Archive for February, 2018

JAMES 5:13-20

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Intercessory prayer has become problematic for many modern people, since its practice through the centuries has been dependent upon a worldview and concept of God that many today can no longer hold with intellectual integrity. The idea of God as essentially separate from and existing above the complex field of our human experience in the world is becoming less and less compatible with our growing understanding of the universe.

True, just because God is not as necessary as He once was for explaining the origin and architecture of the natural cosmos, doesn’t automatically mean that we have outgrown and moved beyond our need for Him. We have become more materialistic and less spiritually-minded as a culture, and our problem with prayer may reflect more the implicit atheism at the heart of our contemporary worldview than a genuine individual maturity on our part.

Nevertheless, and the thoughtful atheists among us notwithstanding, the “theory” and practice of intercessory prayer does bring a challenge before the modern (or postmodern) believer. Are we still to think of God as somehow outside and vertically removed from our world, so that we must call Him into a given situation of need, on behalf of someone who is sick or sin-ridden? Is it just you and that suffering other, therefore, until you invoke the presence and (hopefully) healing power of God?

If instead God is not separate from the world or external to our experience, but is rather essential to the world and already deeply present at the heart of reality, then our prayers of intercession could be relevantly understood as a kind of intuitive participation in the sufferings of another, and an urging of the Spirit towards their life, health, and hope. The one who prays and the one who suffers have common ground in the universal life of God.

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JAMES 5:13-20

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

The ministry of intercession, of “going between” another person and what threatens his or her life, dignity, happiness, or hope for the future, is the primary vocation of the Christian. As our example, Jesus gave himself so completely to this task that he was remembered above all as “a man for others.” He proclaimed his gospel for the hope of those mired down by guilt. He taught on the subject of God’s reign for the sake of dispelling false conceptions and deepening true understanding. He reached out to the sick and set free the possessed, restoring them to health and wholeness. Upon his departure, Jesus commissioned his disciples to carry on in the same way, farther out into the wide world of human need.

To the degree that Christians have retreated into their churches and are preoccupied with concerns of membership and the heaven that awaits them, they have betrayed the vision of Jesus and his gospel. The truth of the matter of Jesus is that his vision, as well as the community he organized and inspired, is all about interceding for the world on behalf of its awakening, liberation, and fulfillment. Before the Church became busy over issues of orthodoxy and hierarchy it was focused on realizing this vision in Jesus’ name. And if the Church can transcend these same fixations today, it will be able to pick up where it left off.

PSALM 124

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
    —let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
    when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
    the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
    the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
    who has not given us
    as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
    from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
    and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

The Bible gives expression in a wide variety of ways to the human experience of salvation,  not as achieved by individual effort but brought about through an outside agency. The intercession of Esther for her people is just one well-known example of this key idea.

Because salvation nearly always involves a liberation or rescue from something – an oppressor, an approaching disaster, a destructive habit, a limiting belief – that is currently preventing our progress, inhibiting our freedom or threatening our life, the Bible counter-balances our typically modern gospel of self-reliance with its witness to faith as reliance on what is beyond us.

It may at first sound weak to say that had not the Lord been on our side we would have been done in, but such an honest admission of our need is really the avenue, and not the barrier, to the experience of true strength in our life. In the story of Esther, the Jewish people would have been defenseless against Haman’s pogrom had it not been for the queen’s effort on their behalf.

In fact, it is probably true to say that many if not most of our troubles in life which develop into serious hardships are due to our ignorance or stubborn refusal to acknowledge our personal limits, inadequacies, and shortcomings. As a rule, the wisdom of the universe brings the counsel, the helper, the resource, or the sign within reach at the critical moment of need.

ESTHER 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.”Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

The fifth-century BCE Persian king Ahasuerus (or Xerxes I) had deposed his own queen because she refused to put her beauty on display in the royal pageant. In his search for her replacement, Ahasuerus selected from among the lovely virgins of his kingdom the Jewess Esther. Later, when an assassination scheme was being hatched by conspirators, the plot was overheard by Esther’s cousin Mordecai, who reported the matter to the queen.

“After these things,” as the story goes, Ahasuerus promoted a man named Haman to grand vizier, and at the king’s command all lower officials bowed in his honor as he passed by – which all but Mordecai willingly did. Being a Jew, it was against Mordecai’s religious beliefs to bow before any man. Haman’s reaction was to organize a mass persecution of the Jewish people throughout the Persian kingdom. And this is where queen Esther’s famous intercession on behalf of her people comes into the picture.

At a royal court bash, the tipsy Ahasuerus promised his sexy queen anything she could ask for, even half his kingdom. What Esther requested instead was the release of her people from Haman’s deadly designs, of which apparently the king knew nothing. Once exposed, however, Haman’s fate was to hang from the very gallows he had built for Mordecai. Thus were the Jews saved and a great feast was declared throughout the land and for all time, celebrated to this day on Purim.