The Rev. Kathy McAdams
St John’s Episcopal Church & Franklin Town Common, Franklin, MA
September 30, 2018 - Proper 21B
There’s a Basque custom that on a child’s birthday, the whole family sits down with her to ask what she wishes to learn in the coming year. It could be a task like riding a bike, or a virtue like being more generous. In any case, the whole extended family commits to helping the child learn that thing over the course of the year. The whole family unites around helping the child to master that one thing. Imagine if a church community made such a commitment to each child in its midst.
What James is suggesting in today’s Epistle is that when we bring some part of our lives to God, it is not only in a vertical, one-on-one relationship that we do so; not only in private, silent prayer. If God is indeed in the midst of us, then when we bring some part of our lives to this community, when we ask the care of this community of God, we are indeed bringing our lives to God. Like the extended family of the Basque child, it is here that we may risk to utter the thing we want to learn, and expect that others here in this circle will help us learn it.
Each time we baptize a new Christian in the midst of this community, each of us promises to support that person in his/her life in Christ. There is an expectation that if we bring a problem to this community, it will respond. James reminds us that this is the place to bring both our suffering and our celebration. This is an important realization for two reasons: First, it reminds us that every human being experiences both of those situations at times in our lives - suffering and celebration. So, to share that we too experience such things, does not set us apart from the congregation, but it draws us more closely together as a family. Second, it reminds us that both situations are worthy of God’s attention; both are worth bringing to God.
I have a friend who is receiving treatment for Breast Cancer, and her church community is really rallying around her. The first step was that she stood up during their “Prayers and Concerns” time to say that she’d received a diagnosis. This allowed the whole congregation to begin praying for her. Then they had a day of anointing, when anyone who needed healing could be anointed with oil and the entire congregation laid hands on them for healing. Then they set up a MealTrain site so people could sign-up to make meals for her and her spouse. This is especially helpful on days when she has chemo, and that was all they had requested at first, but then the minister called and said, “there are so many people who want to cook for you, you’re going to have to add some more dates.” Lastly, the congregation had created a wonderful planter to accent their special outdoor worship day, and after the service was over, they left it at my friends’ front door.
Likewise, this is the place to bring our sickness, our brokenness, even our un-holiness, that others might pray over us. “The prayer of faith will save the sick…confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another.” James is calling us to action - the action of healing and forgiveness and service to one another in the community of the church - these actions that make us whole together, that make us healthy as individuals and as a community. By accepting each other here in both our wholeness and our brokenness, we bring each other back into the life of the church, where we join together in confession and prayer toward becoming whole.
While there’s much caring for each other that happens quite organically and informally, let me give you some examples of the more structured ways that we care for each other at St John’s:
• We can request prayers from the congregation – for ourselves or for loved ones. The person is added to our prayer list, and we pray for them in the Eucharist every Sunday.
• In addition, a special group of pray-ers called the Prayer Line will add the person to their personal prayer lists every day, as do I.
• We have Lay Eucharistic Ministers who, in addition to the clergy, bring the Sacrament to persons who can’t be present with us to celebrate the Eucharist. With the help of LEMs, they are able to share in the very body and blood that we bless and share at this table.
• We could certainly set up a Meal Train site or something similar for rides to medical appointments for anyone in the congregation who was in need. I welcome your suggestions.
As far as I can tell it was a Methodist minister from North Carolina in the late 19th Century - L.L. Nash - who wrote, “A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” I think there’s a parallel to that museum, here in the Episcopal Church being sometimes referred to as a country club - a place for making business contacts, and for putting in an appearance to prove that you’re an upstanding member of the local community. I know there are people for whom church attendance feels obligatory - it’s something that you have to do now and then - do your duty and get it over with. I wish I could somehow convince such people that the church - this community - might actually have something to offer them. Are you lonely? Ask the church to visit you. Are you in need of assistance? Let the church help. Are you overjoyed about something? Let us give thanks with you. Are you suffering? Pray…and let us pray with you.
The Gospel urges us not to let anything get in our way of this work together - not our false pride or modesty, not our embarrassment, not our fear. Cut those things out if they get in your way of bringing all of yourself to God, here in the midst of this community. The first step to healing is admitting that we need healing, admitting that we are less than whole in some way. That’s not something that people do at country clubs or social organizations, but that is something that people can do in the church. And in caring for each other, we model for the world how people can be together, how people can care for each other. We can show the world that when we pray in the name of Jesus, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”