Sermon by Rev. Patrick P Augustine on Seventeen Sunday after Pentecost in Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin


James 5: 13-20
The Letter of James says, “Are any cheerful?” Our town this week has plenty of cheerful dudes. The hustle and bustle of thousands celebrating Oktoberfest makes our city buzz. We may ask, “Pray when you are cheerful, but why? Is beer and bratwurst not enough to cheer my spirit?” Keep in mind this cheerful spirit may be temporary, but have a safe and fun week.
“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.”
One may, with skeptical approach and rational mind, ask why we need healing ministry in the church. When we have the world’s best medical centers in our community, why does church need to be in the healing business? Prior to the last two centuries of science and medical advancement, the church was the seat of authority on medicine and healing. Mind it, many of our hospitals and health systems have their roots in a response to the call of Jesus to the church to heal the sick. There is no doubt in my mind that we are in the business of people's health and of healing people — mind, body, spirit, relationships. The pages of the Bible are filled with accounts of healing and God’s grace and mercy. Jesus brings abundant life in many dimensions. Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
Let me share with you my own experience of the church’s healing ministry. While growing up I became aware that my father, a priest in the Church in Pakistan, regularly held healing services. He had learned many passages of the Holy Scripture by heart; collects, litanies, and canticles from the Book of Common Prayer. He would invite people to come to the healing service he called “watch night prayer service”. It would start at 9:00 p.m. and end at 4:00 a.m. He would invite other priests and lay leaders to minister. He would recite the passages from the scripture by heart and others joined him in the recitation of the Holy Scripture reading from the Bible. During such recitation he would invite the choir to lead in singing the hymns and psalms. Until early hours of the morning he and the elders would lay hands on the sick and anoint them with oil and water. Then service shall conclude with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. I asked my father if he could heal the sick. He told me, “I believe in healing, but it is Jesus who heals. I simply pray in the name of Jesus and leave rest for the Lord to sort out.” It was a powerful experience in the early days of my life to watch my father practicing James’ prescription for healing in the church.
What is James’ prescription? Very simply, “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5: 14). We realize that this divine prescription contains clear direction to the sick first, and then to the elders. James places the responsibility for initiating the response of the church on the sick person, not on the church leadership. Then, before the elders come to pray for him or her, one should make a personal confession of all known sins. This is substantiated by the promise at the end of verse 15 that, “If he (the sick) has sinned, he will be forgiven.” Note here that James is not saying one’s sickness is necessarily a result of sin, for he knew that when Jesus was asked if a man’s blindness was due to sin the Lord answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned” (John 9:3).
We are aware that James knew that there are instances when illness and death is associated with one’s sin. Let me share with you two examples from the New Testament:

1. Jesus, while healing a paralytic in Capernaum, said, “Son your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5), which may indicate the paralysis was linked to personal sin.

2. At another healing in Bethesda, Jesus said, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (John 5: 14).

Here we learn that before one comes to seek healing one must, as best one can, examine his or her life for any known sin and humbly confess to God as we say in the service of the Reconciliation of a Penitent:

I confess to Almighty God, to his Church, and to you, that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word and deed, in things done and left undone; especially ____________. For these and all other sins which I cannot remember, I am truly sorry, I pray God to have mercy on me….” (BCP 447).

Many of us lack this discipline. I encourage you to make a regular practice to make an appointment with your Rector for the sacrament of the Reconciliation of a Penitent. We carry many burdens, temptations, and struggles bottled up in our souls, hearts and minds. The confession brings release and healing and can open avenues of grace as they help clear away the traffic which has stalled its flow. Isn’t this our prayer in the appointed collect for this Sunday?
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promise, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord….
It is after personal preparation and confession then we invite the elders of the church to pray and to anoint. The first and most important thing is to note “the prayer offered in faith” (James 5: 15), and then anoint with the holy oil. Anointing in the Holy Scripture is usually associated with consecrating or setting apart someone for special service.[1] In this respect, oil is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in and watches over each believer (James 4:5).[2] So the applying of oil to the sick is a rich, symbolic act—setting the sick apart to be ministered to in a special way by the Holy Spirit. When applied by the loving hands of the elders, it is a profound vehicle for comfort and encouragement.[3]
And then it says, “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” It does not say it may, but it says, “…the Lord will raise him up.” We know this presents a problem as we have not always experienced guaranteed healing. St. Paul prayed three times to be healed of what he called his “thorn” (2Corinthians 12: 7-10), but lived with his illness while serving the Lord. Why then do certain people get healed and others don’t? My answer will be that I shall keep this question along with many others and ask the Lord when I appear before him on the last day? I need to keep God busy so I do not have to give account of my own life. No, I must say, God is sovereign in this matter of to whom he grants healing, and I accept his will. The prayer of faith is not something we manufacture by saying “I believe, I believe, I believe, I really believe, I truly believe!” It is a gift from God. As John Blanchard has said, “The ‘prayer offered in faith’ is circular in shape; it begins and ends in heaven, in the sovereign will of God.”[4]
The church offers this ministry of healing in Jesus name for those who are in need of physical healing and to also heal the sin sick soul of humanity through its ministry of peace and reconciliation.

[1] Douglas J. Moo, The letters of James, Grand Rapids , MI: Edrdmans, 1988, ppp. 179-180

[2] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistle of James, Chicago, Moody Press, 1979, p. 321

[3] R. Kent Hughes, James, Faith that Works, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1991, p. 256.

[4] Blanchard, Truth for Life, p. 234

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