James 5.13-20

will you risk it?

Roy W. Howard


It happened like this:

It’s half-past eight when the phone rings.
He is settling down to glance at the newspaper and watch the game.
On the other end is a familiar voice, one he hasn’t heard in a long time.
His stomach tightens. He squints; feels confusion (or is it fear?),
moving slowly through him.  He presses the mute button on TV remote.

The voice on the other end used to be a close friend and business partner
until they ran into difficulties.
They called it a “falling out” and haven’t spoken to one another years.
He wants to meet in the morning over breakfast.  Says he has something he needs to talk about.  Can you make it? the voice asks.
Too startled to say no, he says uh, sure, I’ll be there at 7:00.

At 7:00 in the morning, his old friend shakes his hand; something they haven’t done in years.  The waitress has already brought coffee in sturdy white mugs.
They sit in a booth in the corner away from the window.
Staring at him from across the linoleum table, he begins saying,
“I’m sorry.  I wish I had called you sooner.  I just couldn’t do it; I don’t know why.
But now, I can’t live with myself.  I try to forget it, but that doesn’t work.  It won’t go away.  That’s why I called; to tell you I’m sorry, really sorry.

What I did to you was lousy.  I know it’s sounds strange, but will you forgive me?
I need to get this this behind us, or I will never get over it.”

There is silence.  He glances up for a moment and looks in his coffee cup.
“Listen, I couldn’t sleep all night.  What you did hurt, sure; but what I wasn’t any better.

The more I thought about what you did, I remembered what I did.
To be honest, it’s hard for me to sit in worship talking about forgiveness; because I’ve been holding so much back.

Anyway, I decided last night that I needed to apologize, too.
Can we do this together?”

They shake hands.  They have no idea what comes next, but they know the rest will be new.

Do you want to be healed?  Jesus asks the man laying beside the pool.
The answer is obvious, isn’t it?  Yes, I want to be healed!

There is more.
Yes, I am tired of cancer taking God’s children away.
Yes, I’m sick of sickening diseases that cripple your friends and mine.
And yes, the fear, rage and resentment, anger and jealousy,
all the toxic emotions that are ripping our country apart,
driving us away from each another and God; let there be healing!

Yes, of course, we want to be healed. Why do you even ask? Like Tiny Tim we say, “God bless everyone!”

But then Jesus asks another question that’s not as easy to answer.
What’s keeping you from being healed?  For the man beside the pool, what he wants requires something from him: crawling into the healing waters.  No one will do that for him, not even Jesus.


James, the brother of our Lord Jesus, assumes we want to be healed in every way, too. He says do whatever it takes to be whole; including the most outrageous thing of all:

Confess your sins one to the other so that you may be healed.

He is saying, there is a connection between what scripture calls sin and our health as a community.

Whatever we carry within us –unspoken, un-forgiven– is a festering wound that poisons the whole body.  If deep healing is ever to occur, it will be whenever risk speaking honestly, confessing openly the hurt we have done and the hurt received.

It’s an ancient way to address the contemporary health crisis, in our marriages and families, friendships and extending out into the community.

There’s more.

There is a man lying in a hospital bed.  He’s been there for days.
The little cream colored feeding tube is in his nostrils.

He is sick and tired.

There is a voice.  Then another.  Was it three?
He opens her eyes to see elders and deacons from the church standing around her bed.

He thinks, “They know I’m really sick.”  They smile.  One of them reaches to hold his hand. It feels very good.  They say encouraging things, read scripture and pass on news of the church.  They break bread and pray.

He is lifted in prayer far above his bed of sickness.  When he opens her eyes, he sees again the faces of those praying for him. He grins and slowly raises his hands with thumbs up. Peace descends.

What I’m trying to say is that there is a profound connection between the health of the body and the health of the spirit. Healing one brings health to the other. When the spirit is healed the whole social body is repaired.

It’s a connection that is mysterious and never predictable.

Doctors know it; nurses know it and the Church knows it, too.

None of us can explain it, but we can experience it.

Thanks to one of our ruling elders who posted it on the Friends of Saint Mark Facebook page, I read a piece this week in the New York Times about a doctor who, the article says, “is bridging science and the Spirit.” Dr. Dutkowsky is a committed Christian who is working with patients who have Celebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Down Syndrome and other such afflictions. “This is my ministry,” says Dr. Dutkowsky, 56. “Some people stand next to the ocean to feel the presence of God. I get to see the likeness of God every day. I see children with some amazing deformities. But God doesn’t make mistakes. So they are the image of God.”


Before Dr. Dutkowsky, James recalls the ancient wisdom that elders (and deacons) have a larger role to play than the management of a religious institution. They are the spiritual leaders to whom the community looks for wisdom and guidance. They are people of prayer, fine-tuned to be God’s instruments of healing, a role the ancient traditions -Christian, Jewish and Native American knew well.

Our health care crisis is far deeper than social policy. Our world community is weary, wounded and tired, full of dis-ease and in many places on the edge of life and death. Working for good social polices to address health care is just, right and absolutely necessary.  Alongside that work is community of faithful people praying for the healing of every disease that plagues our common life.

Prayer is the common practice of the people of God, rooted in wisdom from above.

This is the kind of community James envisions:
People praying for one another in the hospital,
the bedroom and the boardroom;
the living rooms and the war rooms;
on the streets and in the sanctuary
in every place where human hurt abides.

Let us pray for one another.