Pray Every Way You Know How

On September 20, 2016 by saintlukesgresham

Rev. Jennifer M. Creswell

If I were a little more mature, I wouldn’t be so excited about this. But for the first time, I’m preaching about 1 Timothy 2: the famous ‘women should keep quiet in church’ passage. It’s not what’s in our lectionary, but it’s just after today’s passage from the Epistle: “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” It gets better: since Eve was the first to sin, women are to be subject to men. Except they may be saved through childbearing. Thank goodness. I passed the test.

I am mocking. And I shouldn’t do that. Really, this passage presents a fascinating complication of issues: prayer, political and religious divisions, and the One God who gave himself for all.

First, a tiny bit of history. 1 Timothy is a letter, supposedly written by Paul to Timothy, his friend and fellow apostle. Except that Bible scholars universally agree that Paul didn’t write the letter. Or 2 Timothy either. They were likely written a few decades after Paul’s death. Why fake authorship? Well, probably the writer wanted to maintain the authority of Paul’s voice in the early Christian community. In 1 Timothy, “Paul” gives Timothy the mantle of apostolic authority that he had. This letter may have been intended to establish Timothy as a new Paul among the churches.

And the church is still young. So many things that we take as essentially Christian had not been established yet. So the community norms, to borrow from conference language, hadn’t been agreed on yet. The writer of this letter is trying to establish some of those norms. So the letter tells the readers, don’t listen to false prophets. Follow people who teach love that comes from a pure heart. And pray for everyone. Pray especially for rulers. And don’t let your women speak in church. And the men should pray out loud. And the women shouldn’t dress fancy.

Listen to the way today’s passage starts: “The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know.” I love that for a norm in the church. We’re working on this at St. Luke’s right now: praying together, introducing new ways to pray, praying for everyone we know. Not just everyone we like. Everyone we know. The next verse is interesting: “Pray especially for rulers and their governments.” Reading this in September of an election year puts a different spin on it, doesn’t it? What’s interesting is that, when this letter was written, the Roman government was in power. And the Roman emperor was deified, so citizens were used to praying to the emperor. The writer of this letter suggests that Christians pray for the emperor. Subversive as that is, it’s also pretty clear: our rulers and leaders are worth our prayers. Our candidates are worth our prayers. The corrupt and the honest are worth our prayers. The humble and the narcissistic are worth our prayers. The honest and the deceptive are worth our prayers. The wise and the rash are worth our prayers. And we pray for our leaders because we pray for everyone. They are no less, and no more, children of God than we are.

In 1 Timothy 1, before today’s passage, the writer tells the crowd, “The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love—love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God.” And I know. I know it’s not simple. I know it seems like this election, in particular, could spell disaster if one or the other candidate wins. I was writing this last week in Colorado where I was visiting my sweet grandparents, and I heard my granddad’s voice get louder and angrier and I swear I could see his blood pressure rising when he started talking about my preferred candidate. I have my own fears. But Jesus himself said all the time, “don’t be afraid.” He didn’t say it because he was naïve and didn’t know there were scary things in the world. He fell afoul of the Roman government and was crucified. He said ‘don’t be afraid’ because God is with us. And so we pray for our rulers.

And this is subversive. Because if I start praying for the other side, then there can’t be sides anymore. We just are one country, one faith, one people. That attitude doesn’t get people elected. That doesn’t stoke the fear that gets people to the polls. That doesn’t maintain the illusion of totally separate identities for people who believe differently: liberal vs. conservative, Republican vs. Democrat, right vs. left. It doesn’t serve the power structure that is so hungry for itself.

“He wants not only us but everyone saved, you know, everyone to get to know the truth we’ve learned: that there’s one God and only one, and one Priest-Mediator between God and us—Jesus, who offered himself in exchange for everyone held captive by sin, to set them all free. Eventually the news is going to get out. This and this only has been my appointed work: getting this news to those who have never heard of God, and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth.”

It’s hard. I choose my positions based on my beliefs. I vote the way I do because of my faith. My love of Jesus informs my decisions at the polls. But above all, I am a Christian. And for me, my Christian identity trumps all the others. In baptism we are marked as Christ’s own forever. And to me, that holds more power than a voter registration card ever will. Or a passport. Or even my orders in the Episcopal Church. All those things are dear to me: my identity as an American, an Episcopalian, a feminist, a Democrat, a gun control advocate and everything else. I have chosen or embraced each of those markers with careful thought and prayer. But I would give all of them up to maintain my identity in Christ. It’s why I don’t say the pledge of allegiance. The flag is a fine symbol, and I love my country, but I only pledge my allegiance to Christ. It’s why many churches—including St. Luke’s—don’t display any flags in their sanctuary. The Episcopal Church is a beautiful institution and the United States is a country that allows us to practice our religion freely. We honor these values and the institutions that hold them. But in this space, in this sanctuary, our honor and allegiance go to Christ before anything else. In this space, we cease to be Ducks or Beavers, Donald or Hilary people, citizens or undocumented, whatever it is. Here, we are people of Christ.

People are saying this is maybe the most polarized period in American history. Many of us spend most of our time with people who believe the same things we do. We don’t really do public forums where people can talk about their political beliefs and really hear opinions that differ from their own. And so it becomes easier to fear, or mistrust, or discount the other side. But thank God for the other side. Because when we do have the rare opportunity to have relationships with people so different from ourselves, with people who stand for the very things that make us crazy, we see that God’s grace is greater than what divides us. And we have to admit that, righteous as we may feel, righteous as we may be, God’s love covers us all. God’s love confers forgiveness for my faults and for my enemies’ faults.

So whatever it is that you care about—racial equality, transgender rights, fighting sexism, the Republican party, conserving natural spaces, abortion alternatives—whatever it is, use your God-given passion to be in the world and work for it. Be alive. Be useful. Help God create the world you want to see. But never, never forget that the other side is made up of God’s beloved, too. That the love God gave you for animals or trafficked girls or refugees, is the same love that God gave you for the animal abusers, the traffickers, the corrupt leaders. So pray. “Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their
governments to rule well so everyone can be quietly about their business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.”

And when the Letter to Timothy says that women shouldn’t speak in church, and should come without jewelry or braided hair, we may hear that view, understand its context, and rejoice that we are all one in Christ. The hair braiders and the plain-haired. The women who speak and the women who don’t. “The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love—love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God.” Amen.

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