September 11, 2015
17th Sunday after Pentecost, Blessing of the Backpacks & Grandparents Day
1 Timothy 1:12-19
“Scripture as Human as We Are”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I’m not sure where I found these, but in light of this being a Sunday where education, i.e., reading and spelling has some of the spotlight, their inclusion seemed warranted.
“I can’t believe I ate that whole pineapple!” little Ole said dolefully. “I can’t believe I dropped the toothpaste,” Ole said crestfallen. “That’s the last time I pet a lion,” Ole said offhandedly. “We don’t have a homerun hitter,” he said ruthlessly. “I’ll dig another ditch around the castle,” Ole said remotely. “I keep shocking myself,” Old said, revolted. “I shouldn’t sleep on railroad tracks,” said Ole, beside himself. “My steering wheel won’t turn, Ole said straightforwardly.“I’ll have to telegraph him again,” Ole said remorsefully. “I must make the fire hotter,” Ole bellowed.
This morning’s scripture passage comes from the book of 1 Timothy. When we hear such a statement, we most generally summize that there is a 2 Timothy, which there is. In scholarly circles, 1 and 2 Timothy usually get put together with the book of Titus, as in a trilogy. The “letter”, 1 Timothy, says it was written by the apostle Paul to his “son in the faith,” Timothy, encouraging him in his ministry in the city of Ephesus. Under Roman rule, Ephesus was the third largest city in Roman Asia Minor during Jesus’ day.
As a port city, Ephesus had a huge number of nationalities that lived there and visited every year. The city was also host to the Temple of Artemis, which after it’s third rebuilding, was known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Between all the different individuals and the strong pagan worship of Artemis in the city, Timothy had his work cut out for him, organizing the church and keeping the truth of early Christianity away from heresies and other theological errors.
Except that maybe Paul was not the author of this letter. Some of those scholarly types think the letter was written well after Paul died. If Paul didn’t write it, as it says right at the beginning of the chapter, then should we take the words therein as sacred? As Congregationalists, it is up to each one of us, in prayer, to come to our own conclusions about such deep questions. As pastor, it is my job to give you information to help you make such decisions, in addition to your own reading and study, of course. As you mull over all that has just been put forth, as Judy makes her way forward to read, I’ll give you a definition for a word that we don’t hear every day. The word is “invective,” and it means “insulting, abusive, or highly critical language.” And I asked her to read from the version called the Message today, because the energy seemed to jump right off the page.
1 Timothy 1:12-19 The Message (MSG)
12-14 I’m so grateful to Christ Jesus for making me adequate to do this work. He went out on a limb, you know, in trusting me with this ministry. The only credentials I brought to it were invective and witch hunts and arrogance. But I was treated mercifully because I didn’t know what I was doing—didn’t know Who I was doing it against! Grace mixed with faith and love poured over me and into me. And all because of Jesus.
15-19 Here’s a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I’m proof—Public Sinner Number One—of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off—evidence of his endless patience—to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever.
Deep honor and bright glory to the King of All Time—One God, Immortal, Invisible, ever and always. Oh, yes! I’m passing this work on to you, my son Timothy. The prophetic word that was directed to you prepared us for this. All those prayers are coming together now so you will do this well, fearless in your struggle, keeping a firm grip on your faith and on yourself. After all, this is a fight we’re in.
Thank you, Judy. The great American businessman Samuel Colgate was attending his church during one of it’s evangelistic campaigns when a prostitute came forward and confessed her sins. She was broken-hearted and wept openly. She asked God to save her soul and expressed a desire to join the church. “I’ll gladly sit in some back corner,” she said. The preacher hesitated to call for a motion to accept her into membership, and for a few moments the silence was oppressive. Finally, a member stood up and suggested that action on her request be postponed.
At that point Mr. Colgate arose and said with an undertone of sarcasm, “I guess we blundered when we prayed that the Lord would save sinners. We forgot to specify what kind. We’d better ask Him to forgive us for this oversight. The Holy Spirit has touched this woman and made her truly repentant, but apparently the Lord doesn’t understand she isn’t the type we want Him to rescue.”
Many in the audience blushed with shame. They had been guilty of judging like the Pharisee in the temple who exclaimed self-righteously, “God, I thank You that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers” (Luke 18:11). Another motion was made and the woman was unanimously received into the fellowship. (I wonder if she actually joined them.)
The book of 1 Timothy is a lot like the woman from Mr. Colgate’s day. This is the book that says, in chapter 2, “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (1 Tim 2:8-15)
I don’t know that I’d ever imagined reading that passage aloud - ever. Even though there are some people in this world that believe strongly in the black and white of those words, there are others - I imagine most all of you - or you wouldn’t be here - feel like squirming in your pew. My natural reaction to that passage is to want to change the subject to the Vikings or the Lions or the Twins or the Tigers or most any other topic.
Eric Barreto, Associate Professor of New Testament, at Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, MN, commenting on our passage for this morning, suggests that while the temptation to shy away from such topics is natural, “an even more harmful temptation may be to read only the parts of 1 Timothy that resonate with us, while simply pretending as if the more troubling, more controversial portions of the text are not tightly interwoven with them.” Like the woman from the Colgate story, some parts of the Bible just don’t seem to mesh with our modern day lives.
As a bit of an aside, the custom of the day when Timothy and Paul were alive was for women to wear big wigs made out of bees wax. to throw on as much jewelry as possible, and to talk and gossip during the teaching time in the synagogue - so that people couldn’t hear what the rabbi was saying. Part of Timothy and Paul’s “teachings” were to encourage the early Christians to be different - to look and act different - because of the life changing message of God’s love for God’s people. So the admonition about women was really more “time sensitive” than limiting the message of Christ through men only, in my humble opinion.
Back to the main vein, “1 Timothy reminds us what Scripture is and what Scripture isn’t. Scripture is not just a list of easily apprehended propositions with which we can agree at all times. Scripture is not just a collection of sayings that might guide our daily walk. Scripture is not just a perfect text free of discomfiting content. Scripture is as human as we are. But we also trust that God speaks through these texts, whether these texts resonate with our hopes or create a dissonant sound in our midst.” (That was Mr. Barreto again.)
Regardless of who wrote 1st Timothy, there is the beautiful juxtaposition of contrasts: Paul was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence,” and yet God gives mercy and a call. Paul had “acted ignorantly in unbelief” while the “immortal, invisible God” acted with grace and patience.
The great question is, how has the grace of our Lord overflowed for you? And for me? There are church traditions - denominations - that elevate the sharing of personal testimonies openly during their worship services. We sort of do that with the sharing of our Joys and Concerns each week. And I get how intimidating it is to share that which we understand God to be doing in our lives. But maybe we might be more bold in sharing with each other? Maybe there is someone waiting for a word of encouragement, and God is sending you to deliver the message and to help that neighbor turn to God in love? If we think about those situations, and pray about them, God can give us the creativity to share our “testimonies” without getting all churchified or religified.
Back to the main passage, the verses for this morning - in abbreviated format - retell Paul’s conversion - from an enemy of God to one showered with God’s grace - to God’s service. So the question becomes, how has God showered you with God’s grace to God’s service? It’s not just a question of God’s deliverance to a new lifestyle of faith, but to a lifestyle of faith - to serving others. How has God asked you to serve those who need acceptance and healing, being mindful that we don’t always get to choose the ones God would have us serve.
Let us pray. God of love and mercy, may the truth you offer stay with us when we leave this place; may all that is lost in our lives be found through your Spirit; may the brokenness of this word be healed and turned to love and hope; and may we strive to be your faith disciples as the body of Christ. And all your people say, Amen