Keep safe the Treasure
Keep safe the treasure! That is the directive that the apostle Paul gives to the young pastor Timothy. Timothy is a third generation Christian who was taught the faith through the witness of his grandmother and mother. His own faith development has revealed that he has gifts for preaching and teaching. The community of faith called Timothy to be a leader among them, but Timothy is struggling. He is facing people who are interpreting the Scriptures in ways that run contrary to what Timothy has been taught. The challenges he faces are causing him to have doubts about his ability to lead. Paul knows very well that it is not an easy thing to be a leader – especially a leader of people of faith. The Bible has recorded for us the personal struggles and trials and suffering of those called to be prophets and judges in the Old Testament and the suffering of Jesus and the apostles of the early church in the New Testament.
Keep safe the treasure, says Paul. Right from the very beginning of the new communities of faith, people were challenging the interpretation of the message of God in Jesus Christ. There were numerous challenges to the message that Paul and others were preaching. Evidence of this comes to us through the letters of Paul in which he addresses many of these challenges. Paul felt strongly that it was critical to the lives of the faithful to not seek to make the message of God in Jesus fit with their own ideas but to let the message itself speak the truth. It was not for people to mould the word of God into something that they found acceptable but to receive the word of God and pray for the wisdom of God’s Holy Spirit to enable them to recognize God’s purpose and plan for their lives and the world in general.
As a reformed community, we have a responsibility to be faithful to the message of God as revealed through Jesus and to pray for the wisdom to grow in faith and knowledge. We clearly understand that while our community still professes the basic tenets of our faith, our forms of worship and our understanding of the basic tenets of our faith have evolved. We have sought to be faithful to the Scriptures and yet open to the leading of the Spirit helping us to ever discover whether we have plumbed the depths of the words and their meaning.
The reformers of the 16th century were faced with a church that they believed had lost the central message of God in Jesus. They saw a church that was oppressing people rather than freeing them. They saw a church that had lost its compassion, its integrity and its understanding of justice from God’s perspective. People felt little love and found little peace.
Many of the reformers suffered for their boldness to call the church to reform. In our own recent history, we have come to see slavery of other humans as inhumane and against the will of God. We have also come to understand that to block women from ministry was a denial of the gifts for leadership that women – even in Jesus’ time – exercised quite effectively. In our own day, we continue to be challenged to reform, to be guided by the word of God as found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and yet to be open to the leading of the Spirit.
The challenge for us in the church today is to discover whether we are truly pursuing God’s justice, whether we are acting with integrity, whether we are truly being loving in a way that is not an emotional love but rather a love that is deeply spiritual – a love of the person as a creation of God and whether we are acting in such a way as to reveal to one another and others both in and out of community the peace of God which is meant to bring wholeness and hope.
We have faced challenges to our accepted practices in the church and we have made changes. Those changes did not happen easily or without struggles. Yet the church has moved and has evolved. The critical thing to remember though - through whatever changes we may embrace - is that we never lose the treasure of our faith. We never abandon any of the central truths of our faith and we do not sacrifice our belief in the redemption of our lives through the sacrifice God made for us in Jesus Christ. We still are to reflect our faith in word and deed.
Whenever the church is faced with a challenge to traditional interpretations, we – the people and especially those called to leadership – we need to listen with an open heart and be patient with one another as we seek for the leading and wisdom of the Spirit of God.
In closing, let us remember that whatever we say, whatever we do, as long as we do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, seeking to be faithful to the word of God and looking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will keep safe the treasure – the treasure of our life as God’s people!
To be a leader in Christian community is indeed a calling. It is something that is to be undertaken only after prayer and reflection and seeking confirmation from God and community. It is not a career. It is not an occupation. It is a vocation. To serve where we are truly called is the mark of a true pastor and preacher. To be faithful to the message of God as revealed to us through Jesus Christ and continually enlightened by the guidance of the Holy Spirit is the true mark of the person who would allow their life to be given to the service of a community of believers.
I have grown in my faith over the years and have come to see things both within and without the church in different ways. I have experienced life both from the position of one who speaks from the pulpit and from the position of one who listens in the pew. I have both given and received counsel and guidance. I have sought opportunities to grow in my own journey through this life and found opportunities to learn in different ways as a means of sharing new insights and hopefully giving positive direction to others. I continue to have a wonderful relationship with my wife and my sons and their partners and family; but I would be lying if I were to say that it has been perfect. We have had our trying times; but our firm resolve to never stop loving one another even in the moments when we have been hurting the most has seen us through. I have not personally experienced everything that others have experienced – nor do I wish to – but I have experienced enough to be able to be compassionate and understanding. I have learned from experience how to be tolerant and patient – although I have not always been successful in either.
When a congregation or pastoral charge calls a minister, they are extending an invitation to that person to enter their community and to enter their lives. They are inviting that person to get to know them with all their imperfections and struggles. They are inviting that person to share with them in their joys and their sorrows. The hope is that they have found someone who is willing to walk the path of faith with them and encourage them in their own personal journeys.
As clergy we have no permanent faith community except the community of believers gathered in the church universal. We are pilgrims who stop for a while in one place and share the gifts God has given us and seek to enrich the lives of the people with whom we break bread. And when the time comes for us to move on, we do so not because we have found a better place to be but because God wants us to journey with a new community who needs us to journey with them.
I have shared with you before my own pilgrimage. You know that I came into the ministry not because I chose to but because I was chosen. I served three different and unique pastoral charges before leaving pastoral ministry for a ministry of the Word of God in many languages. After that I felt no call to ministry and settled into a life as a handyman working for seniors – repairing and building, cleaning and listening. Then God moved again in my life and brought me here. All I could do was trust and believe that this was his will.
Over the next few months, the elders of the three congregations will be gathering for a number of meetings as we seek the input of the congregations and put in place the committee that will be tasked with the search for a new person to come and continue your journey of faith. I know that this will be a challenging time. But our commitment to be the people of God and to live the truth of God’s message; our commitment to reflect that truth in our life as a community; that will enable us to move forward in a positive way giving thanks that God has led us to journey with one another and also enable us to wish each other God’s blessing for the future.