Epistle: James 5:13-20
Dear Spirit, inspire the hearts of all gathered here this day with your presence and your wisdom; may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.
Recall Michael Douglas describes true wisdom as expressed in the book of James as not so much being “about actions so much as the integration of thought, will, action, and context. Not faith or works; [but] faith and works made coherent in wisdom.”
Last week I alluded to a colleague of mine at Columbia Theological Seminary, Kathy Dawson. She is one of the commentators featured in Feasting on the Word, which I particularly like. In writing about today’s passage, she tells us one of the overarching pastoral themes is the power of prayer. In today’s passage, James weaves together two earlier themes, the importance of speech rightly used and the wisdom found in seeking relationship with God. Combined, these two earlier themes become active communication with God, the two-way street of prayer.
Yes, I said two-way street. How often do we direct our prayers to God? Usually, all the time. That is one-way of this two-way street. How often do we listen to God’s response? The second way we seem to so easily forget. I know I need work on that one. Listening for God in prayer, at least for me, is much harder than speaking my own prayers to God. Kathy writes,
“In these few brief verses James provides examples of many different occasions of prayer. We are to pray when we are suffering (5:13), happy (5:13), ill in body (5:15), and ill in spirit (5:16). We are to pray for ourselves (5:13) and we are to pray for others (5:14, 16, 19-20). The types of prayers mentioned roughly break down into the old educational formula: ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) with adoration and thanksgiving being combined into praise (5:13). As we think about each of these modes of prayers, we see them in evidence both within our personal prayers and in the life of the church.”
This leaves us with three questions today: When do we pray? When should we pray? And, how can our faith community be more involved in prayer?
When do we pray? It is easy for us, I think, to pray our prayers of thanksgiving. We thank God for what has been given to us, whether it is grace before a meal, gratitude for a loved one’s recovery, and awe-filled responses to beauty we encounter around us, whether sunrise or sunset, stream flow or ocean wave, cool breeze in the summer or softly falling snowflakes, no two alike. Likewise for some it is the beauty found in artistic expression, the myriad colors and shades of the people of God all over the world, or even for some, the architecture of cities. These are easy prayers, and may even come unbidden to our conscious minds with an unthinkingly uttered “Oh my God!”
Of course, those same three words might also be the response in less than favorable times; when our faith is severely tested in the midst of suffering, loss, illness, tragedy, or grief. When we come to those times, I should like to remind you that we are not alone. Figures in our Scriptures praying those kinds of prayers include Job, Jonah, Hannah, Mary, and even Jesus himself to name a few.
Did I mention that prayer is a two-way street? Here is an amazing mystery to me: Kathy writes, “It is often in our brokenness that we can hear most clearly God’s reply to our prayers. When we are too broken too speak our prayers, it is often through remembered hymns and spiritual songs of praise from our youth that we are able to continue the conversation with God.” That leads me to our second question.
When should we pray? At all times. Paul reminds us in First Thessalonians 5:17 – “pray without ceasing.” Thankfulness, gratitude and awe are the easy ones. It is harder when we are experiencing brokenness; but we should remember even then that God holds open a two-way communication stream for us…all we have to do is speak…and listen.
That is a most difficult suggestion from Paul. Pray without ceasing? To actually do that, we would have to consciously conceive of each breath we take being a breath prayer. I do know how to pray using breath prayers…but to do it constantly, never ceasing? Good Grief! Or, should I say, “Oh, my God!” I must confess I am not good enough to pray any kind of prayer without ceasing. My mind is too divided; with the cares of the world, with the responsibilities of my work places and a very active young family. But you know what? God understands that. The Holy Spirit hears our prayers, even if they be groans and sighs too deep for words, and Jesus, full of grace, accepts them – and us – for what we can offer, when we can offer it. We still have Paul’s goal before us, but we also have the grace of God.
Finally, how can our faith community be more involved in prayer? James has some ideas for us. If we are truly to walk in the way of wisdom, our first act as a congregation should be to pray together. Why? Through prayer, we are empowered to carry out Christ’s mission. We sing together, minister to the sick, confess to one another and to God, pray for those who we know are in need and those whose needs are known to us in the wider world.
Prayers of the community can shape congregational life together and allow us to live for others. When we live for others, that is when we become more nearly the body of Christ in the world we are called and meant to be.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, by the gift of your Holy Spirit, you empower prophets in every age to speak your word and seek your will. Anoint us for the ministry of prayer, crying out in suffering, giving thanks in joy, and seeking the healing you alone can provide. Savior Jesus, lead us to the life you promise, lifting us up, even when we stumble, seasoning our lives with your grace and peace, in your name we pray, Amen? May it be so.
 Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).
 Dawson, Kathy. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).