OK, people, bear with me here - I am sort of rocked by the synchronicity of the universe right now.
So this past Sunday at church, we heard readings from James (The Prayer of Faith 5:13-20) and the Gospel of Mark (9:38-50), and our Rector, Jim, spoke about the "main ideas" he took away from the readings and how to incorporate them into our lives. I am going to try to paraphrase. Because I feel like "it all makes sense"and I'm having an "aha" moment. Fr. Jim spends a lot of his sermons talking about how God loves us, and wants us to do God's work in the world to bring us closer to God.
13Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. [James 5]
Fr Jim talked at length about how important prayer is, and how it really can help the sick and suffering among us. At our church we have a lay person (a massage therapist in the workaday world) who offers unction each week. This is a pretty unique aspect to this church and something I have come to really respect and admire. Many members of the congregation go to her each week and have "laying on of hands" to feel better.
And then he related the reading from James to the Gospel [Mark 9]:
He admitted, as will I, that this message in the Gospel is not an easy one for many liberal Christians to hear because many of us do not believe in a hell full of fire and brimstone. We think (or I'll say I) I think hell is when we remove ourselves from God's presence, and engage in destructive (bad) behavior that hurts ourselves and others. That by NOT participating in prayer and by putting oneself away from God's love, that is sin. And that THOSE are the flames that eat at us. He talked about us being salted with fire.
38"Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." 39"Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. 42"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. 43If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.[c] 45And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.[d] 47And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'[e] 49Everyone will be salted with fire. 50"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other."
I was sitting next to Josiah, who suffers from arthritis, and as Fr. Jim was speaking, I got a sense of Josiah's "inflammation" in his body, like his body is "salted with fire." And I prayed for him.
[I sometimes feel awkward about prayer - like me "just talking with God" doesn't really cut it. That I need to find someone else's words to "make it count."] So, I went online and I looked up St James the Greater (who is the one who wrote the letter above) and found this prayer:
Prayer to Saint James the Greater*
O Glorious Saint James, because of your fervor and generosity Jesus chose you to witness his glory on the Mount and his agony in the Garden. Obtain for us strength and consolation in the unending struggles of this life. Help us to follow Christ constantly and generously, to be victors over all our difficulties, and to receive the crown of glory in heaven. Amen.
That's beautiful. All of us struggle from time to time.
And then I found out that St James is the "patron saint of rheumatoid sufferers." Holy Synchronicity, Batman!
"Help us to follow Christ constantly and generously, to be victors over all our difficulties, and to receive the crown of glory in heaven. Amen."
* I'm not sure I believe fully in the idea that one should pray to saints as intermediaries. I was raised to believe that Jesus is the sole intermediary for us, that he is the one to pray to. BUT, the idea of the saints is appealing to me, and it "makes sense" to me too. And the idea that in their human lives, these saintly people understood people with similar concerns and could advocate for them, I love that! I still want to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, now more than ever.