Fr David's Sermon
1st October 2006
‘Are any among you suffering?’ Jas 5.13
So James addressed his Church. He then goes on to tell them how they should respond to suffering. He does not ask the question we ask when faced with suffering –‘why?’ The question ‘why?’ is a modern one. In earlier times people were more accepting of the reality of life and didn’t have our high expectations of a medical solution, something we see almost as a right. Nevertheless the question is important and in the end deeply personal. Why do my loved ones suffer, why do I suffer? How can I believe in a loving and all-powerful God who allows such things? There have been all kinds of theological and philosophical attempts to answer the question many of them linked to what we might believe to be God’s answer – the death of Jesus on the Cross. However the question remains. ‘Why?’ It is unlikely to be far from our thoughts as we come here today to pray for healing.
James doesn’t ask the ‘why?’ question; he tells us how to respond. We can reflect on what he has to say. The main thrust of what he has to say concerns the movement form isolation to communion, from being alone to being with others and being with God. When we suffer we can feel terribly alone and isolated. The frailties of old age and the inevitable loss that comes through bereavement cut us off from others. What can we do, what should we do? ‘Pray’, says James. To pray is to reconnect with God, to move from isolation to fellowship or communion. That ancient prayer ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’, expresses this perfectly.
If we are cheerful we are to sing songs of praise. James lists the cheerful as a different category from the suffering and the sick. It can be hard to worship if we are suffering or depressed. Often we cannot face others or the thought of coming to church. And yet it can work the other way around, singing songs of praise, with others can cheer us up. To worship is to receive healing.
But what if any are sick and cannot come to worship with their fellow Christians? They are says James to ‘call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord? Notice that they are to call for the elders, to take the initiative. So don’t be afraid to ask. This of course is what we are offered today, anointing and prayer with the laying of hands. We pray for healing if it be God’s will, particularly through the hands of those in the medical profession. Above all we pray for a renewed sense of God’s presence in our lives and for a deepening of our sense of communion with him in Jesus Christ. The sacramental signs of bread and wine and of blessed oil are effectual signs of this. They effect what they signify, renewed friendship with God, his presence in our lives, healing at a deep spiritual level.
No longer do we have a crude sense that sin cause sickness, ‘Why has this happened, it must be because of something I have done a great wrong?’ although that idea is still prevalent if we scratch the surface. Nevertheless there is a link between sin and disease. Sin is to do with falling short of all that God wants me to be. It is essentially about me, my selfishness, rather than about others and God. Because we sin we are no longer at ease with ourselves, with others or with God. Sin has to be dealt with, like any disease. St. James tells us that we should confess our sins to one another. We can do this informally with our fellow Christians or more formally through the sacrament of penance or confession. In receiving absolution through a priest we can experience the cutting of the chains of sin that bind. That is what absolution has to do with, the cutting of chains. ‘My chains fell off’ as Wesley put it in his hymn ‘And can it be’.
Faced with suffering, we are to pray, to sing songs of praise, to call for the elders of the church to receive anointing and the laying on of hands and to confess our sins. If we do so says James, then the Lord will raise us up. Such prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. This is what we do to day in this Eucharist; we come to God as we are, suffering sinners to receive his healing in our lives to be assured of his presence with us in Jesus Christ under the forms of bread and wine.
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