Tag Archives: praise

Called to Pray – Sermon on 1 Timothy 2:1-7

Watch a video of this sermon here.

A couple of weeks ago, we heard Jesus describe the high cost of discipleship. We learned that Jesus demands our all – you can’t be a half-hearted follower of Jesus. You’re either all in, or you can’t call yourself a disciple. Last week, we began a four-week journey through the letters to Timothy to learn what following Jesus looks like in practical terms.  Timothy and his congregation at Ephesus faced the same questions we do today:

 How do I follow Jesus in a culture that does not honor him?

 How do I stay faithful to God and his call on my life, when others around me ignore God?
 How can I live out my faith within the Body of Christ, and grow deeper in faith with my brothers and sisters?

These are important questions, and Paul has some answers for us.
In chapter one, we saw how Paul’s personal encounter with Christ led him to see the call to discipleship as a call to gratitude for God’s mercy. This week, we will consider how prayer develops our faith and makes us strong in the Lord. Over the next couple of weeks, we will take a look at our witness and our stewardship as parts of being  faithful followers of Jesus.

Whatever aspect of discipleship we focus on, it’s important to remember that no single piece of the puzzle will give us the whole picture of discipleship. It’s a good idea, then, to take a moment to zoom out before we zoom in on today’s passage, to see how these verses fit into the whole letter to young pastor Tim.

The letter begins by stating its primary purpose: “When I left Macedonia, I asked you to stay behind in Ephesus so that you could instruct certain individuals not to spread wrong teaching.” (1:3) So we know that there has been some “wrong teaching” going on in the Ephesus church, and this letter serves to remind Tim of the “right teaching” he is to offer. The letter goes on to express gratitude for Paul’s own salvation and calling, and for Timothy’s faithfulness, before getting down to the business of outlining the instruction that Timothy needs to pass on to his congregation. This is where today’s passage brings us.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings 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. (1 Timothy 2:1-7) 

“First of all, then,” … the instruction begins, but this isn’t going to be a point-by-point outline. Prayer isn’t something we do at the beginning and then check off the list. After all, Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).

“First and foremost” or “most importantly” might be another way of looking at this. Prayer is the most useful tool in our discipleship toolbox. A life of prayer sets us apart as followers of Jesus. “Matt” Matthews (Feasting on the Word, Year C, volume 4, p 89) writes, “Prayer is not at the center of things… but it gets us there.”

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

Supplications – now there’s a word you don’t hear every day. But we do it all the time – at the grocery store, at the gas station, in the supper line on Wednesday nights. Supplication is simply asking for what you need. “May I please have more applesauce?” “Would you please give me a receipt?” That’s supplication.

Asking God for what you need is the most basic kind of prayer you can pray. It’s the kind of prayer Jesus encouraged in his Sermon on the Mount. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask.” (Matt 6:8) “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11)

Intercession, on the other hand, is praying on behalf of another, asking God to give someone else what that person needs. These are the prayers we pray when we pray for the sick, the bereaved, or those who have a special need. These are the prayers we pray for our children and our parents.

We understand what it means to give thanks, and to give God praise in our prayers – though I sometimes think that these two forms of prayer don’t get as much “air time” as supplications and intercessions in my own prayer life. But these four types of prayer are not offered here as a formula to follow, so much as an accumulation of all types of prayer. Pray every way you can, all the time, – for everyone.

Pray for everyone, even (especially?) for your enemies, and for those who are not like you. Pray for everyone, especially leaders and “all who are in high positions.” Rulers need God’s mercy and guidance as much as anyone else. Pray for them, even if you disagree with their politics. Why? “so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” Prayer cultivates peaceful relationships, and godliness is a benchmark of doing God’s will. It’s a sign of true discipleship.

Prayer isn’t the main thing, but it gets us to the main thing – “there is one God and one mediator between God and humankind: Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” Pray for everyone because God wants everyone to be saved and know truth. Here again, just as we heard in chapter one, we see that the central idea is Christ’s redemptive work in the world. The center of last week’s passage was: “this saying is reliable and worthy of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This week, we zoom in on the same central truth: “Christ Jesus … gave himself a ransom for all” Not just for some, but for all.

