“Thanksgivings and Prayers for Our Nation” (1 Timothy 2:1-7)
Today we are observing the Day of National Thanksgiving. The purpose of this holiday is for all Americans to gather in their churches and give thanks to God for his many blessings on our land. That’s the reason this holiday exists. Other things have latched themselves onto Thanksgiving–football and Christmas shopping, for example–so that by now the actual purpose of this day has gotten lost in the shuffle. But the reason we have the day off is to go to church and give thanks to God for how he has blessed our nation. And so that is why we are here today.
Besides giving thanks to God for how he has blessed us, we also gather to pray to God, that he would continue to bless our country and to amend it where it has gone astray. We pray for the people of our land, that our culture and our way of life would be more honorable and upright. We pray for our country’s leaders, that they would govern well, in conformity with God’s laws. There is much to pray for.
Thanksgiving and prayer, both. That’s why we’re here today. And so our theme for this national holiday: “Thanksgivings and Prayers for Our Nation.”
Our text is the reading from 1 Timothy 2, where St. Paul begins: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions.” “Supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings”: Several different words for several kinds of prayers. “Prayers” is the most general term, which could include all the rest. “Supplications” means asking God to supply our needs, whatever they are. “Intercessions” means we’re asking God on behalf of others, we’re praying for them. And we’ll come back to those kinds of prayers in a bit.
But first, since it is Thanksgiving Day, after all, I want to start out with “thanksgivings.” Today we want to give thanks to God, especially for how he has blessed our country. Now some of you may be thinking: “Are you kidding me? Thank God for the mess our country has become? I mean, the economy is stuck in the mud. People are out of work. The national debt continues to skyrocket. We’re told we’re about to head over a fiscal cliff. Our culture continues to deteriorate. A significant portion of our population is OK with detestable things like abortion and homosexuality, which are abominations in God’s sight. On top of that, some of the elections didn’t go the way I wanted, and I’m still bummed out about that. And you’re telling me to give thanks??”
Well, yes, I am. In spite of all that is wrong with this country–and believe me, I am well aware there is a lot wrong–we still have much to be thankful for. God has blessed this country with rich and abundant natural resources. This really is a land like the one described in Deuteronomy: “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.” And today most of us shall indeed “eat and be full”–too full, probably. And so we bless the Lord our God for this good land he has given us.
And then there are all the people here in America for whom we give thanks. All the people whose talent and skill and dedication make our lives so much the richer. People just doing their jobs, whatever their vocation in life is. Fathers and mothers and grandparents–raising their children and grandchildren to be good neighbors. Teachers, coaches, mentors–doing their part to bring up a generation of responsible citizens. Soldiers, firemen, policemen–laying their lives on the line to serve and protect us. Doctors and nurses–keeping us healthy. Farmers and grocers, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers–all the people producing the goods and services we so often take for granted. We thank God for all the resourceful people who help give us what is still a highly blessed way of life, when looked at historically.
And then there are the politicians, the people in government. “What? You can’t be serious? Give thanks for them??” Why, yes. I do mean it. We give thanks for those serving in public office. It’s the corrupt and sleazy ones who get the attention, but don’t paint all those in government with the same broad brush. Believe it or not, politics is–or at least it can be–a noble calling. There are many capable, honest public servants in our nation, carrying out their duties to the best of their ability, for the public good. And we thank God for them.
Which then leads us to the prayers. In this reading from 1 Timothy, St. Paul urges us to pray for those in government: “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And so this is what we will also do today–that is, pray for those in authority.
But what is the connection between these two things mentioned here, between praying for governmental authorities and this being pleasing to God, who wants all people to be saved? At first glance, there may not seem to be a connection. But there is.
You know, at the time Paul was writing this, the Roman Empire was the great power in the world. The Caesars–Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero–they were ruling the world, and they were ruling it with an iron fist. Caesar was no friend of Christianity. Indeed, Paul himself would be beheaded by Nero just a couple years after he writes this letter. Nero would even use Christians as human torches to light his garden. And yet Paul says to pray for men like Nero, “for kings and all who are in high positions.” And that this pleases God.
What’s the point? Well, for one thing, we pray for these civil rulers that they would not persecute the church. That would be a good thing. That would be pleasing to God. Oh, we endure persecution if we must–and persecution will happen–but we pray that it would not. It is a good thing when the government does not persecute the church, and when the government does its job and stops those who would persecute Christians.
You see, the reason God has instituted government, civil authority, is to keep order in the world. As Paul writes in Romans 13, the governing official is God’s servant–whether he realizes it or not. He is God’s servant to maintain order and justice for the people God has entrusted to his care. The government official is not there to spread the gospel–that’s what the church and her ministers and her people are to do. But the government ought to ensure the conditions so that people can live peaceably and go about their business and fulfill their various vocations in life.
And that is how good government can assist in the spread of the gospel: not directly, but in guaranteeing the peace and the freedom and the safety we need, for us Christians to be about the preaching and teaching of the saving gospel of Christ. This is why Paul can say of our praying for those in authority: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Now what is that saving truth? Paul can’t help but go on to tell us: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” There it is! This is the gospel! This is the one and only message that saves! It is the good news of Christ Jesus, the one mediator, the one go-between, who establishes peace between God and man.
You see, we were on the outs with God. Our sins had separated us from our Creator. Every one of us–you and I and all the people who have ever lived–each of us has broken God’s law and come under his righteous judgment. On our own, we all would come under condemnation and the sentence of death.
But then Christ came. God is merciful. Christ came, the very Son of God, come in the flesh, true God and true man, sent to reconcile us back to God, to remove the barrier of our sin and to atone for it. This Christ did by his death on the cross. Think of Christ hanging there on that cross, suspended between heaven and earth, dying there in your place, for your sins. He is the mediator, the man in the middle, the one who makes peace in his body on the cross. Now risen and ascended into heaven, this same God-man Savior, Jesus Christ, now ever lives to intercede on our behalf. His holy blood pleads for us before the throne of grace.
Isn’t this wonderful good news? It sure is! And God wants everyone to hear it. That’s why this congregation is here. That’s why the church’s ministers and missionaries are here, to proclaim the good news to one and all, both far and near. That’s why you are here, too, dear Christian, to testify to Christ your Savior, as you have opportunity.
And so that is why we pray for kings and those who are in authority. Their job is to help us do our job. They provide peace and order in the world, so that we can carry out the mission of the church, namely, to spread the saving gospel of Christ. This is good and pleasing, so let us do just that, both the praying and the preaching.
“Thanksgivings and Prayers for Our Nation.” That’s what we’re doing on this Thanksgiving Day. That’s what this day is all about. We give thanks to God for blessing us with this good land and all the good people who live here, who enrich our lives. And we pray for our nation, that God would steer us back on track where we’ve gone off it. We pray for those in government, for those in authority, that they would govern wisely, for the good of the people. And, most importantly, we pray that the good news of salvation will ring out from every corner of this land, that people from every walk of life may find their true life only in Christ.