For the purposes of this message, it’s important for you to know that I actually plan a few Sundays ahead. And so, the scriptures and message title that I’m using today are a few weeks old.
I choose them deliberately because I knew that the federal election was about to be called and I think it’s important to talk about politic in church – not to tell you how to vote but to give you some things to think about as we all contemplate who we vote for on October 21.
What I did not know was the bombshell that would drop this week and how appropriate and timely this message might be.
Yes, you know what I’m talking about because, by now, we’ve all seen the pictures of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wearing black and brown face some years ago. It’s dominated the news the past few days. Not only in Canada but around the world those pictures have been on the front page of major newspapers.
Why was this so newsworthy? Because Justin Trudeau has been seen by many as the poster boy for the progressive movement that is all about not doing things like that. And so, people took notice. Was he being hypocritical, racist or simply showing bad judgement? That’s a good question. But it’s not the question that I want to address today.
The question I want to address is how do we process and respond to the events of this week, especially in light of the today’s reading from 1 Timothy 2:1-2 which says this: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” I think these verses, more than almost any other verses in the Bible, need to read today as we seek guidance and clarity.
THOSE IN AUTHORITY
Politicians. We all have our stereotypes of them, don’t we? Some of us admire them for the jobs they do. But more often than not, there is a sense that we distrust them, that they are all the same. That they are all hungry for power and privilege and to push their agendas no matter the cause or the cost. That they are simply in it for themselves, not us. I’ve heard people say things like, “They’re all the same. You can’t trust them. They say one thing during the campaign and do something else.” Or as we see in the Charlie Brown cartoon, Charlie Brown gets asked, “Do all fairy tales begin with, ‘Once upon a time?’” To which Charlie Brown responds, “No, many of them begin, ‘If I am elected, I promise…’”
Ok, I get it. It is so easy to be negative about politicians. And they don’t help their own cause when they constantly try to smear each other with half-truths and innuendos. After all, if politicians tell us enough times that politicians are all hypocritical and two faced, then eventually we will start to believe them. But in the midst of all of that is the biblical mandate to pray for them.
I don’t find that as difficult as do some. I personally have a lot of respect for many politicians. In fact, most of the ones that I know – and I’ve known quite a few over the years – are pretty good people. Federally, I think Jeff Watson was an excellent MP. I got to know Jeff pretty well. He even spoke in this church back in 2006 if you recall. I also like Tracy Ramsey. I don’t know her as well but from my contact with her I think she’s a straight shooter and works hard for Essex. I’m saying that I agree with their policies and I’m not saying that I’m going to vote for them but, as people, I think their hearts are in the right places. I admire that.
But the pressures on a politicians are immense. Maybe that’s why Paul tells Timothy to pray for kings and all those in positions of authority. Think about that for a moment. We are called to pray for kings and all those in positions of authority. In other words, we are called to pray for our government leaders. To put a point on it, we are called to pray for politicians.
But why? Paul gives Timothy a very good reason to do that. It’s right there in 1 Timothy 2:2 (NIV): we pray for them so, “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” What does this mean? It means that it’s the government’s job to create an environment where people can live in peace so that they can become godly and holy people.
Interestingly, the Romans actually did a pretty good job of creating that environment. Yes I know that were brutal and oppressive. And I am not about to defend their methods. But remember that the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago was far different than 21st century North America. The Romans might have been brutal but they were mainly brutal to their enemies. If people behaved and didn’t break the law, the Romans pretty well left them alone. But if you wanted to challenge the Romans, you were going to pay the price.
Because the Romans were so powerful they created a kind of security that before that was unknown. Before the Romans, bandits controlled the countryside and the travel routes. Thugs went from town to town taking what they wanted from the defenseless residents. But because the Romans wanted trade to flourish, they built roads and guarded them. And because they wanted to protect their empire they built huge armies to keep invading armies at bay, thereby creating relative security for the people. Had it not been for the Roman authorities, Paul would not have been able to travel as freely as he did throughout the empire. He would not have established all of those churches in Asia Minor and Europe. Without Roman authority, it would have been far more difficult to spread the gospel of Jesus.
Do you what else is possible when people are able to live peaceful and quiet lives? They also are more able to grow in faith and become more the people God created them to be. That process is called sanctification and that happens best when people have some security in their lives. Why is that?
Many of you know about Maslow’s need hierarchy. Maslow’s research showed that there is a hierarchy of needs in life and that you can’t really fully move to the higher needs until the lower ones are sufficiently met. At the very bottom of the hierarchy are the physiological needs; things like food, water, shelter, clothing, air. These have to be met before moving higher. Above those are safety needs. You need to feel that you have security of body, family, employment, health and property. Once those needs are met, you can move to the next level, the love and belonging level where relationships, family, friendships and intimacy gain importance. And so on and so forth all the way up to self-esteem and self-actualization.
In Paul’s day, the Romans did a bang up job of providing safety which enabled people to move up to higher needs. It gave them the security they needed to grow in faith and in love and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Since they didn’t have to constantly search for food and duck for cover, they could spend time reading the Scriptures and learning what it means to be Christ followers.
