I Timothy 6:3-10 – Second Lesson
Children’s story: John 12:1-8
First Lesson Luke 12:13-31
So picture this. You are a Jew living in Greece, let’s say and you’re a member of a very small Christian church – so small that it meets in peoples’ homes. The church is made up of a few large extended families and all the people who are somehow connected to those families – including slaves and free servants. There might be about fifty people in all. Your church was started about twenty years ago, let’s say, by a visiting pastor who came through your city and stayed for about a month. He’s no longer with you, and since then you haven’t had a regular pastor, though there have been some who have come and stayed for a few weeks or so at a time. Your little church is the only Christian church in your city and the few of you who meet together are the only people in your city who believe in Jesus. You’ve never met Jesus, of course. But you’ve heard stories about him and you have come to believe in him because of what your pastor and others have said. The nearest Christian church, if you are very lucky, is about twenty-five miles away, walking, over very bad roads. Most are much farther away. So you’re pretty much isolated.
What you do have is letters from Christian pastors that have been circulating around to all the Christian churches, and these you treasure. When pastors would write a letter to your church, you would read it carefully and copy it and cherish it and pretty much memorize it. And when anybody from your little church was going on business to a city where there was another Christian church, you take that letter along and share it with them. So that they can read it and copy it and cherish it and pretty much memorize it. So in that way, copies of many letters from several Christian pastors are being accumulated in small churches all throughout Greece and Turkey. (And eventually they’ll end up in our Bible.) A few of them have actually been written by Paul, who was a much loved and much respected pastor. And others have been written by people who knew him well, writing in his name. Which was a very common practice in those days. So you have all these letters.
But. You still have a lot of questions. You have lots of questions about Jesus and what he did and what it meant that he died. The other people in your city worship the goddess Athena, or Hermes, or Dionysius. There are some other Jews in your city, but they have rabbis and they worship in the synagogue. So they’re no help when it comes to knowing anything at all about Jesus, or about how the church is supposed to function or what elders are supposed to do, or what deacons are supposed to do – or any number of questions like that. And one person in your group has one idea and another has another idea of how it should be. We talked about some of that last week.
So there’s a lot of fighting in your little group as you struggle to answer these questions about Jesus and about the Christian church with nobody much there in person much to guide you.
And besides that, people are coming from outside your church, mostly Jews from in the local synagogue. They are trying to stir up trouble for all of you. Because you remember how that was. When people immigrated to your city from their homes and countries all around the Mediterranean Sea, they naturally clustered with others from their home country. The Italians from Rome clustered with other Romans and kept their Roman customs and their Roman gods. The people from Turkey settled near other Turks and spoke Turkish and ate Turkish food and celebrated Turkish holidays and worshipped their gods with each other. And the same with the Syrians and the Egyptians. And the Jews settled near each other also and kept their Jewish laws and traditions and worshipped together in the synagogue. And you may remember that it was Paul’s custom that whenever he came to a new city, he would discover where the other Jews were meeting and would attend their synagogue. And out of courtesy to a guest, they would invite him to speak, and that’s when the trouble started. Because he would start talking about Jesus, whom they had never heard of, and didn’t want to hear of, and before very long at all, the leaders in the synagogue had run Paul of town – literally running for his life, sometimes even escaping from jail. But a few of you in that synagogue believed what Paul had to say, and you formed a small Christian Church in the one or two weeks that Paul was with you. And once Paul was out of town, safely, the leaders in the synagogue came to harass the members of your brand new church and sometimes they tortured you and put you in jail.
And then this letter comes to you. It’s in the name of Paul, written first to another pastor named Timothy. And it gives all sorts of instructions about how to be the church. Who should be elders and deacons and pastors and what they should do. How to take care of widows who have nobody to support them in the days before Social Security and pensions. How slaves should relate to their masters. How husbands and wives should relate to each other. This letter talks about prayer. And preaching. And who Jesus was. For several pages this letter goes on. The letter warns against all sorts of people out there who will try to cause trouble for the church with their false ideas, and their conniving, scheming ways. Which you have certainly experienced there in your little church.
And then the letter says, “Don’t be like those people. They are conceited and they don’t know what they’re talking about and they love to fight. They quibble about this and that picky little thing. They are envious and suspicious. They have dirty little minds and they have no idea what is true. Don’t be like them. Run for your life from all of that.”
Instead, says the letter writer, “be loyal to God. Be faithful to Jesus. Be truthful. Be kind. Be gentle and full of patience. Go after what is good and pure and loving. And be content with what you have.” The writer says, “We came into this world naked and we’ll leave this world naked. So if you have enough to eat and enough to drink, be happy with that. Don’t set your mind on wild dreams that you can’t achieve and don’t be tempted by schemes to get rich quick. He says, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” He also said, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
I’ve been thinking this past week what all that might mean for us. And let me be very clear about this: God does not want us to be stupid about our money. Or careless. Or make bad decisions about our money. Or fail to think ahead wisely.
But there does come a time when we say, “I have enough. I have enough food. I have enough clothing. I have enough put away for my retirement. I have enough in savings. I have a large enough house. I have a good enough car. I have enough toys in my garage or my den. I have given enough very expensive gifts.” There comes a time when we say, “I have enough. I don’t need any more and I don’t want any more, and I’m not going to go chasing after any more.”
About fifteen years ago now my parents moved into a retirement condo. My mother has always been an excellent financial planner, and they had a house full of stuff and a barn full of stuff and at least one farm sized tractor and two cars and whatever else they had collected over a life time. They downsized well. I know this. I helped them move. And over the years my mother has given away a great many other things that she treasured and that seemed important to her life. Most recently she has moved into one room in the nursing section of the Holland Home. Once again she has given way a great many clothes and a great many household items and a lot of furniture – some of it very beautiful - that she won’t need now. I know this. I’m the one who brought it all away to good places.
These days my mom is in a wheelchair all the time and dependent on others to help her for a great deal. She has far less stuff than she’s ever had in her life and she’s very hard of hearing and she’s not traveling any more. Her life seems very small. But on Thanksgiving Day we had a meal together, and my mother prayed the most beautiful most heart-felt, most honest, trusting prayer I have ever heard. It came bubbling up straight from her soul into God’s heart. I will always cherish that.
Mom celebrated her 95th birthday a week ago today and we brought cake and ice cream. She sat in her wheelchair among what little is left of a lifetime of her lovely possessions. And she looked at my brothers and me and she said, “I feel so rich, surrounded by all my children.”
And one of these days before long, my mother’s soul will go to God. She’ll leave behind a few clothes, and her bed and her chest of drawers and her plants and the pictures of all of us and her soul will go singing to God. Uncumbered by what she doesn’t need.
My mother has taught me a great deal in her life – in words and by example. And I’m still learning from her. I am seeing for myself what this letter tells us: that “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”