Sermon from September 16, 2013

Date: 
2013-09-16

The lectionary imposes the practice and discipline of reading, studying, and usually, preaching on the appointed texts for the day.

Today this is more of a discipline than a practice for me, because our daily eucharistic lectionary has dealt the 1st letter of Paul to Timothy.

1 Timothy is not a favorite of mainstream historical biblical scholars, with their Protestant preference for the undisputed Pauline letters, the Paul of freedom and transformation. “For freedom Christ has set us free.” 

For them, and I confess that I include myself in their company, the authors of the Pastoral Epistles “domesticated” Paul, made his radical teaching digestible as the Christian movement accommodated itself to its surrounding culture.

The Pastoral Epistles brought back strict gender roles – power and prayer for men, for women, seemly attire and silence.

What might have had the most effect upon us in the Episcopal Church, whether we are aware of it or not, is its influence of this epistle in the language of the Book of Common Prayer: 

Notably: 

“Almighty and ever-living God, who in thy holy Word hast taught us to make prayers and supplications and to give thanks for all men…” 

“We beseech thee also so to rule the hearts of those who bear the authority of government in this and every land, that they may be led o wise decisions and right actions for the welfare and peace of the world.”

 

I have been editing an article on the Pastoral Epistles by my colleague, Deborah Krause at Eden Seminary (Fortress. forthcoming). I have been thinking about what if and how these epistles speak to us in this era.

Their teaching raises for us the truth that the church can be/has been in different relationships with the civil authorities  --- 

----it has been (and is) persecuted, in danger, and compelled to be “quiet.”

----it has been (and is) identified totally with the powers-that-be, and divinize, enforce the status quo, to the harm of the weak and the advantage of those with power– think of apartheid, slavery, suburban success. 

-----it has been, but is now, perhaps more than ever, irrelevant, drowned out by noise, driven to distraction, outmaneuvered by more sophisticated techniques for telling and selling compelling stories.

Critical reading of the Pastorals causes us to ask where in this complex mix we and our faith community stand. Are we to be quieter or louder, or more empowered or humbler? Are we to compete with the technologies of our age, or invent or rediscover some other way?

These are big questions with hard answers. Today I discover a lifegiving word for us today in this epistle reading, as we enter deeper into dangerous geo-political waters, with Syria and Egypt… 

It’s kind of unglamorous, kind of “domestic”:

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 Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

At the same time the counsel is counter cultural and potentially powerful - in another way, crazy, radical:

we are to pray  for everyone, all kings and rulers –, Elizabeth, Basher al-Assad, Obama, Abdullah, Juan Carlos, Adly Monsour.  In prayer we do not place these individuals either on the axis of evil or the side of the angels, but we are exhorted to pray for all. 

I give thanks that this indiscriminate prayer is built into our prayer book and into the structure of intercessions in our daily offices. 

Such prayer requires letting go of judgment, and of labels, and of thinking that by thinking the correct way, you can control what happens or make yourself any safer than you are. 

Such prayer requires radical humility, and faith as deep and broad as any undisputed letter of Paul. 

I can’t believe that I just said that!

Such prayer requires radical humility, and faith as deep and broad as any undisputed letter of Paul. 

Thanks be to God.  Amen.