Jeremiah 29:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-7

September 25, 2022

  • Regarding the authorities and government of the world


In my time working in county government between church jobs a few years ago, I was on a committee that went regularly to the General Assembly of VA when they were in session to work with our elected officials in legislation regarding voting.  Believe it or not, every session of the VA General Assembly had a good number of legislators pushing every kind of bill they could think of regarding voting, even if the ideas did not really make sense.  We would answer questions, throw out ideas, recommend alternative bills, or fight for the good ones.  It was interesting to get to meet delegates or state senators, usually as they were running from one meeting to another.  But one thing that they never asked of us was prayer.  To the best of my recollection, none of the elected folk that I have met have asked for prayer, even the ones that you might expect would ask.

This is strange and troubling, but it might also speak to our situation.

Praying for our leaders, all who are in high positions, and for everyone in the world should be our number one job.  It is so easy to do, so accessible for any follower of Jesus.  So when was the last time you prayed for President Biden? Nancy Pelosi?  Mitch McConnell?  Anyone in DC?  Prayed for their success, for peace and stability in the government, for dignified administration?

I do believe that our congregation is interestingly diverse.  We have a range of folk who reflect all kinds of spectrums, one of them being political.  I also believe that many of you hold very serious political views that make it pretty tough to take seriously the call to pray for the success of all leaders, especially the president.  And it is not just Biden, of course, but the same situation applies in the contrast with Trump.  People who enjoy praying for one might despise praying for the other.  Yes, you might be that special person who has no problem praying for all of their presidents’ blessings equally, without partisan influence, but you are the outlier and not the normal, but you are a true blessing.

This is actually not an easy message to hear.  I’m sorry.  I am not making it up.  It is in Scripture, and I found it in the lectionary.  This is not an easy message, but it is a very interesting one.  Don’t worry.  If you have trouble embracing Paul’s teaching to Timothy here, you are not alone, but it began long before Paul.

When the nation of Israel was crashing and burning literally in the days of Jeremiah, he was the only prophet telling the people the hard truth.  No one wanted to believe him.  The other prophets were calling for peace and sunshine and rainbows and unicorns.  Well, at least peace.  Egypt and Babylon were at war and the southern Kingdom of Israel, that is Judah, was caught in the middle.  Judah was trying to side with Egypt.  The northern nation of Israel had already been hauled off into captivity by Assyria and were never seen again.  No one wanted to believe it could happen to Judah, also.

But it did.  Just as the prophet Jeremiah announced, Babylon came and took all that they wanted: the wealth, the best and the brightest, and the dignity of the people.  Anyone still remaining was not worth taking as far as the Babylonians cared.  One of the worst passages in the entire Bible is Psalm 137, and it talks about this very moment in their history.  You have never heard a sermon on that psalm.  It was the darkest day in the history of the southern kingdom of Judah.  And that is when Jeremiah makes this bizarre prophecy.  Get settled, marry and raise families, and seek the welfare of the people who just hauled you away in captivity and destroyed your nation.  No, it did not say it like that, but that is what is behind Jeremiah’s proclamation.  The people who stole your life as a nation is now your new home.  Get comfy and pray for their welfare.

I hope it is fairly obvious why this is completely NOT the natural thing to consider.  This is akin to the American POW praying for the welfare of his Japanese or German or Vietnamese captors.  Even in Paul’s day writing to Timothy, he is instructing Timothy to pray for the Roman Empire and its welfare.  This is the same Empire that brutally executed our Lord.  This is the same Empire that did go after Christians.  This is the same Empire that was every evil image in the Book of Revelation, and Paul wants Timothy to pray for them – to lead others in praying for them.

This is astounding and not easy, but it is also something we need to hear.  Today, we are so motivated by tribalism between political parties that we will not tolerate our children marrying into the other party.  Rather than try to reach across the aisle, there is the refusal to cooperate at all.  We still live with the aftermath of the last presidential election and two completely different worldviews that do not connect in the same America.  And now the preacher is asking us to pray for the good and welfare and benefit of the president and all leaders, no matter the party affiliation.

You know what’s coming next….  What about Putin?  What about Kim Jong-un?  What about Xi Jinping?  What about Ali Khamenei?  Those are the leaders of Russia, North Korea, China, and Iran.

If the world were to pray, it might pray for their destruction or death.  We are not the world, though.

No, we are not praying for Putin’s success in Ukraine.  We are not even necessarily praying for his political success in Russia.  What we need is peace and security and the freedom of the children of God to be the children of God.  We need the spaces and places for God’s goodness to dwell secure in the land in so far as humans can help wherever they are.  We should not antagonize the government because the government will make it harder on us.  We should pray that God turn the hearts of all people and especially the leaders of the world to what is true, what is right, and what is loving.  We need to see Jesus across this world in the bonds of his Spirit.  We need to see each other as God’s children.

No nation is helped by being thrown into chaos.  No nation is helped by inviting persecution.  No nation is helped by the refusal to pray.  Yes, no nation is helped when we refuse to pray.

In this very moment, people are fleeing nations on every continent in the world except for Antarctica and maybe Australia.  Every other continent has nations that people are trying to leave.  Russians and especially Russian men of fighting years are making a break for the border at this very moment, but many, many other nations have people fleeing as I speak.  Natural disasters, war, poverty, crime, and political oppression all have a hand in this.  It would not surprise you to know that America is a hope and dream to many, but we as American Christians are not doing a very good job of making sure we still have a home in which to live here.

In the face of unrest and instability, even in America, especially in America, we have a desperate choice to make.  We can follow the winds of political division, racial division, economic division, and social division, or we can pray intentionally and forcefully for the house of God – and intentionally and forcefully for the house of America.

Throughout American history, we have never done a very good job of attending to our house in its entirety.  There have always been people of the house who were put out or diminished or enslaved or disregarded or attacked or segregated.  Even when the nation’s house looked pretty on the outside, it was missing considerable beauty on the inside.  It seems like perhaps the 1930s and 40s might have been about as close to right as we have come.  WW2 and the financial hardships of the Great Depression, while they caused many problems for our society, helped people to see past their troubles to the greater reality of our shared home in America, but I was not alive then, so this is just a guess.  This is the “Greatest Generation” for a reason.  I certainly want to believe better is possible and that we have known better.

Paul did not have America in mind as he wrote these words, of course.  It does not matter the nation.  It does not matter the ruler.  It does matter how much welfare there is already in place for the children of God in that nation with that ruler.  We begin with prayer.  Prayer makes us aware of the situation and invites us to help make things better, if possible, but prayer is also that open door to God to work what is good and right, not only here but everywhere.  We need to pray.  We must pray.  We must pray for them all.

As we lift up the children of God and especially our rulers, let us pray.

Thank you Jesus for calling our attention to this vital and necessary calling.  Your children, our brothers and sisters, are facing challenges beyond our understanding.  Here we assail one another with agendas and convictions and diminish the value of God’s image in us all.  We need leaders for godly change.  We need leaders who will seek the welfare of all of your children.  We need leaders attentive to the lives and needs in their care.  Bless our leaders.  Bless the leaders around this world and lead them through your heart.  Give your children spaces to live and grow and shine with your gospel.  In your precious name, we pray.  Amen.