Many of you will know that each year, the priest I live with and I go to the same place in Crete for our summer holidays. Over the years we have got to know the family that own the complex where we stay very well, and each year we look forward to seeing what improvements they have made over the winter, and they now often ask us for feedback and for suggestions.
And – joy of joys – this year Kostas had installed a television screen behind the pool bar. With Sky Sports no less! And so, at 1pm – Crete being two hours ahead of us – it was possible to settle down in the sunshine with a bottle of cold Cretan craft beer, and watch the Ashes. I let Kostas know without holding back just how fantastic this was!
That’s when it started to get difficult. Because Kostas wanted to know why anybody would want to watch a game that lasted five days. How could any game last that long! So I, and one of the other guests we’ve also known for years, set out to teach Kostas about cricket. I think we got the basics across, but then we tried to explain how you got out. Try explaining leg before wicket! It’s hard enough explaining it to someone who’s English if they’re not into cricket, let alone to someone from Greece who thinks that cricket is one of the most ridiculous sports going! If you watch football, then imagine the off-side rule but more complicated!
But then it got really difficult. Because every so often Kostas would look at the screen with a rather bemused look on his face, and say, “So who’s winning then?” And we’d all say, “well … a bit hard to tell at the moment! It depends… could go either way… you never really quite know for certain with cricket!” And he would just shake his head and say yet again, “How can you watch this? It lasts five days and you never know whose winning! Football – now that’s a proper sport” Trying to explain the complexities of cricket isn’t easy.
It struck me that trying to explain what’s going on in politics in our country at the moment is rather like trying to explain cricket to Kostas. It’s just too complicated. And when it comes to trying work out how it will all end all we can say is, “well … a bit hard to tell at the moment! It depends… could go either way… you never really quite know for certain!”
So what, as Christians, should we be doing in the current situation? Well, however confusing it may all seem, however difficult it may be to see how everything will end, or whether it will end well at all particularly for the less well-off in our society, fortunately Saint Paul has some very wise words for us this morning – no matter where you stand on the various difficult political issues and arguments that we face.
As the years passed after Jesus’ ascension, the new Christian community had a problem that they really struggled with. At first they had thought that Jesus was going to return more or less straight away. So basic political issues seemed irrelevant. No point in worrying about everyday life when you’re expecting Jesus any day – better to prepare for Jesus’ return. But after a while they began to realize that Jesus wasn’t going to return as soon as they had thought. And so they started to ask questions. While we wait for Jesus to return how should we worship? How should we live? How should we behave as followers of Jesus? What have we got to say to our rulers, or to the poor and the sick? And so on?
Basically the issue was – they thought Jesus was going to come back to abolish the kingdoms of this world, and establish his own kingdom. But it hadn’t happened, and every day life in the real world went on and Christians had to learn live with it. But how to live as Christians with this uncertainty of knowing what the future world be with Jesus returning in judgement and bringing in God’s kingdom, but of having to wait with the uncertainty of not knowing when Jesus would return. And we still live with that tension.
And leaders like Paul wrote letters of teaching, explaining who Jesus was and what his work of redemption was about. They wrote letters of encouragement and direction, suggesting ways in which the new, fledgling churches might live according to the gospel as they learnt to live with the reality that while Jesus would return it might be quite a while before he did.
And as time passed following Jesus’ departure one of the things that the Christian communities began to realize that they could do was to seek to make a difference to the world in which they lived – challenge the bad stuff and build on the good stuff – and not just through direct action, though that was one thing they did, but through prayer to God. And that’s what I want you to think about this morning. Because there is a particular kind of prayer that we all need to adopt. And I’m a great believer that prayer makes a difference, prayer changes things.
In the passage from the first letter to Timothy that we heard in our New Testament reading this morning Paul teaches about prayer, reminding Christians that there are many kinds of prayer and urging them to pray for everyone – supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings he says.
But there was a difficulty that the early Christians faced. They lived in the Roman Empire. And that presented them with a problem. Should a Christian pray for those in authority – for an emperor who was honoured as a god, before whose statue incense was burned and oaths taken? Very easy, of course, for the early Christians to think, “But surely there’s no way we can pray for the Roman emperor when he is so anti-Christian, so against all we stand for? Surely God wouldn’t want us to pray for him?”
