Words for a Six Year Old

Message Manuscript for “Letter to a Six Year Old Church”    1 Timothy 6:11-16
Delivered to Church for the Highlands     John Henson
Sunday, September 25, 2016   The Sixth Anniversary of Church for the Highlands

[Audio of this sermon is here]

What do we know about six-year-olds?  They are typically in–or about to be in–in first grade.  They grow like weeds.  They love to eat but often are too busy to stop and eat the right things.  They are dreamers without limitations, imagining what it’s like to be a superhero or what they want to be when they grow up. They have all of the energy in the world yet need to be reminded just how to focus their attention on what needs to happen in real life.  Like taking a bath or brushing their teeth.

st-paul-and-st-timothyPaul does this for Timothy, his son in the ministry.  He refocuses his attention on where it should be a follower of Jesus. Paul is also refocusing the church under Timothy’s leadership.  Paul is aware that teachers have visited the church and presented false teachings, especially about wealth.  Last Sunday I mentioned the foolishness of the prosperity gospel, and it’s teaching that God wants us to be rich and that poverty is a sign that we aren’t blessed and must not be living in faith.  That’s pretty much the same gospel that was being presented back in Timothy’s church.  I’m sure if they had TV, eyeliner, hairspray, and white suits then it would be hard to tell the difference.  Paul discredits the false gospel and its message that “godliness is a means to gain.” He makes the point that this is backward, that godliness is the gain.  Timothy and his church were to pursue godliness, along with “righteousness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.” (v.11)  Such pursuit was not easy, which is why Paul describes it as an athletic event, challenging Timothy to “fight the good fight” and not slow down.

I’m sure the message and lifestyle of the false teachers looked quite inviting to Timothy and his church members.  Who doesn’t want to be living the good life; to be wealthy, comfortable, and blessed? Paul, however, isn’t impressed.  He shunned these things and called on them to do the same.  These were shiny distractions, devoid of real life.  Real life, as Paul describes it here, is what God provides to those who seek it, a real quality of abundant life in their here and now.  Karl Barth pointed out that “Christ was not looking into the temporal future but describing a reality of the present: the kingdom has arrived now.”Paul had discovered the joy of this real life and, with his words to Timothy, he holds it up as an unmistakable contrast to the shiny distractions of the false teachers.

banner-cfth-cbf-001As a six year old church we are to take these words of Paul to heart. We’ve had an incredible six years, going from an infant to a rambling toddler to a maturing yet easily distracted youngster. One thing we must do as a church is to keep fighting the good fight. We are to stay focused on our purpose: We exist to bless the Highland neighborhood with the love of Jesus through Volunteers of America and other community partnerships. That has been our mission as a church since day one. It is what drives our energy with Missional Ministry teams, worship, and our collaboration in Highland Center Ministries.  It’s what’s behind our outreach events like block parties and the Carnival. It’s a great purpose for us as a church and, as we have learned in the last six years, there is always more of it to do. It’s a purpose for such a time as this in our world today. It’s for the calling we have right here in Highland.

I believe that the things we have done, are doing, and dream of doing in days and years ahead are holy activities of God. You are to be commended today for entering the ring to fight.  You have fought for children in need, children who couldn’t read, for veterans without homes, for elderly without food.  You’ve taught Sunday School, played in the band, changed diapers, driven the van, supervised jump houses, made countless pots of coffee, and served every flavor of snow cone.  You’ve also gone all out for the working poor in Highland: serving and hosting them for dinner on Thursdays, preparing their taxes, clothing their bodies, giving them loans, praying their requests, and showing them Jesus. I could go on and on about the good fight you’ve been fighting as a church. Look around you today and you’ll see athletes. It’s just amazing to consider the big things our little church has done.

But none of it has been easy.  Its required your time, sacrifice, resources, and passion. Doing God’s work in the world is not always comfortable. It’s not self-serving. It’s not going to make anyone rich. Paul was right when he used athletic language and imagery to describe it. One of the temptations people like you and churches like ours face is to coast; to get comfy with our achievements and not try so hard. The whole bit about prosperity starts sounding really good. It did for Timothy and his church. And it can to us as well.  Take it easy. We have established ourselves. Lets rest a while. And all the while we forget what our life is really to be about.

Paul was also right in that our efforts and strain in doing God’s kingdom work result in real life. What Jesus means by life certainly includes afterlife.  But he is usually talking about our life right now right here as a church. That’s what the fight is all about, isn’t it?  Working with God to bring a bit of heaven into our world.  We’ve experienced some beautiful aspects of heaven on earth, haven’t we? I think one of the most significant aspects of life like this is in our congregational diversity. Aren’t we all going to be together as different races and backgrounds and differences in heaven? So it looks like we are already experiencing a foretaste of glory divine. And what about our involvement with Highland Center ministries? Local churches and organizations working together to love our neighbors right here in Highland. People from all walks of life sharing bread and life with one another.  How amazing is that? Sinners finding grace, debtors finding hope, addicts finding help, marginalized finding inclusion, and oppressed finding justice.  That sounds to me like real life. The kind of riches that earthly wealth just can’t buy.

Did you see the news clip about the man who was running a triathlon and stopped to help his brother who was struggling?  SB Nation reported that,

Brothers Jonny and Alistair Brownlee dominated in Rio when they won Gold and Silver, but this race was very different.

With less than a mile to go, Jonny began breaking down while in first place. Heat exhaustion and cramping muscles left him disoriented and barely able to walk, let alone run. He became confused about which direction to run in, then stumbled towards the crowd where a race official helped him stay on his feet. Moments later his brother, Alistair, rounded the corner to see Jonny struggling — and he wouldn’t let that happen.

Knowing his race would be lost if he didn’t keep pace, Alistair ran over to help his brother anyway. The pair was passed by Henri Schoeman of South Africa, but that’s not what this moment was about. The Brownlee brothers were going to finish, together. Alistair ran alongside Jonny, half-carrying him the whole way. The field were catching up, but the pair never stopped running. Finally as they reached the finish line Alistair performed one final, selfless act: He pushed his brother across to finish ahead of him. They took home second and third.

This moment will be remembered forever.

One brother understood what the race was all about.  He ran the race.  He fought the good fight.  He sacrificed so that his brother could cross the finish line.  That sounds a lot like what Paul reminded Timothy in his letter.  And it sounds like what our church has been about these last six years.  As we look ahead to the next six, may we keep fighting the good fight of faith, serving God in ways that will be remembered forever.


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