We pray for everyone because Christ died for everyone. It is God’s deep desire to save everyone. Not everyone will accept this amazing gift, but God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” In John’s gospel we read, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

It shouldn’t surprise us then, that this list of ways to pray culminates in thanksgiving. John Wesley spoke of the “holiness of gratitude.” He said that “we who are grateful believe we have better than we deserve. Instead of taking things for granted, we see good things in life as gifts. Instead of assuming we are entitled, we assume grace underlies all we have. Gratitude gives thanks for mercy. Complaints focus on what we don’t have. Gratitude notices the good and is thankful. Gratitude sets us up for joy in life. Rather than merely consuming or existing, those who are grateful choose to embrace what life gives and enjoy life’s mercies.” (CEB notes on 1 Timothy 2:2)

So pray with gratitude because Jesus gave himself as a ransom for you. Do this as a response to God’s call on your life. Paul was called as an apostle and teacher to the Gentiles, and God calls each of us into some unique form of ministry that only we can perform for the kingdom of God. That is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, fully devoted to serving him.

How is God calling you to live out your faith? If you aren’t sure about the answer to that question, I invite you to make supplication – ask God for what you need, and in this case, what you need is to be and do what Christ calls you toward. And if that prospect seems to frightening for you, maybe you could start with some intercessions.

Who can you pray for? How can you ask God to bless them, heal them, be present with them, help their faith to grow to full maturity? Who do you struggle the most to get along with? Pray for that person. Who irritates you most? Who challenges your good will the most? See what prayer for that person might do for you and your relationship.

If praying for a specific individual is still more than you’re comfortable doing, try praying for our church. Right now, we are on the cusp of a great thing that God is about to do among us. One way I can tell this is so is that Satan has been busy, trying to divide us and raising doubt where faith should be strong.

But God is stronger than Satan, and God will work in us, and has been working among us. One place where this is most evident is our Wednesday Family Night program.

I had this message from our District Superintendent a few days ago. We were setting the date for a special charge conference, and he offered this additional comment:

“By the way when Mark Miller and I were looking at the data of which churches sustained an increase in worship attendance for the
past three consecutive years we found only 6 churches in all of Minnesota United Methodism. New Ulm First was one of them!!!! Great work. In 2015 you were 14 more AWA then you were in 2012! You may think that’s nothing, but when you compare it to a culture of huge decline, its leading us!!! And a huge sign of hope!”

Do you know where that Average Worship Attendance increase is showing up most? It’s on Wednesday night.

Another place where God is moving among us to do great things is in the work of the Healthy Church Initiative Implementation Team. Energy and joy are bubbling up in this group of dedicated servant leaders who are seeking God’s direction for our congregation. One of the goals is to create an environment for Pentecost to happen, and the team that is working on this goal has identified several prayer initiatives for us to adopt.

One of those prayer practices is to simply arrive at worship a few minutes early so you can pray for the worship service. It seems likeCa simple thing, and in a way it is, but the impact of God’s people praying for God’s presence to be made known to us in our worship can be powerful.

So let’s go back to those questions that are the same for us today as they were for Timothy and the church at Ephesus:

 How do I follow Jesus in a culture that does not honor him?

First of all, then, I pray. I ask God to let my life reflect his glory so that others will notice that I honor Christ. I pray for those I know who don’t know Jesus. I give God thanks for all the good that is in the world, and I praise God in my prayers, so that the praise on my lips fills my heart and spills out into my life.

 How do I stay faithful to God and his call on my life, when others around me ignore God?

First of all, then, I pray. I make supplication to God to use me for his purpose, to keep me grounded in faith, and to protect me from evil.

 How can I live out my faith within the Body of Christ, and grow deeper in faith with my brothers and sisters?

First of all, then, I pray for them. I lift up prayers of intercession for those who struggle with faith issues, with health issues, with job issues and financial issues. I pray for them, and they pray for me. I pray especially for members of the Body who have hurt or angered me. I pray for us to find unity in Christ Jesus.

In 1818, James Montgomery wrote a hymn about prayer. Of his more than four hundred hymns including Go to Dark Gethsemane and Angels from the Realms of Glory, he thought this one was his finest.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed;  

The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.  

The saints in prayer appear as one
In word, in deed, and mind,  

While with the Father and the Son
Sweet fellowship they find.  

