E-pistle May 20

Prayers for Kim Jong-il

My friend and our seminarian (soon to be pastor, God willing), Josh Andrzejewski, has the Facebook thing down. His posts are frequent and interesting and often provoke some good conversation among his “friends.” Josh often links to news articles and opinion pieces he has read, sometime with comment and sometimes not. The links are reliably worthwhile even, say in the case of opinion pieces, when I don’t always agree with what’s being said.

So does this make you a Facebookie, Josh?

One of Josh’s current links, with brief comment about it having been done elsewhere, is to a Time magazine newsfeed about a Roman Catholic Church in Florida where a parishioner has asked that prayers be said for Osama Bin Laden. Apparently not all the folks at Holy Name of Jesus Church in West Palm Beach are happy with the request and the priest’s decision to honor it.

As I posted on Josh’s wall, “I like the sentiment, but those of us solidly in the Reformed Tradition don’t do the prayers for the dead thing. We should have been praying for Bin Laden for the past ten years. I wonder who we should be praying for now.”

The fact of the matter is that prayers for the dead are a part of the Roman tradition and were rejected by the Reformers. It has to do with the doctrine of purgatory and our understanding of the relationship between justification and sanctification. You can go here for a Catholic’s understanding of the issue. We in the Reformed tradition believe in the finality of death and that our lives will be judged by faithful living in this life and not by prayers on our behalf after life. (Here is an example of our understanding from one of our Confessions.)

But we need not reargue the Reformation here.

The point in my response to Josh is not to parse theology, but to listen to Scripture. What are we to make of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Or Peter’s admonition, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

What are we to do with Paul’s word to Timothy, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

Osama Bin Laden is dead. He must answer for the life he lived.

On Sunday at LPC you are going to hear prayers for Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (even as we are called to pray for our Mugabe-oppressed brothers and sisters at Masvingo Church), Kim Jong-Il, Muammar al-Qaddafi and Bashar al-Assad.  We will pray for the unknown leaders of Al-Qaeda. We will pray for God’s Holy Spirit to bring personal repentance, reparations for past evil and justice in their future exercise of power. It will sound like a foolish prayer, but it won’t be the first charge of foolishness leveled against the gospel.

Some of you may be upset with those prayers.  I understand, because in my private prayers I am going to have to pray for my enemies and those who have done evil in my life. It upsets me to do so. But I think I have to.

See you Sunday