Sermon on James 5 - The church and the Christ
Is anyone among you suffering? Is anyone among you cheerful? Is anyone among you sick? Go to the Lord. In suffering there is a call to pray. In joy there is a call for songs of praise. In illness, or weakness, there is a call for the church. The church, as a family, to come into that weakness, that illness, and visit, pray, anoint, and call on the Lord. Not as some magic formula where if we do this just right then healing will come. Long life and good times. That’s not what we have here. What we have is the description of the church.
People who are suffering, becoming examples for us in prayer. Showing us the reality of our dependence. The reality of suffering. In that so much can strike us in this world that we cannot comprehend. Cannot know the reasons why. But we need those who have had so much difficulty, and faced so much danger, and their eyes remain on Christ. Their thoughts turning to the Lord who is our refuge. Who is our salvation. Our Redeemer. Helping us to know that life can suck and yet we have a God whose entire interaction with us in this world lives and dies through suffering. To imagine that the Christian is somehow immune to hardship completely denies that your rescue from sin and death came at the price of suffering. To know that when you call on the name of the Lord, this is a Lord, the Lord who is the author of life but has known death. Pain. Have you suffered? Or are suffering that you might share in that with your brothers and sisters?
People who have joy, who have tasted of the Lord and seen his benefits in Jesus, becoming examples for us in songs of praise. Who can help us see the littlest things in life as gifts from God. To praise him for his daily mercies. To have those in this world who are Tigger’s and Pooh’s for us Eeyore’s. Specifically, songs because singing, although it can be done in private, is very rarely done in silence. Are you called to be that ear-worm of praise for your brothers? Your sisters? Your pastor?
Those of you who are sick, weak, not whole, you become that focus to have the church do its work. For the church, not just the pastor, to be this breeding ground for calling back to the Lord. To come with the salvation of Christ as a remedy. Prayers begging for healing. Oil as a sign of anointing of God, the Spirit resting on you, that has empowered the church with this work.
Near the end of this service, every fifth Sunday of the month, before the benediction, we have our healing service. An anointing both for body and soul. The phrase used is “Receive the cross of Christ as a sign of forgiveness and healing.” Not all illnesses are physical, or even mental. Some are harshly bourn burdens. Things we have done or left undone. Things done to us or left undone. That which must be released from us. Carried by someone else. By Christ.
In SCUBA diving, there is all sorts of equipment you wear. The tank of course. The wetsuit. The snorkel and the regulator you use to breathe. Then there is the weight belt. This thing you wear to make up for the fact that you are naturally buoyant. It takes work to sink a body you know. That sounds wrong. Anyways, if you take on too much weight and don’t compensate for that you will sink. And so with SCUBA you then have your buoyancy compensator, it’s like a lifejacket that you inflate with air from your tank to help keep you just at the right level. The goal of being neutral reaching a depth and you can be suspended their perfectly, like floating in midwater.
In life. We have burdens. We have hardships. We have things to carry around that seem immense and harsh. A weightbelt weighing us down. Something that needs to be compensated for. And compensated by More than just dragging to the surface, but to have one come along side you and carry you.
I love this text from James because it paints the picture of the church not based solely on just a pastor saying some stuff with some snacks and a musical interlude, but words and work that mean something for the lives and conscience of the members. People coming alongside to walk with you.
Elders who are called on to come to you with a purpose. For prayer. For lifting up. Also for forgiveness. Did you hear that verse? …if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. For Moses too, it was this work of God upon ordinary people to call them out for ministry. The 70 elders. For bearing burdens. For love of the people. Is that you? Are you an elder? Are you one set aside as a leader for us? For me? One who can be called on, not just the pastor, to bring healing and forgiveness. To hear confession. To reconcile the broken. Comfort the dying. Is that you? To lead this church. To be the leadership. The ones who guide us into the future. Is that you?
There is great power in this work. Church not as an event but as a organism. Church as a community alive and well out there with a goal. Not to make life better as much as to be with you when it is not. To rejoice with you when it is. To forgive you when you sin. Church as this work of the Lord in and among us, being the vehicle of Christ’s benefits to you, not just today, but every day. And not just from me, but all of us. Every one of us. Is that you?
If you notice throughout this entire passage, James speaks of things that are common to us all. There is no call for people only to gather with those who are the same. Same age, or gender, or political persuasion, or sexual attraction, or hair color, choice in music, whatever. The church is made up of all sorts who actually have everything in common. We all suffer. We all rejoice. We all get sick or are weak, or sin. We all die. The good news in the church is that we have Good News. Good news in that no amount of suffering can keep Christ from loving or forgiving you. Of showing mercy. No amount of joy can negate the need for him. No illness truly leads to death, for we live in Jesus. There is only temporary hardship until the culmination of the age when all death and sin dies, and all is made new in Jesus. That is church. That is this community. This family. My brothers and sisters. My beloved. The necessity to gather and be together is Christ Jesus for you. A vehicle by which Jesus can do his work in you, for you. That you might be an elder, a sufferer, a rejoicer, for my sake and for yours. Turning us all to Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.