The Politics of Prayer – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

Hebrews 12: 1 – 4
Psalm 22: 22 – 30
Mark 5: 21 – 43

It’s been quite a week. It’s been quite a week and, no doubt there is more to come. We have seen protests, demonstrations, and acts of witness, support and solidarity. We have seen millions in this country and around the world on the streets, in airports, in front of hotels all voicing their concern, their objections, and their resistance. It’s been quite a week, and there promises to be more to come. It seems that there is a new normal taking root, not just in this country, but around the world. My hunch, and it’s only a hunch, is that what we have seen in the past week, is what the next four years will be like, so we had all better get used to it.

For us a Christians as we watch the news, read the newspapers, talk with our friends and neighbours the questions at times like these is always: “should the Church be involved? Should the Church ever be involved?” There are those among us who would argue that the Church should stay out of politics; that the Church should never take a stand on this issue or that; that the Church must limit itself to the spiritual realm and leave the temporal realm alone. There are those who would argue that Jesus was not political; that he came to establish a heavenly kingdom and not an earthly one; that he opposed the mixing of the things of God with the things of Caesar, and so should we.

But the problem, at least as I see it, with that attitude, is that the gospels are political. You cannot read Scripture without being immersed in the political world. The very first thing my professor said in my first year political science class at university is that politics is about power and influence, the use and abuse of power, and that everything we do is an exercise, for good or ill, of power. If that is true, and 40 some years of pondering it would indicate to me that it is, then the Church is very much a political entity. The moment the Church proclaims: blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness[1] or love your neighbour[2], or what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God[3] as we heard on Sunday, then the Church plants herself in the world of politics because hunger, righteousness, love, neighbourliness, justice, kindness and humility are all about the exercise of power and influence and thus are political acts.

With that in mind, the gospel appointed for today is an extremely political text, because both the larger story, that of Jairus and the healing of his sick daughter, as well as the story within the story, that of the woman with the hemorrhages, are stories about people using their influence in order to have Jesus exercise his power.

One, Jairus, is himself an influential man for his is one of the leaders of the synagogue.[4] The other is someone of little influence, a sick woman.[5] In her desire to get well she breaks down long established barriers between the genders in order to touch a man to whom she is not related. That act alone, breaking down walls between genders, is an incredibly political act. Both in their need approach Jesus, one publically and when [Jairus] saw [Jesus], fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, that she may be made well and live,”[6]the other, as it were, privately, she had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”[7] Both were looking for Jesus to exercise his power over disease and death. Both were rewarded, first the woman:“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,”[8] and then Jairus: for Jesus took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.[9] In both cases Jesus’ exercise of power, and Mark is quite clear that Jesus was immediately aware that power had gone forth from him[10] when the woman touched him, is, if politics is about the use of power, a political act.

For the Christian both of these stories are stories about prayer, because in both cases the individuals went to Jesus in their need. It is also a teaching about who Jesus is, at least for Mark and the Markan community. Before these two healing stories we see Jesus teaching about the kingdom of God, [11] calming the storm,[12] and casting out demons.[13] Immediately following the healing of Jairus’ daughter we see that he has confounded his hometown crowd. Mark tells us that Jesus left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary* and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence* at him.[14]

Slowly but surely Mark is painting a picture of Jesus as someone empowered by God to further God’s work of redemption by healing and restoring creation, including humanity, to its rightful dignity where disorder, demons, disease and death are defeated. By restoring the dignity of life to a little girl, Jesus demonstrates his power over death. By restoring the dignity of health to a sick woman, Jesus demonstrates his power over disease. By restoring the dignity of wholeness to a man possessed, Jesus demonstrates his power over demons. By restoring the dignity of order to the wind and the waves, Jesus demonstrates his power over disorder and chaos. And soon Jesus’ exercise of power over disorder, demons, disease and death will threaten the political power of the establishment, who use chaos and threats to maintain their own power. Soon, as we know, they will have no choice but to remove Jesus in order to maintain their power.

