First Congregational Church
September 18, 2015
18th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Timothy 2:1-7
“Forest and Trees”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So the teacher asked the student, “How old is your father?” The boy replied, “He is six years.” The teacher said, “What? How is that possible?” The boy replied, “He became a father when I was born.”
The teacher said, “Ole, your composition on ‘My Dog’ is exactly the same as your brother’s. Did you copy his?” Ole said, “No, sir; It’s the same dog.”
I don’t know if any of you ever had any of those cheap binocular-type things when you were a kid, but you knew they were cheap because of how quickly the focus changed when you moved the dial. The really cheap models were almost bi-visual: near and far, and not much between. The more sophisticated models of the day give one many more depths of difference between near and far.
I suppose in some ways, jokes were somewhat bi-visual: the expected and the unexpected - and often times coming at you more quickly than you realize.
Our scripture passage, once we really look at it, has that near-far sense, too. Last week we took a look into the very first part of 1 Timothy, and this week, we take a crack at the first part of chapter two. It is the second part of chapter two that has become an issue for so very long.
For those who weren’t here last week, Paul wrote to Timothy at least twice, to encourage Tim in his ministry in the city of Ephesus. The diversity in Ephesus was huge, due to it being the third largest city in Roman Asia Minor, in addition to it hosting the largest temple to the goddess, Artemis. In fact there were so many people there, that part of Paul’s letter encouraged men and women how to act - for centuries - for what was most likely a statement about that time. The sad part of that admonition is that it has “stuck” onto too many Christians, becoming a stumbling stone matter rather anything really helpful.
To make matters worse, the authorship of 1 Timothy is also in question, so rather than wrestling with questions, folks are probably more likely to avoid the book completely or to handpick verses, rather than do the work to really understand. So as Dale Herscher reads our passage for this morning, see what catches your ears or eyes - or heart.
1 Timothy 2:1-7 (NIV)
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
Thank you, Dale. I would love to have a conversation with everyone here to find out what you think about the phrase about not being able to see the forest for the trees. So are we supposed to look first for the forest? Is there a problem of focusing on trees, rather than the forest? And what other metaphors could be used instead of trees? A herd and goats, a school and fish, a pastor and congregation? Why or why wouldn’t those metaphors make sense? I apologize for the goofy working of that which is called my brain.
I make this point because I think that’s part of why we even come to church. Sometimes the best thing we can do in going to any church is that we can take a breath, a step back or whatever we call it, to remember our place and reset our lives for what the world can seemingly drain from us.
The encouragement to pray for kings and all those in authority seems timely, regardless of the century in which we live. I just had the question yesterday, so I didn’t have time to do the research, but I wonder if there has ever been a time in the history of the world when there was peace in all the land. Because we’re right here, right now, it may seem like our world is more in need of prayer than any other - especially the rulers. But maybe it’s only a matter of degree.
Because there is so much in history, we can’t know it all. So we may have missed or forgotten that starting with the rule of Julius Caesar, the republic was replaced by the Imperial system; this meant that one emperor would rule, rather than a dual leadership of two different “consuls.” Most of us can only begin to imagine the tension a Christian subject of Rome would have felt, knowing that emperors are not elected by the people and thus not likely leaving office anytime soon. The writer of 1 Timothy was asking early Christians to worship the God of Israel while rejecting the Roman Emperor Cult. Sedition and insurgence and rabble-rousers, oh my!
Rome gradually introduced the idea of emperor as an actual God. So there’s a little word, in our passage, with huge importance. Paul says to pray for kings, instead of to kings. Regardless of the century, we do well to pray for our leaders - regardless of our feelings for them - petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings. We all need prayers for wisdom and insight, kings, authorities, pastors, lay people, Minnesotans and everyone else.
The teacher asked Maria to “Go to the map and find North America.” “Here it is,” she pointed. The teacher said, “Correct. Now, class, who discovered America?” The class, in one accord, said, “Maria.”
The teacher said, “Glenn, how do you spell ‘crocodile?’ Glenn: “K-R-O-K-D-I-A-L.” Teacher, “No, that’s wrong.” Glenn, “Maybe it’s wrong, but you asked me how I spelled it.”
Paul suggests that we pray for others - especially leaders - so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. It’s interesting that we get so many “religious” images of peaceful life. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” has a non-violent - sense to it. As a introverted, Scandinavian, former Minnesotan, my DNA contains many molecules for peaceful and quiet life, so I get what Paul is saying.
