21 November 2021

“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” 1 Tim. 2:1

Last week I preached a sermon called “All the More.”  I think you blew it out of the water with the amount of food we made this week!  293 total apple pies made, 62 jars of apple butter, 283 pounds of bacon, and 1008 pounds of sausage!  95 percent of that is already sold, but there are still limited quantities available for a limited time.  And because you worked SO hard yesterday, and still got yourself moving today to come to church, I will try to give you the same amount of God but in just a bit less time.

There are three questions that today’s scripture lessons pose to us, each followed by three calls to action.  The first question is, “Do you worry?”  Jesus asks us a key question in Matthew 6: “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matt. 6:27) The answer to that question is most definitely no.  Jesus tells us that God knows that we need these things, and that therefore God will provide.  Instead of worrying about where we will stay, or what we will eat, or what we will wear, we are told to strive first for the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

How many of you are worrying about what you are going to get someone for Christmas?  How many of you are worrying about whether a disagreement will resurface when the family gathers this week for Thanksgiving?  Some of us worry how someone we are able to meet will receive us.  Will they like us?  There is quite a bit that we can be worrying about.  We can strive for each of these to go well, and we can do our part to make it happen, but we need to strive first for the kingdom of God.  God knows what we need.  If we strive first for God, God will bless us richly with more than we need, so that we can keep giving to others.  But if we start paying more attention to our own needs, we will end up not having enough even for ourselves.  Life is more than constant worry.  Let yourself feel what it is like.  Worry is one of the strongest weapons that the devil has because it distracts you from living a life with God.  Perhaps the strongest weapon that the devil has is convincing Christians that he doesn’t exist.  He does; if you worry about one thing, that is what you should be worrying about.  I hope that you all can live much of the rest of your days not worrying about the small things that will eventually cease to matter, but rejoicing in the breath that fills your lungs, in the song that fills the air, and in the spring that powers your steps.  Again, strive first for the kingdom of God.

The second question is, “Do you pray for and thank God for everyone?”  In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “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” (1 Tim. 2:1).  We do not need to be the person in power.  If we seek power for the wrong reasons, we are not living in godliness.  Rather, we are to pray for those who are in power, that they may be guided by the Spirit of God and conform to the will of God rather than the will of the world.  We always think that we can do a better job than the person in power – at least in most cases – but sadly shake our heads and say that only people with money win those seats.  Yet can’t God do an even better job than we would?  If we pray hard enough for the people in power to either turn to God or turn closer to God, we are letting God into power.  This is why we pray for our leaders, whether or not we like them.  We want God to bless them and change their heart.  This is why we are also called to pray for those who persecute us.  We pray for everyone because we know that the more hearts that God wins, the better our world becomes.

What about the people who have done nothing but evil for their entire lives?  How can we thank God for them, you may ask?  Have you been inside a prison lately?  If not, what would you expect to find?  People yelling at each other and constantly fighting?  That would grow old pretty quickly, especially after a couple nights “in the hole,” which is pretty much a strict isolation chamber where you go if you get in to trouble at prison.  You are actually more likely to find people who are trying to become better people, to admit to the mistakes they have made and to try to turn their lives around.  People in prison are often at the lowest point of their lives.  They are most likely to be encouraged by something new that promises love and forgiveness for the past.  When I helped lead a Bible Study at Mansfield Correctional Institute for a year and a half, I found Christians who seemed to study God and ask questions about God more than most of my Christian friends.  Some of them have inspired me to ask the difficult questions about God more often.  We have been going into some of these questions in the book group and I intend to bring them to focus during our Advent season so you can all hear a bit about our conversations.  As we wait for God, we have a lot of difficult questions for God.  I know that this does not describe everyone in prison; some are content with their ways and don’t want to hear anything about God or church.  But we can pray for them all because of this potential of curiosity, of reflectiveness, of a desire to find some encouragement, especially when they have to serve the sometimes-lengthy remaining sentences that they were given.  For many, their family has shut them out of their lives.  That is most difficult for some of the people that I talked to.  But they are finding that they still have a Christian family.  They will never shut them out.  Yes, pray even for those who have done evil.

Third, “What were you appointed for?”  Paul noted that he was “appointed a herald and an apostle, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Tim 2:7).  He taught the Christian churches about the right way to follow Jesus, just as he still teaches the Christian churches today.  Regardless of whether you are called to be a teacher, a scholar, a missionary, a sausage maker – you are called to be an example for Christ.  As a herald, we proclaim the good news to others.  As an apostle, we aim to follow Jesus as close as we can.  And if you are appointed to follow Jesus, there are two special ways that you can celebrate the American holiday this week.  Thanksgiving is in part a special time for the gathering of family, but that is not all it is.  Especially if you are apart from family this year, or will be, or feel separated from those you love or loved, you can still meaningfully celebrate the holiday.  What are five good things that have happened this year?  They are not always major things.  The move to the parsonage is a big one for me.  The book group is another one.  Being able to enjoy a campfire outside is an added bonus.  Having friends and family coming to visit to give me the excuse to use it.  An attitude of gratitude throws everything else out the window and makes everything much brighter.  It makes interactions more pleasant.  This discovery is a very special part of Thanksgiving.

Another is looking forward.  At the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims were thinking about how to get through a harsh winter, but they were also dreaming of a new life for themselves in a new land.  They could have complained about the cold, the food, the friends and family who did not make it.  They probably did.  But the dreams and hopes overpowered all of that.  When we add Jesus back into the mix, which God renews into our lives every day but especially in the Christmas season, this hope is multiplied.  Do look forward.  Imagine the things that are possible with God at the center of the equation, with worry no longer clogging the instruments.  Imagine what is possible with God when you pray on behalf of all those people that you don’t like.  Strive first for God.  God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit reign as king over all the lesser things that we see on this earth.  We know as Christians that Jesus is going to come back and make all things right.  Renew your confidence in this promise.  God is our creator, Jesus is our redeemer, and the Holy Spirit is our interceder.  And yet they are all one.

May you, who are weary from sausage making, exhaustive phone calls with families, and difficult co-workers, perhaps even with a young baby at home to keep you up at night, say in faith to Jesus as John did in Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  “With all my questions, and fears, through all the years, I still bid you come.  You are my hope.  You are my rest.  You are my strength when my strength is gone.  Come.  Come for me.  Build my own faith.  Come for my neighbor, who needs you.  I strive for nothing more than for your glory to be revealed here on earth.  I come with an attitude of gratitude, interceding for those who will not intercede for themselves, knowing that someone once did so for me.  Come to save the world, and if not right away, come help me to be all that I can, as long as I ever can, to raise this song to you.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Joel 2:21-27
2:21 Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!
2:22 Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield.
2:23 O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before.
2:24 The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
2:25 I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you.
2:26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
2:27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame.

1 Timothy 2:1-7
2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,
2:2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.
2:3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
2:4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2:5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,
2:6 who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time.
2:7 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.

Matthew 6:25-33
6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
6:27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
6:28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,
6:29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith?
6:31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’
6:32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
6:33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

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