October 31, 2011

Tuesday after the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 90, 1 Kings 22:1-12, James 5:12-20
Evening - Ps. 104, Job 38:1-18, Mt. 17:1-13

Commentary
James 5:12-20

James ends his epistle with several important exhortations. Swearing, in verse 12 does not refer to "cussing," though cussing is an obviously evil thing. It refers to attempting to make an oath more valid by swearing in the name of God, Heaven, angels, or holy things which we have no power to bind by our promises. Such "vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle" (Articles of Religion XXXIX). Accordingly we Anglicans ask people in baptism and confirmation to promise, rather than swear, and, rather than asking them to attempt to obligate God or anyone else, we simply ask them to respond with "I will, by God's help." This answer is yea or nay. "By God's help" is not an oath in the name of God, but a prayerful confession that the help of God is necessary to enable us to keep our obligation.

Verse 13, though short, gives important directions for much of what happens to us in life. We are often afflicted. At such times let us seek God in prayer. When we are merry, let us sing Psalms to God in our joy. Thus, in joy or sorrow, we come to God. Often, even Christians, facing sorrow we seek relief in things other than God. Rather than prayer, and seeking to know the Biblical way to deal with our troubles, we think a vacation or a new toy will cheer us up. But perhaps the Biblical answer may be to persevere and honour God even in our sorrows. Likewise, in joy, people often forget about God instead of remembering and thanking Him.

Verses14-16 do not guarantee physical healing every time we get sick. They do remind us that the prayers of our friends, and, especially, our ministers, are as important in the treatment of illness as the medications and advice of physicians. We are to call for the minister of the church with as much urgency as we call for the physician. His prayers, which avail much (5:16), are an important part of the means of our cure. Our own prayers are also important, and chief among them is the prayer of confession. This means we are not simply praying that God will heal us so we can go back to business as usual. We are asking that life in the future will be more Godly. We are asking not only to be delivered from suffering, but also, even, especially, that we may serve God more fully in the future.

Verses 17 and 18 continue to urge the sick, and all of us, to pray by reminding us that God answers prayer. If God answered Elijah's prayer to withhold the rain for three years, we may believe He will answer the prayers of those who call upon Him today.

Verses 19 and 20 show that our responsibility for Christian compassion and love requires us to learn and grow from one another. This includes the sermons, liturgies, and Bible studies of the Church, and also our daily discourse with one another. Our conversation should be edifying to our hearers, building them up in the faith. We should also be open to the wisdom of others, who may be able to see things we have overlooked. This does not mean we are to become busy bodies, looking for faults in others and imposing our advice on them. Remember James' earlier warning to be swift to hear and slow to speak. It means that our actions and conversation should be helpful to others by pointing them toward Christ, His Word, and His Church. If God in His grace uses you to help turn someone from error or sin, rejoice, for God has saved a soul from death and forgiven a multitude of sins.