Can you do that in places of unrest, oppression and war? Yes you can but you can do it a lot easier when your physiological and safety needs are met. That’s what Paul is getting at when he tells Timothy to pray for those in authority so that the people can live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
Paul tells us to pray for kings and those in authority. He tells us to pray for the politicians that we elect to govern us. Does it mean that you have to agree with them? No it doesn’t meant that. Does it mean that you have to belong to their particular political party? No, it doesn’t mean that either. Does it mean that we can pick and choose which of our leaders we pray for? No, it definitely does not mean that. Paul tells us to pray for kings and those in authority and he make absolutely no distinctions. He calls us to pray for all of them and so we should.
This week has been filled with slurs and mud and double standards from various parties and their leaders. In fact, we might have dug deeper into the sewer than at any other time in Canadian history.
Do know what that means for us? It means that we need to double down and pray for our leaders even more. Rather than joining the ranks of newspaper editorials and social media malcontents to slam those running for political office – and that’s really tempting to do – Paul encourages us to take a higher road and pray. We need to pray for wisdom. We need to pray for humility. We need to pray for courage. We need to pray for vision, compassion, sincerity and a host of other qualities that would well serve those who have the courage to run for public office.
Rather than condemn them, we need to pray for them.
I want to close by telling you about a politician that I knew who inspired me because I think he epitomized everything a politician should be.
Sean O’Sullivan was born in 1953 in Hamilton, Ontario which means that he was two years older than me. Sean showed an interest in politics from a very young age. At the age of eleven he started working on political campaigns for the Conservative Party. He admired John Diefenbaker who took him under his wing and, in 1971, appointed Sean to be his executive assistant. If you do the math, you’ll find that he was only eighteen years old.
I met Sean in 1972 when he was running for the Conservative Party in the federal election in my riding of Hamilton-Wentworth. He came to an assembly at my high school for an all-candidates gathering. I was seventeen and just getting interested in politics and Sean was just amazing. I sought him out after the assembly. That’s when we first met and, one on one, he was just as inspiring as he was on stage.
Sean went on to win that election and became the youngest person at the time to ever be elected to the House of Commons. Which, if you know some history, was pretty amazing because it was only earlier in 1972 that the voting age was reduced from twenty-one to eighteen. Sean was now nineteen. He wouldn’t even have been able to vote let alone become an MP if the rules had not changed a few months earlier.
Sean was a rising political star. In fact, he was what we might refer to as a rocket. He was on his way up to become a cabinet minister or even the leader of the party. As a very young man, he was on his way. One of the things he did still affects us every day. It was his private member’s bill that, when passed, made the beaver the official animal symbol of Canada.
Sean and I connected a number of times during those years. I worked on his re-election campaign in 1974 where he easily retained his seat. And I started to get to know people in politics. Sean and I had dinner once with John Diefenbaker which for him was no big deal but for me was quite awesome. Imagine dining with Dief the Chief. And some of those political people started to notice me. Jack MacDonald was the mayor of Hamilton at the time and a staunch Conservative. He asked me to consider running for alderman in the next municipal election, offering to have his people organize and fund my campaign.
But I declined. And one of the main reasons was Sean O’Sullivan. Even though Sean was re-elected in 1974, in 1975, he gave a surprise announcement that he was leaving politics to become a Roman Catholic priest. The move certainly surprised me. But Sean was very clear about why he was leaving politics. He told me that, after just three years in Ottawa, he had had enough of it. Everyone wanted a piece of him. Women were constantly trying to pick him up and offering him favours. He was being offered extravagant gifts in exchange for his support for different causes and being pressed to support legislation that, as a Christian, he found troubling. I remember him saying, “The pressure is immense and I feel like it’s stealing my soul. I don’t want to lose my soul.” And so Sean resigned and entered the priesthood.
Around that time, I was just beginning to seriously consider entering ministry. I listened to Sean’s words – a man my own age for whom I had the greatest respect – and I made up my mind to refuse the offer to run for alderman. I remember how angry Jack MacDonald was when I declined and told him that I was hoping to enter the ministry. He had just seen Sean give up on politics and now me – both because of religious convictions. I remember him saying something like, “How are we supposed to run the country when all the good people want to become priests?” I took that as a back handed compliment.
I lost track of Sean for the next few years. It was the years before the internet and social media made it easier to keep in touch. He entered seminary and was ordained as a priest in 1981. But Sean was sometimes in the news and so I had some idea of what he was doing. He became the head of recruiting in the Diocese of Toronto and developed a very successful marketing campaign that featured a billboard with a picture of Jesus. The caption read, “Dare to be a priest like me”. Lots of young men were inspired to enter the priesthood because of that.
I eventually went back to school to study theology at Emmanuel College in 1983. And then one day in the spring of 1985 I was walking down Bloor Street and a car pulled up beside me. The passenger’s side window rolled down and I heard a voice call my name. I looked in the window and there was Sean wearing his clerical collar and big smile on his face. “Get in,” he said. So I did. There was lots to talk about and so we talked and we laughed and as we drove around downtown Toronto for half an hour. Life was good for Sean. He clearly felt complete, that he was doing what God had called him to do. Then he had to go to an appointment and I had a class and so we parted.
