1 Timothy 2.1-7 (NIV)
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
(This is part of a sermon series looking through what we do together in our worship service and why are we doing it.)
First Timothy is interested with the inner workings of the church – the leadership of the church and the church’s faithful living.
There was concern that certain people were teaching things that weren’t true … and that some peoples’ faith was being “shipwrecked.” Some people seemed to be devoting too much of their time and energy to things that, in the big scheme of things, didn’t really matter much and were sparking “Controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work” (1 Tim 1.4 NIV) … people were spending time arguing and guessing and missing the goal of God’s command, which the letter says, is “love, which comes from a pure heart and good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1.5 NIV).
Timothy, a young pastor serving a young church had been called to lead the congregation back on track – growing in faith and living out Christ’s love. The first thing the letter prescribes as a way out of the mess the congregation had gotten so caught up in was prayer.
“I urge then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all goodness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2.1-2 NIV).
The first instructions to this church that was experiencing a difficult time, and seemed to be in danger of falling apart called for prayer … it wasn’t just prayer for the issues the church was caught up in and distracted by – it was big picture prayer. It was prayer for people. But, it wasn’t just prayer to correct the people who seemed to be leading the church away from its purpose, or for the people who seemed to be on the right track. The church was called to pray for all people, the neediest and the most powerful. They were called to pray for people connected to the congregation, and for people who had no connection to the church, even for people who had power and could make Christian’s lives miserable.
I think our Presbyterian “Book of Common Prayer” catches these big picture prayers in its introduction to the “Prayers of the People”:
We pray for the world because God loves it. God created the world and cares for it. God sent Jesus, who died for it. God is working to lead the world toward the future God has for it. To abide in God’s love is to share God’s concern for the world. Our prayers should therefore be as wide as God’s love and as specific as God’s tender compassion for the least ones among us (Book of Common Worship, p. 40).
I love that sentence, “Our prayers should therefore be as wide as God’s love and as specific as God’s tender compassion for the least ones among us.” That big picture of our prayer has stuck with me this week … I love the way it stretches us out and points us toward bigger horizons … I am challenged by the way it moves us toward a closer alignment with God’s heart.
Our worship service, has three basic parts to it – Gathering, the Word, and Our Response to the Word. Our community prayers are a great way to move toward our response to the Word together … it helps us move toward living out Jesus’ greatest commandment, to love God and to love our neighbors … this prayer time helps us to move toward our neighbors … it move us toward right relationships with God and right relationships with the people around us as we ask God’s best for them … it guides in reflecting more of God’s concern for the world … it shapes our hearts to be more like Christ’s heart.
The call to pray even for “kings and those in authority” stretches out our prayers even more.
The instruction to even hold “kings and those in authority” in prayer made a powerful claim on Christians in that time and place. Roman Emperors were often understood as divine – people were often required to say prayers and offer sacrifices to the emperor, but here, kings and authorities aren’t understood as gods, they are prayed for, not too. Paul puts them in their proper place … he moves the people with power off of their pedestals and brings them back down to earth. He makes a claim about who is in charge … God is the one ultimately in charge, not the emperor. The king who had so much power to give people who didn’t obey his commands or agree with him a terrible time, didn’t have the last word. The God Christians prayed to was the one who would have the final say.
First Timothy’s call to pray for kings and authorities actually has a lot to do with Jesus’ command to pray for our enemies. In his reflections on this passage, Will Willimon writes,
Prayer is the serious business of the Church, the first and best service it renders for the world. The community’s prayers are not limited to the confines of the community, but stretch forth even to those who are not part of the community or who may even be in opposition to the community. We are to be the sort of people who can pray for our enemies (Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, p 2163).
As I have gotten to know you all and to be the church with you all, I have learned that you all are people who are serious about prayer. You value prayer. You are known by your community for your prayer. You pray for each other … you pray for your community … you pray for this world.
I noticed this the first time I met you, three years ago.
During my first worship service with you all, I was struck by your prayers … by your openness … by your willingness to share … by your courage to open your hearts in front of a group … I was struck by your warmth … by your care for the people in your lives and for your community … I was amazed (and still am) by the trust and love you have for each other. I think it is that spirit of trust and love that makes our prayer time so special. (On the worship surveys most of you all mentioned that our community prayer is one of the parts of our worship services where you consistently encounter God.) I think we have been able to do the things we have done together because of the spirit of trust and love you share.
There is one thing I have changed about our Prayers of the People since I have been with you … which was actually a pretty big risk (or a really dumb move) when you think about how much this part of the service means to you. I have asked you all to share a response after a person shares their prayers, and maybe you have noticed that I don’t repeat the request right after the person mentions it. In our Book of Order, when it talks about worship and the prayers of intercession, what we are doing and why we are doing it, it says, “In response to the Word, we pray for the world God so loves … these prayers are not the work of a single leader, but an act of the whole congregation as Christ’s royal priesthood. We affirm our participation in the prayer through our ‘amen’ and other responses” (BOO W-3.0308). These aren’t the prayers of the pastor, they are the prayers of the faithful community … When we respond, “Lord, in your mercy … Hear our prayer” we recognize and affirm that we are the community at prayer and during this time, when you or me or the person sitting behind you shares something it is just as much a prayer as anything a pastor would say. Our response to the prayers we offer affirms that a person doesn’t have to be a pastor or a worship leader to offer prayers to God during worship.
During our prayers of intercession … our prayers of the people … we move toward loving our neighbors … our understanding of God’s care and concern is stretched, our hearts are formed to be more like Christ’s and we grow in trust and love …
“Prayer is our serious business”