I was back on the road this week, visiting two churches with contrasting services: a BCP Holy Communion in a church actively being re-ordered (there was a small digger in the nave), and a Family Communion. In the first place (Odiham) there is a theme of prayer encompassing their sermons at present, and the 1 Timothy passage lent itself to this. The Gospel on the other hand is apparently one of the hardest in the lectionary to preach on! So no pressure then!!
So, in the format in which I wrote it, with alternative starting modes for each church, and an additional ending for the second church, here is what I said. (In the second church it actually had people talking about who they were going to have to pray for, and it was really interesting who they found hardest.)
Intro for Odiham (BCP):
It is not unlikely that at some point in our lives we have lent
someone money, at least if we have had any to lend. It might
have been as part of a formal agreement, or something more
informal where repayment is taken on trust, and interest may
or may not have been charged. We have almost certainly been
lent money, by a bank or building society if by no-one else; and in those circumstances, we have almost certainly been charged interest. People like a return on the money that others
use; it makes the effort and risk seem worth their while. When
we are the debtors it is wonderful if the interest on the loan is discounted. When we are creditors, it may be more difficult to
If it is not money that we have lent, we are very likely to have
committed time, talents or some other definable resource to
help family, friends, or a neighbour, and whilst we have not perhaps done so with the anticipation of being paid back in kind, there is possibly a natural expectation that in some way
the relationship will be reciprocal when we experience a time
of need or crisis ourselves. With money and goods, time and talents we have a natural inclination to expect some return on our investments. And I wonder if sometimes we anticipate the same when we pray?
Simple introduction for Upton Grey (Family Communion):
I have three bags with me today, and with the first let us
imagine for a moment that you have asked me for a loan of some money, and I lend you some. (Circulate bag of coins 2/5p) What might I expect in return?
I might also, perhaps more realistically, imagine that you have
asked me to pray for you. I can indeed give you my prayers. (Second bag of ‘Can I pray for you?’ paper slips.) What might you and I expect in return? Nothing? But plenty from God, as we trust faithfully that in some way those prayers will be answered.
Paul, in our first reading this morning, is asking us to pray
specifically for our leaders, the ones that grown ups elect into power, and those that inherit what we might view as status or wealth, as in the case of Her Majesty Queen. But why should we bother, if we don’t feel like we get any benefit in return?
In many places in scripture we are taught to pray. In the Old
Testament we are taught to “look to the Lord and his strength;
to seek his face always” (Hos 14:2). Jesus taught repeatedly
on prayer and among other things said to “ask for anything in
his name” (John 16:24), to pray for our enemies (Matt 5:44)
and of course left his disciples with what we know as the
Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). St. Paul, elsewhere in his
letters teaches by example that we are to pray with thanks for
others (Eph 1:15-21). But in our passage from 1 Tim today,
Paul is exhorting us first and foremost to pray for our nation’s
leaders and the leaders of all nations.
The temptation when we read that we are meant to pray for
our leaders, those elected and unelected, may be to think in a
similar way to that which we would about making a loan ofmoney; what will we get in return? Prayer all too easily
becomes more like trying to broker a deal with God, reminding
him that he is known as a just God, but having our own image
of what that justice should look like. If we don’t agree with the
politics and policies of those for whom we are called to pray,
this may be a particular issue and possibly put us off doing it
But if we look at this ideal in the light of Jesus’ parable about
money, perhaps it can help us in some way. In itself, it is not
an easy parable to understand, perhaps because it was not
directly aimed at us, but at the community of Israel at the time
of Jesus. He was only too well aware that it has been under
the leadership of foreign rulers for many generations, and that
a time was coming when that rule would become particularly
ruthless and hard to survive under.
Jesus was not suggesting that devious financial practices
would help them through this, but that they should as it were,
think ‘outside the box’ with regard to their financial and other
relations with those in power who control their lives, so that as
his disciples they would live to tell the tale, and the good news
of his life, death and resurrection. And, it is not after all, the only time that Jesus exhorts his followers to be shrewd, as
shrewd as snakes indeed (Matthew 10:16)!
St. Paul too has the expectation that we, with young Timothy,
will think shrewdly and laterally, but in this case about how we
pray. Paul doesn’t want our national, secular and spiritual
leaders to be an after thought behind our own more pressing
concerns, and that of our family, friends and neighbour’s. Like
Jeremiah telling the exiled people of Israel to pray for the city
of Babylon to which they had been taken, so that they will prosper within it (Jer 29:7), Paul knows that to live in peace, with godliness and dignity, requires us to pray for our leaders.
And on the world stage, I think we know only too well how much millions of other people need such peace and dignity?!
It is also about the propagation of the Christian gospel; as
ordinary people with limited power at our fingertips, we need to
live in as stable a situation as possible, so that we can thrive,
and so that the message of God’s love that we hopefully live out, can be seen as a witness to the grace of God, and the sacrifice of Christ.
The conclusion of our Gospel reminds us that money is not the
possession the master and steward regard it as in the parable;
but something whose use demands trust. In the modern world
we have to trust people with the care of our money, and whilst
that doesn’t always go as well as it might, we too are trusted
with the care of the finances of others, who place their faith in us.
And just as we need to be faithful in such secular and financial dealings, so too we are called to be faithful in the matter of prayer. God entrusts us with the ability to pray, to turn to Jesus who is our mediator and advocate with the Father, with the focus of our prayers being first and foremost those who lead, or seek to lead, the nation’s of the world, for through their decisions and actions lies the welfare of all God’s
Conclusion for Upton Grey:
And so we are left with my third bag, and the challenge held
there-in: will you pray for these, the leaders of the world? (Circulate bag of ‘leaders’ and the question, ‘Will you pray for me?)