Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible reading: James 5:13-20
We pay so much attention to this present life. Three-score and ten, a few short years and then we are gone. We fill those years with the quest for health, wealth and not so often wisdom. We want to know what God can do for us here on earth, and what we can get out of life. We often set our minds on things below, things around us.
That is understandable, because that is where we are, but that does not mean that it is okay to forget about where we are going, to forget about things above.
Everything isn’t all about what happens here in this life. The bible, and the faith which comes to us through it has a longer view than we do. It is written by people inspired by God, and so it looks at things through the eyes of eternity. It comes from the point of view of a God who is not bound by time, or limited by death. A great example is in our text for today about the healing power of prayer.
“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. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.”
It sounds simple to us doesn’t it? The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up.
If we are thinking purely in terms of this life, we know that what James says here is not always so. We know all too well that are many Christian people who have been prayed for by “the righteous” and have died. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of Christians who have died. But James says if someone prays for them they won’t die. Doesn’t he? In fact, he doesn’t say that they will be healed, but saved. They might not always be the same thing.
What do we do when someone isn’t healed? ? Do we doubt God’s word? Do we doubt that the people who prayed were “righteous” enough? You can see the problems that come when we think in terms of this life only.
I want to tell you again about someone whom I may have spoken about before.
My old college chaplain, a Lutheran Pastor and a friend of mine, Pastor Eric Simpfendorfer, stepped into eternity and went to live with God before his throne about a year after I finished high school. He died from a terrible degenerative condition called Motor Neuron Disease.
What it meant was that the paths that send nerve messages in his body would progressively shut down until finally they would no longer be able to send the messages to his lungs to breathe in and out. As his body closed down, he knew that he would mentally still be strong, but be trapped in a body that would not let him communicate.
He knew what was coming, because he had seen his sister die from the same condition, and when a rather Pentecostal member of my old congregation invited him to a faith-healing service, he went, because he believed in the healing power of God. He believed in miracles. He had an open mind. Even though some faith-healers have proven to be fakes, he knew that God had the power to heal him. Because he had before. He had removed the impediment of a terrible stutter to enable him to proclaim God’s word in preaching.
So he prayed. A righteous man praying for healing, as we hear in the lesson from James. A righteous man simply because he was a child of God, and therefore was right with him. More righteous people prayed for him. Pastors and elders and women and children. The prayers of the righteous were many.
After the healing service was over, he still had his motor neuron disease. He was still dying. The person from our congregation who had invited him along rang him a week later and told him that he wasn’t healed because he obviously didn’t have enough faith. They were wrong!
If they had seen him over the next year, if they had spoken with him as his fellow chaplain, my father did, and heard how he approached his death with peace in his heart, they would have known how wrong they were.
If you are wondering where I am coming to with this story it is this. This man was saved, just as James says that the sick will be saved. Yes, he died from his disease and he went to meet his God. But he was still saved. He was healed beyond his physical death. And he will be raised with all of us.
The prayer of the righteous person is powerful indeed.
If we look at the message from James only in terms of this life, then we have to call him a liar. My old chaplain wasn’t saved as far as his physical healing was concerned.
But if we look at the big picture, if we look at these words of James in the light of eternity, then they are gloriously true. This man was saved and he was healed in his relationship with God so much, that I pray for all of you that when your time comes, you can go to meet your God with the same peace and joy and faith and courage and dignity that he had.
If we see all of these words of James in the light of eternity, they all ring true. What better reason do we have to praise God in good times than the fact that no matter how good we feel, it is only a foretaste of what is to come.
What better reason do we have to pray when we are suffering than the knowledge that there will be an end to our suffering, and that we will one day be in such a wonderful place, which is something that no amount of suffering can take from us.
Sure we can pray for an end to our suffering, but we also have to remember to pray for the strength to endure through suffering.
You know, as Christians, we have no more power than anyone else. People these days are obsessed with the lust for power, power over money, over other people, power over the weather. Christianity as a religion does not offer power to the individual. We have no special power of our own. BUT…
We know where to borrow it. We have the power of the creator of the universe at our disposal. We have the use of that power through prayer. We have a special hotline, a channel of communication that is so effective, and still so seldom used, because we feel so often that we can do things by ourselves, and we don’t call on the power that God has ready to help us.
I know for sure, as we live our lives in prayer, that God answers every prayer for healing, that God honours the prayers of the righteous, because it is he that has made us righteous in the first place, and because he has promised. He cannot go back on his word.
I want to finish with a little call and response that I heard when my eldest son was in prep:
God is good: all the time!
All the time, God is good.