September 30, 2018
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
Life Together – Confession, Intercession, Healing
Over the past weeks, we have looked at the Gospel of Mark and talked about living the Christian life in terms of discipleship. We have learned that disciples should have divine things, but not human things in our mind. The divine things Jesus taught his disciples are serving others, especially, serving little children who represent the social marginals of the day. If I make the meaning of the divine things more general, it would be a life of relationship with others in our community.
The last chapter of James in the New Testament gave us today another lesson of why our social relationship is divine and how we build it. Please listen carefully as I am going to read it again:
“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 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. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 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. (vv. 13-16).
If I give a title to this chapter, it is “Life Together.” Life Together is a passionate call to Christian community. Jesus promised that where two or three gather together in his name, he would be there with them. Then the church must be a holy institution as we have the Prince of peace in our gatherings. But is that really always right? Actually, why don’t we think this way? Wherever two or three gather together, there would be sin, troubles and sickness. How come? It is simply because the church is a human community. We know there will be gossips, tensions and conflicts in any human communities. Some people also bring their own personal problems like their own health issues, children’s problems, or job or finance difficulties, etc.; we are concerned about their problems because we see each other as brothers and sisters in God’s love.
“How can we deal with all those issues and still go through life together as one body in Christ?” To answer that question, James wrote to the early Christians, and to us today, to deal with our sin, trouble and sickness in some kind of spiritual practices: they are “confession,” “intercession” and “healing.”
1) The first spiritual practice is confession: “Confess your sins to one another” (v. 16). We are sinners, that is the basic perspective that the Bible sees human beings. I believe sin is not only a moral or ethical term but also a social term. Intentionally or unintentionally we happen to commit sin, and there are always some people who must be hurt or damaged because of our sin. Thus, sin is by nature relational and so confession must be relational too.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus taught his followers to get rid of all sins if they want to get into God’s kingdom. He commanded them to cut off their hands and their foot and pluck out their eyes, if those cause them to stumble in sins (vv. 43-48). This dire warning of Jesus shocked all of his disciples, as we are shocked today. If we have to take Jesus’ instruction only literally, how many of us could come to church with a whole body? I also suspect that the heavenly kingdom would be filled with all disabled and maimed people. We must not take Jesus’ warning literally. I don’t think that he really teaches us that a morally perfect life is the way we can get in to God’s kingdom. We need to interpret what Jesus was trying to teach us with his dire warning.
As we carefully read it, we recognize that this hand chopping or eye plucking is actually relevant not to our physical life but to our social behaviors towards others. Jesus says, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (v. 42). Jesus’ warning about our sin is to focus not on our hand chopping itself but on the dangers of putting a stumbling block before others. Jesus warned us that our personal action can deeply affect others’ life. Sin is always social; therefore, our confession must be relational as well.
2) Another spiritual practice is intercession: “Pray for one another” (v. 16). Intercession is praying for others, which infers that it is also relational. If you know that someone is praying for you, you would feel like you are not alone but in God’s hands. Intercession is what Jesus Christ did between God and people: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Intercession is the way God and the world belong together.
I am thinking of a wonderful woman, a long-time member of the church that I had served in my previous appointment. At the end of my five-year ministry there, she could no longer come to the church because she was getting older and weaker. When I visited her, as I prepared to leave, she said, “I want you to know that I pray for you and pray for your new appointment in CT, every day.” I always saw her as an active member as I knew she has interceded in many people’s lives. And I would always say, “That is the very best thing that you could do.”
My new church here in Rockville has many such dedicated people. We have people who deliver the non-perishable food collected to the food bank. In the winter, our coat box is filled multiple times for the clothing bank. As our members age and can no longer volunteer the way they used to, many continue to pray for others with our Prayer Chain, attend small spiritual gatherings like our Bible Prayer Meetings, and pray for those in need in our community through Seekers.
3) A third spiritual practice is healing: “so that you may be healed” (v. 16). Can healing be relational? “I was sick and I am now healed.” “What does it have to do with others?” you may wonder…
As you know, Jesus Christ was a great physician to his contemporary people. Thousands of people followed him, looking for his physical touch on their sick bodies. He would be called a mental health therapist as he cast the evil spirits out of people. But Jesus said about his healing ministry, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:31-32). Doesn’t it sound like he was much more concerned about spiritual healing than physical healing?
Healing… that is a complicated gift of God. Yes, God has a deep compassion and will hear our voices whenever we pray to God, but I don’t want you to think that healing is magic. It doesn’t replace medicine or surgery. Although I pray for your healing, I still suggest that you need to follow your doctor’s prescription. The true meaning of healing in the biblical viewpoint is not just a physical curing but the wholeness of our life. It is relational: the relation of mind, body, and spirit; our relationship to each other; our relationship with God.
I have prayed for healing for people. And yet I have to see them still suffering and even dying. In James’s letter for this morning, we clearly hear that “The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up (v. 14)…The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (v. 16). Am I not a righteous pastor? Is that why the miracle of healing didn’t happen?
That verse has at least two meanings. When Jesus touched the sick during his public ministry, he often said, “Rise up and walk.” But we should know that there is another healing Jesus mentioned in the Gospels, that is, God will raise them up and give them resurrection, which is the ultimate healing.
Healing takes many forms. Sometimes there is physical healing. I am sure that this has occurred in our life. But sometimes there is relational healing—healing within families, among friends, within a community. Sometimes there is spiritual healing – somebody got lost but God came into their lives and their life has totally changed as they are forgiven and made whole.
“Life together” is a very divine foundation and principle on which we build our Christian community and share our relationship with one another. You don’t need confession, intercession and healing if you live alone in an island. You can do whatever you want to do because none would be hurt. But you need confession, intercession and healing because you have to live in a community where you experience sin, trouble and sickness.
What is then the divine thing we need to have in our mind in order to sustain and support our community? In terms of Mark’s Gospel, we have to keep salt in our relationships and be at peace with one another (vv. 49-50). Salt makes our food tasty and prevents it from decay. In terms of James, we must turn our attention from ourselves to others and seek for their wholeness of life.
For that kind of intimate relationship, God calls us to confess not only to God but to the people we have sinned against. God invites us to intercede as we know some of us are in some kind of trouble and we are called to serve them. In doing so, God offers to heal us, making us whole in our relationship with one another and God. Life together as we serve and work for the sake of others’ healing, wholeness and salvation is what the Christian disciples and communities should do in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. In light of today’s lesson, “life together,” Let us listen again to today’s passage:
“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 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. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 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.”
This is the world of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.