"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

“The labourer deserves his wages.”

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Pentecost 20, October 2, 2016 SJE ©2016  1 Timothy 5 (preaching series on Timothy)

Continuing in our study through 1st Timothy, we’re in chapter 5 today, which we might describe as instructions for relationship within the community, and particularly how to deal with widows and ‘elders’, where ‘elders’ is the translation of the Greek word presbyteroi, variously translated as elders or priests.  Paul is continuing offering detailed instruction to his student, Timothy, on how it is that a Christian community is to conduct itself.  I’m going to start by talking a bit about ecclesiology, that is, what it is that we understand the church to be in the world.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, one of the things that this community is to help us do in our lives is to move from the cultural obsession with the individual to learned selflessness.  How does that happen?  First by coming here to engage in an act of worship of the Living God.  Worship that which is not you is an act which places you in proper relation with the creation.  Second is by merely being here in community, as this emphasizes for us that we are more human, more real, when we are a part of the Body of Christ.  I stay in this sometimes challenging and frustrating community, because it is only coming forward on my knees that I gain a real understanding of who I am, because the community lifts me from myself and reminds me where I stand in relation to our Lord.

There is a wonderful song by a woman named Jenny Moore that came out of her living in the community of St Benedict’s Table in Winnipeg, titled “I am Coming for You”.  The song is a direct comment on the role of the community for a Christian, and the line that always catches me is this one:

And the meal will fill you
And the wine will calm you
And the company will remind you
That I see you.

And the meal will fill you
And the wine will calm your nerves
And the company will remind you
You are alive and well.

The body of faithful, which is the blessed company of all believers, exists as a reminder to us that God sees us each, and that we are alive and well.  In spite of what might be going on in our individual lives, and in our greater social circle and families, this is a place of anchoring and grounding.  We come here because the company reminds us that we are well, because we are in Christ by being with each other, and there all things will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

The reason Paul focuses on the seemingly mundane aspects of community life for the believers in Ephesus is because he understands the importance of that community as the physical manifestation of Christ in the world.  Part of our witness to that world is the way we live differently than the balance of our culture, and part of that difference is the emphasis on community.

The Body of Christ counters the forces in the culture that seek that we comply with what the culture has deemed to be important and necessary.  While this involves an unhealthy fixation on the individual, it also carries with it a dysfunctional imperative to comply with the thoughts of the collective.  In many ways this trend has become the political correctness movement on steroids, and scarcely a day goes by when some public figure is not being castigated or called on to apologize for some perceived slight that they may have made against some issue that the collective has defined as worthy of protection.

The Body of Christ brings resolution to those cultural pressures through making us truly human when we are within the community, but also by bringing us great individual value, beyond anything that earthly laurels might provide.  And why is that?  The Body of Christ does not form us into a collective of like-minded and like-living individuals who are marked by the lack of difference between us.  Rather, in the Body, we are each celebrated because we are given particular gifts that are necessary for the building up of the Body.  Our individuality is redeemed in Christ, not because being an individual is holy in itself, but rather because our calling makes each of us a particular organ within the Body of Christ.  By contrast to society’s understanding of membership, organs within the Body of Christ have an inter-dependency and complementarity that binds us together in a way which the world can not, and will not, understand.

This counters another dysfunction of the post-modern era, the presumption of equality of all.  Within the Body of Christ, all are infinitely worthy, but each person has his or her own calling to live out which assists the Body to greater or lessor degree depending on the person’s calling.  This is the reason why there is no such thing as ‘private religion’, because the faith life can only, is only, and has always been lived out in the context of a faith community.  “I don’t need to go to church because I worship God in my private way.” Is no real faith of worship at all.  Likewise, the Body of Christ puts to death the lie that there is a such a thing as private sin, “What I do in my own life does not matter, because I am not hurting anyone.”  Aside from the usual lies about this – that the consumption of something sinful invariably involves the exploitation of someone somewhere, in the Body of Christ there is no such thing as private sin.  If you think of all of us as particular organs in the Body of Christ, this makes perfect sense…for a broken bone impacts all of your body’s systems to some degree, so it is with sin within the Body of Christ.  This in itself is a powerful teaching, and should cause you to pause before following any path of obvious sin…you are not just impacting yourself, but indeed everyone within the community of faith.

This is why the Body of Christ reflects far more the reality of an extended family, then membership in a community organization.  Each member of your family has a particular identify, and a particular role, and carries particular worth within the family.  There is a fundamental inequality within families, as the elders carry wisdom, the middle-aged provide financial support, and the young energize the family with exuberance and new directions.  You could not remove a member of your family and say afterward, we’ve just lost one member, but we’ll find another, precisely because of this uniqueness that each organ brings into the Body of Christ.  This is why there is a particular pain in the community of faith, when a long-standing family moves away…Gillian and Grant from the 0915 community, or Ian and Margaret from the 1100 community.  There is a palpable emptiness left behind, because one of the organs on which we are interdependent has been pulled from this local context, even while they still remain a part of the larger Body of Christ globally.

