“Prayers for All” Colchester Federated Church, September 18, 2022, (1 Timothy 2:1-7)

This Sunday and next we’ll be exploring the New Testament letter of 1 Timothy.  Just a bit of background—1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus are referred to as the “pastoral letters” of Paul.  Because the letters talk about issues that would concern a pastor, like how a Christian community should be managed, how members should behave with one another, and how the Church should behave as the Body of Christ.  The pastoral letters were addressed to Timothy and Titus.  Paul sent Timothy to handle false teachers in the Christian community in Ephesus and Paul sent Titus to the island of Crete to deal with similar problems there.  The letters include instructions and commissions for both Timothy and Titus to go about their work in these churches as representatives of Paul.[1]

The caveat is that many New Testament scholars today do not believe that the pastoral letters were written by Paul.  That would be a long, probably boring explanation as to why.  Though there are 13 letters that Paul supposedly wrote to Christian communities that made their way into the New Testament.  We have 7 authentic letters of Paul (1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philemon, Philippians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans) and 6 disputed letters of Paul (Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus).  This will be on the test, so you better be taking notes!  All of this to say that these words we are hearing this week and next week from scripture were most likely written by a Christian believer in Paul’s name.  This was not viewed as an egregious example of plagiarism at the time.

It helps to know this historical context, partly because Kurt chose to preach on 1 Timothy Chapter 6 next Sunday when I’m away on retreat, and now he can go into his sermon knowing that our congregation had a refresher about this New Testament letter.  Additionally, the background can help us figure out how these letters may still be speaking to us today in Christian community in general.  Because we can think of these words as being from a fellow Christian, just like you and me, who was part of Christian communities who were going through some stuff.  When groups of people gather together, stuff comes up.  People were doing their best to figure out how the community should be managed, how the community should behave, and what is our calling and responsibility as the Body of Christ present in this particular place and time.  Being a Christian is not a solitary enterprise.  We are not in this faith or in our lives alone.  We can do so much more together than we can do by ourselves, but people can be challenging.  I mean, other people can be challenging, I am never challenging to deal with.  Nor are you, obviously.

Today the author of 1 Timothy speaks about the importance of prayer.  The author wrote, “I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people.  Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity.”[2]  In some ways, the author views prayer as the very first step in righting some of the wrongs in the Christian community in Ephesus.  If prayer becomes the priority and the first step on the path to reconciliation, then perhaps other things will better fall into place.  There’s something to be said about this call of prayer for everyone.  The goal of these prayers is so that believers can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity.

It reminds me that I once co-led a one-day retreat on prayer and taught a group of about forty women various ways to pray and other spiritual practices that would help them in their faith development.  We even spoke about praying for people who hurt you and for people you may not like for one reason or another.  We recalled the teaching of Jesus, “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you.”[3]  One of the women who had attended this retreat spoke to me after worship a couple of Sundays later.  She confessed that she has a co-worker that truthfully she can’t stand.  So, she decided after the retreat to pray for this co-worker every single day to see if it would make a difference.  When I asked if it did, she laughed and said, “Well I still don’t like her, and I don’t think that I ever will—but prayer in general has gotten so much easier.  I figured out that if I could pray for this woman, then I can really be honest and ask God for help with anything I’m dealing with.”  That conversation has stayed with me and has helped to shape my understanding of this call that we find throughout scripture to pray for everyone. 

Dealing with difficult aspects of our daily lives like that co-worker you don’t like very much and having the audacity to pray for them inevitably makes one’s faith deeper.  As my former parishioner discovered, if she could pray for that person (you know the one), who or what can’t she pray for now?  She came out of that experience with a better prayer life and a deeper faith in God.  She would later begrudgingly recognize that God probably loves that woman too.

Anne Lamott describes prayer so vividly in her book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.  Lamott explains that there is something to be said for keeping prayer simple—using the words help, thanks, and wow to describe what she means.  She explains that prayer is “communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding.  Let’s say it is communication from one’s heart to God.”[4]  Some prayers are easier to communicate from our hearts to God than others.  Lamott relates that when she prays difficult prayers she literally begins with a container or box of some sort.  She lays out her process: “On a note, I write down the name of the person about whom I am so distressed or angry, or describe the situation that is killing me, with which I am so toxically, crazily obsessed, and I fold the note up, stick it in the box and close it.  You might have a brief moment of prayer, and it might come out sounding like this, ‘Here.  You think you’re so big?  Fine.  You deal with it.’”[5]  Maybe try it this week and see what happens.  The point is to communicate from our heart to God, and to do so with openness and honesty.

Prayers do not have to be particularly eloquent; they just have to be sincere.  It’s a challenge to pray for everyone.  That is as much a challenge for those of us sitting here today in this sanctuary in Colchester, Connecticut or watching this service at home as it was for the author of 1 Timothy thinking about the challenges that the Christian community in Ephesus was facing at the time of their writing.  But prayers can become the first way to address deeper issues because prayer has a way of softening our hearts to God, to one another, and to ourselves.  Why do we pray for everyone?  So that in the end we can live a quiet and peaceful life.  May it be so with us, and thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Introduction to 1 Timothy in The CEB Study Bible with Apocrypha, pg. 403 NT.
[2] 1 Timothy 2:1-2, CEB.
[3] Matthew 5:43-44, CEB.
[4] Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, pg. 1.
[5] Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow, pg. 36.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash