Reading for Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: James 5:13-20
Peace be with you!
I am blessed with a close-knit congregation. During announcements, individuals are welcomed to voice their prayer requests, such as for God’s strength and healing in illness or difficult life experiences. One lady periodically gives us updates regarding her granddaughter who was born with a heart defect and other health issues. Over the past three years, we have shared in rejoicing and lamenting as the granddaughter has grown stronger as well as experienced a few setbacks. People ask the grandmother how the little girl is doing before and after the church service when they have not been informed for a few weeks.
James opens this section with three questions: 1) “Are any among you suffering?” 2) “Are any cheerful?” and 3) “Are any among you sick?” (James 5:13-14a NRSV). These questions highlight the human experience, because at any given time there is always someone who is suffering, someone who is cheerful, and someone who is sick. It is not always the same people who are suffering, cheerful, and sick each time—the roles rotate among the members of the community. James asks these questions to direct our attention to the needs within the community and away from our own personal dilemmas. In my Episcopal church, we give thanks for the individuals who have birthdays in the coming week, and during the prayers the deacon or priest names the people who are sick or who have died the previous week. This weekly practice emphasizes the important role each person has in the community and helps each of us focus on the needs of the community.
After each question, James encourages Christians to do something. James asks, “Are any among you suffering?” (James 5:13a NRSV). The question requires us to name the individuals who are experiencing difficult situations. The members of the community have to look beyond themselves and look into the eyes of those who are suffering. And when you are the one who is suffering, the question allows you room to share your story and to ask for help. James directs us to pray when we are suffering individually and as a community (James 5:13b). The simple act of praying gives us the chance to lift up and support one another. One of amazing things about asking for prayers is that it welcomes a conversation with and support from others who have had similar past experiences. The community becomes a resource and a support group for individuals who are suffering.
James asks, “Are any cheerful?” (James 5:13c NRSV). James encourages such people to rejoice and praise God” (James 5:13d). Everyone does not suffer at the same time, and those who are cheerful should rejoice and praise God for blessing them. As a community, James invites us to share in the life experiences that get us excited and in the many ways God blesses us. By celebrating others’ happiness, people who are suffering are reminded that [whatever “it” is] they are struggling with will eventually pass.[i] It also breathes life into the community where there would otherwise be despair and bitterness. Rejoicing and praising God shines his light into the world and reminds us there is hope in the Lord.
James asks, “Are any among you sick?” (James 5:14a NRSV). James tells us to have the elders to pray over the sick and to anoint them with oil (James 5:14b). When someone has a physical ailment, they are often times isolated from others for a number of reasons, including germ control, being physically too weak to be out and about, or being hospitalized. Being isolated causes depression and anxiety and can even lead a person to be suicidal. Surrounding someone, physically or spiritually, lifts them up and lets them know they are not alone in their struggle. Even if you cannot physically be with the person who is sick, letting them know you are thinking and praying for them gives them comfort in knowing they are not alone and are being missed. This helps the person to focus on getting better, resting in the assurance that he or she is a valuable member of the community.
James continues by saying we need to confess our sins and to pray for and with one another as a community (James 5:16). Confessing our sins is intimating, especially when we as community have to admit [whatever “it” is] we did was wrong. Yet if we admit our faults, we are able to seek forgiveness from others and to repair relationships with other communities. When different communities have mutual respect for one another, a corporative healing happens in which they work together to make the world a better place. When communities unite to spread the good news, they mend the brokenness of and in the world, lifting up each person and their call in God’s greater plan. By forgiving one another, communities extend the power of the resurrection and the invitation into the kingdom of God. What an extraordinary gift!
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for bringing us together as a community. Unite us in your name to spread your forgiveness, grace, and love in the world. Comfort the sick and the suffering, forgive the sinner, and lift us up to new life. Thank you for inviting us into your kingdom. Amen.
[i] However, it should be noted the individuals who are rejoicing need to allow those who are suffering the room they need to work through their current situation and vice-versa. A mutual respect should be kept.