About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, September 21, 2007

1 Timothy 2:1-7

“Following Orders, Working for Change”

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

We’ve been talking about following. If you haven’t been here in a few weeks and you’re wondering what that strange word, “Akaloo,” is about, it’s the name of our Sunday School curriculum and the theme of worship for September. It comes from akaleuthein, the Greek word in the New Testament that means to follow. We’re followers, we’re akaloo-ers. We’re talking about how to akaloo well.

I want to back up for a few minutes because today’s scripture needs a little introduction. I think it helps us understand the meaning if we know the history behind the scripture. (Hang in there. I know a lot of you hear “History Lesson,” and your eyes roll back in your head as you remember 8th grade History class and how much joy that was. But this is Bible history. It’s much more fun.)

First Timothy – the book of the Bible we’re hearing this month – gets its name because according to its first lines it was written by the Apostle Paul to his young protégé, Timothy.

(And there’s the first problem. Church historians seriously doubt these letters were literally written by the authentic Paul to a literal Timothy. Most likely, the Timothy letters and the Titus letter that follows it were written by an anonymous school of church leaders to an unknown collection of missionaries, using the name and person of Paul for extra-added authority. It’s kind of like, the names have been changed to protect the innocent, and promote the author. Whatever the names and authorship, the instruction in the letter was plainly meant to teach future generations how to be church. And they have. Over the centuries, these little Timothy letters and the little Titus letter became incredibly important in the governance of the church, maybe even disproportionately so. But that’s another sermon. Let’s get back to Paul and Timothy.)

According to the story, Paul is writing from a Roman prison to try to give Timothy some pastoral wisdom about how to lead a church. Timothy is a young preacher, a third-generation Christian, who was taught the faith by his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, both of whom were converted by Paul and were important leaders in the early church. But despite his maternal stock, or perhaps because of it, as preachers go, Timothy’s not much of a manly-man. One author, examining the letters sent to Timothy, discerned that Timothy was “temperamentally timid and retiring by nature, with a weak stomach and a shy disposition, hence needing authoritative written instructions.” (Oden, Interpretation, p. 7). (Suddenly, I feel better about myself.)

Scholars guess that the letters to Timothy were written around the year 100AD, or slightly later. Why is this important? Because it means that Jesus has been gone from earth for around 100 years. How well do you remember what happened 100 years ago? If it weren’t for The History Channel and Ken Burns, we’d all be lost. I can barely remember what happened last week. One hundred years after the earthly life and resurrection of Jesus, the church is trying to do two things: (1) remember, and (2) survive. What we’re reading in the letters to Timothy are some of the first instructions to a pastor about the institutionalization of the church. (And pastors have been prime candidates for institutionalization ever since.) In the Second Century, the church is beginning to change from a movement to an organization. The church is getting churchy. Why is it important to know this context? Because in the letters to Timothy, the church is trying to figure out how we can all “just get along,” not just in the Second Century, but forever more. To understand anything in these letters, you have to catch the crucial paradox: The church is trying to figure out how to live in society AND change the world, at the same time. It’s worth repeating. The church is trying to figure out how to live in society AND change the world, at the same time. That’s all.

Now, jump ahead 2000 years to right here, right now. Lake Hills Presbyterian Church, with its congregation of Akalooy people, is trying to do exactly the same thing as the church to which the letter to Timothy was addressed. Isn’t that right? Aren’t you trying to figure out how you can be a follower of Jesus Christ AND a productive member of society at the same time? Aren’t you trying to figure out how your faith and your life fit together? We should all change our names to Timothy. It would make the church directory really confusing, but it would help us understand our place in this biblical story which goes on and on, over and over, twenty centuries later. In other places, the Bible talks about being, “in the world, but not of it.” Which is really easy to say, especially when you don’t like the way the world is heading. But we’re all such products of our world, our environments, our gene pools – how in the world (literally) can we pull off being in the world but not of it? This letter can help us.

First of all, [it says,] I ask you to pray for everyone. Ask God to help and bless them all, and tell God how thankful you are for each of them.

