The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, September 19, 2010.  The text for this week’s message is 1 Timothy 2:1-7.
Last week, we looked at Paul’s understanding of ministry.  Ministry is for all people.  All who have decided to follow Jesus are called to be in ministry.  Ministry is not just for an elite few.  Ministry is not just for those who have gone to school for it.  Ministry is not just for the “professionals.”  In the Scripture we looked at last week, Paul gives thanks for three things: that Jesus has empowered him for ministry, judged him faithful and appointed him to service.  As people who are called to ministry, we should all be intentional about giving ourselves fully to the tasks that God has entrusted to us.
This week, we really get to the heart of what ministry is all about.  Paul moves into it by beginning with what may be perceived as a controversial statement.  He begins by saying that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving should be made for all people.  He lists several different types of prayer here.  These are very general categories of prayer focusing on our personal needs, on God’s ability to meet those needs, on others and on giving thanks.  Paul says that we need to be praying for all people.
And just so we don’t think that Paul is telling us that we only have to pray for certain people, he writes that we need to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions.”  Now, I don’t know what your political persuasion is, and really, it doesn’t matter to me, but are you praying for those in office?  Are you praying for those who are in high positions?
So much of our political rhetoric today has to do with where this person is falling short, or where that person is messing things up.  It’s very divisive.  But do you pray for the Obama Administration?  And I don’t mean that you pray they get voted out of office soon.  On the flip side, did you pray for the Bush Administration?  And I don’t mean that you thanked God when it was over.  Paul tells us to pray for kings and all who are in high positions, not just the ones that we like, and not just the ones that we agree with.  Let’s put this in perspective here.
Do you know who the people in high positions were when Paul was writing this letter?  The Romans.  Do you know who the Roman emperor was when Paul was writing this letter?  Nero.  Now, maybe you aren’t familiar with Roman history, and that’s all right, but for some reason you may think that you’ve heard that name before.  And it is because Nero was one of the worst men to have ever been emperor of Rome.
In 64 A.D. a great fire destroyed much of Rome, and it was rumored that Nero set the first in order to make room for expansion of his palace.  It was said that Nero played his fiddle while Rome burned.  Not very many surviving sources have a lot of good things to say about Nero.  He was known for persecuting the early church.  It was during Nero’s reign as emperor that both Peter and Paul were killed for their faith.
And yet, Paul tells Timothy to pray for him.  Pray for those for whom you have no desire to pray, and you’ll start to understand what Paul is talking about here.  Because it doesn’t matter that they seem too far-gone.  It doesn’t matter what they have done to you, or what you think they have done, pray for those who are in high positions.  I know that is a lot easier said than done, but as you pray, you may find that God is working in your heart in ways that you didn’t know He needed to.  Lift up all people to the Lord, and in doing so, your heart will be molded into one that chases after God’s will in your life.
Paul goes on to talk about why we should pray for them.  We pray so that we may lead a “peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  There’s really a twofold purpose here.  First, a peaceful and quiet life.  A peaceful and quiet life is a life that is unaffected by the turmoil that surrounds it.  To have a peaceful and quiet life, means that we are not ruled by our circumstances.  It means that we have peace within, and we are at peace with the world around us.  Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of wholeness.
Second, we pray for others so that our lives may be godly and dignified in every way.  What does that mean?  I wish I could remember who said it, but someone much wiser than me once said, “For some people, you may be the only Bible they read.”  When our outward lives are shaped by our inward prayer life, then we are setting an example worthy of the name we carry as Christ followers.  We must always set an example of what it means to be godly and dignified.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t let loose and have a good time.  It means we live our lives in the joy of the Lord.  We don’t seek out things that are contrary to God.  We don’t seek out things that go against who God has made us to be.  We live our lives to the fullest, and we do so for the glory of God.
In this section, Paul is building up to something huge.  He tells us to pray for all people, even those who we would least like to pray for.  He tells us to set an example in our lives, and example that would give people reason to look at our lives and see something significant within them.  And then he tells us some of the most important information that we could ever hear: that God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  He gives us our call here.  He gives us our purpose here.  He lets us know who we are supposed to be.
