Scripture: James 5:13-20
Sermon: “Prayer Outside the Box” by Pastor Todd Buurstra

Our culture has stuffed God, and prayer, in a box. If we liken our culture to a building, prayer is reserved for the fire escape. The HVAC system belongs to the meteorologists who tell us, not God, but jet streams and El Nina move our weather. The meeting rooms of our culture’s building belong to the politicians, and we all wonder how God fits into politics! The bricks and mortar of our culture’s building are the material resources of money. And though our money says In god we trust, we know that the economy trusts Google. Our culture’s watercooler is reserved for therapists and Mark Zuckerburg for we don’t need God to figure out relationships. So what’s left for God? The fire escape. Our culture doesn’t pray about money, sex or power, but about death. Prayer’s box is the cry, Help, fire! I may die! Is that all prayer is for?

James closes his book with a sermon about prayer. And James says, prayer is for healing. The prayer of faith will save the sick. So the church adds to death, prayer for health. Ok…

Healing was central to Jesus’ ministry. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ ministry involved just three things: teaching, preaching and healing. So faith healing is not for the nuts, its normal.

How can faith healing be normal? Jesus’ ministry was a down payment on God’s restoration of creation. It’s like if you own a rundown house with leaky roof, sagging shutters and broken windows, and a guy knocks on your door to offer to repair your house at no cost to you. What?! you say, How do I know you’ll make good on your word? The rich stranger hands you a check for $100Gs. I used to own this house, so here’s a down payment. Just keep in touch. Oh. Jesus’ healing was a down payment on his promise to restore creation. He only asks that we ask.

But healing prayer is a lot wider than just culture’s box of death, or the church’s box of physical health. James reminds us of the width of God’s healing, and as have my churches.

First, prayer heals physically… Barbara Harayda writes that her recent uterine cancer was so rare that Sloane Kettering gave her only a 1/5 chance to survive. She was told that the cancer would triple in size in 10 days, and radiation wouldn’t touch it. So she took it to the Great Physician. She gathered a group of us to lay hands on her and pray right here. She claimed God’s healing confidence. She read 40 healing scriptures day and night. She began chemo on Easter of last year, and on 10/10/10 her doctors were amazed to declare that she was cancer free.

And James also tells us that prayer heals spiritually… He cheated on her and may never have confessed, but she was becoming suspicious. Do I deny or divulge? he wondered. God helped him to divulge. It was messy! He now admits, I expected to be stoned, but I wasn’t. At a time when I felt excruciatingly vulnerable, confessing…allowed me to begin healing. I now understand the lyrics to Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…

And James implies that prayer heals creation… You know, speaking of confession, I have to confess that I have prayed very little about climate change. If I believe that Jesus cares about the Father’s creation, enough to want to heal it, why don’t I pray about this? Not that I expect God will snap God’s fingers and it’ll get cold again, though it has, but I can trust it to God.

And lastly, James asserts prayer heals relationships… Parent and adult child were estranged for many years, ever since a divorce. Everything the parents tried, to open healing, was thrown back in their faces. But they kept praying God would reconcile them. They write, God answered our prayers in a way we never anticipated. A divorce left the child needing a place to stay, and when the praying parents threw open the door, the child walked into the house, and into their lives, stunned. The past is behind us and we are enjoying a sweet time of togetherness.

Ready to let prayer, and God, out of the box? After taking communion we invite anyone to come to the chancel for confidential prayers of healing for body, soul, relationship or creation.

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