Good thing he started with the easy one first. Well… not exactly. How many of us really, seriously, “bless those who curse us and pray for those who persecute us,” as Jesus said in Matthew 4:4 and Luke 6:28? When the letter to Timothy says, “them,” it means everybody – “all y’all.” When the letter says, “everyone,” it means everyone. In the world. It means the good people and the bad people. It means Paul wanted Timothy to pray for the people ready to kill him for being Christian. It means praying for the people who are messing up the church with false doctrine. (One writer classified the false teachers of Timothy’s day as, “errorists.”) It means you’ve got to pray for the errorists and the terrorists. It means praying for your mom and your grandmother – for the people who taught you the faith as well as the people who want to squeeze the faith out of you. It means praying for your best friend, your husband, your wife, your kids. It means praying for the guy in the office next door with who steals your accounts and lies about it. When the Bible says to pray for everyone, it means pray for everyone.

How many of us really, seriously have prayers that wide? Most of our prayers are thin. Most of our prayers are single-wide, maybe double-wide. But world-wide? It’s easy to pray for the people who we love and who love us back. But what about the errorists and the terrorists, too? Those are some wide-body prayers.

And that’s just the first thing the letter says we have to do.

It goes on,

Pray for kings and others in power, so that we may live quiet and peaceful lives as we worship and honor God.

Maybe you’re better than I am about praying for kings and people in power. Not only are my prayers thin, they’re also short. By short I mean they’re closer to home. I don’t usually send my prayers long-distance in the direction of the White House. In the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church they use a prayer book for their Prayers of the People. And every week, the entire congregation prays, “for our President, George,” and “for our Governor, Philip.” Very personally, intimately, using their first names, the people pray for those in power.

But put this second command with the first, where we have to pray for everyone, and our prayers can become really dangerous. It’s one thing to pray for OUR leaders, whatever we might think of their policies. But when we have to pray for world leaders, the prayers can be not in our best interest. How many of your prayers mention, by name, people like Nuri Al-Maliki, the Prime Minister or Iran? Or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iraq? Or Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela? Don’t we want them to come to know the whole truth of God, to learn to live quiet and peaceful lives? It’s one thing to hope they rest in peace; that’s the voice of “in the world.” But it’s something else entirely to have prayers that aren’t “of the world,” to pray that God’s peace would descend on these rulers’ lives so that we might also live in peace. If it’s hard for us to do this, we have to remember the history of this letter. As the world goes, we’re pretty well-off. Imagine how hard it would have been for the people of Timothy’s church, hearing that they were now going to pray for the local Roman puppet dictator in charge of the occupational forces. Imagine how it would have been for them to lower their heads and pray for the Emperor.

And that’s just the second thing the letter tells us to do.

It goes on,

This kind of prayer is good, and it pleases God our Savior. God wants everyone to be saved and to know the whole truth, which is, There is only one God, and Christ Jesus is the only one who can bring us to God. Jesus was truly human, and he gave himself to rescue all of us. God showed us this at the right time.

About the time we start to get grouchy and offended by all the people we have to pray for, about the time we start to feel as though the weight of the world is being put on our shoulders (like, “Come on, Lord. Do I really have to pray for Chavez?”), about the time we start to feel as though our goodwill is being stretched too far and too wide, the letter reminds us – we’re not the only ones working for the good of the planet. Sure, “this kind of prayer is good, and it pleases God our Savior.” Our prayers are very important in working to change the world. But not because God’s going to fall apart without our help. When we start feeling burdened with all that praying God wants us to do, we really ought to take a step back and think about what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do for the sake of all humanity.

God, through Jesus Christ, gave himself to rescue all of us. All of us. When we pray prayers that are pleasing to God, we start to understand. If it’s hard to for us to pray far and wide – for the world we like as well as the world we don’t like – if it’s hard for us to pray mercy and peace for OUR enemies, imagine what it’s like for God.

If you really want to follow Jesus, you’ve got to consider that he spent his life teaching, healing and praying for people who would turn out to be his enemies. Jesus changed the world by allowing his prayers to be denied and crucified. God changed the world by resurrecting those prayers.

If you want to change the world, pray for it. Not just the parts you like. Because not much will change if that’s all you pray for. Pray for the parts of the world you don’t like. Work with your hands and your voice to give form to those prayers. Don’t be afraid to fail.

Pray for everyone. Ask God to help and bless them all.