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One Who Sent ~ Rev. Christy Clore

Text: Mark 9:30-37

September 20, 2015 Cycle B 17th

Sunday after Pentecost

Focus: Jesus personifies the demand for radical hospitality in a child, naming that by welcoming the child, embracing them, we welcome not just Christ, but we welcome the one who sent Christ. This act of welcoming is one that has such power to transform us—not simply the one who is welcomed by us— because it’s the sort of welcoming that forces us to release so much of what we think we understand, of what we desire. It is in this release of whatever it is we are holding onto so tightly that we are able to welcome not only Christ, but the God that sent Christ. God seeks to enter into our lives and when we release our hold on what we think we know, God is able to enter in and reshape us into the patterns of hospitality we are meant to follow as the brothers and sisters of Christ.

Prayer of Preparation: Holy Creator and Inspiration, you send Christ into the everyday, ordinariness of this worldly life. Through the invitation of Christ’s life, guide us to welcome not just Christ into our lives but to find our very selves. Let us be reshaped in all our patterns of hospitality as we welcome your very presence into the center of our being. Amen

Sermon: Last Spring, I invited our confirmation class to join me for a destination unknown on a Saturday. I had a full day planned and we were moving from place to place about every couple of hours throughout the day with our group of chaperones and youth. We shared lunch and a Bible study with Worth here at the church and moved into questions of what it means to live out of this connection between the Biblical story and our stories. So after a visit to the Bethabara palisade and conversation about what makes us community, we headed to Sam’s Club for a grocery scavenger hunt to prepare a dinner for our partner site with City with Dwellings, Augsburg Lutheran Church.

The youth filled the kitchen with laughter and activity as they helped to cook lasagna, mix salad and stuff goodie bags with sandwiches, granola bars and fruit. We spent a few minutes as the lasagnas cooked getting the kids ready to go – who they’d see and what to expect, reminders that the food we were bringing was for these guys whose lives were pretty different from their own. We were the volunteer crew for all the positions except for overnight staff that evening with Tiffany Woods joining us as the monitor for the night.

And so we arrived, 4 carloads of people and food. They got dinner set up and I was learning our guests names at check-in with Tiffany and Blake. Finally after everyone had a plate, several with seconds, all of our group were sitting down with food too. And I was exhausted – as I sat down with one of the older gentlemen at a table. Honestly, I was too tired to talk. I had been getting things ready for Sunday in classrooms at the church, getting the lunch food purchased, unloaded, and ready and then guiding the youth through their day since 8am and it was 8pm.

I greeted him, my table mate, but then was so tired I was gazing out into space somewhere up past his left shoulder when not scanning the room to check on all the youth. And he asked after a few minutes, “Do I have something on my shirt?” I snapped out of my distraction to reassure him, “No you don’t, I’m just very tired. It’s been a long day and I have another tomorrow. But so do you.” I was embarrassed by my own lack of presence, by my knowing better, but we welcomed each other in that moment and sat quietly together for several more minutes – I think he even brought over a cookie for me. God, the one who sent Jesus, showed up, even if I was a little slow to see the arrival.

My hands were almost too full, in the planning and ensuring safety for the youth, for me to be open to the exchange of ministry to one another that night. Welcoming a child, as Jesus puts forward to the disciples, forces us to drop what we’re carrying in order to fully welcome them – that we might catch a glimpse of the one who sent Jesus to share such a powerfully simple message.

Our text from Mark demonstrates the sandwiching of stories the author prefers. This is the first slice of the 2 part look at who is the greatest; we looked at the second half last week – with James and John asking for places at Jesus’ right and left. Bartimaeus’ healing offers an example of Jesus’ upside down kingdom in last week’s reading; the child that Jesus draws into the circle of disciples and then onto his lap becomes his example in this vignette.

“The one who sent me.” This phrase always catches my attention when I read this text. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

One of the key characteristics for all of what Mark says about Jesus is that Jesus is the Son of God. God is the one who has sent, God is the one with the authority. God is the one that through Jesus desires to enter into our lives. And as Jesus attempts to teach his disciples this, he is forever trying to give them examples of how God’s reality calls for a reorganization of how they and the culture around them have always made sense of the world. Jesus is always confronting them with images that challenge the dominant notions of whom or what holds the power.

God’s power and authority simply doesn’t abide by the same rules.

