Who Ya Gonna Call?

James 5:13-20

Intro:  Howard Rutledge – In the Presence of Mine Enemies - resources to draw on

We teach our children a lot of emergency numbers and practices – 911 / stop, drop, roll / “just say no”.  But we don’t teach our children, nor do a lot of us adults know “who to call” when life starts unraveling at the seams.  Who ya gonna call?

James begins by telling us where to start:  Call on God

He describes a plan for emergency measures – “Is any one of you in trouble?”   Do you have a plan of action for when crises occur in your life?  It’s unrealistic and foolish to think, my life is never going to have problems, I’m never going to face troubles, why would I need to think about that?

You will face crises in your life.  When they come, where will you go?  James says you go first to God.  “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.” 

·         Illustration – A woman walking along the edge of a cliff, slips, falls, grabs a root and hangs on – “Help! Is anybody there?”  A voice says, “Let go and I’ll catch you”  -- who are you?  -- This is God. – “Is there anybody else there?”

Emergency measures are only effective if they are a part of a larger plan.  You can’t wait until the crisis hits to think through your response.  Foxhole Christianity is a poor substitute for an ongoing relationship with God.

If we haven’t developed the kind of relationship with God that is constant and intimate on a daily basis – we won’t recognize his voice when he does speak.  If we haven’t made deposits in the relationship on a regular basis, there won’t be anything there on which to make withdrawals.

Faith is not developed in crisis – it is merely exposed, either in its depth or its shallowness.

Sometimes, we need someone who can sit beside us and put his arm around our shoulder and share our burden.  And so James tells us to call on the elders – Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.

James helps us see our elders in their role as shepherds.  We have boxed our elders into a business model – an executive board whose chief role is decision making.  But in the NT, the model we see is one of a shepherd – providing for needs, caring for the hurting, seeking out the lost.  Their most important function is not decision making, but shepherding and prayer.

There is quite a discussion in the commentaries over the nature of the anointing with oil – some say it is medicinal, some sacramental (i.e., a religious ritual).  And there are certainly occasions where anointing is a religious or spiritual act.  But in this case, the word James uses (not the usual word for religious anointing) and the context suggests that the purpose is medicinal, and we learn from a great many contemporary writings that anointing with oil was the primary medical treatment of the day. 

But in the end, James says,  …the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will lift him up.

I have a lot of faith in medicine and science – a lot of us would have died from simple infections, a lot of our children would not live past infancy, a lot of our wives would have died in childbirth – if not for advances in medicine. 

But the fact is, healing is from God – when I cut my hand open (which I seem to do fairly often) – it does not heal because of stitches and bandages and antibiotics, but because God so created my body to mend itself and heal itself.

And when there is illness and disease, it is God who gives the healing – sometimes it is effected through the use of medicine (as James suggests with the anointing with oil), but there are times when it is beyond the scope of medicine and it is only by God’s gracious healing.

James suggests also that some of our sickness is because of sin in our lives (not all sickness, but some).  And when that is true, how especially important it is that prayer is a part of that healing process.  And James says, If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

I hope you have a relationship with our shepherds such that when there is a need in your life, you know who to call – to counsel you, to pray for you, to lift you up to God.

There is a third resource on which you can call:  Call on the family of God.

And so in vs. 16, James writes, “Confess your sins to each other …”

·         Spiritual maturity is not being able to handle all your problems yourself, but being willing to ask for help when you need it.

·         We are reluctant to confess our sins to one another.  We think it’s a sign of weakness (and it is).  We think we’re admitting that we don’t have all the answers (and we don’t).  The fact is that confession does exactly what God wants it to do –remember back in 4:10 “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.”

But James isn’t finished.  The purpose of confession is so that  we might, “… pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

·         The purpose of confession is not to give answers or advice, but to pray.  And notice that this is not a one way relationship, but a mutual, reciprocal confession and prayer.  But confession can only happen in a context of trust and safety.

·         I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t happen in a sterile, impersonal environment.  I’m not likely to confess my sins to a stranger.  If we don’t know each other, how can we pray for each other?  This kind of relationship demands trust and trust requires time spent together. 

