after God and know God’s heart. It is something Jesus did and taught us to do. It is something that is front and center in a text like this one from James.
Some things to glean from this passage:
• When we suffer prayer is where we should go
• When we are hurting we should call faithful people to gather around for prayer
• Prayer and confession bring about healing
• There is a connection between belief and prayer
• When people who are wandering are welcomed and restored it brings healing and restoration to all
Sometimes when we are hurting and sick and cut off we flee from God. Sometimes we wonder (as did Job’s friends) what was done to cause the affliction. Sometimes we are so ashamed of where we are or of what we have done that we don’t call people at all let alone faithful people to come and pray. Sometimes we pray without confessing. Sometimes we confess without praying. Either way the entire experience is diminished and less likely to bring about wholeness and healing. Sometimes we pay too much attention to our level of belief or lack of belief and not enough attention on the one to whom we are praying. Sometimes we savor judging and excluding those who most need to be welcomed and restored. Sometimes we know that pain of isolation and disdain firsthand.
Prayer is not a cosmic gumball machine where we work the knobs and levers and get what we want, when we want. Lingering in unanswered prayer is also a practice of people who long to follow after God and know God’s heart. It is something Jesus did and shows us how to do. It is something that is alive and kicking in the background of a text like this one from James.
Some questions to ask of a passage such as this:
• Where can we find help as we linger in exquisite pain or in suffering that doesn’t just waft away through prayer? (see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, see Job in his anguish, see King David as his newborn son by Bathsheba lingers and dies, see “Choosing to See”—a book by Mary Beth Chapman about her struggle to walk through the tragic accident that changed her family’s trajectory forever, see many who have lost faith trying to come to terms with suffering in the world, see the mirror on one of your not-so-good days)
• Where can we find safe communities to be real and to be sustained in prayer? How can we craft those safe places for others?
• How can we linger in prayer and petition? How can we linger in confession and absolution? How can we weave these practices together more intimately?
• What is the connection between doubt and prayer?
• How can we, as people of faith, dismantle walls and barriers and practices that repel those most in need of inclusion?
God, bring us back from our wandering—save us from death. Craft loving, prayerful, welcoming, wrestling, faithful, inclusive, open-to-doubting, repentant communities in and around us all. Stir up your truth among us and give us the courage to press into it boldly. Amen.