No prayer is made by man alone
The Holy Spirit pleads, 

And Jesus, on th’eternal throne,
For sinners intercedes.  

O Thou by Whom we come to God,
The Life, the Truth, the Way,

The path of prayer Thyself hast trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray
.

Let us pray.

 

“Praying Like A King” – Sermon on 2 Chronicles 6: 12-21

December 13, 2015 Advent 3C

Watch a video of this sermon here.


Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice!” and this third Sunday in the season of Advent is full of rejoicing. Next week, we will hear the story of Christ’s birth, and a few days after that, we will celebrate Christmas Eve. We are on the downward slope of this season of anticipation, of waiting. This should bring us great joy!

However, if you are like me, the “To Do” list is growing instead of shrinking right about now. I have bought exactly ONE Christmas present so far, and there are many preparations to make before I will feel ready for Christmas Eve. Right now, I’m closer to outright panic than restful rejoicing. Anyone else feel that way? Continue reading

Thanksgiving Eve – Thanks and Praise

For several years, I’ve noticed a lot of gratitude postings on social media during the month of November. You may have seen this, or even participated yourself in the practice of consciously engaging in (at least) one moment of thankfulness every day during the month of November.  It’s a great exercise, and it warms my heart to see so much gratitude being expressed.  But something also bothers me about this practice, and it took me a while to put my finger on it. Continue reading

Getting Unbent – Sermon on Luke 13:10-17

August 25, 2013
An updated version of this sermon can be found here. 

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. (Luke 13:10-17)

It was extraordinary, really. I mean, I didn’t even know Jesus was going to be teaching at the synagogue that week. I only wanted to come in from the heat, and hear the Word of the Lord. I waited until all the others were in their usual places before I slipped in at the back. I knew that some of the women would look down their noses at me, but I was past caring about what others thought of me.  I knew that some people were convinced I had committed some terrible sin, to have suffered for as long as I had.

Eighteen years. My back had been bent for eighteen long, painful years. At first, it was just a little hunching over, poor posture you would probably have called it. But the fact was I couldn’t straighten my back, no matter how hard I tried. And over the years, it had grown worse, until I was completely bent over, completely crippled. Oh, I could walk with a stick to lean on. But I could never stand up straight. I couldn’t look you in the eye, or see the stars at night. I couldn’t watch a hawk soar through the sky or admire a rainbow. Mostly, the only direction I could see was down. If I craned my neck, I could see what lay ahead of me in the street, but that took a lot of effort, and the pain was just unbearable. It was easier to stick to pathways I knew well, stay out of the way, and get by as best I could. I had resigned myself to being bent. I managed.

So on that Sabbath, when I slipped into the back of the synagogue, behind all the other women, I wasn’t expecting much more than rest in a cool place while I listened to the readings from the Law and the Prophets. When I heard a strange voice speaking, I tried to look up to see who was teaching. I knew it wasn’t one of our regular rabbis. It was some visiting teacher – someone who spoke with authority, but also with kindness in his voice. It was good teaching, too. I actually understood most of what he was saying, as he explained the scriptures in words that were simple, yet somehow profound at the same time. As this new teacher spoke, I felt – I don’t know how to describe it – peaceful isn’t really the right word, but there was peace in it. I know what it was.

I felt … loved.

The other women were whispering about him. I caught a name – Jesus of Nazareth – and I remembered hearing about this man. He was the one who had nearly started a riot when he taught in his own hometown synagogue a couple of years before. Everything had started out well, as he read the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[1]

When he had rolled up the scroll to teach, he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” But when the people asked him to give them some sign, he reminded them of the way God’s own people had rejected him, and how God had been merciful to people who were not even children of Abraham. This made the crowd angry, and they even tried to throw him off a cliff! Somehow, he got away. And now, here he was, teaching in our synagogue.

Suddenly, everything got quiet. Jesus had stood and was walking into the room, past all the men in front, through the women, and …. right to me. I was so embarrassed! Here I had tried so hard to slip in quietly so no one would notice me, and this stranger, this Jesus fellow, was calling out to me, making everyone look right at me.