But in a time of persecution Paul tells the community that they should pray for political leaders so that all might live in peace. I urge he says 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.
Paul is saying that Christians should have a desire to see God’s peace established. A desire to see that peace that Jesus promised his followers – not the world’s peace, but only the peace that can come from above. And with it, justice for all people. And so we should pray for those in positions of power whoever they are and whatever they stand for, those who can help bring that peace about.
For, says Paul, God desires for all to come to the saving knowledge of the truth of the gospel. And he proclaims this message of inclusion because of belief that there is one God and one mediator between God and humankind, Jesus Christ. There is no other way to God except through Jesus, says Paul, and he describes Jesus as “a ransom for all”. Though Christian theology has several ways of exploring what this means, a cornerstone of our Christian faith is belief that the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ declare God’s victory over evil and bring new life – and that victory and new life are not available any other way except through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. And this is for everyone – no matter who they are or what they are. And this is the kernel of Paul’s message.
For Paul believes, and teaches, that God wants everyone to be saved – and that by praying for those in authority, those who wield worldly power, we may all be enabled to lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and dignity. That’s what he says in our reading.
Of course life today in Britain is very different from life for those first Christians in the Roman Empire who had to struggle with a ruler who claimed to be divine, a state that enslaved people, and were notoriously cruel to those who opposed them. But the power that those in authority wield today affects us just as much – it affects the way we live, it impacts upon our quality of life, it affects our relations with other countries. And that’s pretty evident at the moment.
So what does it mean for us, in today’s modern society, to call upon God and to pray in the name of Jesus for those in authority? What does it mean for those of us who are citizens both of our own country and of God’s eternal kingdom to pray for the decision-makers in our world? As we pray for peace, how do we work for justice?
The early Christians, as they worked through that tension between a belief that Jesus’ return was imminent and the realisation that it wasn’t going to be immediate, began to see the importance of bringing the values of the heavenly kingdom into the reality of the earthly kingdom. They sought, through prayer, to bring the peace of God to the world. And as they prayed it wasn’t just the world that was changed – it was themselves as well, for it is through prayer that God empowers people to make a difference, through prayer that people’s eyes are opened to the needs of the world around them.
And today we face the same task – to pray for our world and its leaders as we seek to bring the values of the kingdom of heaven into a world that never seems to be able to get it right. You only have to look around you with the eyes of faith to see how deep the need is for the true peace and justice that, as Paul reminds us, can only come from the one who mediates between God and humankind, Jesus Christ. The need that can be seen across our world, in our own country, and in our own community.
And so Paul urges – that’s his word – urges us to pray. For all in high positions – pray that they may know God’s peace and be used by him to bring peace and justice into our world.. Boris Johnson supporter? Pray for him! And pray for Jeremy Corbyn as well! Pray not for what you want, of course, but for what God wants. Corbyn supporter? Pray for him but never forget to pray for Boris Johnson as well. And remember – you’re not praying for what you want, you’re praying for what God wants, for God’s will be to done in them. Pray for all our political leaders, Members of Parliament you like and Members of Parliament you can’t stand. Pray as well for our Queen. Pray that they may know God’s guidance, God’s peace, and learn to see the world as God sees it. You may have views, possibly strong views, about Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin – doesn’t matter what they are – pray for them! And pray that all people may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.
At this turbulent time for our country I too would urge you to pray. Pray that our leaders may know God’s presence and God’s guidance. Why not cut out this reading from the service sheet and keep it with your Bible, or even stick it up on the fridge door, to remind you to pray.
Let us listen to Paul’s urging and make it our Christian duty over the coming weeks to offer supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for everyone, and for those who are in high positions – that we may all lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. Or, to make it easier to remember, someone once summed up this part of Paul’s letter to Timothy like this:
Pray every way you know how.
Pray for everyone.
Love from your friend, Paul.
So – God’s message to us today is:
Pray every way you know how.
Pray for everyone.
But make sure you pray!