Pray For One Another

James 5:13-20

In 2008 Marvel Studios released the movie Iron Man, which was a huge box office success and lead to the release of 23 more movies over the last 11 years. The franchise story arch reached its grand crescendo last Friday with the release of Avengers, End Game.

A few years ago, if you would have suggested that a movie studio could produce 23 movies, stretching over 11 years, and draw large crowds movie after movie you would have been laughed out of the room. I mean Disney might use the same storyline in several movies, but at least in Frozen they used a princess and in the Lion King they used … well lions. You did realize it was the same story right?

Over the past few years there have been several studies trying to figure out why these movies are so popular. What is it about these characters that draw the audience into their world and cause us to go back again and again to see what will happen next. I think we could have saved them a whole lot of time and money. We know the reason these movies are so popular is because deep down everyone of us wants to be a superhero. We might not have been born with supernatural powers, but the Hulk got his powers because of an accident, the Black Widow and Hawkeye were trained, and Ant Man and Iron Man have those incredible suits. 

One of the great things about “Earth’s mightiest heroes” is that most of the time they are just plain old ordinary goofy looking, Scott Lang, or Clint Barton, or Bruce Banner. They aren’t always Ant Man, Hawkeye, or the Hulk. Sure the power is there when they need it but for the most part they just seem ordinary. If you saw them in the grocery store you wouldn’t take a second look, but the moment trouble shows up, they are ready to jump to the rescue.

Today, as we continue our series on the One Another, we are going to take a look at the end of James’ letter to the church and I believe if we pay attention we will get a glimpse of how we will can really become one of Earth’s mightiest heroes. In his letter James has laid out some serious and real challenges to the church. Some real life evils and sins to fight against. James started his letter telling the church to ask God for wisdom and now he closes the letter with a wonderful word of encouragement.

Let’s read our text together. James 5:13-18

I read something this morning that I think you might have missed. In verse 17 we read, Elijah was a man just like us. When I read that, I didn’t hear anyone chuckle. No one huffed in disbelief, but to the Jewish audience that James was writing to, that was a pretty bold statement. It would be like someone saying that Michael Jordan was just as okay basketball player, or that Elvis was a decent singer, or that Einstein was as adequate scientist.

Elijah was a superhero in the Jewish culture. He had reached superhuman status and was the entire Marvel Universe all rolled into one person. At night before the the family went to sleep they would be told the stories of how Elijah stood face to face with the wicked Ahab and Jezebel and won. The little kids would spend their afternoons in the yard playing out how Elijah defeated the 400 prophets of Baal and the 450 prophets of Asherah. So, to say that Elijah was just a man like you and me, was a little hard to believe. 

But James is not just throwing names around trying to make a point. He wants the readers to know that Elijahs’ power wasn’t reserved just for him, actually Elijah dealt with the same brokenness and struggles that we all face. But Elijah knew that the real power was found in prayer and that God was willing to listen to him when he prayed. The power is not just for the great prayers of the world, that power is available to every one of us who is willing to approach the throne of God.

James had already written in chapter 4:2 You do not have, because you do not ask. He knows what we are often afraid to admit, and that is we don’t have what we really need simply because we’ve not told God about our needs. Maybe that’s because we are so bound up in our own proud self-reliance. We refuse to pray because we truly believe that we can handle things on our own. The reason for unanswered prayer may simply be because your prayers have gone unasked.

Or maybe that’s because we aren’t really praying. Sure we bow our heads and close our eyes, but we are just going through the motions. We pray the same rehearsed words over and over again with no real thought about what we are saying or what we are really doing. We use well worn out phrases with no wonder over the fact that we are approaching the creator and sustainer of the universe. It’s like the kid who feels like they should pray before they go to bed, so they say: Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. You know the rest, Amen.

James wants us to know without a doubt that we have a choice. We can settle to be just be average, struggling, and left wallowing in our doubt wondering if we will ever make any difference in the world. Or we can tap into the power of the creator of the Universe and change the world. The power is available, we just have to be willing to put for the the effort and pray.

