Today we are wrapping up our series on the New Testament book of James. We have heard some really important instructions from James about how we are called to live our lives.
We have heard about the importance of listening over speaking. We have heard about putting our words into action. We have heard about not showing favoritism and about how our words can be a blessing but they can also be a curse.
Today we are moving into the 5th and final chapter of James. We are going to be reading the second part of the 5th chapter but I would be negligent if I did not also draw attention to the first part of chapter 5.
James begins the 5th chapter of his letter or sermon with very harsh words about people who treat their employees unfairly. James calls out rich people who put large sums of money in investments while underpaying their employees.
James says that the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord. So if you think that God approves of wealthy business owners who drive around in expensive cars with “In God We Trust” on their license plates, make large church contributions, but who take advantage of their employees, then James would say that you are wrong.
James would say that becoming wealthy while underpaying employees is morally and biblically wrong and unjust. So if you want biblical support for fighting for justice for low wage workers against corporate greed then James 5 will give you all of the evidence that you need.
James next invites his hearers to be patient like a farmer waiting on a crop to make it to harvest. Anyone who has been part of a farm family knows that this patience is essential. A farmer works a long time tending to a crop or animal before the farmer sees any financial reward. James says to be patient like a farmer.
And then James moves into our reading for today.
Read James 5:13-20
The ending of James has been used in dangerous ways by many today. The words about how if anyone among you wanders from the truth and then is brought back that you save that sinner’s soul from death and that this will cover a multitude of sins.
It is from scripture like this that we get the phrase from many Christians to hate the sin but love the sinner. James has been used to create the belief system that Christians need to correct abhorrent behavior by others because you are protecting their souls from death.
The problem here is that this attitude of hating the sin but loving the sinner is a very judgmental attitude. Because the only sin that we hate is the sin of others. Hating the sin but loving the sinner is about me judging you. It’s about me telling you what you are doing wrong. I am the one in power and you are the one that needs to listen to me.
But James is saying the opposite. James is saying that we need to bring our own sin before God. We do not need to be so focused on what we think are the sins of others. We need to focus on our own sin and do what we need to do to participate in our own healing.
We need to listen to others when they tell us that our behavior is harmful to ourselves and others. We need to listen to what others say and examine our brokenness from not following God’s will for our lives.
In our reading this morning, James draws attention to the ones who are suffering and who are sick. James’ advice is to reach out to the elders of the church and have them pray over the sick and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.
Oil was used during this period for medicinal purposes. But James adds a spiritual element. It is from this scripture that we get our practice today of using oil as a sign of spiritual healing.
We use oil in Ash Wednesday services and we have used oil in services of healing and wholeness. The oil is these services is used as a visible sign of the presence and healing that comes from Christ.
James’ words are addressed to the followers of Christ to pay attention to the sick and suffering in their community. To offer encouragement. To offer prayer. To gather with the elders and offer visible signs that you are helping others to heal.
Many of us hear stories of Covid deaths and suffering but most of us choose to isolate ourselves from what is happening to our friends and neighbors. This disease is ravaging our community and nation and world.
But most all of us are not the ones dealing with the sick and suffering first hand. That would be our medical providers.
When I hear James talk about caring for the sick and suffering by offering prayers and tangible presence, I cannot help but think about the medical staffs who are doing what they are doing right now while we sit in this church or watch this service on line.
While many of us complain about the uncomfortableness of masks or share conspiracy theories about why we should not be vaccinated, medical professionals are caring for our neighbors who are suffering and who are sick.
I reached out to Maria Fergus who is an ICU nurse at Springs Hospital in Lancaster. I asked her to share what it is like to do what she does during this time of Covid. She wrote back to me and shared these words.
“November, December and January were hellish. We saw too much death, including multiple family members of nurses. Then, the vaccine became available and the numbers started to decrease. It was such a relief, after all the sadness and loss, to see things changing.
My therapist kept asking how I was coping with seeing so much trauma, and I told her I wasn’t dealing with it. I was just putting one foot in front of the other. Now, I know that wasn’t the time to deal with it because it wasn’t over. A little over two months ago, we started seeing the Covid cases picking up again in the hospital.
This week we have lost 3. Another is perilously close. One of the patients we lost was the second in his family to die. I cried when I heard it, even though I had already read the writing on the wall.
He was such a nice, funny person. And he wrote a letter to his wife before they put him on the vent that said she was the love of his life. He also stated he didn’t think he would come off it alive. He was right.”
James says that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective. James says that if there are any among us who are suffering that we should pray. But James also says earlier in his letter to not just people of words but people of action. Not just hearers of the word but also doers of the word.
So what are we doing for those suffering with Covid? What are we doing to offer support and encouragement to the many front line workers who are caring for these patients? I understand that nurses like Maria are required to work 6 days a week now due to staffing shortages. What does that do to their families?
I wonder if James is pushing us in this church to put our resources into action to provide support and encouragement to our front line workers. To do what we can with cards and food and words of support. That when they enter the hospital or return home after a 12 hour shift that they are reminded that someone cares about what they do.
Covid and our low vaccination rates here in SC impact many lives. Instead of shouting at others about what they should or should not do or screaming about my freedoms, maybe we need to put our words into action.
I know some nurses and other front line workers who need to hear some words and actions of grace and support. For they are suffering too. AMEN.
-Given: Sept. 26, 2021 in Allison Creek Presbyterian (York, SC)