The heart of each of these responses is prayer –

·         Is there any in trouble? Get on your knees and pray

·         Any sick? Call the elders to pray

·         Any struggling with sin? Humble yourself, confess your sins to each other and pray

Why?  It’s awkward.  When we’re with someone who is having real difficulties with their health or emotionally or spiritually, “Is there anything I can do for you?”  Just pray.”  “I mean besides that.”  / Or the well meaning person who says, “All we can do now is pray.” 

·         We’re not convinced that prayer makes that much of a difference.  We give it lip service – but it’s a formality.  We treat it as a last resort – all other options have failed – it’s come to this. 

·         But James says prayer is our first option, our best option – when a righteous man prays, things happen.

And he reminds them of one of their heroes in the faith: Elijah – 5:17-18  Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

·         He illustrates this by taking us back to Elijah’s initial confrontation with Ahab where God turned off the rains over Israel like a spigot – not a drop fell for 3 ½ years.  And then following Elijah’s contest with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Elijah began praying and then the cloud came from over the Mediterranean and grew with strength and intensity and poured rain and the drought ended.

·         I’m so glad James says what he says about Elijah – “Elijah was a man just like us.”  It would be easy to excuse ourselves – “Well that’s Elijah, what do you expect?  Of course God listens to somebody like him.”  But James says he was just like us – a man of failings and weaknesses and sin – but when he prayed, God listened and acted.

And James says, our prayer can be just as powerful and effective.  He’s really come full circle from where he began in ch. 1  Prayer isn’t a lifeless ritual in which we fulfill an obligation, nor is it a manipulative incantation where we bend God’s will to ours.  James says prayer is something much more powerful – it is the power of a relationship.  It is me and my Father – pouring out my heart, expressing my desires, my wants, my needs.  And James says, just like with Elijah, God listens and God acts.

There’s one final note here in the last two verses of James.  It involves a different kind of call – it’s not our call for help in time of trouble, or sickness, or sin – in this call, we take the initiative to go to someone else who is struggling – 5:19-20  My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Paul gives us some help with how to do this – Galatians 6:1-2  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

I hear that same kind of concern in Hebrews 3:12-13  See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

This is not a task for the weak of heart.  And it’s certainly not a job for those who take delight in exposing the sins of others.  It is a job that requires compassion and concern and a skin as thick as a rhino.  Because confronting a person with their sin, even when done in the most loving way possible occasionally brings defensiveness and resentment.

·         We don’t always respond well when someone points out our blind spots. 

·         But James says there is a rich reward in the outcome – “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” 

·         It’s spiritual lifesaving.  Evangelism really takes two forms – rescuing the lost, and keeping the saved saved.  Both are essential.  There are two battlefronts in this war with Satan.  We need to be concerned not only with rescuing those who are in the chains of sin under Satan’s control, but we need to be fighting the battle in the lives of Christians whom Satan is winning back.

And so, in this moment of focused commitment and godly resolve, we need to give each other permission that if you ever see me living in such a way that will lead me away from God and jeopardize my home in heaven – will you please love me enough to come and bring me home.  Ignore my protests, cut through my denials and love me enough to bring me back to my senses and to the cross of Jesus. 

Illustration – I’ll do it myself

It was about 12:15 in the morning when a young woman fell asleep at the wheel and her car plunged over the guardrail of transition road on a highway in East Los Angeles.  The car was left dangling by its left rear wheel over the highway below.  Several passing motorists stopped, grabbed ropes and tied off the back of the woman’s car until emergency vehicles arrived.  A ladder was extended from below to help stabilize the car while firefighters tied the vehicle to tow trucks with cables and chains.  It took almost 2 ½ hours for the passers-by, highway patrol officers, tow truck drivers and firefighters – about 25 people in all – to secure the car and pull the woman to safety.  One rescuer said, “Every time we would move the car she would yell and scream.”  The fire captain recalled later, “It was kind of funny.  She kept screaming, ‘I’ll do it myself.’”