As Christians, when we use prayer as one of the ways to restore dignity to the least, the last, and the lost; when we use prayer to restore the dignity of order over disorder, the dignity of wholeness over demons, the dignity of health over disease, the dignity of life over death we are engaged in a political activity, for we seek to further God’s work of redemption by offering our love in inter­cessory prayer and action, to be used by God for [the] healing and transformation[15] of creation, as we ask God to use God’s divine power in this work of redemption. By its nature, then, prayer for others, and ourselves, is political because we are asking God to intervene with power in a particular situation.

We are also engaged in a political act whenever we seek to live out our baptismal vocation. In the Baptismal Covenant we are asked: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?[16] In a life dedicated to respecting and restoring dignity to others, we cannot help but be political, for human dignity is inseparable from adequate food, shelter, clean water, medical care, education, respect regardless of gender, orientation, race, religion or country of origin. And all of these are about the use, or abuse, of power.

So where does that leave us?

It leaves us where many people find themselves today: here on our knees before God begging Jesus to come and heal our world and this nation. It also leaves us on the streets with signs and whistles and pink hats demanding that all people, and indeed all creation, be treated with the dignity with which and for which we were first created.

Don’t let anyone tell you that prayer is not a political act, or that the Church has no place in the politics of the nation. Prayer is perhaps the most political act of all, and the Church nothing less than God’s body politic.

[1] Matthew 5: 6

[2] Matthew 22: 39

[3] Micah 6: 8

[4] Mark 5: 22

[5] Mark 5: 25

[6] Mark 5: 22 – 23

[7] Mark 5: 27 – 28

[8] Mark 5: 34

[9] Mark 5: 40 – 43

[10] Mark 5: 30

[11] Mark 4: 1ff

[12] Mark 4: 34ff

[13] Mark 5: 1ff

[14] Mark 6: 1 – 3

[15]SSJE Rule of Life; The Mystery of Intercession, Chapter 24, page 49

[16]Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 305

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  1. Margo on November 7, 2023 at 09:25

    Preach on Brother. Preach it! especially preach on our economic system that is sacred cow in the USA.

  2. Judy Hunter on November 7, 2023 at 07:43

    How very appropriate for our world today. Praying for the people of Gaza that the bombs will stop and Israel will listed to God’s voice. Judy

    • Rick Portet on November 7, 2023 at 09:29

      Interesting that this discussion has turned to a deeply divided political issue. Hamas, who for years has daily sent missiles into Israel and then brutally invaded Israel carrying out the most vicious acts is not mentioned in this prayer. Peace, yes peace between the peoples is what we need to pray about. The reality is that this is an incredibly complex issue with many outside powers using the conflict for their own aims.

      In any armed conflict, if either party halts the fight when the other party has no intention of striving for peace, the party that halts will be put at a disadvantage. It would be wonderful for Israel and Hamas to join together for humanitarian reasons to let the noncombatants leave and to free the captives held by Hamas.

      We must pray for peace and the hand of God to stop this suffering without presuming that there is a good actor and a bad actor. The United Nations of the world created this situation that seems to have no solution. But the Lord through His love always has the answer.

      • Graceia on November 11, 2023 at 13:24

        Thank you, Rick.
        Context is needed now to educate those who make decisions on emotions instead of knowledge.

  3. JoAnn on November 7, 2023 at 06:31

    How prescient your words were in 2017. How true today! Prayer is the only answer for me.

    • Karen Wires on November 7, 2023 at 08:52

      Yes, prayer is important to help us gain wisdom, patience, and humility during these historic times; however, if we only pray, and sit back and let others do the work, not much would get accomplished. An important part of our prayers needs to be the asking for wisdom during these trying times to know how, how much, when, and why to act in the political realm.

  4. Janice Meyer on November 8, 2022 at 05:59

    In 1997/1998 during my ‘formal studies’ in ‘Ethics, Theology and Public Policy’, I wrote a position paper titled, ” The Role of the Church in Public Policy'”. In ” The Role of the Church in Public Policy'” I explore and extrapolate this question of spiritual, justice, public policies and other factors of ‘ church and state’ and, among my concluding wrap up after many pages I write that
    ” the role of the church is to pray……..” ..
    Janice Meyer

    Thank you, Brother, for your timely sermon.

  5. Jane Nash on September 26, 2020 at 12:58

    Thank you. I needed to read this.

