OT: Psalm 19.7-14
NT: James 5.13-17Prayer That Works
Most of you probably remember the Challenger shuttle crash in 1986. Our entire nation mourned, as the space shuttle carrying six astronauts and elementary school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, exploded just after takeoff as we all watched on live television. It was a dark day for our nation. Those liftoffs had become routine, even celebratory, and we could not understand why such a tragedy happened.
So, why did it happen? Was it a fluke accident or an unforeseen circumstance? No, it was a failure to communicate. Engineers who worked on the shuttle’s booster rocket system, the big tanks on the belly of the shuttle that thrust it through the atmosphere, expressed concerns about the o-rings for years. They never quite sealed correctly, so they advised their bosses that the Challenger wasn’t ready to launch.
Their bosses didn’t want to disappoint NASA, NASA didn’t want to disappoint the President, and the President didn’t want to disappoint the nation. So the news about the faulty o-rings, which sealed the fuel in the booster rockets, never made it past the lowest level engineers. Their bosses never told anyone. NASA didn’t know. The President didn’t know. The nation didn’t know. Until we saw the flames in the sky that fateful day. The reason was faulty o-rings, but the cause was a failure to communicate.
If the consequences of failures in human communication are that grave, then what might the consequences be when we fail to communicate with God? That question came to me this week as I watched, with the rest of the nation, the Pope drive around DC in his little Fiat. While there’s certainly much to say about his trip, one of the most striking to me has been his ability to speak so publicly, so proudly, and so appropriately about church things outside the church. He has taken our entire nation to church. He has facilitated communication with God.
This week’s scripture is about prayer, and prayer in its most general sense is communication with God. When we pray, we speak silently and aloud, we listen, we watch, we wait, we leave voicemails wondering if anybody ever hears them. Sometimes when we don’t receive a call back, we assume the lack of an answer is the answer.
James’ point here in chapter five seems to be that no matter what our situation is, prayer is always in order.
Communication with God is necessary, according to verse 13…if you are suffering. Whether you find yourself wandering in the desert for 40 years like the Israelites on the exodus or stuck in a job that isn’t making use of your talents, it is OK to grumble to God! Let it all out in prayer. Get it off your chest. We all need to vent every now and then!
Communication with God is necessary, according to verse 13…if you are cheerful. Whether you are celebrating an anniversary or basking in the glory of achieving a goal you’ve been working towards for months, enjoy your success with God! Share your thanks with God for bringing you this far, for you surely haven’t gotten there by yourself.
Communication with God is necessary, according to verse 14…if you are sick. Not because you expect prayer to work like a magic trick, but because you need support. God’s support and the support of your community to get you through whatever ailments you face.
Communication with God is necessary, according to verse 16…if sin is gnawing at your soul. Whether you’ve done something you know you shouldn’t have or failed to do something you know you should have, prayer allows you to ask God for forgiveness! And forgiveness allows your relationship to be mended.
The Challenger crashed because of a failure to communicate. The engineers’ concerns never made it to those in charge, because they were too busy. Imagine the consequences we face when we fail to communicate with God. I know we’re all busy. It can be hard to sit down to a meal together, much less pray together. Sometimes when we get in bed we’re so tired we fall asleep before or during our prayers! I suggest you approach prayer, communication with God, differently.
What kind of prayer works? The answer is, “Prayer than works.”
What am I talking about? Think back earlier in James. He teaches us that faith without works is dead, right? What if the same is true of our prayers? What if, in describing all these kinds of prayers, he is saying that our prayers should be more than words? What if he’s saying prayers that work…work?
A prayer that works for those who suffer would mean helping to relieve their suffering. If they are hungry, we might live out our prayer by feeding them. A prayer that works for those who are joyous would mean praising God! A prayer that works for those who are sick could mean something as simple as giving them chicken soup or giving them a ride to the doctor. A prayer that works for everyday folks might mean a service of wholeness, where the pastor sprinkles water on your forehead to remind you of your blessedness and your importance to God and God’s desire that you be whole.
What kind of prayer works? Prayer that works. Remember, prayer is communication with God. And words are just a small part of communication. As the pope taught us this week when we preached to Congress about ending poverty and then ate lunch with the poor, our works and our actions are prayers too. Amen.