Within this Body we are constantly in the process of ministering to each other in the form that each organ is called to.  We are constantly teaching and learning, forgiving and being forgiven, interceding before Christ for others, while they in turn intercede for us.  In the Body, we bring Christ to others by seeing them as He sees them, and they in turn bring Christ to us, by seeing us as Christ sees us.  Our true value as individuals comes not from within us, from our individual accomplishments, but because God’s calling to each of us to live into our role in community, into being fully the organ that God calls us to be, results in us finding our infinite worth reflected from the mirror that is Christ. Our value as individuals comes entirely from Christ, which is why Paul says elsewhere that he counts all in his life as rubbish but for his being in Christ.

This was a bit of a lengthy excursion to set some groundwork for the reading today, because under Paul’s seemingly direct and simple instructions is a deep understanding of the reality of the Body of Christ.  Starting with the treatment of widows, Paul outlines some interesting guidelines for who should receive the community’s support.  He sets out two tests for widows, that determine what the community’s role is to be: one material and one spiritual.  From the material perspective, Paul draws a line between those widows who are self-sufficient because they have families, and places the onus for their care back with their families.  Paul identifies that we have an obligation to care for those in our families, and particularly those who have been left with few added supports of their own.

In the age that Paul was writing this was particularly important, because a widow would typically have to rely on her children, or her husband’s brothers if she had no children, to provide her support.  We saw this reality as Christ hung on the cross where he assigned responsibility for his mother to another disciple, because he knew with no son and no husband she would otherwise be left destitute.  So the material test is to ensure that the community of the Church provides support only to those widows who have no other recourse.  Even more interesting is the description in verses 9-15 (not included in the reading today) of which widows should be enrolled in the church.  If you read these additional verses you may hear in the entry criteria some echo of the test for who will make a good elder or bishop for the community – indeed these widows in particular which are to be enrolled are those who have been called into a particular role of ministry within the community.

I find this particularly interesting because we often think about the day when we will arrive at some mythical destination when we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labours, surrounded by grandchildren and the bounty we have earned.  That is not the image that Paul portrays when he describes the role of widows within the community.  Indeed, their widowhood, combined with a life of service to others, appears to have been in preparation for a future role ministering to others within the Body of Christ.  The entry into widowhood, carrying with it the grief of loss that we know so well, is in fact the starting point of a whole new holy calling for some.

This reflects a fundamental truth of our lives as followers of Christ.  My experience certainly has been that there are many ‘arrivings’ at expected or unexpected destinations, but none of those have been the end of the journey, for each arriving inevitably sets off the start of a new journey, a journey for which you have only been prepared because of the last arriving.  Our lives as followers of Christ is therefore a continuous series of callings, and resolutions of calling, followed by an entirely new calling.

That sounds like a really glorious example of God’s grace manifest in the Body, and it is, but it means that we don’t always end up where we think we should end up.  An older man lying in a hospital bed says to me, “what did I do wrong that made God so angry with me that he has put me here?” is asking the wrong question.  The right question is one that you learn from being within the community of faith for decades, because you learn it from that inter-dependency with the other organs that make up that body.  What is the right question to ask, from that hospital bed or from whatever destination (happy or grief-stricken) which God calls you to?  “How am I to use the blessing of this present reality to worship Almighty God?”  We learn this in community by watching our brothers and sisters weather both joy and despair in community.  The birth of a child, the marriage of lovers, the death of a spouse, the slow decline of faculties with age, the switching of roles: from child to adult to caregiver for failing parents.  With each transition within the Body of Christ we learn to ask anew, “How would you have me use the blessing of this moment to do your will?”

I saw this clearly in the life of a friend with pancreatic cancer.  He was going through many surgeries and hospital visits, came to near death many times, and ultimately succumbed to the illness.  He to me one day that he looked forward to his hospital stays because he knew each time that God would make use of him in some new way, be it a roommate that he could minister to, or the nursing staff that he could bring joy to in some way.  This happened in the community of faith.  What did I learn from him?  On the days when I wrestle with my chronic pain, the witness of him and others in this mystical Body of Christ turn my suffering into something like, “Lord, thank you that you have blessed me with this pain.  How do you wish me to use this gift to your greater glory?”

So the community becomes the place of ultimate transformation, where others prop us up when we can no longer stand on our own, and our sufferings in turn teach others about what it is to suffer as a child of God.  This is a truly amazing gift given to us through this Body of Christ, for it converts even our dying moments in a hospital bed into a chance to serve God, even if it is only in silent prayer in intercession for God’s people.

Paul moves on to speak about the high calling of the elders, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. The word elders is, again, the Greek presbyteros, which is sometimes translated as priest or elder, but describes various leadership roles within the community which are manifested in different ways depending on the particular era.  He sets out the high calling of those who preach and teach, and adds some protections for them.  Calvin commented about those who presume to minister and noted that even when they are successful they will never avoid “a thousand criticisms.”  I know in my ministry it seems that I make a business of failing to meet other’s expectations…usually because I am striving first to meet God’s expectations, but that is interpreted by others as a lack of caring.  A recent example for me is shifting my ministry work to St John’s from a variety of places I would fill in…it was clear to me that my primary calling in this community is the support of those in full-time ministry, and that I was not honouring that call by filling in in other places.  But, in spite of having clearly told some places that I am no longer doing supply ministry, I continue to get regular calls asking me if I’m available.

