notre dame montreal


Sermon for Ordinary 26

Sermon Ordinary 26

Today we are looking to answer the question, 'What is Prayer?'

In the Bible in our reading from james today it says the following

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. 
Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.  Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another,  you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.   James 5

James the brother if Jesus is encouraing the church to pray. But what is prayer? What should we pray for ? How should we pray?

In one of his poems Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote
More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.

What is your experience of prayer

We had a question and answer session with Adrian and Bridget Plass last week and one of the things which people asked them about was prayer and what prayer is.  Bridget said to me ‘Well Charlie what do you think prayer is?’ I started by saying what prayer is not.

  • Prayer is not about trying to get God to see things our way
  • Trying to change God’s mind, or
  • Remind God of things which he has forgotten.
  • Prayer is not the equivalent of rubbing the bottle for the Genie to come out so that we can ask for stuff.

Can I exaplin that? Well it is interesting that the Lord’s Prayer, the one prayer which surely the whole of Christendom can agree about because it was Jesus himself who gave it to us as an example of prayer when asked  - never talks about  ‘I’, ‘Me’ or ‘My’, It is not about getting things for me. That is a very good place to start when we think of prayer. Asking God to give me stuff seems to miss the whole point of prayer. It is only the most basic human need for which Jesus allows us to pray, ‘Daily Bread’. And I am only allowed to pray for ’Our Daily Bread’, not ‘My Daily Bread’. The Lord’s Prayer encourages us to see our lives in community.

I said to Bridget that I thought a good example of a prayer was that one by Jesus when on the cross he said to God ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ Because prayer is about

  • Trying to acknowledge and expand God’s presence in our lives, even in and perhaps foremost in the darkest moments.
  • Prayers is about both seeking God’s pathway and walking with God present with us.
  • Prayer is making room for God, and with God’s presence comes good in all sorts of ways.

It might sound a bit undramatic but it is the way that God’s Kingdom becomes present in us and through us. Somebody said that prayer was

‘conspiring with God for the healing of the world,

That phrase suggests that prayer is not about trying to twist God’s arm to be loving and kind, God already is. To conspire is to work with God. The word conspire comes from the Latin Latin conspirare and it comes from con- ‘together with’ + spirare ‘breathe’. it means to 'breathe with' and in the case of prayer to breathe with God - that is a good description of prayer. The word 'conspire' also has that undertone of subversiveness, it undermines, plots, schemes, and don't we so desperately need something counter cultural to bring about radical change in society? It is about bringing our wills and concerns into line with God, and it is about bringing the teachings of Jesus into our world to bring about change.

It is interesting that when Jesus was asked about true spirituality he revealed that it is not something ethereal and removed from daily life. It is not about words . Actually it is about committing ourselves to live by God’s ways in our ordinary daily living, such is to live a life of prayer.   

Jesus said

'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' ; and, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'"  

Then of course Jesus goes on to speak of the parable of the Good Samaritan. The message is simple and yet remarkably hard, it is this: The spiritual path to eternal life is about how we show love to God and others. The truly spiritually enlightened are those who love God and who demonstrate this by being concerned about the needs of others before their own. This need not be in world changing events, in our Gospel reading this morning Jesus praises even those who offer a cup of water, a simple act of kindness will not go unrewarded by God. You might not have seen it as a spiritual act of prayer but placing a food item in the Food Bank box would be such a deed as you show your concern for the poor among us.





Prayer in James Chapter 5

I can’t go on too much about prayer in general this morning because I want to look for a moment at prayer in the contact of the reading from James. This is the book of James which we believe to have been written by James the brother of Jesus. In the closing chapter the church is encouraged to pray for the suffering and the sick.

We know from the ministry of Jesus that God does not want people to be ill.  Mental sickness, spiritual sickness and physical sickness were all part of Jesus healing ministry which his disciples continued.

James reminds his readers that the church should be a healing community. When a member of the Christian community is sick we should pray with them and for them.

James also says that we are to pray for forgiveness within people’s hearts and between people. James says that if certain people wander away from Christ, we are to bring them back to this community of compassion and healing.

This is important, if we pray to God for the people of our church then we will not speak ill of them or undermine them. The church is to be a place of compassion where we do not speak ill of or gossip about others.

This kind of prayer is so much harder than praying for people we do not know. I can easily pray for everybody in Syria, I never have to meet them and they will never get on my nerves. Praying for people who I meet and annoy me, or who don’t share my likes and dislikes is a lot harder. So James tells us to pray for people where prayer will make a real difference, in our community.

James also encourages us to confess our sins to each other and to and to pray for each other that you may be healed. Confession has always been seen as very high church Anglican or Roman Catholic but the great Methodist John Wesley encouraged confession with church leaders and it was also common in weekly classes.

He said that when we confess our sin we become ‘more and more dead to sin, [and] more and more alive to God.’ - Wesley

This is all part of seeing the spiritual life and a life of prayer as being about not words asking God for stuff but bringing God’s presence into our daily lives, individually and as a church.



James says that if we are suffering we should pray. This word suffering means all kinds of misfortune this is not just sickness, it might be that wicked owner who rents us his field and exploits us. The injunction is to pray, not to put up with the injustice but to seek God's presence in that situation.

So we pray for each other and we commend each other to God. This will mean that God is with us in whatever situation we face and that will make a difference. It does not mean that everybody will get better, clearly they do not, we know that in spite of prayer the Apostle Paul was never healed of what he described as his ‘thorn in the flesh’.  Good Christians living lives of prayer will still fall ill, clearly they will, but if prayer is about opening up our lives and the lives of others into God's presence then prayer starts to make more sense.

This is what I mean by praying 'into thy hands I commend my spirt.’  I trust in God even if I am suffering, and through that suffering, even if it feels as though God is not there any more because I know that he is even when I feel he has forsaken me he has not, and at times of greatest darkness God is ever present.  

· When our spirit is dysfunctional then our whole bodies will inevitably suffer and we will develop ailments.

· When we are right with God in our souls, when our spirit is well, then undoubtedly the holistic nature of us as human being means that we will be better in our bodies.

The power of the church praying for us when we are ill inevitably brings with it blessing in terms of giving us strength. Prayer is a channel through which God's grace become apparent within us.

· How many times have we known of people who have assured us of the strength it gave them to know that the church offered prayer or them?

· How many times have we seen amazing recovery for those for whom we prayed?  

· How many times when healing has not taken place have we seen how prayer has sustained those in need bringing the love of God close to where it needs to be?

Prayer isn't about getting what we ask for it is about bringing God into the situations in which we find ourselves. Prayer will allow us to be part of the change which God brings about to celebrate the joys and share the pain.

The church has to be a healing place, where troubled and damaged souls can find God and know his presence with them