In the past couple weeks, we have been looking at the relationship between the Apostle Paul and his protégé, Timothy. And, we know that whether this was the original Paul or the original Timothy from the book of Acts, or if it was written in the tradition of Paul to future Timothy’s or Timothia’s, the message then and the message now is applicable. We are admonished and encouraged to pray for those that are in authority.
The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live. (1 Timothy 2:1-3)
Jesus addresses this dichotomy of “two kingdoms” with a prayer for us. He prays for us all in this perplexing situation of “living in the world, but not of the world”; “at this time, I do not plan to take them out of the world, but I came to be with them, but they must live out their lives in the world.” We are called to be “in the world, but not of the world; to change the world through transformation: Transformation of our own lives, and transformation of the community we live in. It’s called community involvement; changing the world that we live in and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news of the Kingdom of Heaven has come and continues to come into our world”.
In 2 Peter we read: “This world is not our home, and we are just passing through” (2 Peter 2:11). And, in our passing, may we make it a little better place than it was before we arrived.
I think that’s the message of responsible stewardship. Changing and making the world a little better place to live in. In our first reading today Jeremiah echoes to “get involved in the community, buy your homes, and plant your gardens.” If Jeremiah was here today he would tell us to “start saving for our children’s education. Plan for a better tomorrow for you and your loved ones. Find partners, get married, have children, and make plans for their future, so that someday they may have children and you as a grandparent can also assist them in that repeating cycle. Jeremiah says don’t be afraid. “Seek the welfare of the city”. I encourage civic involvement in the community, city, state and nation.
This passage in Jeremiah is a foreshadowing of the world that Jesus addresses and we can also apply the message to our day. We do not live in a perfect world either. The world for the Hebrew refugees of Jeremiahs day had been taken out from under them. They were trying to adjust in a new country and in a new culture that was foreign to them, just as Jesus says to us that he has come to bring a new order, a new order of a heavenly kingdom that is at odds with the present order of things in our world. We are responsible to be diligent by applying the principles laid out in scripture that are intended to become the principles by which we live by. As we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
This passage reminds me of an analogy that I heard in a locker room at a YMCA in Philadelphia. I overheard someone say this: “Living in the world is like wearing a loose fitting garment. It’s not too tight. We know it’s there, and we have to live in it, but we can go on about our business, not worrying too much about the loose fitting garment, and knowing someday that the garment of this world will be discarded.
We are encouraged to seek the good and welfare of our city and those around us. That’s our personal mission and the mission of the church, but we do not have to live by principles that are opposed to the principles of the Kingdom of God. We are encouraged to participate in change, the transformation of ourselves, and of our life together as a church, our neighborhood, and our city.
As stewards of the kingdom of God, we believe that God is present and active in the whole of creation and that we are called to participate with God through appreciation and care for all creation, through the arts, through our daily work, through our relationships with other people and in our own inner lives.
As Jesus tells us in His prayer for us to His Father and our Father, “I pray for them as they are in the world. My prayer is for them while they are in the world. They are called to live in the world”, (In the world, but not of the world) and in due time they will go on to glory. Like that old gospel song that goes like this:
This world is not my home I’m just a passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore
Oh Lord you know I have no friend like you
If heaven’s not my home then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
We need to prioritize, to look at the things that are important in our life. Look at the big battles. We all fight battles. Count the cost! Paul tells Timothy in our second reading: “Don’t wrangle over words or things that are not of very much importance.”
If you just get involved in nit-picking and fussing”, it does not go over with others in the church. It does not bring good news to the world that is watching you. If what you are involved in does not bring forth good fruit (evidence of your life in Christ), peace and good will, then Paul encourages you to do “quit acting like that.”
In our gospel message today, ten lepers are healed and are sent away, but we are told that one of them came back to Jesus and thanked him. Jesus says, “wait a minute, I healed 10, but only one came back to thank me. Where’s the others”. The only one that came back is a Samaritan, a stranger to the faith, someone that doesn’t even worship God the right way, at least in the way that we do. The Samaritans were treated like second class religious folk. They worshiped, but definitely not in the prescribed way they are supposed to worship, in the way that we do.
That brings up a good question. Who are we? What do we know about God? How important is it to say what we know about our faith? We do know things. In our confirmation series I teach things like what it means to be a Christian, and what it means for us to be on a Christian journey following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. I teach about the Bible, how it is structured, and how we are to listen to scripture and how scripture is to influence our lives. I talk about the sacraments of the church and how they need to be applied to us throughout our lives. I teach about what the church is, and the importance of structure in the church and the importance of freedom of expression and recognizing the Body of Christ. We talk about our privileges and responsibilities as members of the church, and specific gifts and recognizable fruits of the Spirit.
We talk about the “Great Commission” and our calling to share the love of Christ with others, and our calling to walk in communion with Jesus Christ and to mature in our Christian faith.
People often ask me things that I really don’t know the answers too, but I am learning to live into the questions. I’ve learned that sometimes the questions are bigger than the answers I can give. The one thing that I hold affirmative to all truths is this: “I want to know God and I want to be known by God”. I want to encourage you to desire to know God and to be known by God.
People are looking for this spiritual question in their lives. They are not looking for simple textbook answers to deep questions. They are looking for deep answers to serious questions. “Don’t wrangle over small things.” Don’t sweat the small stuff. Talk about your active and living faith in Christ, not some article of what you believe hanging on a wall somewhere. Real thanksgiving is thanking God for the life that He has given you in Christ, and pursuing God at all cost, just like the one leper that turned back and turned to Christ with a desire to “ know God and to be known by God”. The one leper was so grateful for what Jesus had done for him and he wanted nothing more than to know God and to be known by God.
Again, let’s get on with our lives, be involved in society, “pray for the welfare of the city”, but like the faithful leper let’s worship God, and be thankful to God, and kindle that fire within us to know God and to be known by God.