Faith works when faith brings wholeness
September 3, 2017 Reinbeck UMC
A woman went to her doctor’s office. She was seen by one of the new doctors, but after about 4 minutes in the examination room, she burst out screaming and ran down the hall. An older doctor stopped her and asked what the problem was, and she explained. He had her sit down and relax in another room. The older doctor marched back to the first and demanded, "What’s the matter with you? Mrs. Green is 63 years old, she has four grown children and seven grandchildren, and you told her she was pregnant?" The new doctor smiled smugly as he continued to write on his clipboard. "Cured her hiccups though, didn’t it?"
Healing comes in all kinds of shapes and colors.
There is not universal agreement about the meaning of the last chapter of James. Some take it as a medical manual.
Take Herbert and Catherine Schaible. They are the couple from Philadelphia sentenced to 3 ½ years in jail for failing to seek medical attention for 8-month-old son Brandon. Brandon died last year of treatable pneumonia because Herbert and Catherine believed that if they had enough faith that Brandon would be healed.
Brandon wasn’t their first child to die while mom and dad waited for healing. In 2009 their 2 year old son Kent died from failure to seek medical care. The Schaibles are third-generation members of a narrow-minded Pentecostal community called the “First Century Gospel Church” in northeast Philadelphia.
The Schaibles pastor, Nelson Clark, blamed Kent's death on a "spiritual lack" in the parents' lives. In other words… they didn’t’ have enough faith. He went on to insist that they would never seek medical care, even if another child was dying.
THAT is not what I am talking about today.
As is often the case… some people try to make the passage mean what they want it to mean. Personally, I would rather know what James wanted it to mean.
Let’s cut right to the line that causes the problem.
“Is anyone among you sick?” Let’s take a look at that.
The Greek word translated “sick” used here is “Kamno” is only used two other places in the New Testament.
Hebrews 12:3 says, “Consider (Jesus) who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” In that passage Kamno is translated as “weary.”
Revelation 2:3 says, “I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.” Again, Kamno is translated as “weary.”
That word that is translated as “weary” elsewhere in the New Testament, is translated as “sick” in James. I am no Greek expert and I am not saying that they made a wrong choice in translating this passage. However, I would say at the very least, that “sick” in this passage is broader than just physical illness. It might be a medical sickness… or an emotional weariness like acute depression, or deep sorrow, or guilt… or a relational hurt like unforgiveness, or anger, or jealously… Or it might be a spiritual brokenness like greed, or selfishness.
Or it might be a social sickness like racism, classism, a broken healthcare system, or a decimated mental health care system. And I don’t know about you, but my heart aches when I see the factions in the UMC bickering and slandering each other.
Those social illnesses are just as much sickness, and weaknesses, brokenness as any medical condition.
Does this passage address your arthritis, or heart condition, or anxiety? Absolutely. But it is also much bigger than that. Much, much bigger because God is much, much bigger.
FURTHERMORE, If we set this passage in context, it follows two instructions we see the breadth of what James is talking about.
• “Are any among you suffering? They should pray.” The suffering might be much more than physical illness.
• “Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.” Again, that sentence has nothing to do with medical problems.
On the other side, our passage is then followed by this one.
• “The prayer of faith will save the sick (which should be translated weak), and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” AGAIN… clearly, this is much more than physical healing.
In this passage, the sickness of which James writes is clearly bigger than any medical problem. It encompasses emotional sickness, spiritual sickness, relational sickness, and social sickness.
NOW, I want to address the ritual James describes. “Call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”
A few years ago, “anointing with oil” would have been a strange thing. Recently there has been an upsurge in what they call essential oils. Oils distilled from certain botanicals used to help any number of maladies. Robyn uses peppermint for her arthritic hands. Noah had a teacher that used lavender to calm the class.
Using oil is no longer a strange thing. But we are not talking about the medicinal effects of essential oils.
In time of Jesus, anointing was commonplace. It was a sign of respect or love. It was a sign of inauguration to office, or conferring of power; both secular like kings, and religious, like priests.
Perhaps most interesting is the term Christ or Messiah. Do you know what it means?
“The anointed one” Jesus was the anointed one.
• Jesus was the one anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit.
• Jesus was the one so deeply loved that a woman came to anoint his feet and dried them with her hair.
• And Jesus was the anointed one, who was anointed in preparation for burial.
So anointing has a long history symbolizing the giving of love and power.
And the anointing the weak or sick, or broken, or hurting people is a way of showing them love, and symbolizing to them in a concrete way, the power of the prayer we pray over them.
With those two things in mind:
• That the passage is about a wide range of “illnesses.”
• And that anointing is a way of showing love and symbolizing power …
Let’s get back to the text and see what James wants to tell us about how faith works in our lives.
Are any among you suffering? Are any cheerful? Are any among you sick? Are any weak? Are any broken? Are any hurting? Are any worried?
The answer is yes. I don’t know what you see from where you sit, but I look out and I see each one of you struggling in some way. Some of you I can name your brokenness, we have struggled together, or you have shared your brokenness. Others are more private, but I have been standing here long enough to know and each and every one of us is broken, weary, sick, depressed, sorrowful, guilty, in need of forgiveness, needing to let go of anger, or jealously, or we are just drained empty from all the chaos, trouble, turmoil, hurt and hatred with which we seem to be surrounded in our day to day lives.
From where I stand, I see that we are a people very much in need of healing.
James says that prayer is the answer to our brokenness.
Prayer is the answer to all of our brokenness. James talks about three kinds of prayer: praying for ourselves, asking others to pray for us, and praying for each other. Any way that we pray, James says, prayer is the answer to all of our brokenness.
• Prayer connects us to the one who is our all in all.
• It connects us to the only one who is all things.
• It connects us to the only one who is complete in himself.
• Prayer connects us to the only one who knows our brokenness and was willing to be broken that we might be made whole.
• Payer connects us to Jesus …the anointed one… the Christ…the one and only God willing to be broken… in fact broken to death… in order to make us whole.
We come here because our lives are like a leaky bucket. Or a crackedpot. Patched here and there, but
• still leaking love just as fast as God can pour it in.
• Still leaking grace just as fast as God can pour it in.
• Still leaking hope as fast as God can pour it in.
• Still leaking joy as fast as God can pour it in.
• God filled us with his image and it is leaking right out.
We are broken, but want to be more like Jesus.
We come because we face all kinds of sicknesses, and we want to be made well.
We come to lay all of our brokenness at the feet of Jesus.
Jesus… and only Jesus offers
• salvation from all brokenness,
• Hope in the deepest darkness.
• Joy in the midst of pain, and
• Life in the midst of death.
In Jesus …and only in Jesus,
• We can be made whole.
• We can be healed.
• We can be filled and
• We can experience a faith that works.
Faith works when, in Jesus, faith brings wholeness.