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18th Weekend after Pentecost (B/RCL) Sept. 26 & 27 "Old Camel Knees & Prayer"

Eighteenth Weekend After Pentecost (B/RCL): Old Camel Knees & Prayer

James 5:13-20

September 26-27, 2015

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

            “Old Camel Knees.”  That’s the nickname of a fellow named James who wrote a now-famous letter that’s included in the New Testament.  (We’ve been hearing parts of that letter as our second lesson over the past month or so.) 

Question: Does anyone have a guess about why this person may have been called “Old Camel Knees”??  (First off, who can picture what a camel’s knees look like?  Knobby, right?  Kind of leathery?  Like they could use some “Skin So Soft” or other cream?)

            Answer: apparently James’ knees were calloused, covered with thick, tough skin, because he spent so much time on his knees praying.  He was a prayer warrior.  He fled to prayer, found comfort in prayer, summoned the power of prayer, claimed prayer as one of the most important weapons in his spiritual arsenal.  “Old Camel Knees” was committed to prayer and launched a campaign to sign others up as well. 

            In today’s “epistle” (the church name for a New Testament letter that often serves as our second lesson) James makes a case for the incredible power of prayer.  Alfred Lord Tennyson, one of the most famous British poet laureates of all, once wrote:

      More things are wrought by prayer

than this world dreams of.1

 

Hold that close to your heart, especially when you’ve done everything you can do, humanly speaking, to right a wrong or make something good happen, or when you’re faced with a bad situation over which you have no control:

More things are wrought by prayer

        than this world dreams of.

After Pope Francis addressed Congress on Thursday, he spoke to tens of thousands of people from the Speaker’s Balcony of the Capitol.  Speaking in his native Spanish, he said:

“I ask you all, please, to pray for me, and if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you please to send good wishes my way.”2

This beloved Pope, like James, believes in the power of prayer!  In The Message paraphrase of today’s epistle, James says:

·         “Are you hurting? Pray.”  (James 5:13)

·         “Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet.” (James 5:15)

·         “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.” (James 5:16b)

We have a number of different ways and chances to pray here at Holy Trinity.

·         Weekend worship is the way most people choose to pray together. 

·         Wednesday morning is an opportunity for a dozen or so of the early-birds among us to gather around the altar at 7 a.m. for Eucharist and around the kitchen table for fellowship afterwards. 

·         We also have an intercessory prayer group that meets monthly.  Instead of 125 people, like we might have at weekend worship, there are usually 3, 4 or 5 of us gathered in my study to intercede, prayerfully going to bat for the community.  We remember by name our church friends in special need of God’s help, and we also whisper in God’s ear the names and needs of friends we haven’t met yet, referred to us by all of you.  Why do we invest ourselves in that prayer time, which doesn’t visibly accomplish much??  Because we believe:

More things are wrought by prayer

than this world dreams of.

We believe, too, that Martin Luther was right when he said, “As it is the business of a tailor to make clothes and of a cobbler to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.”

·         Throughout the year there are special times when we offer silent meditation/ prayer opportunities in the sanctuary.  We gather in silence, praying to still our minds of their usual chatter and clear a spiritual space simply to “Be still and know that God is God,” as we read in Psalm 46:10.  There is comfort, and awe, and strength to be drawn from intentionally being in God’s presence on “receive” rather than our usual “send” mode.

·         In Advent we gather in Fellowship Hall for Prayer Around the Creche, and in Lent we gather for Prayer Around the Cross, singing simple chants and lighting candles and kneeling in prayer, marveling at the Gift the Father sent who was laid in a feeding trough for beasts as a newborn and who stretched out His arms on a cross as an adult.  “What wondrous love is this….”

·         We gather often for a healing service as well, which includes the laying on of hands and anointing for those who want it.  Why?  Well, today we heard how James, Old Camel Knees, asked:

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.  (James 5:14)

The role of the community in prayer is so important.  Many people say they can pray as well in the great out-of-doors or in their own home as in the sanctuary, but if we only engage in private prayer we’re missing out on the Lord’s promise that wherever two or more of us gather in His name, He’s there.  James also writes:

…confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. (James 5:16)

            As the Small Catechism’s explanation to the third article of the Apostles’ Creed reminds us, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers and enlightens us in community, in the church, in the Body of Christ.  A beautiful, essential element of Lutheran theology (which we share with other denominations as well) is our belief in the priesthood of the faithful.     Pastors aren’t the only ones set apart as pray-ers.  In baptism each of us is called to be a pray-er, each of us receives a priestly identity, which means we are set apart to pray, to intercede for the world, to share the Word (with a capital W), to worship God, to lead prayer-full lives.

            Maybe you agree that:

      More things are wrought by prayer

than this world dreams of.

But you wonder how to pray.  Do you know how to learn?  Show up.  At any of the times or places I’ve just mentioned.  Good start!  You’ve shown up today.  Take a peek at your knees, next time you get a chance.  Any chance someone will mistake you for Old Camel Knees??  There are prayer warriors like Old Camel Knees among us who can teach you if you want to learn.  Amen

            1Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer

       Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice

       Rise like a fountain for me night and day.

            Alfred Lord Tennyson, Morte d’Artur, from Poems, 4th edition (London: Moxon, 1845), lines 247-49.

2Peter Baker and Jim Yardley, “Pope, in Congress, Pleads for Unity on World’s Woes,” The New York Times, Friday, September 25, 2015, p. A22.

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham