Blog / Book of the Month / "Heaven Gave Rain" Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / James 5:13–18 / Sunday September 30th 2018: Season Of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

"Heaven Gave Rain" Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / James 5:13–18 / Sunday September 30th 2018: Season Of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

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"Heaven Gave Rain" Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / James 5:13–18 / Sunday September 30th 2018: Season Of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

(James 5:13-18) Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, 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 heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.  

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday September 30th 2018: Season of Pentecost / James 5:13–18 "Heaven Gave Rain"

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all are hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord. Amen.

Grace, peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Good Christian friends. “And for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” Elijah was a man with a nature like ours meaning he did not have any special quality that effected the “power” of his prayer beyond that which you or I have been given yet Saint James gives this example of a truly extra ordinary result from one of the prayers of Elijah. What’s going on then? First Elijah didn’t pray to gain glory for himself but to give glory to God. Second then is that Elijah’s prayer was a First Commandment prayer, a prayer where he demonstrated his fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

You see in Elijah’s time the Children of Israel were split. For a little background it all started when the hard headed grandson of King David, named Rehoboam, divided the kingdom of Israel over his lack of grace and mercy dealing with taxation and as a result the land of the tribe of Judah, where  the city of Jerusalem was and the Temple was, became split from the rest of Israel.

Two kingdoms emerged the northern and the southern kingdoms yet God long commanded them all to worship Him at the Temple in Jerusalem. That was where they were to bring their offerings and there alone were they to give Him their corporate worship as a people. Why is this split between the northern and southern peoples important? Because after the split the new kings in the northern kingdom couldn’t let their people continue to go down to Jerusalem and the Temple so they broke the command of God and set up for themselves their own places of worship.

Politics: that never gets anyone into trouble, does it?

First it was the new king in the north, Jeroboam, who said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So [we read in 1 Kings Chapter 12 that this king Jeroboam] took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one [and to Bethel to be before the other]. He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites.[1] All of these things he did without being asked to do so breaking the First Commandment “you shall have no other gods.” In his apostasy, his abject unfaithfulness and fear, his lack of trust king Jeroboam paved a path to an even worse falling away.

Six kings later in the northern kingdom in the time of the prophet Elijah, who Saint James is referring to, we here that it things had indeed become much worse, if you can imagine it, that there was another man who, “did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. [His name was Ahab] and as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam [who set up the false places of worship outside of the temple in Jerusalem], [this Ahab] took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served [and worshiped the evil false god] Baal [the Canaanite god of wind, rain, lightning, seasons and fertility]. [This king Ahab, the sixth after Jeroboam,] erected [not just golden calves but] an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in [the northern kingdom city of] Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah [an idol of Baal’s goddess wife Asherah so the people could worship this fertility god and goddess as husband and wife. And as 1 Kings says] Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.”[2]

The people were encouraged to make sacrifices and pray to these fertility cult gods to make it rain and to bring forth crops and abundance and this is why Elijah prayed that the true God, who actually brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, who truly gave to them the land promised to Abraham, the land that they now defiled with their fertility cult worship, - that this God, the true God to whom Elijah prayed would shut up the sky “that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.” Again as Saint James says this prophet Elijah was a man with a nature like ours. What does that mean? He was a sinner, one who needed the mercy, grace and forgiveness of God just as we do. The righteousness that Elijah has was not his own, like each of us, the righteousness he had, and that we have, is a gift. It is good however to know why he prayed his prayer. This was no parlor trick; it won him no firends, no friendship with King Ahab and Ahab’s wife Jezebel rather it brought threats of death.      

This example of prayer from the Old Testament is helpful while we think about the connection between righteousness and prayer in our Christian life.   

Prayer these days has become a divisive point, as everything seems to have become. It was common for people to say, “our prayers are with you,” at a time of tragedy, then to appease the rationalists who disregarded prayer the phrase was softened, “our thoughts and prayers are with you,” but now when you turn on the TV, or Facebook, or Youtube or open the News Paper and when something like this is said, “our thoughts and prayers are with you,” there are people who will cry out in anger that, “thoughts and prayers do nothing, so keep your thoughts and prayers to yourself! Or do something” This modern disregard for prayer, and the people who make fun of prayer, tend to be hard hearted and bitter toward God. They are not folks who are demonstrating any fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Yet Saint James says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” This is where we need to think about that connection between righteousness and prayer in the life of the Christian. This statement of James is true because of Jesus and His Sacrifice for us, it is Jesus’ death and resurrection that clothed you with His righteousness and therefore we have the same nature as Elijah – the nature of one saved by Christ Jesus – the nature of one who is in Christ Jesus by Baptism, and as such our prayer has great power as it is working regardless of what the detractors and non Christian World might believe or assert. 