That’s the last time I saw Sean. One of the things he told me that day was that in 1983 he had been diagnosed with leukemia which was in remission. But the illness returned and on March 6, 1989 Sean O’Sullivan died at the age of 37.
I learned a lot of things from Sean and I’ve forgotten a lot of them but one of the things that has always stayed with me was how difficult it is to be in politics especially at the federal or provincial level. How it’s important not to let it steal your soul but how easy it is for that to happen. I have thought of that often and wonder how politicians do it. Clearly some do, they retain their souls and live holy and godly lives. But there are also those who fall to the temptation of power and privilege.
And that’s why it is so important to pray for our leaders and those in positions of authority. We should not just be praying for wisdom and guidance and good judgment. We also should pray for their souls that they not be stolen but they remain pure and godly so that all people can live quite peaceful lives filled with justice and mercy.
Rather than condemning and
criticizing those running for public office, I’m going to challenge each of you
to pray for all of the candidates in our area this week. This is what I want
I’m asking you to do. We have three ridings in our area. They are Essex,
Windsor West and Windsor-Tecumseh. And we have six days between now and next
Sunday. What I’m asking you to do is join me in praying for the candidates in
these ridings – all of the candidates. Pray for Essex on Monday and Thursday,
Windsor West on Tuesday and Friday and Windsor-Tecumseh on Wednesday and
Saturday. In fact, let’s pray for them now.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come before you, Great God of Creation, to offer our thanks for the wonder and the beauty of the world around us. We see, once again, the changing seasons. The evidence is all around us. Birds are flying south. Insects are less numerous. The leaves on the trees are just beginning to turn bright colours of red, orange and yellow. The days are getting shorter and nights cooler.
We thank you for harvest, for crops ripening and for the bounty of creation. All that we have, O God, is from you. We might till it and we might plant it and we might work it but apart from you favour none of it – or even us – would exist. All that we have and all that we are, we owe to you.
Thank you, O God, that you are in the changes. Thank you that are with us in all transformations of life. How blessed we are to have you by our sides every moment of every day. When we feel alone, remind us of your presence. When we need assurance, speak to us in soft whispers of love. When we need comfort, touch us with your healing balm of forgiveness and salvation.
As we make our way through a federal election campaign, we ask that you guide our votes and our leaders that they may have the good of the people in mind, first and foremost and that they would not lose their souls to the temptations of power and privilege.
We pray for those who mourn this day. May your healing and strength ripple through them like an ever flowing stream of grace. God, hear our prayers.
We pray for those also, who are sick at home or in hospital. We remember, Shad, Sharon, Mary and Jacqui. Grant them your Healing and Holy Spirit.
There are times in our lives when
we need direction. There are times when we stumble and fall. Especially in those
times, help us to follow your leadership without hesitation or reservation, for
we know that your wisdom and knowledge are greater than ours. We know that your
plans for us are always for good and that you will bless us with help and hope
by the glory of your grace. Enable us to place our trust in your unfailing love
in every situation of life. We pray our prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
September 22, 2019 / Pentecost 15 / Proper 20
Psalm 79:1-9; Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Luke 16:1-13; 1 Timothy 2:1-7
CALL TO WORSHIP
We come into the presence of the Almighty God
who heals us of our wounds and lifts us above our trouble.
Come, let us worship the Lord of Love.
Come, let us praise the Holy One.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Heavenly Father, we humble ourselves before your throne, aware of your presence in our lives and in this place. We need you in our lives as we need you in this day. We need to experience, once more, the comfort of your Spirit. You are Peace and in your presence we find peace. You are Justice and in your presence we discover justice. You are Love and your love lifts us on beacons of light so that we may shine above the darkness. Come, fill us up with overflowing that we may overflow with the goodness of all that you have to offer to us. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Hope and Mercy, we humble ourselves and bow down before you, aware of our sinfulness. In our conceit, we seek to be self-sufficient but our strength fails us and we turn to you again. We claim that you created us but we turn from your ways and follow pop psychology and self help books as though they were the Gospel of life. You offer us eternal life but we throw it away by putting our faith in the things that we have made, idols made by our own hands. Thank you for the breath that you give to us. Help us to surrender our whole lives to you and walk more closely in your way. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The heavens rejoice when a sinner stands at the foot of the cross and repents. No matter how far we may wander, no matter how deep we may plunge, God’s mercy brings us back to the Path of Life. Believe the Good News. Jesus died to save us all and rose again for our salvation.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
In appreciation of all of your goodness, we offer back to you a portion of our bounty. Your blessings are great. Your generousity is boundless. Fill us with the same Spirit with which you give that we might be a blessing to others. Amen.
God has met us here in this place. God will follow us out into the streets and the communities in which we live. We are witnesses of the Gospel of love and healing. May we live it and share it with joy.