First, a word of explanation before I begin. I’ve been in ordained ministry now over fifteen years. As many of you know, our readings on any given Sunday repeat on a regular three year cycle since we follow a lectionary. As such, we heard these lessons in 2016 and 2013, 2010 and 2007. And in my fifteen years I’ve wrestled with the parable of the shrewd manager four times. In my preaching classes at seminary I was taught to never let a hard text go without preaching about it since the assembled congregation will be thinking how to make sense of it. This parable we just heard fits that bill perfectly. However, after 15 years of exploring this text, I decided that I have followed the advice of Professors Bartlett, Avram, and Hilton long enough, and I’m turning my attention elsewhere today. If you’re dying to explore this parable, I’ll provide links on my blog to previous sermons (here and here). Or you can always come back on September 18, 2022 when we’ll once more hear Jesus’ tale about this manager who’s been cooking the books.
What has taken my attention in the readings we heard this morning is the instructions about prayer given to the new pastor Timothy (1 Tim 2:1-7). The Apostle Paul writes, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” He goes on to including some people that perhaps young Timothy might choose to exclude from that directive, yet I want to pause for a brief moment. “I urge that prayers be made for everyone.” Everyone. The woman who lives next door, and the kids on the morning bus. The family member battling cancer, and that person who did you wrong. Elected officials, and the person you saw digging through the trash. The librarian and the nice older man who always walks his Golden Retriever by your house. Everyone.
Far too often, I suspect, our prayers are limited to ourselves and our immediate loved ones. For the things on our mind, like the troubles we’re facing. For the back pain that hits us in the morning, or the test later in the day. For a prime parking spot when the weather is foul, or for our boss to approve of our worth. And we shouldn’t feel badly about this. If Paul is telling a minister that he should be praying for everyone, it’s clear that he thought Timothy wasn’t, or that at the very least he might forget. So Paul encourages him to go beyond the usual circle of people that he remembers in his prayers. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.”
But why? I mean most of us pray for our small circles of loved ones and friends, and if you draw out the circles, surely there’s some overlap so that at least most people have at least one person praying for them, right? Certainly some folks get more prayers for them than others, but it’s not as if the majority of people in the world don’t have someone making supplications and intercessions on their behalf.
But it’s not everyone. There are people out there who live mostly alone, or who have lost their way in life. Those who might not have others concerned about their well-being. And, as Paul goes on to explain, God cares about them too. After telling him to pray even for government officials—who at that time sought to humiliate and harm Christians—Paul writes, “This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God yearns for every person who walks the face of this earth to know and experience the redemptive love of God. And, it seems, part of this comes through our prayers for others, for everyone. But it means we have to pay attention more. We need to expand our repertoire of prayer to go deeper into our minds, to include people we may only know through conversations with others, or by a chance encounter on the sidewalk. God longs for all of us to know that we are deeply loved and not alone.
Tony Basco lived a mostly solitary life with his wife, Margie Reckard, in Texas. They didn’t have many friends at all, and no family to speak of. They scratched out a living as best they could, and made their way together for over 20 years, happy to have each other. On August 3 of this year Margie went to the local WalMart to grab a couple of things, and she never came home. Margie was among the 22 victims of the El Paso shooting, and in the days following Tony fretted that no one would attend her funeral besides him. His story got picked up by the news, as he told a reporter that the whole community in the border town was invited to grieve with him.
Hundreds of people showed up to pay their respects at La Paz Faith Center. Tony arrived at the appointed time and there was already a long line of people waiting to get into the already packed service. A news report describes it this way: “Instead of allowing himself to be ushered inside, [Tony] walked down the sidewalk to greet and hug the people in line who hadn’t been able to get a seat. Those who couldn’t get close to him shouted their support. ‘You’re not alone,’ they cried. ‘We’re your family now.’ ‘God bless you.’”
Later Tony said this, “I’m not alone,… I thought I wanted to be alone, but I don’t want to be.” The report continues, “He said everyone who showed up to honor a woman they didn’t know was amazing. ‘So many people put their arms around me, grieved with me, cried with me, it touched my heart,’ Basco said. ‘I love you and I’m proud and I’m honored to have you all here as my family.’”
What I’ve come to learn is that when I pray for others, my feelings about them begin to change and deepen too. I see them more like God does, as beloved children who are uniquely gifted and a significant and important life in our world. Like Tony Basco who is grieving still. Or those living in fear in the Middle East due to the threat of war and those doing the threatening. The ones facing a terminal diagnosis. The kid bullied at the middle school, and the CFO for the Wall Street firm. The woman who cleans your house, and the teen who made your sandwich last week. The political leaders who vote differently than you. And especially the people I’d rather not pray for, the ones who’ve offended or harmed me or my family. God yearns for all of them to know of God’s life-giving love. To experience salvation. So we are asked to pray for , because that how we find salvation too.
Who do you need to pray for? Who is God inviting you to remember beyond the ones that always come into your heart when you pause to pray? I’d like you to take a moment right now and ask God who you might hold in prayer this week, and then write those names or, if you do not know names, how you identify them, down on a card. Carry that card with you, and take time each day to pray for them. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.” May we join with other children of God to remember all those we can begin to imagine in our prayers because they are all loved by God. Amen.