Walker, MN

18th Sunday after Pentecost “Wait Patiently and Pray”
Sept. 26, 2021 James 5:13-20
Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,

If you want to learn patience, plant a garden. To teach a child patience, let them plant a little bean seed in a cup. They’ll expect to see something grow overnight; but they’ll learn to wait for the seed to /germinate, /then sprout, /then flower, /and finally produce beans. Let them compare that exercise to most things in life. We all have to wait for good things. While some things in life are ‘microwave fast’; most aren’t. We have to wait for /sickness to pass, /injuries to heal, /& knowledge to increase. God’s design of fields & gardens teach us to be patient for growing things like: /experience, /skills, /health, /& relationships.
So then, we are not surprised that spiritual wisdom, knowledge, & insight are also not instant, but we must be patient. Spiritual things grow slowly as we use God’s spiritual tools. Among those tools are His Word & Sacraments here in Church; as well as prayer, worship time, being together here in the fellowship of the faith, and working together as a ‘body’
in love & purpose.
So, I bring up patience & gardens because that’s what James was writing about just before he gets to the verses we heard in our Epistle reading from chapt.5, where he says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.” I want to go back a few verses before this, because the Lord is teaching us something about suffering and prayer.
James writes: Be patient, then, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You, too, be patient and stand firm because the Lord’s coming is near. …As an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We consider those blessed who have persevered. And you’ve heard of Job’s perseverance, and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
(& now we get to our verses) … “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray.”
So, there it is: ‘our lives are waiting for the Lord; so be as patient as the farmer; stand firm like the prophets, and like Job. If you are troubled or suffering, pray to the Lord.’ In this perspective of James, there is no expectation that the lives of God’s people will be free from troubles; …>
…> there is only the expectation that -in our troubles- we will /be praying, /being steadfast & patient, /and waiting on the Lord of Life.
Sometimes we are disheartened when we hear that false religions, like Islam, Scientology, or Mormonism, are growing faster than God’s Christianity. Or we become discouraged when church groups that claim Christianity openly support the immoralities & perverted evils of our culture. (like non-genderism) Those who would be solidly Biblical face opposition; if we speak truth-to-sin, & expect ourselves & others to live holy lives, we will be ridiculed. We’ve heard of cake-bakers being taken to court for not supporting the homosexual agenda; and churches/pastors being fined & punished for opposing unlawful governor mandates. If it’s happened to others, it may happen to us.
In most places during the Early Christian Church they faced even worse things; it was often dangerous to be a follower of Christ. Some were forced out of their jobs, homes & towns because they wouldn’t conform to the sinful culture or the tyrannical government; the Christian faith was classified as being ‘a threat’ to people or the country. What would you do if you had to decide between leaving your house & property, or changing your faith & practice? What will we do if ‘gender’ laws, ‘climate’ laws, or ‘virus’ laws threaten to close our church?

Not long before James was written, Saul was arresting Christians & even sanctioning their deaths = just for believing that Jesus was the risen Son of God & following the teaching of the Apostles. In James’ day, Christ’s followers were persecuted; and they were scattered.
However, they still had hope; because God had spoken of something bigger than their worldly possessions & lifestyle. Their eternal faith & future were more important than homes & land, & jobs & liberties. James is writing to believers who were struggling; & the HSp urged God’s people to focus on the returning Christ, by saying: ‘be patient until the Lord’s coming; and remember the farmer.’
You see, no matter who you are, or what your life is about, there is just one thing that is of top importance: Jesus Christ is coming back again! That was & still is great news for weary lives. Our hope is not that our suffering will end with death. Our hope is that Jesus is coming & bringing an end to all troubles, sorrows, & persecution. The world will make fun of us for having this larger spiritual perspective during our troubles. But this is the key to life. We can patiently endure different things because we belong to God, and Christ is coming.
This is the tool & weapon Christians have to combat worry & fear = we have God’s larger perspective. This is what causes our faith to grow stronger under pressure; it’s what makes us patiently wait for whatever tomorrow brings = no matter what. That’s the faith-gift God gave YOU when He baptized you as His own: all your hope is in Jesus = you know, …the One who raised Himself from the dead.