And yet, sometimes we see the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. “There is a time for everything - “a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. (3:6-8) Eric Bareto, Associate Professor of New Testament, at Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, MN, made an interesting statement. “Lest we become enablers of continued oppression, we ought to bring a critical eye to this text.
By asking people - us - to pray for leaders, whether intentional or not - Paul juxtaposes the powerful of the world to the omnipotent, all-powerful God. It’s a good point to keep in mind, that our prayers for whomever, but perhaps even more so on those with lightning rods attached to their souls, that our prayers are focused on God, and not so much on the individuals.
I wonder, too, about what our prayers for leaders is really about. My guess is that we may sometimes get our prayers for what we want mixed up with what we really ought to be praying. The hunch here is that our prayers for leaders is perhaps laced with emotion of some sort, which brings a picture to my mind of finger-pointing. It is mind-boggling how often that picture of one finger pointing forward includes three fingers pointing backward. There is great irony in the one thing that we see as an issue in another person’s life is often times the same issue in our own lives, more times than not at a tripled or magnified level.
So our prayers for our leaders and authorities becomes even more critical, because they (hopefully) keep us humble and focusing on the right things - God first and then everyone and everything else.
The Teacher said: “Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?” Donald replied, “H I J K L M N O.” The teacher asked what he was talking about. Donald said, “Yesterday you said it was H to O.”
The Teacher said, “Susie, what do you call a person who keeps on talking when people are no longer interested?” Susie replied, “A teacher.” (She could just as well have said a preacher.)
So when we pray, especially for the leaders of this world, Paul suggests petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings. Petitions are for particular needs, prayers is a general word for prayer, intercessions is an urgent and bold request, and thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude. Especially with leaders we agree, it’s easy to offer up prayers in all four of these areas. But for those leaders - any individuals - with whom we disagree - it is far harder to include all four categories, especially the last one of thanksgiving. And no, prayers of thanksgiving mixed with sarcasm or lip service don’t work!
The writer of 1 Timothy didn’t need to include that little bit about thanksgiving, but it’s there for a reason. That’s even more true because categories of three would have been more “holy” in the Hebrew world at that time. But the writer uses four, so all of those prayer areas are important. It may be hard for some to find something to be thankful about when thinking of the Adolf Hitlers and Osama bin Ladens of the world. But notice that the writer didn’t say we had to be perfect in those prayers. So I don’t know that we have to find gratitude for those who wreck evil on this world. And besides, we have the Holy Spirit to intercede for us when we don’t have the words.
There is a prayer I found online this week that seems to speak to this passage and our world and our struggles that is infinitely better than anything I could have come up with in the middle of the Michigan State and Notre Dame game last night. So shall we pray?
Loving God, who desires everyone to be healed and come to know the truth. You ask us to pray for those in positions of power that we may all come to live together, quietly and in peace and in dignity. Yet how should we pray for those who have misused that power over others?
Should we be honest in our anger and ask that logging trucks break down, fishing nets tangle and drills go blunt? Will that bring the peace you desire? Will that lead to dignity for everyone? Or would economic hardship just redouble efforts?
How should we pray for them Lord? Should we be pious in our prayer and ask that they find peace in Christ, a deep respect for the land, care for the poor who live upon it?
Will that do Lord? Will these prayers lead to the godliness you desire? Or is this the godliness we desire? A quick fix, an easy solution, all provided by you and little required from us.
So how should we pray for them Lord? How shall we hold the actions of an abuser, an oppressor, or a bully, in our hearts? It is no easy thing Lord. And to hold in our hearts the misusers of power themselves, is perhaps even harder. It seems much to ask from us Lord, especially from the victims, the oppressed, the bullied. It may be more than our spirits can bear. So, we ask again Lord God, how should we pray for those who have misused their power over others? How should we pray?
Silence. Come Lord Jesus. When our words seem inadequate, hear the yearnings in our hearts. For you alone are one between us and God. And as you hear our complaints about those in power, loosen our hands around the stones we would throw. And as you hear us call for justice, prepare our hands to work for change.
Be present in all negotiations we pray. Where local people sit down to tell their story, where company owners and lawyers listen and respond, when mediators and advocates intervene, where the support of aid workers is present. May the words shared among them be inspired by the Word that makes all things new. Words of truth. Words of dignity. Words of peace. Words of life. And all your people say, Amen
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.