Sermon Seeds: Prayerful Living

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 20

Lectionary citations
Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 with Psalm 79:1-9 or
Amos 8:4-7 with Psalm 113
1 Timothy 2:1-7

Luke 16:1-13

Sermon Seeds

Focus Scripture:
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Additional reflection by Kathryn Matthews Huey

Weekly Theme:
Prayerful Living

by Lizette Merchán Pinilla 

As a bilingual minister (translating from English to Spanish and Spanish to English, and speaking with the accents unique to “Okie” English and Colombian Spanish), I find it interesting how my faith has been doubly enhanced, challenged and reshaped – in two languages. All of this occurs at the same time, and shows up in the many new ways in which I learn, teach, preach and relate to the world and words around me. Especially in regard to the world and the words of the Bible and its historical presentation of scripture to be read, studied, read again, then finally interpreted to today’s reality.

In my theological studies at seminary, I learned more about what my faith required of me, and what is meant by offering an “inclusive invitation” and an “all-included extravagant welcome.” I learned of a renewed approach that included a welcoming and still-speaking, extravagant God for all. This welcome is especially relevant today because of the context which surrounds us and how it is portrayed to us by our environment, customs, and views at that particular time and place. This is an analogy of what 1Timothy 2:1-7 dealt with, and how the reality of that scripture’s context still relates to our present-day lives in the 21st century.

All of this personal background informs and facilitates today’s interpretation which helps us to relate on some level to those who, like Timothy, experienced God as “living faith” (James D.G. Dunn, “The First and Second Letters to Timothy and The Letter to Titus,” The New Interpreter’s Bible). Paul reminded Timothy of the living faith shared by all Christians, and urged him to spread the good news. This could be accomplished by peeling off all the layers of how a community is to interpret and enliven a faith from the personal to the collective in a society that was already polluted, suspicious, and predominantly non-Christian. Christianity was, at the time, under persecution as a minority faith group among other foreign religions and was also threatened by the potential influence of false teachers and teachers with ulterior motives.

A living faith in the shape of prayer – including prayers for rulers, although “perhaps we should note,” Fred Craddock writes “that the passage only calls for supplications to be made on behalf of ruling authorities,” and does not impose “submission” to them (Preaching through the Christian Year C). The need of prayer for those in leadership positions represents the hopes for freedom of expression of individuals’ own faith beliefs regardless of their socioeconomic status, color, race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, as well as the hope of gaining the respect which is innate to each one of us.

This is not to assume that Christians will be submissive to those who rule, but rather they will join sincere and perhaps challenging efforts (those which speak truth to power) with those in leadership positions. Perhaps they will also join forces with those who have different beliefs from their own. “Being prayerful for political leaders is one thing,” Craddock writes; “being blindly submissive to them is quite another” (Preaching through the Christian Year C).

This is a call to welcome all – a place where all of God’s people have struggled at some point in their lives, or are still there and will or have come back out – to worship “a God who is more than a tribal deity, a God who must be one for all humans; and if God is to be fair, then there must be some principle by which all humans can respond to God: faith” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The First and Second Letters to Timothy, The Anchor Bible). This living faith is one in which God’s beloved community experiences God through the ways in which justice and human dignity were fought for: to the point of death for what was just and dignifying for all.

We see ourselves as God’s image: tall or short, standing or in wheelchairs, with personal and family satisfaction, at home or homebound, with internal hurts, speaking one or multiple languages, realizing small or huge accomplishments. Not all of these characteristics are on the magnitude of “life–changing,” but they give importance to the One who truly is present with us and who gives us a living faith that claims us for who we are.

God provides a living and breathing faith, one in which Christ mediates with God, and God acts with us through Christ. As a rescuer/empowerer from whatever troubles we go through – a rescuer who is distinguishable from any other god, emperor, government, or other entity. We see God in ourselves as God’s image, with our personal and communal sorrows. Some of our sorrows are public; many more are private, and we yearn for God’s answers to meet all of our requests, needs and challenges.