So, the believers in James’ day are being challenged & suffering; James is concerned about their endurance-under-pressure. He reminds them of other believers, such as the prophets, Job, & Elijah. And He connects true patience with the coming of the Lord.
To the world, having patience just means being able to ‘wait’ for a time. For God’s people, being patient is waiting with a real & spiritual purpose. God knows we are tempted to try to endure things like the world does = with just the strength of human character. People try to endure tough things by using /yoga, /meditation, /counseling; /or by ‘tuning out’ with alcohol & drugs, or by distracting entertainments.
But distractions do not equal the patience James is talking about; he’s talking about the patience of real faith. Whether for the OT believer or the NT believer, it’s only by God’s written Word & Living Spirit that the promises of God are kept in front of us to hold on to. For us that means that we are reminded that Christ Jesus arrived on earth for us; that he gave his life as the once-for-all-sacrifice for our sins. You & I are forgiven of all sin. And now by His Spirit, we are able to face each new day, confident that Jesus will return to bring us to his eternal kingdom.

In this patient, enduring hope, the Lord has made you like the farmer who plants his seeds, and patiently waits in faith for the crop to come. He will battle the pests & weeds so that the full crop will come in; but the germination & growth & the best moisture is out of his control. The earthly farmer does all his work with the earthly hope of a harvest; and often this broken world lets him down & it doesn’t deliver. But we are heavenly farmers, & we have something more certain: the promise of the One who died, who rose again, who ascended =
He has promised to return. That faith-farming & labor is never in vain. Our patience is strong because God’s promise is certain.
Earlier in his letter, James wrote: Blessed are you who remain steadfast under trial,
for when you have stood the test you will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who trust him.’ (ref 1:12)
So then, what will we DO as we are patiently enduring & waiting for Christ to return? What actions fit the hope we have? Actually, James writes a small list of things. He begins like this: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” Looking for the returning Christ, we will have ups & downs. Thru good and bad, we seek God’s help & strength to face all things. James is reflecting what he learned from Jesus, in Mt.7: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Mt.7:7) If we’re suffering, we pray; if we are cheerful, we pray with songs of praise.
St. Paul agrees, in Phil.4 when he writes: “Let you gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
As we are waiting for the return of Christ Jesus, we remain in enemy territory; which is a struggle. But we are not alone. God is with us, and supplies all our needs. But sometimes we forget He’s there. The routine of regular prayer makes us remember and bring our concerns to the Lord. We need that prayer-habit. He hears us, and he promises to work with us.
In either good times or bad, God does not want us to lose this view that Jesus is on His way.

What else is there to DO besides the habit of prayer & praise? James says that when there is illness, don’t suffer alone; you’re not alone, you have God’s Church. God may chastise us or even discipline us in our health; but He will never ignore His children. Again, James says, ‘pray’. “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” God’s people don’t always recover from illness; but illness cannot take away our forgiveness or salvation; and that is the real goal.

Another thing to do -as we patiently wait for the Lord to return- is: “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” When we acknowledge our sins to one another, we are using God’s process for the opportunity of repentance, forgiveness and gracious restoration (or spiritual healing). Since this is how our Master has treated each of us, his servants, so this is how we treat one another, as we wait for our Master to return. That’s what we do when we gather here for worship at the foot of the cross of our Savior. We confess together, we pray together, and we are healed together. Together we are watching in hope & anticipation for the return of the Son of God.

At the end of James’ list of things to do, his concern is for doctrinal purity; for without the exact truth of God, our faith & hope may miss the mark. It does matter what we believe, teach & confess. Jesus is not like Confucius, or Buddha, or Plato, whose teachings are philosophical, & flexible, cultural & always changing. His words are absolute, unchanging truths. James writes: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” God’s Biblical truth & doctrine equals life; wandering away from those equals death.
Who was it that said: ‘Enter thru the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter thru it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’ ? (who said that?) Yup, it was Jesus-the-Son-of-God = the One who is on His way; the One we are patiently waiting for; the One who is The Gate, and bringing His waiting people into that eternal Promised Land.
This letter of James is among the important teachings of truth from our Lord & Savior. These things are written so that we would be wise, saved, guided & encouraged as we see The Day of the Lord approaching. Our Lord Jesus has done great things for us; and there are greater things in store for us. So, says James, keep the faith by doing the faith. Continue to hope in His promises. And like a farmer, be patient = for the harvest of life is worth it.