1 Timothy 2: 1-7
I’m sure in the years that you’ve been attending church, and for many of you it's been OCC you’ve heard many a fine sermon or series of sermons on prayer. How to pray, when to pray, why you should pray, what to pray for, and then there’s the Lord’s Prayer; you could spend months dissecting that prayer that Jesus taught us.
I have no doubt that you pray especially since it’s built into our order of service three times during worship. Each week that I read the list of people to be included in our Pastoral prayer, I am reminded of the depth, sincerity and earnestness of your prayers. We are very privileged to lift up to God heartfelt and loving prayers on the behalf of others.
Let us hear now what Paul says to Timothy about prayer in today’s lectionary reading, from the epistle of 1Timothy…
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all —this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Timothy, one of Paul’s closest co-workers and new pastor of a church in Ephesus is given a lot of instruction in the two succinct books of Timothy 1 & 2. Paul is usually to the point. What we have just heard in these short seven verses is: pray often, pray for everybody, prayer is good, prayer pleases God. With great proclamation this passage calls us out of isolationism and into the fullness of what it means to be a community of believers in the one God in prayer.
This sermon is not so much about prayer per se as it is about Orange being at the crossroads and engaging your prayers for the good of the community during this key juncture in your life as a congregation.
Being at a crossroad is not bad per se because it anchors you from mindless or aimless wandering. It gives you an opportunity to stretch your neck a bit without having to keep your ‘eyes’ on the road.
Remember Dorothy Gail from the Wizard of Oz when she meets the Scarecrow? After she leaves Munchkin land she and Toto are happily following the yellow brick road to the Emerald City when she comes to a crossroad on that yellow-bricked path – four paths all begging for her attention. She looks around the cornfields and then she hears, “Pardon me, that way is a very nice way.” And the scarecrow on the pole points her in one direction. Then he says, “It’s pleasant down that way too!” And he points in the opposite direction with his straw arms. She has choices. Finally you recall he’s released and joins her on the yellow brick road to the Emerald City. The fact is Dorothy didn’t stay at the crossroad for very long, she moved right ahead with the help of the Scarecrow. They are happy and skip off into their future.
But it is the downside of the good old days that has jettisoned us off into the here and now. The world around us has decidedly changed for the better and so we must adapt our ways without compromising our ways, and our way is prayer and discernment.
If you are adventuresome there is excitement that can come with being at a crossroad. Renewed energy. Vision for your future. A whole new path to traverse. A chance to begin again and improve on existing structures. Maybe, like Dorothy and her team of unlikely friends, you’ll even find OZ, the Emerald City.
So how do we move on as Orange Congregational Church when we are at a crossroads, when what we are doing, that is being ‘church-going’ Christians, is counter intuitive to the rest of the pervading culture? How do we choose a path to go down with limited resources in time, money and people power? Church should not be a burden. Church should be a blessing in your lives. Church should be more than just a habit or obligation, it should be a place that represents solace from a crazy world, forgiveness in a world that would rather chew you up and spit you out, and it should be a place where ANYONE and everyone is accepted and who will be spiritually nourished.
First you roll up your sleeves and pray. That’s what you do first. Maybe even get down on your knees, it’s so humbling. You pray, God, who are we? Who do you want us to be? Who do you want us to serve? How do you want us to be your gathered people up here on the Green that is far removed from the hustle and bustle of route 1? You can’t just leave that discernment up to your next settled pastor, you’ve got to be right there alongside of him or her in a co-ministry of renewal and growth.
And prayer is where it will all begin. You can’t loose sight that you are a religious institution first offering spiritual growth and refreshment. Our faith is what guides us; we offer something that no other non-profit or for-profit can offer and that is God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness in a very special way. If we loose our faith we will not survive.
These are hard questions, I know they are hard questions and yet someone has to ask them. They are questions at the crossroad. You may have even been at that place in your own lives as well, I certainly have been. You reach a crossroad and just don’t know what to do – you know what you want to do but you just don’t quite know how to get there – the good news - we’re all in this together, we have each other to lean on and to support and to lift up.
We have each other to begin the dialogue. What do we want to do? What legacy do we want to leave? These are the questions that need to be asked and the dialogue that needs to happen, before your pastor gets here, that way he or she will begin with a clear vision about who you are and which direction you are headed. There are answers if you work really hard at finding them. It’ll take compromise, consensus, commitment and a whole lotta love – love being a verb. And we will do it prayerfully, given as a doxology of thanksgiving.
You were called into being by God who loves you dearly. God is your partner in this and will not let you fail at the decisions that you will make. You’ll make them together and with God and we will pray! Remember the words of Jeremiah? I tend to use them a lot, perhaps because I need to hear them! God says to Jeremiah, tell the people, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me and I will restore your fortunes.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14)
So we will pray to the one true God and to our mediator, Christ Jesus. Let our future be filled with laughter and love, yearning and hope for a world that can be based in human kindness and love. Let us grow into what God wants, and perhaps more importantly, needs us to be. Let this be our prayer.