I love that the author writes in there “I’m not lying!” It’s like he ends with “for real, y’all!” I may try ending sermons like that in the future - “I’m serious! I’m not joking!”
Our message for today is about prayer. I’ll be honest - I struggled with it a little at the start of the week because I thought “Prayer is a given. Teaching prayer to this congregation is like teaching addition to a calculus class. They want more insight; they need more depth.”
Well, it’s funny - if you’re doing calculus and you add 2+3 wrong in the middle of it, the whole equation kind of falls apart.
It’s a bit similar to prayer. Much like I was taking it for granted earlier in the week, if we don’t give something so foundational in our faith attention, the whole thing may fall apart.
The author of our reading today knows this - he starts with “first of all,” which is less meant to be the start of a numbering of points and more meant to be “above all else.” Above all else, pray. Pray! Talk with God about your requests (for healing, for job offers, for wisdom, for peace). Talk with God about what your thankful for (family, friends, sunshine, safe travels). Talk with God about what you fear (loneliness, injustices, illness). Or maybe don’t talk...but be mindful of God’s presence in and around you.
Prayer. It sounds so simple. When I was a youth leader back in NC, the teens would always joke about going through the routine responses “God loves you!” “Read the Bible!” “Pray!” Indeed, “pray!” is one of the foundational answers of our faith.
So, why do we sometimes stumble when it comes to prayer?
One reason I think is that we forget this world’s mystical side. As a society, we often go through those pendulum swings and definitely we have swung between the rational and the mystical. In this swing, we start doubting the mystery of what happens when we pray for another person or simply to God. Or, we get bored, because we’ve lost the wonder of it all.
Or maybe we stumble with prayer because we’re embarrassed that it should be foundational and we should all have this awesome prayer life, right?
(Warning: another math illustration is coming). I was tutoring a high school freshman in algebra years ago and as we were talking out the problem, I said “and then 5 times 5 is…” He answered 10. I figured he misheard me, so I said, “5 multipled by 5.” He sheepishly answered “15?” He didn’t know multiplication and he knew he was supposed to. He tried avoiding it.
Maybe we do the same with prayer. We “should” know it. But what if we “mess up?” Good news: you can’t mess it up! If you express anger or sorrow or gladness or stubbornness or you sit in silence, you really can’t do it wrong.
Maybe we stumble in prayer because we out right avoid it. We can distract ourselves pretty easily, right? We can’t say we don’t have time to pray when we spend 20 minutes flipping through our phones. We have to ask ourselves why do we avoid it? If we are afraid we won’t know what to say, remember Romans 8:26 “the Spirit intercedes with groans.”
The need for prayer is all throughout the Scriptures. It’s not something that is mentioned a handful of times. In a quick search of the NRSV, “pray” came up 516 times.
It is a connection with the Divine - in and around us. Maybe this makes it scary. When you truly stop all the distractions and acknowledge God and acknowledge the Divine within another person, it can be overwhelming or intimidating.
From what we read today, this prayer was powerful - empowering. It was encouraging the early Christian community to pray for its leaders.
We hear this a lot in our modern day and we encourage that here, too - to pray for our local, national, and global leaders. It makes sense; these are people in charge and we want them making wise decisions.
And today is celebrated in many churches as Peace Sunday - a Sunday to pray for our leaders so that we leave peaceably.
In the time of today’s Scripture was written, though, the people in leadership thought the kings were gods. This wasn’t a case of having a big ego; this was a case of literally calling themselves divine.
So, for the author to encourage these early Christians to pray for, not to, the kings and leaders was, to put it nicely, a slap in the face to those leaders. It was almost like a Southern “bless your heart.” “Bless your heart, you think you’re a god, but you’re not really. So, we’ll pray for you.”
Additionally, these early Christians were being persecuted for their beliefs - obviously, if they were going against believing the kings were gods! They needed to pray for those in leadership, so that they could continue to peacefully spread God’s message, given through Jesus.
The praying we read about today is power-filled.
Prayer is power-filled. As I was reading and reflecting on this passage, I was reading the weekly UCC Sermon Seeds where Kathryn Matthews writes, “leading a prayerful life is a way of being leaven in any age, no matter how small and seemingly powerless you may be in the midst of a large and intimidating culture.” (ucc.org) She goes on to use this word “leaven” in relation to prayer multiple times.
I must confess: I didn’t know that I didn’t know what the word meant. I always knew unleaven bread was bread that didn’t have yeast in it and so it didn’t rise. So, is being “leaven” in regards to prayer like rising prayer??
“Leaven” means to transform something for the better. Yes, leading a prayerful life is a way of helping to transform something for the better. Prayer is leavening.
It’s why we pray throughout worship - it’s why we share prayer requests - it’s why we have a contemplative prayer monthly (today!). It’s why we are starting next month a healing prayer ministry.
Some of you have had really good questions about it - how will it be done? Is it optional? Why are we doing it?
We are doing it because we believe in prayer and we believe in healing. We are shown repeatedly in Scripture of instances where there was touch and there was healing. So, on Sundays where we have communion up front, through intinction, we will offer healing prayer as well. After you come forward for communion and are returning to the outside aisles, on either side, we’ll have healing prayer ministers. They will simply ask your name (if they don’t already know it), place their hands on your shoulders, and silently and briefly pray for healing. You don’t have to tell them exactly what for (if you don’t want to); they will trust the Holy Spirit knows.
This is completely optional, as well.
Prayer is power-filled. Let us not forget that. Let us not take it for granted. Let us not distract ourselves from experiencing its impact. Let us not convince ourselves that we must “get it right.”
I promise it’s true! I’m not lying! Fo’real!
Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:1-7