I Timothy 2:1-7
praying for everyone
September 22, 2013 The Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Roy W. Howard
What is prayer? Is it a holy mystery in which we are joined to the Holy One? Yes. A gesture of love on behalf of others? Yes. A moment of intentional silence bringing your whole being to attention before God? Yes. A form of mindful meditation? Yes. A living relationship with the living Christ? Yes. Prayer is all this and more.
Karl Barth once said, to clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of a great uprising against the disorder of the world. He likely got this insight from Saint Paul who in his pastoral advice to Timothy encourages him to pray for everyone, including political leaders and those in high places who have influence over the ways of this world. You may argue with these leaders, agree or disagree with them, follow them or not, but above all you must pray for them. In the end, says Saint Paul, prayer for others is the pathway to a peaceful life with dignity. This actually makes a remarkable circle of life. As you pray for others – extending yourself on their behalf – the return to you is peace.
If prayer is the beginning of a great uprising against the disorder of this world, then prayer is an act of resistance to all that is ugly, disfigured and disordered in the world. Prayer can’t be merely an escape from our troubles into a zone of tranquility. It is to hold the real pain and suffering of others in your open hands, offering all to Christ who is the healing of this world’s ailments. To pray in this way is to join your deep yearnings with the great company of all who yearn for a world where the tears of the sorrowful are wiped away, the vulnerable are protected and broken mended. In short, to pray in this way is to join the revolution – an uprising – to overturn the structures of this world that oppress God’s beloved in every place, including our own hearts. This great uprising of prayer cries out with the Psalmist, How, Long, O Lord and with our Lord Jesus, Let your reign come on earth as it is in heaven. We can’t be lulled into imagining prayer as a ethereal and disconnected with the real world. Not so. Prayer is an uprising of the whole community of Christ in every time and place who seek the kingdom of God on earth. Whether you are alone or we are together, engaged in prayer we are joined in Christ with a vast company of people of every language and race.
In his pastoral advice to Timothy, Saint Paul urges him to pray for everyone. Why everyone? Because everyone – every single person – is an object of God’s deep desire that every one of us find wholeness, salvation, at-home-ness in God. No one is left out of our prayers precisely because no one is left out of God’s wide embrace. This is the good news!
To pray is to join your will – your deepest desire – with the deepest desire of God that all people be saved. Don’t be afraid of this word, saved, as if you were being asked to join a band of people handing out tracts to the heathen on the Mall. To join your desire with God’s desire that everyone be saved is to acknowledge what we know to be true: not all the brokenhearted people are mended, not all the lost children are found, not all the hopeless people have hope and until they do it’s God’s will that they – we – be saved in Christ, in whom the power of love abides.
I agree with Pope Francis who when asked about the vocation of the Church to be for all people said:
The Church must be like a “field hospital after battle,” healing the wounds of its faithful and going out to find those who have been hurt, excluded or have fallen away. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all.”
I would add that the “ministers of the church” are the members of the church not only the pastors and priests. It’s the joyful vocation of all the baptized to pray for all people and be ministers of mercy to everyone we meet. It is into this vocation that we baptize William Hunter Degon today. It is into this vocation that Shelby will be set apart in a particular way by ordination this afternoon. Just imagine for a moment the fruit of such a vast company, a great uprising, praying for everyone and offering mercy to all people.
Perhaps you will recall the exchange between Francis Collins, the public Christian and head of the National Institute of Health, and Christopher Hitchens, the writer and militant atheist. When Hitchens was dying of cancer, Collins visited his friend and debate partner, and prayed for him. Hitchens did not publically recant his unbelief, but he did publically thank Collins for standing alongside him and praying for him. For his part, Collins said simply, Christopher is God’s child, whether he believes it or not, and am object of God’s love. That’s why I am praying for him.
This is the prayer of the faithful for everyone – joining our love with God’s love that all might be found in love.
So then if prayer is active resistance to disorder, it is also a holy mystery in which we participate in the saving purpose of Jesus Christ, who bridges heaven and earth.
There are a great many things we do in the life of faith. Our lives are filled with activities, some are necessary and some are not.
Nothing you or I do is more important than cultivating and sustaining a life that prays for everyone.