Let us pray: Look at us, oh God, and reflect yourself in our happiness, our needs, our challenges, and our joys – to make us a trustworthy reflection of your existence within us, God. Look at us and mediate yourself through us, to serve as Christ’s example on Earth in each one of our needs and our celebrations, to make us in the likeness of your own reflection. We are here, present before you, as witnesses to our mutual commitment: that in which you and we help one another, as well as help others. Amen.

The invitation is set before us – as natives or foreigners, lay persons or clergy, students or nonstudents, hurt or healed, believers or doubters – to be the living and breathing faith that champions justice for all, and the dignity of all. Be the living and breathing faith that God asks you to be – the one who is yet to be shared or the one who has already discovered the originality and compassion of your existence on Earth. May this be so – through your living and breathing faith and testimony to life. Amen.

The Reverend Lizette Merchán Pinilla serves on the Justice and Witness Commission of the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Additional reflection on 1 Timothy 2:1-7
by Kathryn Matthews Huey

If this letter to Timothy was written in Paul’s name late in the first century, a generation or two of early Christians had passed from the scene. Jesus had not returned as expected before the apostles themselves died, and persecutions and trials and resistance, including expulsion from the synagogues, had been part of the Christian experience for many years. Even when the emperors weren’t actively persecuting and executing Christians as Nero and others did, they were nevertheless pagans, and the Roman Empire itself was thoroughly pagan. It was clear, too, just who was in charge of earthly affairs, with troops, money, and power of every kind in the hands of those pagans.

This is an opportune moment for the author of the letter to remind young Timothy, who was working hard to strengthen the church in Ephesus, about just who was really in charge of everything. In such an age, not unlike our own, earthly rulers might have been awed by their own power and might, and their subjects might have cowered, too, and wondered where to place their trust. “Paul” writes to his beloved colleague, Timothy, clarifying things: there is only one God, not a bunch of competing ones, and there is such a thing as truth, and you can count on it because we have received it from the One true mediator, Jesus Christ.

At first reading, this passage (like so many others) may seem to mean something different than was intended by its author. Many see in its beginning a kind of blessing on our governmental leaders. While we might pray for our leaders because they carry great responsibilities and stand in need always of God’s wisdom and guidance, this passage seems to be referring more to the need of those early, besieged Christians for some breathing space, some peace and quiet in which to go about their business. As Gary E. Peluso-Verdend puts it, “The author does call Christians to pray for rulers for a specific reason that has nothing to do with divine support of the empire. The author commends the practice of praying for rulers in order that Christians can go about God’s work in peace” (New Proclamation Year C 2007). The author doesn’t say that the believers should blindly obey the rulers: “Being prayerful for political leaders is one thing,” Carl R. Holladay writes; “being blindly submissive is quite another” (Preaching through the Christian Year C). This is hardly a sellout to the powers that be, in fact, such a peace facilitates the conversion of the surrounding culture, for the author, writes Robert W. Wall, intends that “the congregation should pray for the conversion of their pagan leaders as the means of social reform….The public prayers of the Christian community hardly reflect a program of social domestication…but a Christian mission that boldly evangelizes the surrounding pagan culture from top to bottom” (The Lectionary Commentary, Acts and the Epistles). It’s perhaps another way of being leaven, no matter how small and seemingly powerless you may be.

Not just the rulers deserve our prayers, the author says, but everyone does. And that’s not all: God desires that everyone will be saved. No one is worthless or beyond God’s thoughts. It isn’t my God against yours, but our one God who loves everyone. The Stillspeaking witness of the United Church of Christ could use this passage as one of its foundational texts, because religious wars throughout the centuries and in our own time and even within our churches have struggled over the question of who is included in the plans and hopes of God. Paul himself had to make the case over and over that his mission to the Gentiles was legitimate and ordained by God, in spite of opposition and condemnation by those who felt they were simply being faithful.

The hope of God that all will be saved is paired with the hope that all will “come to the knowledge of the truth.” Perhaps there is where we get into trouble as religious people, and it may be at the root of the resistance of so many folks today who say they are “spiritual, but not religious.” If “religion” refers to what binds us together, isn’t it “the truth” that does that binding? Indeed, Beverly R. Gaventa has written insightfully about the tension between the “narrowness that has sometimes plagued theological debates” and the need for “an important warning,” provided by this text: “Not every assertion that claims to be the gospel does so rightly” (Texts for Preaching Year C).

