A Sermon for 25 September 2016
Today we’re in the latter half of what has been attributed as Paul’s first letter to the young, zealous Timothy. Scholars generally agree that this letter actually wasn’t written by the Apostle Paul – more likely by a scribe or other mature leader in the movement who was trying to stand on the authority of Paul to address rising opposition from false teachers in the church, likely in the community of believers in Ephesus. These words at the end of 1 Timothy read like a letter of encouragement from home to a struggling protégé who is bone-tired weary from keeping the faith in the midst of constant challenge. . . . In case we need that same encouragement today, listen for God’s word to us in a reading of 1 Timothy 6:6-19.
“Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge; by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith. Grace be with you.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
In the earliest days of Christianity, it was common for new converts to the faith to be connected with an older and wiser mentor. 1 Timothy is a good example of why this personal support was needed. The one receiving this letter already was mature in the ways of Christ and was trying to teach others too. If even he needed a message of encouragement for his journey, then wouldn’t those just starting to show interest in what this radical movement of the Way was all about, certainly need it too? I know I would have loved to have someone early in my faith life sit me down to give me a little talk about how it all would unfold. Maybe for our baptisms, or when we each were confirmed; it might have been really helpful for a wise one in the faith to school us in how it would be. Not so much teach us the Apostle’s Creed, all about Presbyterian polity, and the history of the Reformation – as typically happens for many young participants in Confirmation Classes today. But more so someone sitting us down to give us the real scoop of how difficult it can be to keep faith no matter what in a world that isn’t all that interested in the ways of self-giving love, the forgiveness of second-chances, and the joy of living generously with who we are and what we have.
It’s kinda what we get in the sixth chapter of First Timothy. A sort of pep talk on what to expect in the life of discipleship – a message for the journey on how it most probably would be. And the great encouragement to keep the faith through it all. Likely, we all need the very same charge. So for a little something different today – and despite the fact it may be a bit embellished, listen. Hear as if a wise one in the faith is sending this message to you for your own journey. Listen.
Dear child of God, the road before you shall be long, no matter the number of your days on earth. You’re following the Lord Jesus Christ; one whose life was filled with great joy and immense pain. After his own baptism, he went about telling of God’s love for us all. He’d enact God’s grace as he welcomed and listened and laughed and encouraged. He healed those in any need, setting free the Spirit of God alive in them already. He kept the faith – resolute. Centered. Content to live in this world with the clothes on his back, the food set before him, and a few good friends at his side. Striving only for the kingdom of God, his life is our pattern. . . . So we must remember that everywhere he went, some misunderstood. Some were striving for other things. Some were misguided in the ways they thought they knew of God. They didn’t make his life easy. Questioning and snickering and in the end setting him up for the biggest fall. . . . Too often that’s still how it is in the world. So get ready, precious child of God, for a life patterned after Christ will be a life of great joy and continuous struggle. Right-relationships are to be your aim; though everyday you will be surrounded in this world by people who like otherwise – those who use others for their own ends. Sometimes those you love most dearly won’t know how to be connected to you through the purity of love God commends. It may hurt because they won’t know how to be due to the wounds they’ve endure. Still, as for you, pursue these right connections. Live in proper relationship to every other creation of God. See God’s Spirit alive in it all and give thanks as you seek to honor each one. . . . I’m not telling you to live as if you are holier than everyone else, but do aim to imitate our God. Love others, even as you love yourself. Forgive, even as you want to be forgiven. Trust and be one in whom others can trust. . . . Endure patiently as one filled with hope in the life-giving power of our God. We’re with God on God’s mission to re-create the whole world into the kingdom of enduring shalom, the wholeness of everlasting peace. Whether you experience it in full in your lifetime or not, carry on. With gentleness, not with the kind of force you will see around you in the world each day. Remember that the good fight that you are to fight is one that heals. Builds. Repairs; not destroys. The power within us is the power of God. The smallest word we might speak has the ability forever to transform a life – for good, or ill-spoken, for ruin. So be care-full in the fight of faith. . . . God desires to give Life – amazing, Spirit-infused life here and now to all things. When you promised (in your baptism) to turn from the ways that separate us from God and others, you promised to turn to the ways of Christ. So live as one who bears his name. He is the King over all kings. He is Sovereign over any other lords. Remember that because when you open your eyes each morning it may look like someone – or something else is winning. It takes immense trust to remember it’s not. To bear hope when hopelessness seems to prevail. . . . It all can be so confusing because things that are good, when not kept in check, can become what we put ahead of our True Lord. Riches will be the biggest challenge for those of us alive today. The world around us seems to think wealth is the point of it all. That more and more money is our only security. That what we have will ensure our life is good. But we follow one who had very little in terms of the wealth of the world. A simple man who trusted God would provide every need. Relationships were his greatest treasure. Touching the life of one in need to make it better brought him the greatest joy. Being aligned with our God no matter the cost was a commitment worth dying for in his eyes. Such is the life that truly is Life. . . . Child of God, guard what has been entrusted unto you. Each breath is an amazing gift from God for you to awaken each day to the joy of the most Generous Giver. Say yes to this life daily – Real Life; for just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy. Let grace be the hallmark of all of your days. Living as graciously and generously with yourself and others as God is and ever will be unto us. . . . When you tire, as you will, gather with other children of God. Listen to one another’s woes. Encourage each other. Build each other up so you may return to the kind of Alleluia-living God desires. . . . Enjoy who God has made you to be so that the God living in you may enjoy the goodness of life through you. . . . I urge you, child of our Most Amazing God, even if you fall some days. Get back up. God is the God of second chances; grace is sufficient to cover you. . . . So keep at this Life that truly is Life. Knowing that the presence of God is with you always; at the beginning of your journey, in the middle, at your end, and beyond. . . . This we know is Grace forever with us. May peace remain in your always, Dear one! In the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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