 “Woman,” he said, “You are released from your sickness.” All at once, I felt the pain go away and my back loosen up. When I looked up, he was reaching out toward me, and the look on his face was so kind, so full of compassion. He wasn’t trying to embarrass me. He actually cared about me! Then he put his hands on my shoulders, and it was like a lightning bolt had struck. Such power in those hands! Such warmth and tenderness, too! My back straightened up for the first time in eighteen years, and I stood up! I stood straight up!

What else could I do? “Hallelujah!” I shouted. “Praise God! I have been set free by the power of the Almighty God! Praise the Lord!” The other women around me were astounded. A couple of them hurried over to help me, but I didn’t need any help! The room buzzed as we all began to realize what had just happened. This teacher, this Jesus, had healed me.

I didn’t ask him to do it. I wasn’t even hoping for healing. But he came to me, right where I was, and put his hands on me, and I stood up straight.  He touched me – something no one had ever done. They were all afraid that touching me would make them unclean, so – for eighteen years – people had been careful to stay away from me. No one wanted to risk being made unclean. But when Jesus touched me, it was as if he welcomed me back into life. He made it okay for others to touch me, too. He made me clean again, after eighteen years.

Of course, the ruler of the synagogue wasn’t too happy. He started yelling at the crowd, “There are six days in the week for work, come get healed on those days!” He didn’t yell at Jesus – that would have been rude, since he was probably the one who had invited Jesus to teach that day. But it seemed so silly for him to be ranting about when it was okay to be healed, as if such a miracle could be bothered with checking to see what day it was!

To be fair, it’s his job to make sure the Sabbath is kept holy. He’s the one responsible for making sure we all follow the rules, and if you start making exceptions for miracles, pretty soon you find yourself making exceptions for other things, and before you know it, the Sabbath isn’t set apart for rest anymore. But still…. no one had asked Jesus to work a miracle. He just did it.

I wonder if the synagogue ruler was more worried about losing his own position of importance. I mean, no one had ever seen him heal anyone! If this visiting rabbi Jesus was going to be a better teacher and go around healing people, it stood to reason people would start following him instead of the local rabbi, right? I wonder if he was a little jealous of Jesus. But he had to be careful not to show it, for that would be breaking the tenth commandment. So he lashed out at the crowd about the fourth commandment, instead of facing Jesus directly.

But Jesus knew his heart.

Even though the rabbi would not talk directly to Jesus, Jesus spoke directly to him. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Don’t each of you untie your donkey and lead it to water on the sabbath? Isn’t this woman worth more than a donkey? Shouldn’t this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?

When Jesus called the rabbi a hypocrite, or “actor,” the crowd gasped. But, as I thought about it later, I began to see what he meant. The rabbi was worried about sticking to the letter of the law, but he really wasn’t concerned with fulfilling the spirit of the law. Sabbath rest is supposed to give us rest and refreshment, to renew life after a hard week of work. Healing a poor old woman’s bent back certainly does that.

Some people think my story is strange. Some people think I made it up. But I know what happened that day in the synagogue, and I’m standing here in front of you as living proof that my back is straight, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. I don’t know why Jesus decided to walk into a huddle of unimportant women and put his hands on my back, but I do know that I cannot stop giving thanks to God that he did. I will praise the Lord my whole life long, for he came to me and touched me. He released me from the pain and humiliation of my poor, stooped back, and set me free. Praise God! Hallelujah!

So, if you don’t mind my asking, what is Jesus calling out to you to do? How is Jesus calling you to stand up straight, to be released from your bound up spirit?

And what is your response to such grace?

You don’t even need to ask him – Jesus is already working among you. Jesus is calling out to you, inviting you into his presence, inviting you into his grace. Jesus is reaching out to touch each one here, to heal you and to include you in his love.

How will you respond? Will you keep acting out your traditions and rules, like the synagogue leader? Or will you stand up and join me in heartfelt praise?

Are you willing to applaud the One who made you? Will you sing and pray and give thanks with joyful abandon? Will you bow the knees of your heart and humbly adore the God who reigns over heaven and earth? Will you live a life that oozes joy out of every pore of your being, a life that makes others turn and say, “That one is a child of God!”

For Jesus is walking toward you, reaching out to touch you, ready to heal you of your brokenness, to restore you to wholeness, to claim you as his own.

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!


[1] Luke 4:16-21