13Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. 14Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. 15Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you've sinned, you'll be forgiven—healed inside and out.
16Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.
17Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn't rain, and it didn't—not a drop for three and a half years. 18Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.
19My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God's truth, don't write them off. Go after them. 20Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson
James's Letter or Epistle
• Some background on James from last week, Pentecost 17
I hadn't been very familiar with this New Testament book by James, but as I read and studied, it became clear the entire letter is about relationships of individuals in community and the community's call to care for each member. James' letter reminds me of my undergrad introductory Social Psychology class. When he introduced the course, the professor said if you studied Social Psych in the sociology department, the emphasis probably would be the individual in society; when you studied Social Psych in the psychology department, it likely would be society in the individual. James does both as he lines out the mutual responsibility of ecclesiastical/church community and individual church members. Throughout, James is about living out our calling as God's people by doing the word. Our being, learning, doing, and becoming within the Body of Christ then extends into the rest of the world when we leave the assembly gathered around Word and Sacrament, when we finish the committee meeting and start to practice what we've planned to benefit worlds beyond the church. What else about James? His call to pray in almost every setting and situation!
Today's Second Reading
Pray. Sing. Anoint each other. Confess your sins to each other and pray for one another.
Today's passage centers around church leaders (elders, deacons, pastors, committees, vestries, Stephen Ministers) prayerfully involved in ways that help effect God's healing. James reminds us, "The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with." James then refers to Elijah's prayers that God at first didn't answer in obvious ways, but later on responded with the rain Elijah prayed for. Unanswered prayer is the subject of almost every Christian's concern; literally countless books and articles have tried to explain why God answers some prayers the way humans desire, apparently ignores others.
In his commentary on this text this year, Pastor Doug Bratt helpfully observes, "While we might argue that even those no's are often effective in shaping us into greater Christ-likeness … God's no's [to prayer] are sometimes one of the difficult circumstances to which the community of God's people must respond. After all, prayer for James isn't just an exercise in talking to oneself or, as some suggest, changing those who pray. The apostle is confident that prayers also at least seem to somehow affect God."
Doing the Word
With his passion for doing the word, James' epistle sometimes has been criticized for theology that looks like works-righteousness. Works-righteousness imagines our actions can gain God's approval and therefore lead to our redemption. James is very much about knowing the word and doing the word as our human response to being saved or redeemed by grace. That's the same take the apostle Paul, the Reformers, and others have had on the value and the necessity of faithful obedience. James' epistle is about relationships of individuals in community and the community's call to care for – and pray for – each member.