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Saturday, September 26, 2009


James 5: 13-20

Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are 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. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.19My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner's soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Are any among you suffering? They should pray.”

James gets it right, doesn’t he?
We can talk about the power of prayer all day long, but until the power is at work in us or in the lives of those whom we love, it can be hard to understand that power. To embrace it.

In March of 1986, my life seemed pretty good.
As a college junior, I had just spent a week in England on a spring break theater trip with the English Department. We saw two shows a day and met with actors and directors after many of them to discuss the characters portrayed or the decisions that the directors made in bringing their version to the stage. We saw Les Mis with the original cast and several Shakespeare plays and the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Road to Mecca by Athol Fugard. For a geeky English Major, it was pretty much heaven. We drank tea and dined on Tomato soup and sang Simon and Garfunkel tunes as we skipped down the streets of London at night, inviting plenty of stares and much laughter.

When the plane landed and we arrived back at school there was a note from my parents on my desk. They were waiting for me downstairs in the lobby. That’s all it said. “Meet us downstairs.” They had driven four hours to meet me and whatever the news was – it couldn’t be good. I saw them before they saw me: faces tired from the drive, but something more. Serious. Pained. “Lisa’s in a coma,” mom said. “We have to go.”

Lisa and I had been inseparable since I had gotten her to autograph her picture splashed on the front cover of the school paper during open house. She had just starred as Dorothy in our high school’s production of the Wizard of Oz. We became fast friends and our friendship survived countless boyfriends and girlfriends and eventually my going off to college. I help to teach her to drive and tutored her in math and visited her in the hospital when her asthma acted up. We filled our time together with endless hours of conversation about everything and anything. When I struggled with depression and attempted suicide my first semester in college, it was her voice that re-kindled some meaning for me, her command that made me promise not to do something so stupid ever again, her letters full of smiles, laughter, friendship and love.

During the drive home my mother explained that Lisa had had another Asthma attack, but this time had gone into cardiac arrest. He brain had not received oxygen for far too long and she had slipped into a coma and was not expected to live much longer. Her major systems were shutting down. It was only a matter of time.

Outside ICU, her mother met me. She was fidgeting with a cassette player and earphones, trying to feed the tape in with shaking hands. “It’s a tape of her singing with the high school chorus,” she said. “I think she might wake up if she hears familiar voices. Go in and talk to her. Go. Maybe she’ll wake up if she knows it’s you.”

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray.” James writes.

The smells. I remember the smells first, walking into that room. The smell of urine from the catheter and that chemical antiseptic smell that we all associate with hospitals and smells indistinguishable, like a discordant symphony. Maybe even the smell of impending death, but back then I wouldn’t have recognized it.

The sounds came next. The respirator and the EKG beeps and there she was. Tubes everywhere. Face swollen. Hair a matted mess. Her chest rising, struggling unnaturally with every change in pitch of the respirator.

Her mother’s voice came from the door. “Talk to her. Let her hear your voice. Talk to her and maybe she’ll wake up.” The door closed and we were alone again.

I spoke. I wept. And kissed her and said goodbye.

She died the next day, having spent a week in a coma. Her mother said that Lisa had waited for me to see her – had just refused to die before I could be there and say goodbye. That right after I left everything had begun to fail.

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray,” James writes.
We hear these things. We have said them ourselves. Prayer works. Prayer is powerful. Prayer moves the hand of God.

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray,” James writes. James believes that prayer is powerful. That we should be praying boldly. Praying with expectation.

We pray you and I, but do we believe in its power? That it accomplishes God’s purpose in the world. That it matters. That it heals. That it makes whole. That it binds up the wounds in our life, in our hearts, in our souls. Do we believe that? Do we pray like we believe in prayer and its power to bring forgiveness, healing, and wholeness?

The night that Lisa died I was already back at school. Everyone thought that was best. Classes had begun for the new semester. I missed the funeral, but had written some words that were shared at the graveside in my absence. Twenty odd years later and the Lord still works healing for the wound of her death, deep as it is. How does anyone take one more breath after the death of a friend or the loss of a loved one or the wounds of betrayal or the loss of a marriage or a relationship or any of the many ways in which we find ourselves wounded and broken? Even our national church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America today is wounded and broken. Being rent by schism. People and congregations refusing to find ways to live together amid disagreement. Not willing to sacrifice their need for some sense of peace to live together in the tension of the moment to allow the Holy Spirit to guide, to counsel, to work patiently. It is a day to mourn and grieve for our national church. And to pray.

We pray because prayer is powerful and through it the mighty power of God works in the world to forgive, and to heal and to make whole..

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray,” James writes.
There are many types of prayer – it comes in many forms. This Sunday is our Sunday we set aside for healing and intercession.
Some of you will come forward and be prayed for and receive the oil of anointing for healing. Healing of mind or body or spirit. Maybe all three. God knows what we need, even if we aren’t sure ourselves. But what we are sure of is the power of that prayer. We pray boldly because we have a God who invites us to pray boldly as a matter of faith.

During our time for intercession, some of you will lift up names – the names you hear spoken from the altar that you will make your own and names that speak from your own hearts that you freely add as together we weave our tapestry of prayer for God’s action.
And we will pray for our national church our bishops and congregations.

James says that the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Let us pray in that power always for God has come to heal us. To bind up our wounds. Forgive our sins. To make us whole again, to lead us once more beside the still waters of peace.

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