And so, Jesus chooses to use a child to make his point with his disciples. Jesus pronounces that those who welcome a child, welcome God who lies at the heart of all that Jesus is doing. Perhaps what is most interesting about this text is not just that Jesus uses the metaphor of a child, but draws a child from the household the disciples are now in, brings the child to the center of their circle, and lifts the child into his arms as he makes his final point on the subject of argument at hand among them. They want to know who is greatest among them and Jesus calls them to account by saying that those who wish to be first must be servant of all and then draws the child in as the focal point for this final capstone—you must welcome the child as though it is me, and not only as though it is me, but as though it is the God that has sent me as Messiah to you.

In going back two thousand years to first-century Palestinian society a child would symbolize one with a complete lack of social status and legal rights. A child was a “non-person” totally dependent on others for nurture and protection, and one could not expect to gain anything either socially or materially from kindness to a child. By placing the child in the midst of his circle of disciples Jesus is clearly using this symbolic action as a way of instructing his disciples. By embracing the child, Jesus displays his acceptance of the child, who is a social nonentity unworthy of respect and care. In the perspective of Jesus even the most apparently insignificant people are important because they too, perhaps especially, carry the name of Jesus and belong to him. When Jesus embraces this child and says he or she should be welcomed as the disciples would welcome him and even more so, would welcome God, he is demanding that they put aside their pride —their clamoring for who is the greatest among them—and see that they are not being asked to climb the social hierarchy of Palestinian Jewish society, they are being asked to become servant and caretaker for those who are among the most disregarded.

One of the other subtle pieces of this metaphor of hospitality that is illustrated by the child that Jesus embraces is simply what is required in stopping to embrace a child. To welcome a child, to embrace them—we have to put down whatever we are carrying. We have to be willing to stop, to kneel down, to lay aside whatever we might have in our hands, whatever urgent task we are late for and enter a different rhythm of life. It demands of us a different pacing of our living and developing an accompanying attentiveness that we can too often allow ourselves to forget. In fact, the things we are carrying that must be laid aside to stop and embrace a child often require far more of us than simply laying down the physical burdens and barriers.

Last Spring, at that table, I was carrying the work of the day, the list for tomorrow – I hadn’t laid aside what I was carrying to greet my table companion fully. Miles had occasion to remind me of this yesterday at the Bethabara Apple Fest, I was tired and not feeling so well and he laid down his backpack in the midst of our moving through the many people there. We were halfway home when David asked Miles where his backpack was and Miles didn’t know, didn’t remember where he laid it down. And so, we stopped, turned around and searched for the backpack – even though I was tired and didn’t feel well – I had to lay some things aside. Children, especially little ones, fill our hands with their very selves, but they are not the only ones who need such care and attention. We all need some of this attentiveness and care that forces us to empty our hands. It can come with illness or age.

What might engagement with ministries like City with Dwellings CROPWalk, Stephen Ministry, our emerging Connections team – along with the many other ways we choose to act – mean for the open hands and reshaped selves of our life together? What else might we discover?

This laying down of what we carry in order to embrace a child, asks that we lay down anger or frustration, that we put aside our own hurts or injuries, that we bury our pride and seeking of status. Children have incredible gifts of dressing down the adults that interact with them, taking them down to a core perception of what is going on. They are incredibly perceptive and awake to the world around them. They know when the adults around them are preoccupied, they don’t care so much for what you wear or how much power you might have—they instead invite us to see again through their eyes a world that is marvelous. In that embrace, in welcoming the child, God and our wonder and awe about all that is around us enters us again—through the release and laying aside of what we are carrying that keeps us from hearing the movement and call of God. In welcoming the child, God enters into us again continue to transform us to know more fully what the kingdom of God truly offers, what it truly calls us to be. ”

There is something in the mere presence of a child that conveys the essential more wondrously than all of our adult words, understanding and efforts to give shape and meaning to life. There is something in welcoming the child that loosens our tight grip on things, on power and even on those treasures of life, love and faith we hold dear.”