Dear Christian listen to what Jesus says to your in John 14:13-14 where tells us that, “Whatever you ask in My name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” While this is an amazing promise this also makes us nervous because sometimes we feel like we are stuck on hold and every 5 minutes a calm voice comes on the line saying “your prayer is important to us, please stay on the line and it will be answered in the order it was received,” or that those detractors of prayer are somehow right, or we see that our prayers aren’t being answered (or at least not affirmatively in the way you envision that they should be) and you then are tempted to ask yourself, “what’s the point?” This can be a dark place for the Christian, and Christians stuck in that dark place can be tempted to break the first commandment and fail in their trust toward God and then turn to help apart from God: Help that in The End is no help at all.

Now Elijah asked for many things in prayer, more things I’m sure than are recorded in Holy Scripture – but remember that the Scriptures were recorded that we would believe in Christ Jesus and have life in His name, so not all of Elijah’s ups and downs in prayer are found in the Bible only those that our Heavenly Father knows will be of benefit for us to learn from.

You would think that things for Elijah would instantly improve when the rain finally came, that the death threats would go away? But that is not so Jezebel King Ahab’s wife was even more angry because her gods where proved false and the true God of Israel were proved true so she intensified her threats of death against Elijah and he ran into the wilderness and sat down under a broom tree and prayed. Do you remember his prayer? Elijah “asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree.[3] Now did God grant this prayer? Did this righteous Elijah not pray fervently enough? This man with a nature like ours broken and in need of forgiveness had this prayer, this prayer that he prayed rejected God. God did not grant his request because The Lord yet had more for Elijah to do, it was not his time, Elijah was yet to anoint another king and go to “seven thousand [of the faithful in the northern kingdom of] Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”[4] Those who were still faithful to the true God. 

Yes I get it, God says yes and no even to Elijah, but surely God would not say no His own Son to Jesus? Do you remember when Jesus on the night before His crucifixion went to Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, do you remember how it was when “He said to His disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, [Jesus] began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then [Jesus] said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with Me.” And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And [Jesus] came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And He said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, [Jesus] went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again [Jesus] came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, [Jesus] went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, My betrayer is at hand.”[5]

And as Judas walked forward to Jesus in the dark, lit with the light of torches, as His treacherous disciple kissed His cheek, Jesus knew His prayer to have the cup of the crucifixion pass from Him was not answered in the affirmative, He would have to set His face like flint, and give to them His body, He would have to put Himself at their mercy, and in their hands He would find no mercy, only torment and death – yet His last prayer as Jesus hung on the cross was from Psalm 31:5, when Jesus prays with fear, love and Trust in His Heavenly Father saying, “Into Your Hands I commit My Spirit.”[6] God the Father said no to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane but at the cross God the Father said yes to His prayer and in so doing He gave you Eternal life. Prayer boils down to trust, to love: Trust that God the Father does love you and that if trials should come for a short time, or for a long time, He will answer your prayers not in the way you always want them answered but in the way you need them answered.  

When Elijah prayed to God in faith for a drought and God granted it to him, Elijah was not trying to ruin the agricultural economy of the northern kingdom for his own financial gain but rather Elijah’s prayer was intended to help the people come to repentance for most of them had run after other gods, he prayed so that they would have a chance to turn back to their God, so that they could receive forgiveness of their sins for breaking the first commandment “you shall have no other gods.” Elijah’s prayer before the drought and his initial prayers at the conclusion of the time of drought revealed that it was God who was the true God, that He had control over the wind and rain, over the weather, the crops and all fertility not Baal or his goddess wife Asherah.  

When we pray in faith, when we pray for those things which glorify our Heavenly Father and bring Glory to His Son Jesus such prayers are prayers prayed with purpose and when they are fulfilled they point not to us and our merit but to Christ Jesus and His work for us. God answers prayer with a yes or a no or a not yet and He cares for all those for whom we pray – for the things we believe are little, for things we believe are big - even those things that we believe are impossible; He knows what is best for us.

Be encouraged in your prayers and remember this passage from the Epistle of James: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” How often have a been with you in your suffering, praying with you, anointing you with oil, pointing you to your baptism, and how often have the prayers seemed like praying for the rain to stop and yet healing came, and if healing did not, or does not come immediately we fear, love and trust in God that it will come as promised on The Last Day, when Jesus will “make all things new,”[7] this is why we confess that we believe “in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” This too is something that some in the world will say is impossible, yet as the Angel Gabriel said to Mary the Virgin mother of our Lord Jesus, “… nothing will be impossible with God.”  Amen.

Let us pray:

Lord, have mercy on us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.”

[1] 1 Kings 12:26–31
[2] 1 Kings 16:30–33
[3] 1 Kings 19:4–5
[4] 1 Kings 19:18
[5] Matthew 26:36–46
[6] Luke 23:46
[7] Revelation 21:5