It’s a cautionary tale about the expectations we place upon those in leadership roles within the community.  One of the things I realized early in ministry is that I would always be letting someone down…and I suspect one of the reasons that we have so many clergy totally stressed out is because that’s not taught in seminary.  What I’ve realized with prayer (and a dose of courage from God) is that my role as a minister is serving Christ, which sometimes means I rather dramatically fail to align with the expectations of others.  Those expectations are emphasized by Paul with his caution about not being hasty in the laying on of hands…that is, before you commission someone or ordain them to ministry, make good and sure that they’re actually really called to that ministry!  Not because they’re good in school, or really nice people, or really sincere in their belief that they should be ordained, but because God is truly calling them.  When I was at the national selection process for ordination, called ACPO (Anglican candidates for postulancy for ordination) one of the first questions the interview panel asked me was ‘why do you want to be a priest?’  I was really disappointed in the shock on their faces when I said, “I don’t.”  Disappointed because it meant to me that they were expecting earnest eagerness from me…maybe as a late-life vocation that eagerness had already been replaced by a bit of wisdom, but I knew a bit of what such a call entailed, and I wasn’t eager to go down that road…but as I said to them next, I’m not sure I have any choice because this is God’s call to me.

Paul calls the elders into discernment before undertaking such steps, and emphasizes that while some sin is apparent to all, there are those who are seemingly of good character but full of hidden sin which will eventually become manifest.  That discernment is supposed to be tied with pure impartiality, so that you show no favour except the favour which God calls you to display.

All of this instruction by Paul is intended to establish the community in right relationship, with competent leadership, fair impartial and discerning commissioning of those into leadership roles, and to build a place where people can grow into God’s particular calling at various stages in their lives.  It is within the community that we find our true individuality and our true worth in Christ, not because of who we are, but because of who we become in our role within the Body of Christ.  That role within this part of the Body of Christ calls us into mutual ministry, where our living in community serves to manifest Christ to others, who in turn manifest Christ to us.  While that is sometimes (or always) a challenge, it is the greatest place of blessing within the creation.  Amen.

1 Timothy 5: Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God. She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day,but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband,[a] 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 11 But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry 12 and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. 13 Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. 14 So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. 15 For some have already strayed after Satan. 16 If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and,“ The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.

I Am Coming For You by Jenny Moore.  One of my favorite songs from St. Benedict’s Table in Winnipeg.

O woman, you are not forgotten
Take up your harp, play your song often

O man, you have forgotten
Your love is strong, forget this wasteland

For I am coming for you, I am coming for you
You will see me in this town some day
I am coming for you, I am coming for you
You will see me in this town some day

 And the meal will fill you
And the wine will calm you
And the company will remind you
That I see you.

And the meal will fill you
And the wine will calm your nerves
And the company will remind you
You are alive and well.

A Washington Post story on the mining of cobalt in the Congo.


A life-cycle environmental assessment for photovoltaic systems.


Pope Benedict on the need for a return to reason: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2016/09/17747/

Material on page 2 and 3, particularly around the ecclesiology of the whole and the individual is heavily draw from CS Lewis’ essay, “Membership” found in the collection “The Weight of Glory”.  If you dig around on Amazon you can find Kindle collections of Lewis’ work really inexpensively. https://www.amazon.ca/Complete-Works-Lewis-Autobiography-Christianity-ebook/dp/B01FDK7KNG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475356684&sr=8-1&keywords=complete+cs+lewis   (for $0.99 although it does not include more obscure works such as “Why I am not a Pacifist”)

The later thought on pages 3 through 5 is largely drawn from John Stott’s excellent book, “Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus.”  If I have achieved anything it is because I have been able to stand on the shoulders of giants.


Written by sameo416

October 1, 2016 at 4:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. So many gems in this posting/sermon. I confess I haven’t looked into the references on mining cobalt in the Congo or on the photovoltaic environmental assessments. Are these fundamental to your thesis here or are you just testing to see if anyone pays attention to your footnotes 😉 ?

    Mark Peppler

    October 2, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    • Hi Mark, thanks for the comments. I started out down a path of innocent as doves and wise as serpants, and thinking about how we are called to be wiser than the world. I came across a story about how my iPhone has cobalt from the Congo and was thinking about how my economic choices adversely impact others…I’m doing violence with my choices. That morphed into a reflection in community so I dropped it. Same with the solar cells I was thinking about how the world does things for looks, but we are called to think more deeply…and I was looking at total environmental cost of solar cells. I just left the notes in for future reference…never know when it’ll come in use.


      October 2, 2016 at 6:57 pm

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