We are called to ministry so that others may come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  How that looks for every individual is different; however, we are called into ministry so that all may know the truth.  The truth is very simple.  It is the core message of Scripture.  One place it is found is in verses 5-6 of today’s passage: there is one mediator, one go-between, one intermediary between God and humanity, and that one is Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all.
It’s said in different ways as we read through the New Testament.  Acts 4:12 says it this way, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  In a culture that says, “I’m okay, you’re okay,” this will be an unpopular message, but the simple truth of the gospel is that the only way that we are to enter into a saving relationship with the Almighty God is by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Paul saw that, and his ministry was to share that message with people who the Jews tried to avoid at all costs.
One of the problems that Paul constantly encountered on his missionary journeys, and it was one of the reasons why he wrote this letter to Timothy in the first place, was a group of people who taught that the Gentiles had to first convert to Judaism before they could follow Christ.  Part of the reason why Paul is emphasizing the role of Jesus as the one mediator between God and humanity was because it wasn’t necessary to be Jewish to be saved.  If that were the case, then the Jewish people would be the mediators, not Jesus.  There is nothing about a single group of people that makes them the gatekeepers to God.  Jesus is the sole go-between.  Let’s bring this into our current surroundings now.
You may need to brace yourself for this, but hear me out.  This is not your church.  I know that I’ve just secretly made half of you angry, but let’s think about this for a minute.  Paul’s ministry was about bringing the message of the gospel to the Gentiles.  The Jewish people were not fond of Paul doing this, but they were not the ones who decided who was allowed to be saved by God’s grace.  This is not your church because you are not the divinely appointed gatekeeper.  This is not your church; this is not my church; this is God’s church.  God is the one who decides who is saved by His grace, and if we listen to what Paul has to say here, then God desires that all be saved.
The more I thought about this passage, and the more I prayed about where it is that God is leading us as a congregation, the more I saw that this is it.  We are not called to be an inwardly focused gathering of believers, but we are called to reach people with the message of Jesus Christ.  It sounds a little too simple, doesn’t it?  There’s nothing complicated about that call.  There’s no grand mission statement, or core values, or catchphrase that we can put on a cool bumper sticker, when we look at that purpose.  It’s a simple, matter-of-fact statement: we exist so that all may know the truth of Jesus Christ.  We exist so that those who are far from him may hear the truth, the message of salvation; that they may draw close to him; and that they may enter into a saving relationship with him.
If we aren’t doing that as a congregation, if we aren’t bringing people to know Jesus Christ and we barely know him ourselves, then we might as well just close the doors and go out for pizza once a week.  A church is not a social club.  A church is not an outlet for community service.  A church is a gathering of believers who come to praise God and who exist to bring others to Jesus Christ.  Everything we do as a church should be done so that others may come to know Jesus.
Fellowship is great.  But are we welcoming “outsiders” into our fellowship?  Service to the community is fantastic.  But are we reaching others with the good news of Jesus Christ in the midst of our service?  Sunday school is crucial.  But are we incorporating what we have learned into our daily lives?  Worship helps us to hear from God.  But are we really listening to what He is saying?
As a congregation, we have to make the conscious decision to share the gospel with those around us.  Because, if we don’t, we will not continue to exist as a congregation.  I’m sorry to say that but it’s true.  It may not be for 20 years; it may not be for another 50 years, but if we don’t decide to reach out to others with the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, we are making the decision to close the doors… eventually.
I believe that churches go through cycles.  At some point in that cycle, there comes a decision that is going to effect whether that church goes up for the next cycle, or spirals downward for the next cycle.  A church that decides not to reach out to those who don’t know Jesus makes the decision to spiral downward.  If that church makes the same decision long enough, then it has created a culture that continues to spiral downward until there’s nothing left.
I’m not a big numbers person.  I know that there are always reasons behind the numbers, but those sitting here this morning know that these pews weren’t as roomy twenty-five years ago.  There are always reasons.  People pass away.  People move out of the area.  We can come up with all kinds of reasons, but the bottom line is that there are still a lot of people in this community that don’t go to church anywhere.  I haven’t seen the statistics, but I’d be willing to say that easily half the people in this town don’t go to church at all, and don’t have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  We have to decide to reach these people, or we are deciding that there’s still not enough elbowroom in the pews.