Sermon: “God the Great Evangelist” (September 18, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“God the Great Evangelist” (1 Timothy 2:1-7)
September 18, 2016
Philip Ryan

This time of year I get incredibly homesick for the lush hills and woods of the Hudson Valley, where I am from in New York. I get especially homesick for my grandparents house an old victorian house on the Hudson River. Attached to the living room is a smaller room, more like a large closet, which has always been one of the most sacred places I know. It has a couple bookshelves, a small desk, and a chair. Next to the chair is a window overlooking my grandfather’s rose bushes and beside that is a little stand where my grandmother keeps some well worn Bibles, commentaries, and her prayer journal. I remember being very young and curious and I happened to find myself alone in that sacred closet one sunny fall afternoon. I flipped open her journal and written on the inside cover were the names of my whole family. All seven aunts and uncles and their spouses, the four cousins, and extended family and friends. My grandmother prays for everyone in the family, her friends, and women in her Bible study throughout the week. At that time my grandmother had been praying for her two sons to come to the Lord, for future grandchildren and their salvation, and many other requests. I often wondered growing up if those prayers were answered.

Paul’s encouragement to Timothy that the church should pray for “everyone” reminded me of that journal. We should pray sounds so Christian 101 not even Christian – Religion 101. Almost all religions emphasize prayer and communion with the divine. However, these aren’t instructions on how to commune with God, or request something from God, or even to be saved from some peril. Paul encourages Timothy to pray because it is evangelistic. Praying for everyone is a good thing because God our Savior desires everyone to be saved (v. 4). God is the great evangelist and he wants all people to come to the truth that Jesus Christ gave himself a ransom, he purchased our salvation Paul says in 1 Corinthians, so that we might have transformation, grace, and deliverance from our sins.

How are we to pray though? Paul simply says “pray.” Do we pray that bad things happen to someone so they are brought so low they need to cry out to God? I’ve thought that way. Do we pray to be endowed with clever words and all the answers to convince someone of the truth? I’ve done that also. No, we simply pray and remember that God saves. J. I. Packer famous Anglican theologian said, “I think that what you do is to pray in categorical terms that God will, quite simply and decisively save them: that He will open the eyes of their understanding, soften their hard hearts, renew their natures, and move their wills to receive the Savior…You entreat Him to do that very thing, and your confidence in asking rests upon the certainty that He is able to do what you ask.”

On that sunny afternoon when I looked in my grandmother’s prayer journal her chair was new. A few years ago when we went up to visit after our daughter was born, I got to spend time in that sacred space. My grandfather warned me not to sit in her chair, “If you sit in it you might break it and I don’t want to buy a new one.” Still being curious, I attempted to sit in her prayer chair. It bent funny showing which side she favored. If I leaned back too much it felt like the whole thing would flip over, and the armrests had elbow indents in them. The weight of thirty years of prayers had made their mark on that chair. Those prayers made their mark in our family as well. From that chair in upstate New York overlooking rosebushes, my grandmother prayed for heavy and hard things. I used to wonder if her prayers were answered. Those two sons I mentioned at the beginning, my uncles, they are both ministers now. I have several other aunts involved in ministry within their churches. We have twelve cousins now not four. Of the twelve, two are ministers, three are missionaries, and two more are involved in ministries with their churches. This isn’t a brag on how pious my family is. It is a boast in how great an evangelist God is and how he pursued my family through my grandmother’s prayers. A simple prayer for years and years, “God our Savior, save them.” Amen.