In our text this morning James points us to the areas where we are called to tap into God’s power: The first area is to pray for those who are suffering or enduring sickness.

James 5:13-15 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray… Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. 

If I were to guess, I would say that these are the prayers that consume your prayer life. We put the names of people in the bulletin, or on the screens who have asked for prayer. Our Shepherds stand at the back of the auditorium during the beginning of the service, and gather at the building on Tuesday nights to pray for you. We have prayer cards and a prayer station in the foyer so you can let us know about people who need prayers. Maybe a friend sends you a text message, a phone call, or find out through social media that someone is sick or going to have surgery so you take a moment to offer a silent prayer on their behalf. Some of us even took some time to pray for the families and community in Sir Lanka after the terrible attacks last week that killed 321 people and injured thousands.

But James is not asking us if we know how to gather and relay information about those who are suffering. James wants us to question if we are actually praying for one another? The word that James uses here for suffering is much broader than physical pain. We could also translate this verse is anyone among you in trouble. James is reminding us that it is important to pray for broken legs, but it is much more important for us to pray for broken lives.

Prayer creates and fosters real community, because when I am given the opportunity to pray for someone who is in trouble I am given the opportunity to empathize with them. A gift of prayer is an opportunity to walk with someone through their trouble, prayer is what connects us to one another. Prayer is how we experience and enter into each others pain, we are called to struggle with one another.

Sometimes it’s easy to walk with someone in their struggle because we have had a similar experience, we remember all to well what we felt. You remember your personal struggle, you remember the story of what happened to you. So James calls you to use your history to help someone through their present.

But other times it is a little harder because you might not have experienced this specific kind of trouble. There are people in this congregation that are enduring heartaches and pain that I have not experienced. But I can still join them in prayer. Even if I don’t know your struggle I can pray, thinking about what their current trouble is doing with their relationship to God? What is the current struggle doing to their relationship to their family? Because there have been times in my life when I felt alienated from God, or a time where I struggled with my family.  We all have experienced times of pain and trouble, so James reminds us that if we are the body of Christ then we do not have to endure those struggles or troubles alone. We have other members of the body who will walk through those difficulties with us.

And there is a vast difference between working our way down a laundry list of names and actually taking someone, their struggle, their pain before the throne of God. That’s one of the reasons that I believe unspoken prayer requests lead to unspoken prayers. To truly pray for someone we must be willing to enter into their struggle.

But we see that James wants us to build real deep abiding community. that’s why he also instructs us to pray so we can confess.

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

We have made it this far together this morning, so let’s just cut right to the chase. Usually when we read this part of the text we take a deep breath and think, confession to one another …. Big Sigh, Well OK, you go first. I mean it’s easy to appear to be hyper-spiritual and to want to pray for everyone else’s sins while keeping yours a secret.

But what we miss out on is the fact that when we refuse to be honest with the body, we refuse to actually be a part of the body. Everyone of us were born hardwired to find a connection with someone else. That’s why when we refuse to be vulnerable with each other, we are refusing to become what God created us to be.

We claim to be a place that Models Love in the Model City, and yet you cannot receive love if you are constantly trying to hide yourself from other people. If you want to really feel loved then you have to be willing to be vulnerable with someone.

And I am talking true, genuine vulnerability. Not this get on facebook and do this emotional garbage dumpster fire thing that happens when what we really are looking for is pity. And I’m not talking about  approaching someone that you don’t have a relationship with and saying here’s all my stuff and you can’t judge me because only God can judge. That’s not only wrong, it’s a misunderstanding of scripture.

