Summary: James instructs the Christian community to pray, confess sin, forgive sin, lay hands on and anoint the sick, and restore the wayward.
Sermon for 16 Pent Yr B, 28/09/2003
Based on James 5:13-20
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
PRAYER. PRAYER IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL RESOURCES GOD HAS GIVEN US. It can change lives, bringing healing and health, comfort, hope and peace.
It was a sense of being in the center of God’s will that gave Luther his great boldness in prayer. In 1540 Luther’s great friend and assistant, Frederick Myconius, become sick and was expected to die within a short time. On his bed he wrote a loving farewell note to Luther with a trembling hand. Luther received the letter and instantly sent back a reply: “I command thee in the name of God to live because I still have need of thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will, and may my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God.” The words are almost shocking to us, as we live in a more sensitive and cautious day, but they are certainly from God. For although Myconius had already lost the ability to speak when Luther’s letter came, in short time he revived. He recovered completely, and he lived six more years to survive Luther himself by two months. 1
This summer, as I have shared with some of you already, an ultrasound discovered a small cyst on my right kidney. The doctor wished to investigate this further, so he ordered a CT scan. The results of the CT scan revealed that there was nothing there. The doctor concluded that the ultrasound result was a mistake, a human error. I choose to believe that the cyst was there, but God has intervened on my behalf to heal me of it in response to prayers. I am most grateful to God for such healing. Moreover, through the years, I have had the privilege of witnessing the healings of others too due to the power of prayer.
In today’s second lesson from James, the apostle also attests to the healing power of prayer. Note how James instructs the community of faith to pray and then advises that the prayers of the faithful be combined with anointing of the sick with oil in the name of the Lord, as well as confession and forgiveness of sins.
In the Lutheran church, more and more we are discovering the power of prayer in connection with anointing with oil for healing. That’s why a growing number of congregations are offering healing services. Some people may still be somewhat reticent to participate in such anointing and healing services because they tend to associate such things with the televangelists, and the fanatics. But, our passage from James comes as a reassurance that it is an integral part of the mainstream Christian community dating back to the first century. Some may wonder under what circumstances is it appropriate to seek prayer and anointing with oil.
Anointing may be of real help to you in times of:
Physical illness. You may have received a disturbing diagnosis from your physician, or you have been battling a chronic or life-threatening illness.
Accident or sudden trauma. You may be coping with the consequences of severe injuries or a loss of body function in a permanent handicap.
Impending surgery. You may be facing the fear and anxiety of an operation with an uncertain prognosis.
Critical decisions. You may be faced with choices affecting your job, your marriage, or your future that seem overwhelming.
Risk and vulnerability. You may be undertaking a new assignment in strange territory, involving considerable risk to you and those whom you love.
Reconciliation. You have just experienced a breakthrough in restoring a relationship that when broken, caused you much anguish and suffering.
Emotional pain. You recall memories that arouse fear and guilt upon the loss of someone especially close to you.
Spiritual renewal. You have experienced the closeness of God in a new way and found joy in renewing relationships with Christian brothers and sisters from whom you were estranged.
In any one of these experiences the service of anointing can bring healing, forgiveness, peace, and a profound sense of God’s enabling presence.
As an act of worship, anointing does not substitute for medicine or therapeutic procedures. It is intended to work in cooperation with the applied skills of persons in medical and mental health professions.
It is not always the case that the amount of faith determines the outcome of healing. The ways of God abound in mystery and we never presume to use anointing as a manipulation of God’s power. 2
The service of anointing is rooted in the practice and teachings of Jesus himself in his public ministry, as well as his apostles, in particular, James chapter five. It is a worship service of: confession and forgiveness, scripture readings, prayers with laying on of hands, and anointing by the pastor dipping their thumb in olive oil and making the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead. The participants often receive a deepened sense of Christ’s love and peace; a renewed strength to cope with their situation; a more hopeful attitude; and reconciliation with others through confession and forgiveness.