Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 20)

Text: 1 Timothy 1,2
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 our leaders

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a leader who called for peace and reconciliation in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. When those opposed to apartheid advocated violence in return for the violence dished out by the government, he called for peaceful means of protest.

Tutu was on his way to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace prize and stopped off at a university for a special lunchtime meeting. Needless to say the building was packed Ė there was standing room only. This was during a time of particular anxiety in South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison seemed an impossible dream. The South African government of the time was in full and brutal charge, and on this day the church was full of young activists eager to do something about the situation in South Africa, then and there. The political and moral temperature of the crowd gathered that day had risen higher and higher.

The Archbishop rose to speak after minutes of cheering from the crowd, and in his lilting, musical, almost hypnotic voice, he said, "I'm going to tell you all what you most need to hear, the single most thing you can do for South Africa." The building fell silent as the crowd waited with bated breath, ready to follow him anywhere at any cost, "Pray," he said softly. "Pray for my people. Pray for us and with us, daily. Pray. That's what you can do. That will change the world."

Things have changed in South Africa. A sceptic would say that it happened as part of a political process. Christians say that the abolition of apartheid was an answer to the millions of prayers that were being spoken by individuals and churches asking God to soften hearts and cause peace to come to this troubled nation.

One cannot underestimate the power of intercessory prayer Ė that is prayer that brings before the throne of God the needs of others. Parents know the importance of intercessory prayer when they pray for their children as they are growing up and are faced with all kinds of temptations, dangers and difficult decisions.

Prayer doesnít cost anything except a few minutes of your time. Set time aside and/or when you have a quiet second during the day, and send up a little prayer to God to keep your child safe, strong in the face of temptation or whatever it is that is challenging your child at this very moment.

We have observed on our TV screens the horrible things that terrorists are doing around the world - the school in Russia, the consulate in Jakarta, the kidnappings and threat of executions in Iraq, the assaults and murders in our streets, the domestic violence and battering of children in our society. We pray for the victims of such terrible atrocities, and thatís what God wants us to do. The scars that these people who are harmed in such terrible ways will never go away. 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 Paulís 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. He doesnít say that certain people deserve our prayers more than others. He quite simply says, "Pray for all people".

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. Itís 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. Just as an example, I wonder how many people have prayed for the terrorist leaders who were behind that awful situation in Russia.
How many have prayed for the families of the terrorists, especially their children who are being brought up with such bitterness, hatred and loathing of everything western? One would suppose that Paulís encouragement to pray for everyone includes those people as well.
Or what about that ex partner or spouse who has caused you so much grief when he/she left you? Thereís no doubt that you are hurting but have you prayed for the one who has caused you so much hurt?
Or the boss who has been so difficulty to get on with, the employer who sacked you, the family member who has been so selfish and self-centred.

Itís not easy praying for people you donít like?
But Paul doesnít give us much choice here. He says that we should pray for all people. Itís easy to pray for parents, sons and daughters, friends, fellow Christians, but how hard is it 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 shire council members,
members of Parliament, premiers, prime ministers, opposition parties,
public servants, judges, barristers, the police, union leaders,
world leaders and governments of other countries,
This includes even those people with whom we donít agree;
those whose particular kind of politics we donít like;
those whom we believe to be dishonest and abuse their position;
those whom we think arenít 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.

It would almost seem that Paul is being a bit unrealistic. This is especially hard for us Australians because we have developed this thing we call "the tall poppy syndrome". We take delight in knocking down those who are in positions of leadership. Cynically we say about our politicians and community leaders.
"Oh those guys need more than our prayers!"
"If he isn't a crook before he's elected, he will be soon after!"
"Politicians are just a bunch of thieves and crooks!"

Our criticism is often unfair, without any real basis and without any real attempt to understand what it is that is being achieved. We can be very miserly when it comes to giving credit when good things happen. Instead we focus on weaknesses and failures, rather than strengths and successes.

For Australians it is particularly hard to pray for all politicians, those in the party we support and those whose politics we donít like. They are all involved in the government. They are all people whom Paul says "have been put their by God".

Maybe Timothy wasnít 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. The leaders of the government were pagan, 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 most people, or 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 rulers are Godís gifts to a nation and that the job of a politician is never an easy one. Being a leader involves making decisions and it doesnít matter what course of action is decided upon, there will always be those who will disagree and criticize loudly that the politician is incompetent. 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 Ė self-glorification, bribery, corruption, and greed.

Leaders need our prayers. They need the help and support of almighty God as they strive to do what is right and preserve the peace and safety of everyone in our community. Even if the leader was a tyrant, Paul is urging us to pray for him/her just as he urged Timothy to pray for the Emperor of Rome. Prayers are needed for such a person so that they would seek to provide a safe and peaceful country rather than stir up trouble and create division.

I should add this as well. When Paul tells Timothy to pray for "others in authority" Iím sure he was including also the leaders of the church and of congregation Ė pastors, priests, chairpersons, presidents, bishops, elders, lay assistants, councils and committees. Being a leader in the church in this century is not an easy thing by any means. Thank God that he has given us leaders. 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 Ė pray Ė 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 Ė 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 rule and lead.

We pray for all those in authority, in fact, anyone who has a need because of the love of God. We are glad that God didnít choose us because he liked the way we did things. None of us are worthy of his love and care and yet he gives it to us without any qualification on our part. Freely and generously and graciously he cares for us. Even though he does not agree with what we do in our lives, in fact he hates our sin, yet he still gives us his love and assures us of his help and forgiveness, making us members of his family.

It follows then that as God's children that we should pray for people in high office because of our love for them and for our country. Just as Jesus loves each one of us and intercedes for us at the throne of God even though we don't deserve it, so too we pray for those who have taken up the burden of high office even if we think they donít deserve it.

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;
the need for education, social welfare, crime prevention and detection,
the need to respond to the terrorism in our world,
then politics is laid on our consciences. Politicians need our support and the guidance of the Lord as they seek to find the right path of action.

And because there is a national election coming up, we need to pray for the whole country that God's Spirit would guide us we choose the leaders of our country. Let us thank God for the peace and harmony present in our nation and that he would continue to richly bless us.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
19th September, 2004

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