1 Timothy 1:12-17; 2:1-7 18th Sunday after Pentecost
Elizabeth M. Deibert 18 September 2016
Hardly a day goes by now in our current political season that the news is not about some act of arrogance or some outright lie spoken by one of the candidates. It is unfortunate that one can hardly find news about the world that is not related to the utter lack of humility that seems to be a requirement for running for public office. When I was first entering adulthood, the conversations were about whether a candidate would be too rude in debating their opponent and if that would more damaging than helpful. But now insults, hubris, and lies are commonplace, expected. And what troubles me most is that some people do not seem to care how far we have fallen in our national ethics. All that matters is who has the upper hand. But have we forgotten the ninth commandment? What is it? Do not bear false witness. Do not lie. We need to pray about this problem of lying.
Paul wrote Timothy a letter that is personally addressed, but it appears he intended it for others, as he pleads with Timothy to instruct certain people not to occupy themselves with myths and speculations. He says instead that was is valuable comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Paul then goes on to express his gratitude for God calling him to the Gospel, despite the fact that he had been a liar and murderer. Paul was blinded by the light of Christ on the road to Damascus, and though he, a Jew, had persecuted Christians, he saw the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and said in utter humility, “I am the worst of sinners. I am the biggest one of all.” And yet God has called me and used me to demonstrate God’s power and patience. Paul becomes utterly dependent upon Jesus Christ, and he is then transformed into the most passionate witness to the gift of God’s grace and salvation in the early church.
1 Timothy 1:12-17; 2:1-7
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength because he considered me faithful. So he appointed me to ministry 13 even though I used to speak against him, attack his people, and I was proud. But I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and without faith. 14 Our Lord's favor poured all over me along with the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners"--and I'm the biggest sinner of all. 16 But this is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me first of all. So I'm an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. 17 Now to the king of the ages, to the immortal, invisible, and only God, may honor and glory be given to him forever and always! Amen.
First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. 2 Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and it pleases God our savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the human Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a payment to set all people free. This was a testimony that was given at the right time. 7 I was appointed to be a preacher and apostle of this testimony--I'm telling the truth and I'm not lying! I'm a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (CEB)
So having been transformed by this grace, and being one who started up churches among the Gentiles, Paul wants to make sure he keeps offering guidance to these churches that he and his companion Timothy are helping form. You can hear the people saying to Timothy, “We’re not praying for the Roman leaders. We’re not praying for the King. We’re only praying for the believers – those who are being saved by Jesus Christ.”
And so Timothy presumably tells Paul of the situation. And Paul says, “No, you must pray for ALL people.” In our day, Paul would say, “Pray for everybody – not just the Presbyterians, not just the Protestants, and not just the Christians. Pray for everyone – the Jews, the Muslims, the Hindi, and the Buddhists. Pray for all countries, not just the Americans, but think of the Syrians and of the Iraqis and the Russians. Pray for the Canadians and the Mexicans. God loves them all – there is no longer a distinction for we are one in Christ. And here’s something else: Stop all the senseless talk and bickering about candidates. Stop talk and pray for them. By all means, pray for your elected President, no matter whether you voted for him or not. Pray for the Congress and the Supreme Court.
Pray for the leaders of all nations and the mayors of towns and the city commissioners. Be informed, vote, stop complaining, and _____(pray).
Paul gives us a reason for this prayer for those in high positions. And by the way, even though there were not celebrities in their world like there are in ours, we should pray, it seems to me, for all these people of influence. Kings is equivalent to Presidents and Prime Ministers and Governors, and all in high places means to me all who have public attention: national leaders, leaders of religion, leaders of science and medicine, leaders thought and technology, professional athletes, movie and television actors, media gurus, high profile musicians and youtube stars. These folks are exercising a great deal of influence over us – over our culture, our values, and most importantly, the values of those who are coming after us, our children.
So we can put them on pedestals and relish when they fall off, we can gawk at the ugly transformation and downfall of a Miley Cyrus or Tiger Woods or Joe Paterno or Ryan Lochte. We can judge them or we can consider ourselves and why we thrive on reading about their troubles. Or we can pray for people in high positions – no matter how they got there. We can pray they will not use their power for evil, as is so tempting. Remember Jesus tempted in the wilderness? The ministry of Jesus Christ was saved by grace, by the God in him, who actually was Christ in the flesh that strengthened him to resist the misuse of power for evil purposes or for personal gain. This is what we must pray for national leaders – that they will use their power for goodness, for things that save people, that lift up others, that give them mercy and dignity.
Here’s the thing: Jesus Christ desires that everyone (not just some) be saved. By salvation, Paul uses past, present, and future tenses. I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved. Salvation is about opening our eyes to grace, like Paul did, and recognizing our sin. Salvation is about turning from that sin, and growing in the grace that is our through the power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is about healing wounds and awareness of grace and desire to follow Jesus in radical love of God and neighbor. Salvation is a gift we are told. Grace is not deserved or earned but is a gift to be received and appreciated. When we recognize grace, it makes us graceful toward others.
When we pray for others, even leaders we do not admire, we are putting our ultimate trust in God, and asking for God to save them and us. Then and only then, we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.
I cannot imagine being in the public eye constantly and having my every step and misstep, every comment, facial expression and hairstyle analyzed by the public media and social media. Wow. When I think about how I would feel to be a Clinton or Trump family member right now, I am sorry for ever saying anything – other than agreeing or disagreeing with policy statement and valuing experience or lack of experience, perspective or lack of perspective. Let us rise to godliness and dignity, even if all the world around us refuses to live the quiet and peaceable life. In this fast-beating, rapid-tweeting, snap-chatting, insta-gramming world, let us slow down enough to be kind and careful with our words.
Last week Jesus challenged to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us. This week, Paul’s saying, “pray for everyone, especially leaders.” So let us accept the challenge to be people of prayer who promote human dignity and peace by refusing to demean the character of any human being, whom God created. This will be difficult the next 50 days, but it will be worth it.
Will you pray with me? Good and great God who comes to us in the silence, when we stop talking and thinking long enough to listen to you, help us to pray for the people and leaders, especially the ones whom we do not respect. Guide us to pray for them when we are tempted to speak evil of them. Help us to know that you are our rock and our strength. You are our salvation, our refuge, and our peace. We shall never be shaken. In stillness and trust, we wait for you.