How, then, are we to make our way and to live faithfully in a country where we are, for the most part, free from the persecution suffered by these early Christians, in fact, where the “powers that be” actually call themselves Christian? The letter provides important and helpful instructions: remember that there is one God (“God is God, and you’re not”) and that God loves every single person and doesn’t want to lose a single one (last week’s reading about lost coins and sheep is helpful here), and, in every case, pray always. Eugene Peterson’s translation begins with the words, “The first thing I want you to do is pray” (The Message). If we pray in all things and in all times, perhaps it won’t be so hard to get along with one another, and with our rulers and kings, as we make our way toward the truth.

For further reflection:

Soren Kierkegaard, 19th century
“Prayer does not change God, but it changes the one who prays.”

Satchel Paige, 20th century
“Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.”

Frederick Douglass, 19th century
“I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Henry Ward Beecher, 19th century
“It is not well for a man to pray cream and live skim milk.”

Mahatma Gandhi, 20th century
“Prayer is the key of the morning and the bolt of the evening.”

Lectionary texts

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

My joy is gone, grief is upon me,
   my heart is sick.
Hark, the cry of my poor people
   from far and wide in the land:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
   Is her King not in her?”
(“Why have they provoked me
   to anger with their images,
   with their foreign idols?”)
“The harvest is past,
   the summer is ended,
   and we are not saved.”
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
   I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.

Is there no balm in Gilead?
   Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
   not been restored?

O that my head were a spring of water,
   and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night
   for the slain of my poor people!


Psalm 79:1-9

O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
    they have defiled your holy temple;
    they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

They have given the bodies of your servants
    to the birds of the air for food,
    the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.

They have poured out their blood like water
    all around Jerusalem,
    and there was no one to bury them.

We have become a taunt to our neighbors,
    mocked and derided by those around us.

How long, O God? Will you be angry forever?
    Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?

Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you,
    and on the nations that do not call on your name.

For they have devoured Jacob
    and laid waste his habitation.

Do not remember against us
    the iniquities of our ancestors;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
    for we are brought very low.

Help us, O God of our salvation,
    for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and forgive our sins,
    for your name’s sake.


Amos 8:4-7

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
   and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying,
“When will the new moon be over
   so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath,
   so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
   and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
   and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
   Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.


Psalm 113

Praise be to God!
Praise, O servants of God;
   praise the name of God.

Blessed be the name of the God
   from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
   the name of the God is to be praised.

God is high above all nations,
   and God’s glory above the heavens.

Who is like God our God, who is seated on high,
   who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?

God raises the poor from the dust,
   and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with nobles,
   with the leaders of God’s people.

God gives the childless woman a home,
   making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise be to God!

1 Timothy 2:1-7

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should 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. 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. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. 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.

Luke 16:1-13

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Liturgical notes on the Readings

In ecumenical liturgical practice, there are normally three readings and one psalm at each Sunday service, in this order:

First Reading: Hebrew Scripture
Response: Psalm (or Canticle) from the Bible
Second Reading: Epistle (or Acts or Revelation)
Third Reading: Gospel

The first two lessons are normally read by laypeople, the Gospel by a Minister of the Word or a layperson. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and liturgical Protestant churches, it is uncommon for an ordained minister to read all of the lessons.

The psalm is not a reading but a congregational response following the lesson from Hebrew Scripture: it is normally sung with a refrain or recited by the congregation as poetry. Occasionally, a canticle is appointed in place of a psalm; it is sung or recited in the same way. The New Century Hymnal provides a complete liturgical psalter with refrains and music.

A hymn may be sung as an introduction to the proclamation of the Gospel.

During Ordinary Time (seasons after Epiphany and Pentecost) two alternative sets of OT readings with responsorial psalms are provided. The first option is a semi-continuous reading (Series 1) through a book of Hebrew Scripture; the second is thematically related to the other readings (Series 2). It is suggested that a congregation choose one option and follow it.