19th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 21 – B)
September 30, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
The familiar motto of the Three Musketeers is “All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall.” They knew that if they fought together, if they supported each other, they would be victorious together. If they were to do their own thing, if they looked only to their own interests, they would undoubtedly be defeated. When it comes to the Church the same idea is essential. There’s no such thing as “God and me” rather, it’s God and us. In the church, teamwork ensures that committees work well together, but teamwork is more important when it comes to the things of God. When it comes to the spiritual aspect of the church, what we must realize, and remember, is that it’s all for one and one for all.
We stand together and support one another because we’re not just a group of individuals stuck together haphazardly nor are we just members of a club. As Christians we’re bonded together into one body, Christ’s, with one common purpose and goal –salvation. This is what the Church is all about – it’s all about Christ. It’s about His perfect life lived for us, in His fulfillment of the Law on our behalf, in His perfect obedience. It’s about His sacrifice on the cross for our sins and failings. As Saint Paul says in Romans 5, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” We’re unique as the Church because we’ve been declared righteous together – we’re right with God. We’re forgiven and saved because in His death, Christ has taken away our guilt and sin and He has made us the Church.
What this means is that as members of the Church we were changed when we were brought to faith. We no longer live for ourselves, we live for Christ, and as we live for Christ we live for Church – our fellow believers. Everything we think, do and say now revolves around Christ and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This can be a hard attitude to accept or believe because we live in a world in which the primary motto is “What’s in it for me?” Our society is selfish and what the Church declares about itself is rarely heard – but it’s true. We have been declared righteous together and so the Church functions as a body of Christ’s righteousness.
In our text for today James is going to talk about what we do as righteous members of Christ’s body and the first thing we do is to approach God together in prayer. In a world of individuals it’s easy to think that everyone will take care of themselves, but that’s not what James says today. In fact, James says the opposite, that whether we are suffering or rejoicing, sick or well, we’re in it together.
Those who are suffering or sick often feel alone in their misery and when you’re sick it’s easy to think that nobody knows what you’re going through or that no one cares. It’s especially at times like these that James’ words are all the more important. He writes, “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.” Members of the body of Christ aren’t intended to suffer alone because when one suffers, we all suffer. So according to James, when someone is ill, the body of Christ lifts them up in prayer. Just as Christ intercedes for us with the Father, so also we intercede for those who are suffering. But we don’t just get together and say some comforting words, we pray, in the name of Jesus, a prayer of faith. We lift up the hurting member with prayer that works! We don’t pray thinking it won’t work, but we pray that it’ll work according to God’s will.
This prayer of faith is the prayer of the Church because we know that God hears our prayers and that He’ll always help those in need. Does this mean that He always grants healing? Sadly, no. Does it mean that He always grants help? Absolutely. Prayer is not speaking consolation, it’s speaking an effective plea to God to bring healing, comfort, or hope to the one that is suffering. James writes, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” When we gather as the righteous body of Christ, when we pray for another righteous person, God hears our prayers and answers them.
As we look at what we do as the body of Christ, we also realize that we’re all in this together as we confess our sins. Christianity is all about the forgiveness that’s ours through Christ Jesus and so we confess our sins regularly; we confess to God and we confess to those we have sinned against. As the Body of Christ we come before God every Sunday and confess our sins to Him. We confess our sins of thought, word, and deed, of the sins we know and the ones we don’t know, the sins of omission and the sins of commission.
The sins that James is talking about confessing though are the sins that we commit against other people, especially those who are part of the body of Christ. James says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” Sin inflicts deadly wounds, and yet when we confess our sins and are forgiven those wounds are miraculously healed. Imagine how many family relationships would be restored or how many lost relationships would be renewed if people would just admit when they’re wrong. But we’re stubborn and hard-headed so we hold our position, we draw a line in the sand, and we refuse to confess even though the Lord says that confession is integral to our healing. After David had committed adultery and murder, before he confessed, he writes, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” In other words, David was sick and hurting while he tried to ignore his sin, but when he confessed and was absolved, he found healing. That’s not to say that when you get sick it’s because of an unconfessed sin, not at all. But James combines prayer, confession, and healing because in prayer and confession we find spiritual healing that restores our relationships with God and with others. It’s by confessing our sins and being forgiven that we are once again made righteous and our dirty, sinful natures are washed clean in the blood of Christ.
Finally, because we are all in this together we watch over each other and chase after those who wander from Christ. James writes, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” As fellow sinners, we can understand why some people leave the faith or leave the Church, but as righteous saints we also know the cost of leaving the faith. We want everyone to know what we know and we obviously don’t want anyone to suffer eternity in hell, so when we see someone leaving the faith we go after them and bring them back. We bring them back so they would once again know that they’re saved. Christ died for everyone, even for those who have to be brought back into the fold, and it’s in His death that all are forgiven. So we act as a team and we do all we can to make sure that none of our loved ones are left behind.
“All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall.” This may be true of organizations, it’s only partly true of the Church. Yes, we work together to pray for each other, confess to one another, and bring one another back when we wander off. We’re the Church and we do this for each other for the benefit of the Church. But the body of Christ is what it is because of the work of just one individual, Jesus Christ. It’s His one death for all our sins and His resurrection for our justification that make us the Church. Without Jesus we would be just another social club, but we’re so much more than that – we’re the Church that takes care of each other and prays for each other because this is what Christ does for us. And because of Christ, we will stand together.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen