09-25-16 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
September 25, 2016
19th Sunday after Pentecost, Baptism Sunday
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I was talking to a young gal this week, about how our brains sometimes work. She spoke about how she explains to people that sometimes her brain is like an open package of JiffyPop Popcorn, popping all over the place. It started with our shared appreciation of a posting on Facebook: I do not have ducks. Or a row. I have squirrels. And they’re at a rave. (A rave is a party with very wild dancing.)
We talked about 16 year olds competing at the Olympics and how I still push on pull doors. (Actually, we didn’t talk about that. I just love that saying, and was trying to figure out how to use it in a sermon.)
Or the one with a sad looking monk, who said, “Imagine being lonely in ancient times, and you couldn’t tweet, you would just have to sit there alone with your thoughts and write a Gregorian chant. (I have a Twitter account, but I don’t use because I don’t really know how, and if it’s anything like Facebook, I don’t think I should learn.)
I don’t know if Bill Murray actually posted it, but Facebook says he did, and he said, “Every Olympic sport should include one average person competing for reference.” Going to church is reference for the rest of the week and our lives.
So that you have reference for this morning’s scripture passage, this is the last of three weeks that we’ve been spending with the book of 1 Timothy. The book starts by saying that Paul is writing this letter to Timothy, to encourage him as he raises the new, little church in the city of Ephesus. Paul probably didn’t actually write the letter, and that’s probably not such a big deal, because God decided that the book needed to be included with the rest of the bible anyway.
And Paul writes a lot of things in 1 Timothy that are antithetical to our modern world and ears, mainly because that little church, growing up in a city full of differing religions and practices, needed to look different from those around it. And rather than do the necessary work to understand what was really going on, the antitheticals in this book have - over time - become hurtful and very misunderstood. So it’s been good to look a little more closely to this oft confusing book, and this morning, we look at the very end of it.
1 Timothy 6:6-19 (NIV)
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Final Charge to Timothy
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, 21 which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith. Grace be with you all.
Thank you, Norma. Those who haven’t had as much experience in life may think that these verses are really only about money - and being rich or poor. But those who have been around for a while realize it can be about anything that can take our eyes off of what grounds us: alcohol, drugs, work, illness, busyness, hurt, betrayal and so on. How ever you fill in for the phrase, “want to get rich,” in verse nine, “Those who ___ fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” If I were to re-write that sentence, I’d include the word “can” - “can fall into temptation” - because I don’t know that whatever takes our eyes off God automatically causes harm. But that’s my detail thing, for the time I get to be God for a day.
Regardless of who actually wrote this book, this part of it is good for grounding us in what is important in life. In verse 8, the writer wrote, “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Not if we pray enough or if we do enough charity work, or whatever else. Contentment comes after getting our most immediate needs met, and sometimes we need reminding that contentment is a good and valuable state.
The writer tells Timothy - and all of us helping to grow the body of Christ - to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness, to help others put their hope in God, to do good, to be rich in good deeds, generous and willing to share, and to turn away from godless chatter, opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge. (And isn’t that last bit an interesting thought during our nation’s election season?) It almost sounds like a long list of do’s - vs. an unwritten list of don’ts.
As good as those ideas and thoughts are, they are more or less meaningless unless we realize “why” we should engage those things. It would be like giving little Robbie this list of things to do, and like most any child, one day there would come the question, “Why?”
We could tell little Robbie - or anyone questioning these encouragements - that “God says so, and that’s that.” Like, “because I’m your mother and I told you to do them.” As we get older, we come to understand that truth of line of thought - the thought that we often define as respect. But that’s not the author’s answer - from the scripture passage.
The answer for doing - and not doing - has passed on to us - in verse 19 - “so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” Actually, he says, “In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age,” first, so there is a bit of the idea of doing good so we get points for later on. But it’s not really so much about points as it is about living - the life that is truly life.
The life that is truly life is not just about after we physically die, but how we get to live now, too. The life that we truly live, is as a seed that opens up and grows into what it is supposed to be, rather than turning in on itself, dying to lack of light and breath. It is growing deep and healthy roots, being the best of who we can be, relishing and reveling in God’s love and grace and mercy and light. So shall we pray.
God of Light and Love, we thank you for all that you want for us - the life that we sometimes fail to tend. Forgive us when we forget to water the soil you give us - the grounding of reference that gives meaning to our lives, rather than the other way around. Regardless of our age, ability or even energy, help us all to do all that we can to open ourselves to your light and breath and even rain, that we will all become the best part of the body of Christ of which we are able and capable. Guide us and fill us and raise us, that we can do the same for those around us, and that we are all better for nurturing one another in the life that is truly life. And all your people say, Amen.
09-18-16 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
September 18, 2015
18th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Timothy 2:1-7
“Forest and Trees”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So the teacher asked the student, “How old is your father?” The boy replied, “He is six years.” The teacher said, “What? How is that possible?” The boy replied, “He became a father when I was born.”
The teacher said, “Ole, your composition on ‘My Dog’ is exactly the same as your brother’s. Did you copy his?” Ole said, “No, sir; It’s the same dog.”
I don’t know if any of you ever had any of those cheap binocular-type things when you were a kid, but you knew they were cheap because of how quickly the focus changed when you moved the dial. The really cheap models were almost bi-visual: near and far, and not much between. The more sophisticated models of the day give one many more depths of difference between near and far.
I suppose in some ways, jokes were somewhat bi-visual: the expected and the unexpected - and often times coming at you more quickly than you realize.
Our scripture passage, once we really look at it, has that near-far sense, too. Last week we took a look into the very first part of 1 Timothy, and this week, we take a crack at the first part of chapter two. It is the second part of chapter two that has become an issue for so very long.
For those who weren’t here last week, Paul wrote to Timothy at least twice, to encourage Tim in his ministry in the city of Ephesus. The diversity in Ephesus was huge, due to it being the third largest city in Roman Asia Minor, in addition to it hosting the largest temple to the goddess, Artemis. In fact there were so many people there, that part of Paul’s letter encouraged men and women how to act - for centuries - for what was most likely a statement about that time. The sad part of that admonition is that it has “stuck” onto too many Christians, becoming a stumbling stone matter rather anything really helpful.
To make matters worse, the authorship of 1 Timothy is also in question, so rather than wrestling with questions, folks are probably more likely to avoid the book completely or to handpick verses, rather than do the work to really understand. So as Dale Herscher reads our passage for this morning, see what catches your ears or eyes - or heart.
1 Timothy 2:1-7 (NIV)
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
Thank you, Dale. I would love to have a conversation with everyone here to find out what you think about the phrase about not being able to see the forest for the trees. So are we supposed to look first for the forest? Is there a problem of focusing on trees, rather than the forest? And what other metaphors could be used instead of trees? A herd and goats, a school and fish, a pastor and congregation? Why or why wouldn’t those metaphors make sense? I apologize for the goofy working of that which is called my brain.
I make this point because I think that’s part of why we even come to church. Sometimes the best thing we can do in going to any church is that we can take a breath, a step back or whatever we call it, to remember our place and reset our lives for what the world can seemingly drain from us.
The encouragement to pray for kings and all those in authority seems timely, regardless of the century in which we live. I just had the question yesterday, so I didn’t have time to do the research, but I wonder if there has ever been a time in the history of the world when there was peace in all the land. Because we’re right here, right now, it may seem like our world is more in need of prayer than any other - especially the rulers. But maybe it’s only a matter of degree.
Because there is so much in history, we can’t know it all. So we may have missed or forgotten that starting with the rule of Julius Caesar, the republic was replaced by the Imperial system; this meant that one emperor would rule, rather than a dual leadership of two different “consuls.” Most of us can only begin to imagine the tension a Christian subject of Rome would have felt, knowing that emperors are not elected by the people and thus not likely leaving office anytime soon. The writer of 1 Timothy was asking early Christians to worship the God of Israel while rejecting the Roman Emperor Cult. Sedition and insurgence and rabble-rousers, oh my!
Rome gradually introduced the idea of emperor as an actual God. So there’s a little word, in our passage, with huge importance. Paul says to pray for kings, instead of to kings. Regardless of the century, we do well to pray for our leaders - regardless of our feelings for them - petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings. We all need prayers for wisdom and insight, kings, authorities, pastors, lay people, Minnesotans and everyone else.
The teacher asked Maria to “Go to the map and find North America.” “Here it is,” she pointed. The teacher said, “Correct. Now, class, who discovered America?” The class, in one accord, said, “Maria.”
The teacher said, “Glenn, how do you spell ‘crocodile?’ Glenn: “K-R-O-K-D-I-A-L.” Teacher, “No, that’s wrong.” Glenn, “Maybe it’s wrong, but you asked me how I spelled it.”
Paul suggests that we pray for others - especially leaders - so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. It’s interesting that we get so many “religious” images of peaceful life. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” has a non-violent - sense to it. As a introverted, Scandinavian, former Minnesotan, my DNA contains many molecules for peaceful and quiet life, so I get what Paul is saying.
And yet, sometimes we see the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. “There is a time for everything - “a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. (3:6-8) Eric Bareto, Associate Professor of New Testament, at Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, MN, made an interesting statement. “Lest we become enablers of continued oppression, we ought to bring a critical eye to this text.
By asking people - us - to pray for leaders, whether intentional or not - Paul juxtaposes the powerful of the world to the omnipotent, all-powerful God. It’s a good point to keep in mind, that our prayers for whomever, but perhaps even more so on those with lightning rods attached to their souls, that our prayers are focused on God, and not so much on the individuals.
I wonder, too, about what our prayers for leaders is really about. My guess is that we may sometimes get our prayers for what we want mixed up with what we really ought to be praying. The hunch here is that our prayers for leaders is perhaps laced with emotion of some sort, which brings a picture to my mind of finger-pointing. It is mind-boggling how often that picture of one finger pointing forward includes three fingers pointing backward. There is great irony in the one thing that we see as an issue in another person’s life is often times the same issue in our own lives, more times than not at a tripled or magnified level.
So our prayers for our leaders and authorities becomes even more critical, because they (hopefully) keep us humble and focusing on the right things - God first and then everyone and everything else.
The Teacher said: “Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?” Donald replied, “H I J K L M N O.” The teacher asked what he was talking about. Donald said, “Yesterday you said it was H to O.”
The Teacher said, “Susie, what do you call a person who keeps on talking when people are no longer interested?” Susie replied, “A teacher.” (She could just as well have said a preacher.)
So when we pray, especially for the leaders of this world, Paul suggests petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings. Petitions are for particular needs, prayers is a general word for prayer, intercessions is an urgent and bold request, and thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude. Especially with leaders we agree, it’s easy to offer up prayers in all four of these areas. But for those leaders - any individuals - with whom we disagree - it is far harder to include all four categories, especially the last one of thanksgiving. And no, prayers of thanksgiving mixed with sarcasm or lip service don’t work!
The writer of 1 Timothy didn’t need to include that little bit about thanksgiving, but it’s there for a reason. That’s even more true because categories of three would have been more “holy” in the Hebrew world at that time. But the writer uses four, so all of those prayer areas are important. It may be hard for some to find something to be thankful about when thinking of the Adolf Hitlers and Osama bin Ladens of the world. But notice that the writer didn’t say we had to be perfect in those prayers. So I don’t know that we have to find gratitude for those who wreck evil on this world. And besides, we have the Holy Spirit to intercede for us when we don’t have the words.
There is a prayer I found online this week that seems to speak to this passage and our world and our struggles that is infinitely better than anything I could have come up with in the middle of the Michigan State and Notre Dame game last night. So shall we pray?
Loving God, who desires everyone to be healed and come to know the truth. You ask us to pray for those in positions of power that we may all come to live together, quietly and in peace and in dignity. Yet how should we pray for those who have misused that power over others?
Should we be honest in our anger and ask that logging trucks break down, fishing nets tangle and drills go blunt? Will that bring the peace you desire? Will that lead to dignity for everyone? Or would economic hardship just redouble efforts?
How should we pray for them Lord? Should we be pious in our prayer and ask that they find peace in Christ, a deep respect for the land, care for the poor who live upon it?
Will that do Lord? Will these prayers lead to the godliness you desire? Or is this the godliness we desire? A quick fix, an easy solution, all provided by you and little required from us.
So how should we pray for them Lord? How shall we hold the actions of an abuser, an oppressor, or a bully, in our hearts? It is no easy thing Lord. And to hold in our hearts the misusers of power themselves, is perhaps even harder. It seems much to ask from us Lord, especially from the victims, the oppressed, the bullied. It may be more than our spirits can bear. So, we ask again Lord God, how should we pray for those who have misused their power over others? How should we pray?
Silence. Come Lord Jesus. When our words seem inadequate, hear the yearnings in our hearts. For you alone are one between us and God. And as you hear our complaints about those in power, loosen our hands around the stones we would throw. And as you hear us call for justice, prepare our hands to work for change.
Be present in all negotiations we pray. Where local people sit down to tell their story, where company owners and lawyers listen and respond, when mediators and advocates intervene, where the support of aid workers is present. May the words shared among them be inspired by the Word that makes all things new. Words of truth. Words of dignity. Words of peace. Words of life. And all your people say, Amen
09-11-16 Sunday Sermon
First Congregational Church
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
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.