One of the most popular teachers in my high school was Mr. Beumel. He taught Spanish and civics. He was so well liked because he had a great sense of humor, One of his favorite phrases was oft repeated. “You be Frank and I’ll be Earnest.” This was a play on two men’s names but with a second funnier meaning.
So today, I’ll be Frank and I ask you to be Earnest. Today’s scripture lesson is from the book of James. Scholars believe that the author of this letter was the brother of Jesus. They also believe that it was probably written around the year 60. It was written when the fledgling church was beginning to move out from Jerusalem to the surrounding countryside.
Paul was taking the church farther afield to the shores of the Mediterranean.
But James was specifically interested in the church as it was forming in Jerusalem.
So, now allow me to be Frank and I pray that you will be Earnest.
Pray. . .that is central to today’s scripture. James writes: “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”
Ok, here is the frank part of my sermon. Do you believe in the power of prayer?
When we pray in church or when you pray individually do you believe that God hears?
Or is it just a polite or hollow exercise in which you have no expectation that your intercessions will be heard? Those are good questions. Especially when the situation has changed so much in the nearly 2000 years since James wrote his letter.
When someone was sick, in the time of James, they didn’t immediately go to the doctor they went to their Rabbi. But James is Christianizing this practice by encouraging church members to go to the Elders of the church. There the Elders would pray for the person who was ill and anoint them with oil that in the time of James was already an ancient ritual.
Frankly, there was a shortage of doctors in the time of James or they only served wealthier clientele. The average person when sick was left with few options. If you become ill or injured today, your first stop is probably not your pastor or the deacons of the church. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford medical care, or have good insurance, you head straight to the doctor.
Sadly, not everyone has that as an option. But let’s assume that a doctor or hospital is one of your options for healing. What does that mean for prayer? With the miracles of modern medicine is prayer still relevant for one who is sick or injured?
Being frank again, why do we pray in church for those who are undergoing medical treatment? Surely, at some point in time you have questioned the power of prayer. That’s OK. We should never allow our religious beliefs to circumvent going to the doctor. Modern medicine truly is able to perform miracles. It seems that almost daily we learn of some new wonder drug or medical procedure that has enhanced the healing arts.
So, what are we to make of prayer, what does it accomplish, if anything. I would offer two reasons to pray, whatever your opinion of its efficacy.
We pray to remember. When we lift up those who are ill or injured, we connect with them in a significant way. We think not only of ourselves, we think of the one who is suffering, whatever the malady. In our prayers in worship we become a connected community in which we lift up those in need and pray for their healing. Whether that healing comes from God or at the hands of a skilled physician we become part of the healing process.
But the second reason we should pray is for those who must forego medical treatment because of their financial situation. Not simply to remember them, but to be mindful that Jesus never turned away anyone in need of healing. We pray for those who can’t afford a doctor’s visit, not simply out of hope but that we ourselves might be changed. That we might demand of our society that everyone deserves the best medical help available. In our prayers we link our belief in God with the God given skills of doctors, nurses, and caregivers. Both are needed.
So, let us continue to pray for those who are ill or injured. Offering our prayers to a healing God. And let us live as a prayer, may we be advocates of universal health care whatever our ideological position. Knowing that all people are children of a loving, compassionate and healing God. I’ve tried to be frank, I pray that we as a church may be earnest. Thanks be to God.