9/22/2013 sermon: “First of all, [pray]”

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: 1 Timothy 2:1-7
18 Pentecost, Proper 20, Year C

“First of all, [pray]”

First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone…” (1 Timothy 2:1)

Several of my seminary friends have just become Rectors or Priests in Charge of congregations. They each have remarked on the huge difference in the time commitment required of a Rector or Priest in Charge, compared with the time required of a clergy assistant. One of my friends—who will remain unnamed—this past week expressed his new reality like this:

My first weeks I felt like I was drinking from a fire hydrant. Actually, I felt like I was being water-boarded, not to in any way minimalize the horror of the actual experience of being tortured.

“Just what have I gotten myself into?” I wondered. But then, another colleague gently told me, “Read First Timothy 2:1.”

I thought that this was a reminder to spend MORE time (what time!!??) studying scripture. As counter-intuitive as this seemed, though, this advice made sense, in a funny sort of way.

Abe Lincoln, for instance, once famously said that if he had only six hours to chop down a huge oak tree, he would spend four hours sharpening the axe. This saying reminds me that taking “time out” with God FIRST is actually useful preparation in times when we have a lot to do.

This is when my brain took over. “Wait,” my brain reminded me, “didn’t we learn in New Testament classes that the books of First and Second Timothy are two of the three pastoral letters in the Bible? In fact, as the old saying goes:

  • First Timothy (from which our epistle reading today is taken) describes the ideal church.
  • Second Timothy describes the ideal pastor.

“So,” my brain reasoned, “there’s bound to be some good advice for new Rectors and Priests in Charge there.”

Finally, at long last, I actually cracked The Book itself and flipped to First Timothy chapter 2, verse 1. There I discovered the advice I had been given was not about scripture reading, exactly. The advice was this: “First of all, [pray].”

Here we see that spending time in prayer is the first and foremost way to sharpen our “axe” of our busy lives.

How are we to pray? The author of this letter to Timothy tells us: “[Make] supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings…” So we are to use all types of prayers.

  • Are we to use intercessory prayer, the prayer in which we intervene with God on behalf of someone else? YES! As we reflected on last week, God allows his mind to be changed by our intercessory prayers, our prayers for others. By all means, intercede with God for everyone on our prayer list each week.
  • Should we plead on behalf of ourselves—make supplications? These prayers often start like this: “O God. Help me!” Our Psalm today, which is from King David’s prayer to God after he had well and truly made a mess of his life, is a good example of a “Help me!” prayer. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” By all means, make supplications as needed.
  • Should we give thanksgivings for what God has given us? Not only does today’s lesson exhort us to give thanks, we can find hundreds of places in the Bible that tell us to give thanks to God continually. In fact, theologians think that giving thanks to God is the primary purpose of our existence. So by all means, give thanks to God.

The author of this letter doesn’t get specific in telling us how to pray, though. Instead he just names these different ways to pray and urges us to pray first, pray often, and (he says) pray for everyone.

This last bit, to pray for everyone, gets a lot of play in our epistle lesson today. We are to pray for EVERY-single-ONE, not just those who are like us, whom we like. Not just those inside our community, not just our family and friends. “First of all, [pray].” And pray for EVERYONE.

Of course, First Timothy 2:1 applies to all people, not just pastors. “First of all, [pray]” is a fitting prescription for all people and for every situation. Prayer connects us to God, or at least allows us to see, feel, and draw on the very real connection between us and our creator.

The more we use this pathway, this connection to God, the more we know the reality of God.Then this pathway is available to draw on when senseless things happen in our broken world, things that make us angry and afraid. “First of all, [pray].”

Today we are going to baptize Georgia, whose photo is on the front of our bulletin. Georgia is:

  • Child of Carol and Andy;
  • younger sister of Amelia;
  • granddaughter of Robert and Lissa, and of Pat and Woody;
  • niece of Philip and Jenny, of Xan, and of Rachel and Greg;
  • Cousin of Abby and Jack, and of Paige and Vera and Ava.

These are family connections. Over the years, Georgia will use, will draw on, her family linkages, her wide circle of close relationships. She will know herself to be beloved, connected, a beloved member of her family.

Georgia’s family delights in her. They see in her an independent streak, a gleam in her eyes, a delight in teasing, a will to win, and a love of blackberries. Georgia loves family togetherness, dancing with her sister and parents in the living room and family story time. She loves being silly with her sister, to throw her head back, howl like a wolf, and to cackle with laughter.

So, too, Georgia has connections to God, as real and as tangible as these family linkages are. The God that created Georgia almost two years ago delights in his unique creation, as he delights in each and every one of us.

In a few minutes we are going to baptize Georgia in the name of her creator. We are going to name the reality of the Holy Spirit that gives her life and who is the author of that gleam that is so evident in her eyes. We are going to baptize Georgia in the name of Jesus, who teaches us how to love. In this way we trust that, over the years of her life, Georgia will be able to use, will draw on, her linkage to the God who loves her beyond measure.

When we baptize Georgia we will “seal the deal” between this child of God and her creator—we will “seal the deal” between Georgia and her family and this community, and we will collectively promise to teach her both how to pray, and to “First of all, [pray].”

And, in this way, we will be reminded of our own baptism and be renewed as we remember that we also have “sealed the deal” with God, “sealed God’s deal with us.”

May you each be sealed in the Holy Spirit, and marked as Christ’s own, forever. And remember, “First of all, [pray].”



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