Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 20)

Text: 1 Timothy 2:1-2
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, requests, and thanksgivings be offered to God for all people; for kings and all others who are in authority, that we may live a quiet and peaceful life with all reverence toward God and with proper conduct. 

Pray for everyone

In the middle of the fourth century lived a young man by the name of Augustine.  His mother, Monica was a devout Christian; his father a pagan until his conversion to Christianity just prior his death.  Augustine received a Christian education.  It seemed Augustine was a bright lad and when he was 16 his father sent him to the city to study and become a lawyer.  This was a bad mistake.  Augustine became involved in a lifestyle of idleness, sex, and alcohol.  When he was 18 he had to admit to his mother that he was the father of a son.  He became involved in heretical sectarian groups. 

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 the false teachings and once again come to know Jesus as she had taught him when he was a child.  Finally when he was 32 years of age Augustine gave up his wild ways and returned to the faith he had been taught.  This was a real life enactment of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son only in this case it was a mother who watched and waited and prayed for her wayward son.  Not long after her watching and waiting was over Monica died.  Augustine went on to become a leader, a bishop, a teacher and a great defender of the Christian faith until his death at 76 years of age. 

The story about Augustine says many things about sin and forgiveness and grace but it also says such much about the importance of intercessory prayer – praying for others.  Over the 16 years she prayed for her son I’m sure Monica must have wondered as she prayed, “When will God act? Will my son ever change?” but she never gave up.  At baptism I urge parents and godparents to be like Monica – to daily pray for their child.  Satan and the evil in our world are too eager to harm those whom God loves and to lead them away from their heavenly Father.  The attacks of Satan are very powerful and so we need to bring the safety of our children before God constantly.

Daily we hear how evil is doing its work – killing innocent people whether in bombings in Syria, mass shootings in America, murder in our own streets, or violence in Papua New Guinea. 
We hear of children being badly treated by the very people who they look to for protection and care – their parents. 
We hear of terrible things that people in positions of authority inflict on the innocent and helpless simply because they can.
How many governments around the world have killed thousands upon thousands of their people and have never had to answer for what they have done?

We pray for the victims of such terrible atrocities, and that’s what God wants us to do.  They need God's help.

But how often do we pray for the perpetrators of such evil deeds? 
Do they deserve our prayers? 
Do they deserve help from God? 

Today we hear from Paul’s first letter to Timothy.   He starts by saying, “First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, requests, and thanksgivings be offered to God for all people”. 

Did you hear what Paul just said?  He wants us to pray for all people, for everyone.  That sounds good but not very easy to carry out.  It might be truer to say that we offer petitions, prayers, requests and thanksgiving for nearly all people.  It’s pretty hard to pray for all people.  We might be happy to pray for most people, but there are those people for whom we find it extremely hard to pray. 

How easy is it to pray for the perpetrators of evil not in the sense that God would strike them down with fire and brimstone, but that they would come to see that God’s ways to solve an issue is not with violence and harm but with an openness to the power of the Holy Spirit so they can be guided to seek better ways, calmer ways, more humane ways to deal with others.    
How many have prayed for those religious and political leaders who only speak with such bitterness, hatred and loathing of everything western and constantly threaten violence against the unbelievers?  One would suppose that Paul’s encouragement to pray for everyone includes those people as well. 

How easy is it to pray for those you don’t like – perhaps a person with whom you have had a falling out; the person you absolutely loathe; the person who has hurt you deeply?
I’m sure Paul included those people when he says that we should pray for all people.  It’s easy to pray for parents, sons and daughters, friends, fellow Christians, but how hard it is to pray for all people.

And then Paul makes his advice to Timothy really hard to carry out.  He says we are to pray for “kings and all others in authority”.
Mayors and regional council members,
members of Parliament, premiers, prime ministers, opposition parties,
public servants, judges, barristers, the police, union leaders. 
This includes even those people with whom we don’t agree;
those whose particular kind of politics we dislike;
those whom we believe to be dishonest and abuse their position;
those whom we think aren’t doing their job.
With some of the things that happen in high places, we don't feel like praying for our politicians.  We say we pay too much in tax; we disapprove of the government wasting money.

Paul is calling us to pray for all those in authority; not just those whose policies we like, but all those who rule our nation.  This is especially hard for us Australians because we have developed this thing we call “the tall poppy syndrome”.  We take delight in being critical and cynical about those in leadership positions.  We’ve just had elections and how many times didn’t we hear people say that they didn’t like any of the people or parties they were asked to vote for as if to say that there wasn’t a decent person amongst them all.  I don't think that would be a fair call.

Maybe Timothy wasn’t finding it easy to pray for the ruler of his time and who can blame him.  Timothy and Paul lived in a time when the government was opposed to Christianity and deliberately went out of its way to treat Christians badly.  It wasn’t a Christian government by any stretch of the imagination, and yet Paul says here and in other places, that Christians are to obey the rulers, pay taxes, and pray for politicians.  He makes the point that “the existing authorities have been put there by God. Whoever opposes the existing authority oppose what God has ordered” (Romans 13:1-7). 

It would have been much easier if Paul had said that we should pray for those in authority whom we believe to be doing the right thing.  Instead he says that “petitions, prayers, requests, and thanksgivings be offered to God for all people; for kings and all others who are in authority”.

I think Paul realized that the job of a politician is never an easy one.  Being a leader involves making decisions and it doesn’t matter what course of action is decided upon, there will always be those who will disagree and criticize loudly.  Add to that the constant pressure of public office, appointments, meetings, business deals, conferences, press releases, contracts, media attention, lobby groups, and so on.  With the public office there are always the temptations – self-glorification, bribery, corruption, and greed.

In the complexities of our world, leaders need our prayers.  So much responsibility rests on their shoulders – how will they respond, what kind of force will be used to bring the terrorists to justice, what countries will oppose any such attempt, what measures need to be taken to ensure that this will not lead to an all-out war, will we commit our military forces to help, in what way are we jeopardizing peace on this earth and so on.  There is little doubt that regardless of whether we think they deserve it or not, leaders need our prayers.  They need God's wisdom and power to guide them in the difficult task that faces them.

This should be noted as well.  When Paul tells Timothy to pray for “others in authority” this includes the leaders of the church and of the congregation – pastors, priests, chairpersons, bishops, elders, lay assistants, councils and committees.  Being a leader in the church at this time is not an easy thing.  Thank God that he has given us leaders remembering that the greatest proportion of leaders in a congregation is volunteers who fit leading a congregation into their busy family and work lives.  Ask God to give wisdom and strength to the leaders as they carry out the very difficult task of leading the church in the secular society in which we live. 

I think you get the picture.  Paul is urging us to pray – pray – pray for our leaders.  Whether we like them as persons or their policies or their actions is beside the point. 
If they are doing a good job in your estimation – pray for God's continued blessing and guidance.
If they are doing a lousy job - pray that God would give them wisdom, understanding and compassion as they lead.
If they are doing something you don’t like – pray that God would give you the courage and the right words to give encouragement and friendly advice.

Because the love of Jesus permeates you and me and because our eyes have been opened to the needs of our neighbour in every corner of our community, we want our leaders to respond to those needs and to lead us in that response.  It might be that people desperately need to know of the love that Jesus has for them or that a response is needed to crime or terrorism, the burden that is placed on leaders at every level is a great one.  Leaders need our support and the guidance of the Lord as they seek to find the right paths of action.  

In the Bible we read, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”. “Pray for all people; … for kings and all in authority so that we can live quiet and peaceful lives”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
22nd September 2013
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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