This sermon was preached on September 22, 2013
1 Timothy 2:1-7
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should 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. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
A Quiet and Peaceable Life
Usually, when I preach, I like to spend a fair amount of time on exegesis, which is a fancy word for unpacking scripture. But today, we have a BBQ to get to, so, you’re getting a homily, and I’m using our scripture as a jumping off point, because I want to talk about prayer.
Our scripture begins with this line: Paul writes, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should 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.” Prayers for everyone. Some people may mis-read this line, and think that Paul is saying that kings and political rulers deserve more prayers, and hence, submission to their rule. But he’s actually saying that kings need our prayers as much as peasants do, and everyone should be prayed for. Why pray? So we can all live a peaceable life. He’s saying that prayer will help us find peace in ourselves and also in the world.
So how do you pray? Sometimes, when people are new to church, or new to a spiritual life, this is the biggest question they have. I’ve had many people tell me they don’t know how to pray, or that they’re afraid they’re doing it wrong.
The truth is, I don’t think there is a wrong way to pray. For me, prayer is a conversation with God that continues on and off all day. When I pray in church it might be more formal, and when I’m getting ready for bed at night, it’s like unburdening myself to a friend. Sometimes it lasts a long time, and other times, it’s simply, help me, God! Or, thank you so much!
For other people, prayer is very scripted. Think of Catholics who pray the rosary. They are saying very specific words over and over again, often while holding an intention of someone or something they especially want to pray for. My friend Dani is a Buddhist, and she chants “Om Nyoho Renge Kyo” for an hour each and every day. Prayer takes commitment. Not necessarily an hour or more every day kind of commitment, but the commitment to open yourself to the Divine, to be honest, and, perhaps hardest of all, to listen. The simplest prayer, but maybe the most important, is to be silent, to listen for God’s voice, God’s inspiration, God’s love.
And all this prayer really comes down to peace. We pray to be at peace, we pray for peace in the world, we pray for peace for others. When I pray for someone who is sick or suffering, what I am really asking God to do is to bring them peace, and whether that means healing or passing away is up to God. When I pray for myself, for help with a stressful situation, I am praying to be able to make peace with whatever is going on. And when we pray all together in worship, we are encouraging peace between members of our community.
I presided at a memorial service yesterday for a family that was as far from churchy as you can get. They had no ideas about scripture or hymns, they were lapsed Catholics, and hadn’t really set foot in a church since before Vatican 2, when Mass was all in Latin! Even so, it was important to them to send their loved one off “in the right way,” they told me. I put together a simple service, using aspects like the 23rd Psalm and Amazing Grace, hoping that those would at least be familiar to some.
As the church filled up, it was clear that this was a big group of people who, for the most part, were not that comfortable being in a church. So, the first time I prayed, I prefaced it by acknowledging that I knew many of them were not Christians, and that was OK, they didn’t have to believe the prayers I said, and they could pray in their own ways. You could almost see the body language change. People got it. The bikers in the back smiled, the nervous folks in the middle relaxed, and we had a short but lovely service that was really appreciated, even if Art and I were the only ones singing the hymns!
Sometimes, as Christians, that’s what hospitality means, letting people know that you believe they have permission to pray in any way that feels right to them, that there are no rules that will prevent God from hearing them if they don’t do it right. And sharing that hospitality with people of different faiths, or no faith, is one of the greatest ways to make peace. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Let us do our best to be peacemakers, and let the heart of that work begin with prayer. AMEN.