Jesus personifies the demand for radical hospitality in a child, naming that by welcoming the child, embracing them, we welcome not just Christ, but we welcome the one who sent Christ. This act of welcoming is one that has such power to transform us—not simply the one who is welcomed by us— because it is the sort of welcoming that forces us to release so much of what we think we understand, of what we desire. It is in this release of whatever it is we are holding onto so tightly that we are able to welcome not only Christ, but the God that sent Christ. God seeks to enter into our lives in this way. When we release our hold on what we think we know and lay it aside, then God is able to enter in and reshape us into the patterns of hospitality we are meant to follow as the brothers and sisters of Christ.

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Are you looking for a new way to serve this Fall?

Do you love to tell stories or use your imagination? Do you find yourself asking, “I wonder”, questions? Would you enjoy exploring with the curiosity of a child? Then you would be perfect as a shepherding guide for Children’s Worship & Godly Play!

Join me and other team members to share stories of the Bible and songs with children 4 – 1st grade in ways that make the stories come alive through imagination and reflection. 2-3 leaders needed every Sunday at either 9:30 or 11:30am.

Do you miss the warm snuggles and cuddly moments with your own children or grandchildren? Would you love to explore with toddlers, build a castle or have a tea party on Sunday Morning? We would love to have someone like you building relationships with our young families! Opportunities at 9, 10, and 11am each week.

More opportunities coming soon… stay tuned for ways to serve with H.O.P.E., Trunk or Treat, Operation Christmas Child, or City with Dwellings throughout the Fall.

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September is upon us! Whether driven by weather or school calendars, the slide into Fall is one that leads us easily into routines and rituals. For some this may bring tailgating, for others homework, or maybe both. But all these things flow well into the concepts of harvest time, gathering in from the joys of Summer and preparing the soil for next things.

Gregory Norbert offers these words to describe the season of harvest.

“A time for kneading love’s leaven well, to open up and go beyond ourselves; and as we reach for this moment, we know that love is a gift born in care.”

This is a time to open ourselves and discover new things or uncover things in places that we haven’t explored before even though they are familiar. For children and youth it is the very tangible forming of new community in their class groupings and schedule patterns. For others of us, it may be engaging in a new small group or fresh volunteer commitment. Or it may simply be viewing the comfort of long-standing community in the light of a new season and the projects of that time together.

Fall Education Sunday Kick-Off
On September 13, Education Sunday, we will celebrate some of our many opportunities to grow in the fertile soil of community this year. Throughout September, consider what might offer you fresh bread
in this harvest season and get involved in some of these opportunities.

For Children and Youth on September 13:
9am & 11:10am Worship – Celebrate our 1st graders as they receive their Bibles in Worship.

4-5:30pm – New Philly Kids, for children Kindergarten through 5th grade, is a place to explore the Bible, serve others and have fun! Our Church has Talent! is our theme for the year ahead, join us in the Picnic Shelter as we begin discovering and learning to use our individual talents to serve the Lord.

5-5:30pm – Children’s Ministry Parent Meeting, a brief conversation for parents about the year ahead. Do you want your child to grow into a resilient adult faith? How can we support your family this year? Join us at the Picnic Shelter to discuss focus for this year and opportunities for an upcoming parent topic series with Ellen Fox.

5:30-6pm – Fellowship Kick-off Dinner for all New Philly Kids and Youth families! All children, youth and their parents are invited to come and share in this meal together. Plan to bring a side dish or dessert.

5:30-7pm – Youth Fellowship, for 6th-12th grade youth, is a time filled with service opportunities, hands-on exploring of faith and support of one another. Join our leaders, Erin and Ross, as they share about the
year ahead.

3:30pm Children’s Choir & 5pm Youth Choir, are opportunities for young people to be active leaders in our worship throughout the year. Join in these groups as they get started on this year’s music in the
Sanctuary!

Sunday School Groups for Children & Youth – 10am:
• Nursery – Room 211, Infants – 24 months
• 2-4’s – Room 214
• PreK/Kindergarten – Room 108
• 1st & 2nd Grades – Room 118
• 3rd – 5th Grades – Room 303
• Middle Highs – Youth Building Classroom
• Senior Highs – Youth Building Main Room

Adult Groups for Sunday Morning – 10am:
2nd/Main Floor
• New Beginnings – Topical Small Group
• Inklings – Small Group Book Study
• Reflections – Small Group Bible Study
• Mary Martha – Women’s Small Group Book & Bible Study
• Bona Vita – Lecture-based Bible Study

1st Floor
• David Jones – Lecture-based Bible Study
• Discipleship – Mid-sized Group Book & