I love Chicken Biryani. For those of you who don’t know Biryani is a rice and curry dish prepared by Muslims in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in the country of Pakistan. Whenever I smell Biryani other types of Indian and Pakistani food my stomach grumbles and my soul is overwhelmed with a with a sense of familiar peace. I owe my love of Biryani to a man I have never met. His name is Charles Forman. He was born in 1864.
Charles Forman, was an American and the son of slave-holding Kentucky planters. Even as a young man, Forman was appalled by slavery and attempted to open a school to educate the slaves on his and other plantations. The owners of the plantations made sure no one went to his school.
After Forman graduated from Princeton Seminary in the 1850s, he was commissioned as a missionary to British India. Seeing the poor state of education offered to the Indian people, he started a school there. As it had been in Kentucky, he was originally shunned by the English administrators of the Raj because he dared to give the Indians the same quality and breadth of education that the English gave their own children. He was in equal trouble with Indian patriots who only wanted education in Sanskrit, which Forman knew would condemn the students to increasing irrelevance in a newly scientific world.
Over the coming decades, Forman Christian College became known as the Harvard of the subcontinent. Before the partition of India and Pakistan, the brightest students from the entire South Asian region came to Forman for thorough, ethical education. While the rest of the subcontinent was always in a state of barely contained ethnic and inter-religious ferment, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jains, Bahais and Christians from all over learned to live together and follow the school motto “By Love, Serve One Another.” (Galatians 5:13)
In 1973 the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over the administration of the college in a socialist inspired nationalization. For years, the Christian minority of the country (about 1.5-2% of the population) had seen Forman as the Pakistani church’s crown jewel, even if only a few Christians could ever attend the college (only about 10% of the Christian population could read). When Bhutto nationalized the college, Christians were heart-broken, knowing that they were not powerful enough to demand the college be given back.
For thirty years, the church in Pakistan prayed that the college would be restored to the church and become welcoming to Christians again. This seemed like a pipe dream. The government went about Islamizing the college and the name was changed to “Government FC College,” with its sign being the Islamic crescent. The dormitories, all of which had been named for missionary professors, were renamed for the Sunni caliphs. The very notion that the government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan would return control of a college to the United States, much less to a Christian church like the PC(USA) was laughable.
Still the church in Pakistan prayed. The poorest people, who had never seen the college, and would never go themselves, prayed that the college would return to the church.
In 2003, after ten years of negotiation and insistence, the government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (led by President Pervez Musharraf, a Forman alumni) returned control of Forman Christian College to the Presbyterian Church (USA). With its return, the government welcomed Christian missionaries to teach at the school. Missionaries reported that they were often surprised to be welcomed into churches and religious gatherings with applause. When one missionary asked about why they always received such enthusiastic welcome, a man answered “Oh, professor-sahib! We do not clap just for you. We clap because you remind us that God heard our prayers and, even though everyone said it was impossible, gave back Forman back to the church!”
In 2006. The Reverend Dr. Robert Johnson, who wrote the narrative I just read to you, along with his wife Marianne Vermeer, and their two sons Nathan and Peter, moved to Lahore, Pakistan to be missionaries with Forman Christian College. Robert would teach church history to Christian and Muslim students for three years. In 2009 Robert and his family returned to the United States. Robert was a guest preacher at my seminary chapel in Richmond Virginia that year. I approached him and asked him if he could give me a church internship after I graduated. Robert gave me my first job after seminary, my love for Biryani, and introduced me to NPR. So you can thank Robert for all the NPR stories you have heard for nearly three years.
“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, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly, and dignified in every way.”
Pakistan isn’t exactly known as a peaceful country or a country where Christians have anything that resembles worldly power. Yet, because the church taught rather than complained, because the church loved rather than feared, because the church prayed rather than despaired, the church in Pakistan was given back her crown Jewel, Forman Christian College. And I believe in our passage today Paul reveals to us the Anatomy of Peace. Peace for the nations, peace for the church, peace for our families, peace for our hearts.
The Good News: When we pray peace prayers the gospel will bring eternal peace to the nations.
- The types of prayers we are to pray
- Who we are to pray for
- The results of our prayers
First of all, Paul tells us that we are to offer prayers of supplications, prayers, intercessions. The word for supplication suggests a desperate requests, it means praying for others like we would pray if we didn’t know how we would feed our children their next meal. It is how we would pray if we had fallen behind on our mortgage payments and our family was about to kicked out onto the streets. The word for prayers, is the most common word for prayer in the scriptures. It has the connotations of bowing down before God. Supplication means we approach the Lord with boldness and desperation. The word for intercession means to enter into the throne room of God and boldly make the case why God should help those we are praying for. The word for prayer acknowledges that though we are desperate God is still Sovereign and doesn’t owe us anything. As Job declared after his family had been killed and all his wealth destroyed, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21). In all of this we are to give thanks. We are to lift up our hearts to the Lord. It is right to give him our thanks and praise.
We are to offer these prayers, not just for our nation, but for all people. This is because when we become Christians our permanent residence shifts from being citizens of our nation of birth to being citizens of heaven as Paul says in Philippians 3:20. Whatever nation we are born in, or immigrate to, the Bible says that we as Christians, are Sojourners, refugees, resident aliens in a world that did not receive our savior Jesus Christ. God’s desire is not that one nation be greater than all others but that all people come to a knowledge of salvation, that all people hear the Gospel. Preaching the Gospel is easier to do when people are not shooting at you or locking you up for committing blasphemy, as often happens in Pakistan. Preaching the Gospel is also easier when we honor all people by treating other countries with respect while maintaining peace and safety for our own people.
Paul tells us that the goal of these prayers is not any particular governmental or economic system. He just tells us to pray for Kings and those in high office, he doesn’t give us a preference for what form of government or economic system is best. Instead, he tells us the desired results of our prayers, “ that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Paul’s prayer is not that Christian’s be in charge, for there were no Christians in high office when he was alive, yet Paul suggests this is not essential for the work of preaching the Gospel. Our leaders don’t have to lead Christian lives they just have to allow us to lead our Christian lives. The goal of our prayers is that we as Christians may be allowed to worship freely and live our lives with dignity demonstrated Christ light and salt to others. And since Jesus commands us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us we as Christians, if we are in power, should allow others to worship freely and to live in peace and dignity. weaned child shall put his hand in the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
Since began my sermon with a story from Pakistan I think it fair to close with a story of peacebuilding from Pakistan. This comes from Dr. Caroline Carson, Postulant of the Diocese of Louisana for the Episcopal Church, telling about the church’s attempts to build peace in that nation.
“One must keep living” Such simple, yet powerful words uttered from so many Christians I met in Pakistan the day after the Easter bombing in Gulshan-I-Iqbal Park in Lahore. The absence of freedom of speech, the realities of inequality, and the constant fear of violating Pakistan’s “blasphemy laws” are everyday tensions. Many Christians have been killed and buildings set on fire from mob attacks because these laws are regularly misused. 20-foot walls, assault-weaponed security on every corner, and barbed wire everywhere – these all regular sights for schools, libraries, stores, hotels, etc. Then the suicide bombers are expected and bring a despair that does not cease. A new and rising trend is that children are being used as bombers: the innocent killing the innocent. Everyone, Muslim and Christian alike, must look over their shoulders and live in constant fear of Taliban attacks at any time or place. Another aspect of this terror is the profound sadness that attacks have become so commonplace. After a couple of days in the news, things tend to be forgotten. Everyone I met asked for us to pray for them and/or for the energy of peace.
While the Diocese of Peshawar is one of the most hostile anywhere, on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and encompasses a region where there is barely any civil law, anyone who comes to them is a welcomed child of God. The Diocese of Raiwind in Lahore mimics this in a time where terror attacks are rising at an alarming rate. The Diocese of Raiwind provides education, health care in outlying parts of Lahore (including the malaria-endemic brick kilns areas where children as young as six and women work in the kilns to pay off family debts they know nothing about), rehabilitation programs for victims of sex trafficking, and pastoral care to thousands. The Diocese of Raiwind also continues to be extremely active in peace building and reaching out to fellow religious leaders in the city and region. They hold regular gatherings to try and determine what can concretely be done to stave off terror and oversee what can be done to help victims of bombings. They live life and faith “above ground” as Bishop Mano Rumalshah (bishop emeritus of Peshawar) says. Moderator Bishop Samuel Azariah is an amazing leader with a terrific and dedicated staff. The feeling from all of them when asked about putting their lives on the line for the diocese was that they would “rather die doing something good than to be sitting in the corner, frozen in fear.”
It is of utmost importance to realize that religious leaders and practitioners of Islam are not inherently violent and all Muslims are not against Christians. They consider us brothers and sisters. There has long been an underlying current that each religion is set out to convert each other and this creates continuing suspicion. The Taliban know that if they attack Christians, the Western media will make it a huge event and they get what they want – fear and anxiety to win over stability and peace.
The links below provide information and opportunities to follow along with our brothers and sisters and to reach out and get connected and involved.
Please tell your elected officials to support peace building in South Asia and the Middle East. All world governments should stand with peacemaking, especially in areas afflicted by daily tensions and bombs.” Caroline ends with this prayer for Pakistan.
A prayer for Pakistan:
For the magnificent and hospitable, yet besieged country of Pakistan, we pray to you Heavenly Father. For the cities steeped in the shadows of terror, for its peaceful people living in stress and fear, ever seeking stability and freedom – we ask for tranquility. Out of the depths of religious and civic turmoil, we cry to you for reconciliation, tolerance, and stability. For the victims and families of the bombed, we seek your comfort and healing. For those deceived from childhood and led into a life filled with the false glory of a paradise gained through self-destruction, we pray for new eyes to discover the truth and a safe way out of their current lifestyle. For those with terrorist connections, we pray they may act honestly and rightly. Grant an end to violence and a return to hope. Enable those who put loving first to be strengthened and to be confident enough to continue to live their faith out loud without fear and to continue to reach out to the suffering. For negative images of Pakistan held by others to be lifted and changed, we pray. We ask these things in the name of God – who is large enough to love us all and gave his son that we might live in him. Amen.”
May we to, the church in America, rather die doing something good, than live complaining about all that is wrong. May our lives be salt and light, persevering all that is good in this world, and revealing to this world the glory of Jesus Christ. In the ancients words of Francis of Assisi, Lord make us an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let us sow love. Where there is injury pardon; where there is doubt faith; where there is despair hope; where there is darkness light; where there is sadness joy; O Divine Master, grant us that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born unto eternal life. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.