Summary: A talk given on Mothering Sunday and completing a series in the Book of James. God wants a praying, praising and healing church. The power of forgiveness brings healing.
Historically mothering Sunday was a day when people returned to their mother church for a special service of celebration. People who did that were said to have gone a-mothering. By the 18th century Mothering Sunday was a specific Sunday in Lent just a few weeks before Easter when domestic servants were given the day off so that they could go to worship in their mother church, and that would also usually be an opportunity to go to church with your own mother. However, this tradition dropped off over time until 1914 when Constance Penswick-Smith began the modern-day Mothering Sunday movement; and in recent years Mothering Sunday has merged with Mother’s Day, a relatively modern invention.
Whatever your reason for being here today, welcome!
Our Bible reading was the last paragraph of a letter written by James, a half-brother of Jesus, a few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, and he waits until the end to explain his purpose in writing.
He writes this to the church: “If one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (5:19-20).
There’s nothing new under the sun. The church was being persecuted (1:3 and 1:12) and some had become completely overwhelmed by temptation (1:13-15). Some people were reading the Bible, but deceiving themselves because they were reading and hearing this book and then ignoring its wisdom by not doing what it says (1:22). There were quarrels and fights in the church (4:1-3), and some people were constantly grumbling about one another (4:9).
Is that the church or the House of Commons?
Into this situation James was encouraging followers of the Lord Jesus Christ to be both hearers and doers of what the Bible teaches (1:22). He was encouraging them, and us, to submit to God (4:7), and to be humble before him so that he will lift us up (4:10).
And his ultimate purpose in writing was his concern for men and women who had wandered away from the truth. James was praying that those who had wandered away would not be abandoned to continue wandering. He wanted them back because God wanted them back – and so it is today. God wants his children back. He wants each one of us back. He wants the wanderer to return to their mother church.
God wants each of us back in relationship with him.
God wants a praying church. God wants a praising church; and God wants a healing church.
On one occasion Jesus saw Jerusalem and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem …how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Luke 23:37) – a sign of God’s tenderness and care. He wants to gather us in but in stubbornness we tend to reject him.
God wants a praying church, a praising church, and a healing church. James writes, ‘Is any one of you in trouble? [That person] should pray’ (5:13).
When faced with trouble what do you generally do? Do you wander off down the pub? Do you take it out on your husband, your wife or your children or your parents? Do you switch on the computer and bury yourself in something? I’ve probably done all of those, and probably in a self-absorbed manner too – but in times of trouble believers are called to pray – to focus upon God. Elsewhere in the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:17) we’re encouraged to pray continually and to give thanks in all circumstances and I’ll come back to that in a moment, but here James asks us to seek God in prayer when we face troubles and trials, and back in chapter four he’s asked us to do so humbly (4:10), to wash our hands and purify our hearts (4:8).
I‘m going to talk more about prayer this evening and I will say that prayer is less about what we say to God, and much more about what God says to us. That doesn’t mean our requests in prayer aren’t important. They are! But prayer is much more about putting ourselves in a place to hear God’s still small voice.
God wants a praying church, and God wants a praising church: ‘Is anyone happy? Let [them] sing songs of praise’ (5:13). Songs of praise help us in praying continually and giving thanks in all circumstances. Right from the earliest times the Church was praising and singing, and we find specific reference to this in St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, the Ephesians and the Colossians. For example, writing to the church at Ephesus in modern Turkey Paul wrote, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20).