Usually when we talk about Genesis 3 we talk about how awful it was that Adam and Eve sinned against God because they wanted to be godlike, they wanted to be mini-godlings running around with all of the wisdom and power of the universe. But what we don’t often talk about is how ungodlike they became. In Genesis 3 we see that as soon as Adam and Eve got their wish, Immediately the two of them … saw themselves naked! They sewed fig leaves together as makeshift clothes … and When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden … they hid from God. (7-8 Message)

They wanted to be like God and as a result they hid from God. And yet if they were to actually be like God they would not hide, instead they would have become known, they would have become vulnerable. I know that’s the truth, because that what God did. Paul writes in Philippians 2 that Jesus emptied himself of his outward glory by reducing himself to the form of a lowly servant. He became human!  He humbled himself and became vulnerable,

The call to confess to one another is a call to be truly vulnerable. Everything God created you for demands vulnerability. To belong requires that we are truly vulnerable, to experience joy requires that we are truly vulnerable, and even to experience love means that were willing to be truly vulnerable.

Really belonging to a church family means that we know the real you, warts and all as my momma would say. And not only do we know the real you, we love you in spite of your weaknesses and brokenness. You don’t have to hide here.   

Think about it this way, I can pray for someone who is in trouble regardless of whether or not we have a relationship. Some of you have asked me to pray for your first cousin’s nephew’s wife’s brother’s dad’s next door neighbors best friend’s boss at work and we can gladly offer that prayer even though I don’t and may not ever have a relationship with them.

I can pray a prayer of thanksgiving on someone’s behalf, but that requires that I know them, and it requires that there is nothing in my life that would hinder my honest prayers for their good will.

But in a prayer of confession, that can only happen when we become lovingly vulnerable with one another. Corky French is fond of saying, before we can witness must establish a with-ness.  When we are called to pray for each others sins we are entering a completely different level of intimacy. Before I can trust you with the sins in my life I have to trust you.

I have to trust that you love me and care enough about me to hold what I tell you. 

I have to trust that you will not use what I have told you to gain an advantage on me or use it against me.

I have to trust that you care enough about me to want what is best for me and even go the extra mile of holding me accountable for doing the right thing. 

I have to trust that you want me to get right.

That’s why a lot of churches are abandoning an invitation or alter call at the end of their services. Because churches often go years between responses, and then someone will only respond if their sin was printed on the front page of the paper. We don’t ask people to pray for us who we do not trust.

I think the reason that trust is so rare in our churches is because trust is so rare in our world. We have allowed the world to condition our actions forgetting that we are not called to act like the world. Peterson has a beautiful paraphrase of what Paul says in Romans 12:2 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Did you get that? Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking… God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Before we can honestly fulfill this command to pray for one another we have to be mature enough to trust one another, and that’s where the problem lies. Psychologists tell us that the reason that we have trouble trusting others is because we know deep down that we can’t be trusted. Maybe today before we even begin to try to pray for one another we need to get ourselves right first.

You see like Bruce Banner, the power is always there, always available for the Christian. God has promised us that as long as we have breath we have a chance to tap into His power.  His power to heal the sick, sooth the suffering, cleanse us of our sins. His power to make us what He desires for us to be.

We are going to offer you a few opportunities to grow in this grace of praying for one another. First during the month of May, everyone who is on our text list will get a text at 5:17 every evening. We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to pray without ceasing. So in an effort to help you with that we have divided up the congregation and we are asking you to take some time every evening to join the Shepherds, and staff as we pray for our congregation. If you don’t do text, you can see Helena today and she will give you a prayer calendar. But the rest of you will get texts, because we know how easy it is to get busy and forget if you don’t get a gentle reminder.   

Right now we have a great opportunity to pray for one another.  If you are sick or suffering or in trouble I hope that you trust us enough to love you, and pray for you.  We want to help you carry that burden and show you how important you are to this family. 

If you have reason to rejoice I hope that you trust us enough to let us bask in the blessings that God has given you. I hope that we understand that when God blesses one member of this body that He blesses every member of this body.

And if your relationship with God is not right today I hope that you can trust us. Trust us to hold what you tell us, and to petition God on your behalf.

We are going to offer you a chance to come today and let us pray with you and for you. My hope is that you are able to trust us enough to allow us to pray for you while together we stand and sing.

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