Sermon - 15 Pentecost
In the Name…
My brother-in-law once told me that a politician is someone who can predict the future and then explain why it didn’t happen.
In the middle of the fourth century, there lived a young man by the name of Augustine. His mother, Monica was a devout Christian. His father was a not-devout pagan. Augustine was a bright lad and became a lawyer, but fell into a lifestyle of idleness, sex, and alcohol. He fathered a son with one of his girlfriends and dabbled in weird religious cults of all sorts.
You can imagine how upsetting all this was to his mother, but she never gave up hope. She prayed and prayed for her wayward son. She prayed that he would give up the wild life and false teachings and come to know Christ. Eventually, when he was 32, Augustine did and was baptised. He went on to become a theologian, a bishop, a defender of the Christian Faith, and died a martyr.
This story about Augustine underlines just how important intercessory prayer is – that is prayer for others. Over the years, the decades, I’m sure Monica must have wondered, "Will God ever hear me?" But, she never gave up.
Today we heard from Paul’s first letter to Timothy, "First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone."
Now, did you hear what Paul just said? He wants us to pray for all people. For everyone. No big surprise, we might think, but, in reality, that’s not very easy to do. It might be truer to say that we offer petitions, prayers, requests and thanksgiving for a lot of people. We might even be happy to pray for most people. But, there are some people for whom we find it extremely hard to pray.
It’s not easy to pray for those for whom we don’t like – perhaps a person with whom we have had a falling out; maybe the person who has caused us no end of pain and sleepless nights? Not easy at all. But, then, Paul asks Timothy to do something even more difficult than that. He says we are to pray for "Kings and all who are in high positions."
That means mayors and council members, governors and presidents, congressmen and senators, civil servants, judges, the police and union leaders. People with whom we don’t agree; whose politics we dislike; whom we believe to be dishonest; and whom we think aren’t doing their job.
With some of the things that happen in high places, we don't often feel like praying for our politicians. We say taxes are too high and disapprove of the government wasting money. And, when those elected to serve the common good are more concerned in tearing each other to bits than in the welfare of the nation, who wants to pray for them?
And, I’m sure Timothy felt that same way because nothing is new under the sun and people in high places were just as bad then as now, if not worse. And, of course, Timothy and Paul lived in a time when the government was opposed to Christians and deliberately went out of its way to treat them badly. And yet Paul says, here and in other places, that Christians are to obey the rulers, pay taxes, and pray.
But, I think Paul realized that the job of any leader is never an easy one. Being a leader involves making decisions and there will always be those who will disagree and criticize loudly that the leader made the wrong decisions. Add to that the constant pressure of appointments, meetings, business deals, conferences, press releases, contracts, media attention, lobby groups, and so on. And, with leadership, there are always the temptations to self-glorification, bribery, corruption, and greed. Sometimes brought on by feelings of loneliness and despair. Actually, someone once said that a leader who feels lonely and isolated is more likely to put his or her hand in the till. Interesting thought, that.
No wonder Paul encourages us to lift up all those in authority. Don't just sit back and criticize them. Don’t just rubbish their policies or decisions – even if they are rubbish. Pray for them. We don’t have to agree with them. Actually, it’s probably when we disagree with them the most that we should take them to God. Ask him to give our leaders wisdom and understanding to act in a way that will bring peace. Ask God to guide them, strengthen them, and see what is best for the country and the world.
As the children of God, we experience the love of Jesus in our lives every day. And we can be glad that he has not decided to pick and choose amongst us who should receive his grace and mercy. None of us is worthy of his love and he still gives it to us without any qualifications on our part. He doesn’t love us because he likes some thing or other we have done. So much goodness doesn’t buy so much blessing. And, even though he does not always agree with what we do in our lives, he still gives us his love.
Likewise, even though we may disapprove of the decisions people in high office are making, so too we should pray for those who have taken up the burden of office and take their needs before the throne of God, even if we don’t think they deserve it.
We live in a world where there is more than enough violence, suffering, and pain. It could use a little more undeserved prayer. That is a special role God has given us here in this world. May God’s Spirit, then, lead us to take all those who carry the burdens and temptations of leadership, at every level, to the Lord in prayer.
In the Name…