Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sermon from 9/18/2016 -- Praying for Everyone

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Let me begin by saying that some of you may find parts of this sermon political and parts of it may be uncomfortable. And there are very good reasons for that – the original bible text is itself political, and the implications of what the author is saying would make many people uncomfortable.

The good news is that this year has been an exciting and deeply annoying election process. Now you may be saying to yourself, “That’s good news?” Yes it is, at least when it comes to understanding this passage, because it will have greater meaning for us than it might at other times.

Let’s get all historical. Paul, or someone writing on his behalf, is writing to a group of Christians and he says, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” Now at first that sounds pretty tame. But remember, these Christians are not living in a time when the leaders are even remotely Christian. In fact, the emperor has demanded that people treat him as a god, that they bow down before his statue and pray to him. That’s idolatry – worshiping something other than God, and so Christians and Jews refused to do so. But when they refused, they were arrested, tortured and often killed in quite barbaric ways.

So imagine that you live in a place and time like that. Where you are forced to go into a temple, bow down and worship an emperor – if you don’t, you know that at the very least you will be put in prison. And here is Paul, telling you pray for emperor. Doesn’t that make you a bit uncomfortable? Isn’t there a part of you that says, “No! I don’t want to pray for this person! I will not pray for someone who wants me jailed or killed!”

Of course, what Paul is doing is actually quite clever. He is suggesting that instead of praying to the emperor, they pray for him. Whether they like him or not, in fact, whether he is at all godly or not, he deserves their prayers. Everyone deserves prayer – even the worst of us. So Paul suggests, when you go to the temple, carefully word your prayers so that the soldiers think you are praying to the emperor, but when in fact you are simply praying for the emperor. It is really quite smart. But that doesn’t mean it was easy for people to do. They still had to get past their feelings about the emperor in order to pray for him. They had to lay aside the friends and family that may have been arrested, they had to swallow their anger, and pray for someone they didn’t like.

That’s why I think that this passage might come at a good time for us right now. People are pretty polarized politically right now. We have very strong feelings about the candidates for president. I bet that most of us have pretty negative feelings about one of the candidates or all of them. But here is the thing, Paul suggests that no matter what our feelings about the candidate – that individual deserves our prayers. So you can see why I said that the sermon might seem political and it may make us uncomfortable. But it isn’t particularly supporting one party or the other – rather Paul is telling us to do something that we might not like doing – pray for all our leaders, even the ones that set themselves up as gods, or put us in prison, or torture us, or even kill our family and friends.
That being said, What should they pray for the emperor?

I mean, there are lots of ways you can pray for someone. You can pray that they have great health, that everything they do succeeds, or you can pray that they fall and break a leg, or that they are hit by a runaway chariot and killed. But I am guessing that if you are in front of a group of soldiers and pray that the emperor is hit by a runaway chariot and killed that they would arrest you on the spot.
Paul makes a little more subtle suggestion. They should pray for the emperor so that we can lead quiet and peaceful lives in godliness and dignity. In other words, we should pray that they would be good and wise leaders. Which when you think about it is a great prayer. It only makes sense that we should be praying for our leaders, even the ones we don’t like by asking God that they would be good and wise leaders that lead in a way that brings a good quality of life to all of us.

Paul then reminds us that God wants all people to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. Notice that he does not say that we should pray that the emperor be saved or come to knowledge of the God, once again the soldiers would probably arrest us if we did that.

Of course, we aren’t facing arrest for praying if we pray that one of our elected officials would come to be saved or the knowledge of God. But – here is the thing, praying that assumes that we know what God alone knows –what is in the heart of that leader. Far too often I hear people saying that this leader or that leader isn’t really a Christian, and then they suggest that our country would be a better place if he or she were. The fact is, being a Christian does not automatically make you a good leader, or even make you act particularly Christian. Look at history and you can find plenty of absolutely rotten leaders who were Christian.

Rather he suggests that we pray in a more practical way. He reminds us that Christ came to set all people free – so our prayers are that the leader leads in such a way that all might be free through Christ. Our prayers are about the practical and everyday decisions that the leader makes – for that wisdom from God that brings goodness to the lives of those that leader leads.

So on the political side of things, when you are looking at presidential candidates, what Paul is saying is pray for the practical way they affect us, don’t pray that bad things happen to them; and pray that they would gain wisdom that would enable all of us to live quiet and peaceful lives in all godliness and dignity. That is a great prayer.

But let’s move this past politics for a moment. This concept does not just apply to our presidents and politicians. It also applies to our bosses, our neighbors, our exes and anyone that just plain may annoy us. As tempting as it might be to pray that our boss would be fired, or our neighbor be attacked by a rabid squirrel, that is not the approach that Paul suggests.

We are to pray that they would allow us to live our lives in quiet and peace, and that all might find the freedom of Christ. And I like that. If our boss would allow us to do that, if our neighbor would allow us to do that, if our ex would allow us to do that, then those people would be a lot easier to live with.
He has given us a great model that we can use to be in prayer for anyone, whether we like the person or not, it is a fitting prayer.

Hmm. I just had a sudden thought. I realized that the person that usually causes me the most grief in my life, is me. Usually when I have trouble it is because I have made a dumb decision. So maybe I ought to be using this prayer on myself! “God, help me to live in way that I may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” I like it! I think I will have to use it. See that’s not political, it is just plain practical advice on how to deal with my biggest opponent – myself! When I was thinking about this sermon originally, that thought never even occurred to me. Love it!

So to summarize. In this time of political turmoil, we should be praying for all of our leaders, whether we like them or not. In fact, we should be praying for all people, whether we like them or not. And we can even pray for ourselves. “Supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”

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