Summit Presbyterian Church
September 18, 2016
Psalm 113, Amos 8:4-7 and 1 Timothy 2: 1-17
Prayer in this Election Season
In the past several months, during joys and concerns, people have often alluded to something election-related that happened in the past week – the speech of a candidate, a nasty debate, another lie or scandal – and then said something like “I don’t want to name names … or I’m not sure what to say . . . but our nation needs prayer.” It's hard to know exactly what to pray for in an election season, especially in church, when we may not all be on the same page. But we do need prayer. Especially this election season.
There are a few dilemmas when it comes to election season prayers. The prayers on our hearts, our most honest petitions (and God knows them, whether we say them or not) may not be — charitable. They may not seem Christlike, given that Jesus said to pray for our enemies. They may involve horrible things happening to the candidates we oppose. We also may be praying — fervently — that our candidate win. But is that OK? Aren’t we always to ask that God’s will be done? (and not necessarily assume we know what that is!) Other kinds of prayers raise other questions. We can pray for national healing and learning to work together across the aisle. It’s hard to argue with such a prayer. But is it a prayer for all times and places? Aren’t there times when we just need to pray that evil be conquered, even if our friends and family are voting for it? And how do we interpret the times?
Our scriptures today can help us. The writer of first Timothy begins by naming different types of prayers: supplications, intercessions and thanksgivings. To do a vocabulary review: prayers of thanksgiving are just that, thanking God for blessings and gifts. Thanksgiving is related to praise, where we we name God’s attributes and remember God’s deeds and marvel at God’s creation. Supplications are when we ask God for something, for ourselves or others. Supplications we make for others we call intercessions. (As an aside — when we say Christ or the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, in sighs too deep for words, we’re saying that Christ and the Spirit pray for us). Supplications, intercessions and thanksgiving aren’t the only kinds of prayer, but they’re our most common ones. Paul then says such prayers should be made for everyone. Everyone. Including kings. Including people in high places. I believe that would include presidents of all kinds, Generals, CEOs, the Pope. Candidates for national office. Everyone. Prayers of intercession and thanksgiving.
Paul then says why: so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. A quiet and peaceable life needs order: in the state, in the home, in the church. In the rest of the letter, Paul urges these new Christians to put themselves in order. He tells men not to argue. He tells women to dress modestly and listen in silence. He tells deacons to be serious. (Deacons did you hear that?). He tells bishops to be above reproach. Most troubling, he tells those who are under the yoke of slavery to regard their masters as worthy of honor. Mary, mother of Jesus, praised God for turning the world upside down; the writer of this letter welcomes stability. It’s not my favorite letter, given the inequalities recommended in it. But before we call Paul a reactionary, we should remember that he was speaking to a small, embattled church, and he wanted them to concentrate on God and to thrive. And before we call him a sell-out, we should note he wasn’t telling people to pray to the King — which is what the Roman Emperor wanted — but for all those in high places. And before we accuse him of being indifferent to the poor, he’s the one who says, later in the letter, that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. So Paul urges us to pray for everyone, including kings and all in high places so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life. Raising families, coming to church, working hard. A life that most people yearn for. Especially when they’re running from violence. Or fearing a knock on the door. Or having to worry about their next meal. It is good to pray for kings and Presidents and elected officials of all stripes so they may serve well, allowing everyone to live a quiet and peaceable life, in godliness and dignity.
But Paul goes further. He says that praying for everyone is right and acceptable in the sight of God, because God desires everyone to be saved. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I want the candidate that I’m against to be saved. I want to keep making fun. I want to enjoy my outrage. But Paul says that God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth. And so those who are the most truth-impaired are those who need our intercessions the most. That they may come to the truth. And the truth will set them free. As it sets us free.
Because although God desires the salvation of all, that doesn’t mean God wants us all to keep doing what we’re doing. In fact, God’s grace calls us to repentance. The other scriptures this morning give us a sense of what that might mean. The psalm that Ben read praises God for who God is: high above all nations, looking far down on the heavens and the earth. And yet — also raising the poor from the dust, lifting the needy from the ash heap, making them sit with princes, the princes of God’s people. This God, according to Amos, also remembers those who trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land. Our God notices those who practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat. So God is not a supporter of status quo, or all the status quo. God desires that we be honest. God desires that the poor be lifted up. We may have different ideas of how to do that. But when we’re all sitting together, no one oppressing another, everyone with enough to eat, no longer divided in the many ways we are divided, we will be free. And we’ll be able to live quiet and peaceable lives.
And there’s one other supplication I want to talk about in this election season. Our final hymn is Eternal Father, Strong to Save. I first heard it when Bunny Hughes requested it at a hymn sing. We sang it a Dave Greene’s Memorial service. It’s also called the Navy Hymn and has been adopted by the US Marine Corp. We don’t sing it often on Sunday mornings because it’s such a specific prayer: for those in peril on the sea.
But in this election season, that includes us. For we are all in peril: all of us on this small but precious water-covered rock amongst the stars. In peril on the sea of our lives and on the sea of history. In peril from the hate and suspicion, the racism and xenophobia that’s raging across the globe, stoked by politicians of many nations and ideologies and faiths. In peril from nuclear war, and nuclear terror. In peril from climate change. That peril is unprecedented. Unprecedented in scale: as billions of people face floods and drought, heat waves and hunger, and all the death, chaos and violence that will come with it. Unprecedented because if the eco-system collapses we won’t be able to recover as we’ve recovered from other disasters. One candidate and most of his party refuses to even acknowledge the danger; the others are alarmingly quiet. We need our Eternal Father, our Eternal God, strong to save. God cannot or will not simply keep down the heat and the damage no matter what we do — God has given us freedom. But if we pray for God’s protection, and grace and courage; if we lift up everyone — high and low, rich and poor, north and south, east and west - the Spirit can bring us together to fight this danger and build a more just world. Across party lines. Across lines of class and race and nation. Under the Trinity of love and power, who hears our prayers and who wishes all to be saved and to come to the truth.