  6. carol carlson on February 11, 2020 at 16:23

    In a world of institutionalised injustice Christianity has no choice but to seek to change the institutions that perpetrate it, not just the individuals operating within the systems. It is sometimes amusing to me that amidst the deceit, deceivers regularly manage to speak truth without meaning to – as in ‘the system is rigged’, which it certainly is. Heart-to-heart conversions aren’t going to make a dent in any of that, but the words of Jesus – ‘You are salt! You are light!’ – can give us the strength and staying power to confront the lies of the world and witness to God’s ways, so radically opposed to the deceit. Please, keep on speaking truth to power, even when the power hasn’t even the faintest idea what ‘truth’ is. God bless the work!

  7. Alexander Gordon on February 11, 2020 at 16:01

    Thank you James for a very timley and appropriate Sermon . Sandy

  8. Susan Kuhn on February 11, 2020 at 11:39
  9. Judith Lockhart Radtke on February 11, 2020 at 10:50

    Bravo!!! Judith Radtke 2/11/20

  10. Lee Clasper-Torch on February 11, 2020 at 10:15

    Thank you Br. James, and SSJE, for your conscientious, compassionate, and courageous stance. Prayer, and the life of following Christ are inherently political. “What does the Lord require?…but to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly.” Keeping on keepin’ on! Wishing peace with justice, Lee

  11. William A. Palmer, Jr. on February 11, 2020 at 10:14

    How can we pray “thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever” without the recognition that we are engaging in a political act?

  12. Cathy Burns on February 11, 2020 at 10:05

    Thank you

  13. Karen Wires on February 11, 2020 at 09:31

    As I read this, my first thought regards abortion, truly an abuse of power. The problem with politics is that it so easily becomes unprincipled power, adept at slogans and sound bites that sound so reasonable and feel so good.. We can choose to take a principled stand based on the words and example of Christ. I don’t hear much from the pulpit about specific issues raised in the political forum and how Christ’s message answers these questions. It is the listener who chooses to make it “political”, with all its negative connotations and power plays. A religious and philosophical basis, the manner, and the process are the critical to political decision making. Unfortunatley, most politics is based on feelings.

  14. Jane Cutting on February 11, 2020 at 07:26

    Thank you

  15. SusanMarie on February 11, 2020 at 07:10

    Thank you and Amen!

  16. Sally Baynton on February 11, 2020 at 06:55

    In this sermon, I am immediately reminded of I Thessalonians 4:11-12…”To make it your ambition and definitely endeavor to live quietly and peacefully, to mind your own affairs and to work with your hands, as we have charged you. So that you may bear yourselves becomingly, be correct and honorable and command the respect of the outside world, being (self-supporting,) dependent on nobody and having need of nothing.” As a former missionary to Uganda, I have witnessed, first-hand, real corruption, real hunger, real poverty. The world is hurting, but politics is the worst and greatest part of the problem. I guess what I am really trying to say is pink hats do not solve problems.

    • Connie Kimble on February 11, 2020 at 08:31

      Prayer and faith are the ONLY tools at this point in time that will bring about an end to this wickedness. Come Lord Jesus! Move among us and bring healing.

    • Susan Kuhn on February 11, 2020 at 08:37

      No. But they build community. And community solves problems. In three years, we pink hats have turned the state government in Virginia (Birthplace of the Confederacy) into one that protects transgender individuals from discrimination, raised the minimum wage, reduces the co-pays for insulin to $30/month, and much more. It’s about following a path that beckons more than feeling we know what that path consists of when we first see it. That pink hat is a precious souvenir now as we move into different undertakings. Christ prayed when it was time to pray. At the wedding at Cana, his mother Mary told him it was time to step forward. He had the stewards bring jugs of water and turned the water into wine. Thus began his active ministry.

    • Deb on November 7, 2023 at 06:26


  17. Carney S Ivy on February 7, 2020 at 10:20

    Brother James,

    I followed this after reading Brother Keith’s which was posted for today’s “word”. Both sermons will be beneficial as I ponder through my day today. Prayer changes how you look at the world. The change is personal. One person at a time. I am trying to release my anger at the injustice I am seeing and turn it into prayer and prayerful actions. Thank you for your words and your calming example.

  18. Jennifer on February 12, 2017 at 16:32

    Thank you.

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