Sunday, September 30, 2012

Pentecost 18 (Proper 21): James 5:13-20

Is someone suffering among you? May he pray. Someone prosperous? May he sing. Is someone weak among you? May he call to him the presbyters of the church, and may they pray upon him, having anointed with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of the faith will save the weary one and the Lord will raise him, and if sins by him were committed, it is forgiven in him. Then confess sins to each other, and pray on behalf of each other, how you may be healed. Much power an entreaty of a righteous one works. Elijah was a man, like us, and he prayed prayerfully (for) the lack of rain, and it didn't rain upon the land three years and six months. And again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain and the land produced its fruit. My brothers, if ever someone among you wanders from the truth and someone returns him, may he know that the returning of a sinner wandering his own way will save his soul from death and hides many sins.  

Preservation: this is the common theme in today's lessons. The Israelites in the desert grumbled and complained as they worried about how God would preserve them in the wilderness. Jesus gives us an odd injunction to "be salty", which means that we should be filled with that which preserves us, just as salt helped to preserve meat in the says before refrigeration. And James addresses what to do when someone grows weak and weary, becomes ill and sick, so that life may be preserved for him or her.

James is inspired to give us three ways in which the weak can be preserved in the faith, the first of which we expect–prayer. James tells the weary folks to pray for themselves, but also to call the presbyters of the church, meaning the older pastors to come and pray too. But don't think that your prayers are magic. They aren't. There's no power in your efforts at praying. For your actions are not righteous; they are corrupted like filthy rags in God's sight. Praying by itself cannot fix the problems.

Of course, you know that your praying isn't all by itself, but God's Almighty answers are there too! Jesus is the Savior, and He answers prayers for healing with salvation, but not necessarily with earthly healing. The sick person you pray for may die, but that doesn't mean God is finished with them. Not at all! For Jesus died for them on the cross, and payed the price to save them, and you too. God will raise that person up on the last day, with an incorruptible body of eternal health!

The other two things James commissions us to do in the church are less popular. He reminds us that if sins are committed, then forgiveness is necessary. But you don't like to be negative, so you find excuses to avoid any mention of somebody's sins, especially your own. Then James tells you to confess your sins to each other. Ouch. You don't want to do *that*! Your congregation didn't do that where you grew up. That seems too "Roman Catholic". You haven't ever done it before. 

Yet you learned about confession and absolution in the Catechism back in confirmation class. You pledged to God on your confirmation day that you would believe and practice what you learned from the Catechism. So forget all the excuses to avoid confessing sins and receiving God's forgiveness, and take advantage of the wonderful gift of grace God brings to you from your Pastor. It is for your spiritual health that Jesus takes your sins from you, into His body on the tree of Calvary forever.

The last thing God gives us to do to preserve His church is just as big of a challenge–returning people to the church. You may think, "What business is it of mine if so-and-so has stopped coming to church?" But it is your business, because your church is God's family, and yours too. Regardless of Cain's protest, you are your brother's keeper. Your church is the place of truth, and those wandering from that truth need to be returned. The consequences if they don't are deadly, eternally so!

God returns you regularly to this place each Sunday to hear His word of Truth. He gathers you here, around His sacrament of the altar to nourish you with the bread of life, with the meat of Jesus body given for you. Christ gives you His life-blood, shed for you at the cross for your forgiveness, life and salvation. He hides your many sins within Himself, and gives you in exchange for them, His Own holy righteousness! Your soul is saved by Jesus, Who returns you to Himself in word and sacrament.

And so our little church is in need of preservation. It needs to be kept salty. This can only be done by Jesus and His word dwelling richly in each of member here. This word came to you at your baptism.  You learn and inwardly digest it in bible class. It enters your ears in the sermon. The Word made flesh nourishes you in the Lord's Supper. This ever-preserving word is for you and to preserve all. Amen.

Hymns from LSB:

#802  Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
#505  Triune God, Oh Be Our Stay
#848  Lord, Whose Love through Humble Service