Quarter: Acts of Worship
Unit 2: Learning to Pray
Sunday school lesson for the week of Jan. 25, 2015
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: James 5: 13-18
Background scripture: James 5
Here in the eighth lesson of this quarter, the scripture is from another book of the Bible – seven so far, and we’re not through the quarter! Remember the quarter’s title: “Acts of Worship.” The unit is “Learning to Pray.” We remind you of these themes so you will not miss the focus, moving through many different texts from many different sources. Sometimes we do miss the forest for the trees!
James is a book in practical Christianity. Martin Luther felt it should not be in the New Testament at all because of its theme. James declared in 2:17: “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Luther believed being saved by grace through faith was jeopardized by this verse and, indeed, by the entire book. With all respects to Brother Martin, he missed the point!
When we receive God’s love in Jesus (grace), we accept it by faith. No argument!! We can do nothing to “earn” that love. However, our acceptance by faith of God’s acceptance of us in Christ isn’t the end of our relationship to God. We’ve only just begun our new life in Christ! The nature of this new life is the focus of the Book of James.
How we live together in the family of Christ is crucial to our mission of winning the world to Christ. That task is better done by example than by words! For too long we have equated evangelism with words in sermons or personal witness. These expressions have their place in God’s plan, but, more importantly, our lives are the best witness to God’s saving grace in Jesus. As Eliza Doolittle sings in “My Fair Lady,” “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of your words. If you’re in love, show me!”
Jesus said it long before, as recorded in the Gospel of John 13: 34-35: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Janice Catron writes in “The New International Lesson Annual,” “Individuals and communities of faith find a reminder in James that orthodoxy (right belief) cannot be separated from the embodiment of orthopraxy (right practice). Witness and work, liturgy and service, creed and program – faith requires enactment.”
We have always looked at this relationship of faith and works in the pattern of our lives with our parents. They gave us life, support and love without any “payment” from us. In love, we want to show our appreciation and love for them by doing our best to please them in all the ways we can. We’re not earning anything – we simply want to show our love.
James wrote this book to help early Christians know how to live together in the world. He covers a multitude of subjects. Take time to look at the various headings in the book! Just in the chapter for study today, the fifth, he deals with riches, patience, language, forgiveness, and, today’s focus, prayer.
Prayer is the common language of the family of Christ. Through prayer we connect with each other and with God. In the scripture we study today, everything mentioned deals with relationships in the family, and prayer is the tie that binds it all together. In joy or sorrow, in sickness and health, in brokenness and healing – through it all prayer is what brings wholeness of body and spirit.
Admittedly, there are some difficult statements made, as if all we have to do is pray to get what we want! (See verse 15.) When Sam was pastor on St. Simons Island one of his parishioners was terminally ill with cancer. She was the wife of one of our dearest friends, who was serving on the staff at our conference office. We all prayed for her healing. After she died, someone said to him, “You didn’t have enough faith!” What an insensitive, cruel and false thing to say. There is danger in assuming too much from scripture like James, when we do not have the perspective of God!
Yes, for us, a long earthly life and physical healing are goals to be pursued, but healing can take many forms. Our faith assures us life here and life eternal are all part of God’s plan. Indeed we should, as James states, pray for the sick. With skill and discernment, we bring the best we have in prayer and medicine to those within the family of faith for restoring the wholeness of body. There is more, however, to the verse beyond illness of body. There is an illness in the Body of Christ called sin that needs to be healed as well. This brokenness is also a valid focus of our prayer to bring together those alienated. Confession to one another is enjoined here as one of the hallmarks of how the family of Christ lives together.
This link between forgiveness and healing is made clear by the use of the word “save” in the passage. Obviously, “save” has a spiritual meaning, but it also applies to matters of the flesh. When read carefully, verse 15, which we mentioned earlier, now unites those two dimensions of our lives – the physical and the spiritual.
Another dangerous falsehood to face is the too common belief illness is a punishment for sin. We understand the stress of guilt and alienation can indeed have physical expressions. Here again, the community of faith gathered in love and prayer can bring precious and priceless healing. The pattern is significant enough to state again and again: Confession, forgiveness, healing. The three belong together, and they are part of how we prayerfully live together in the family of Christ.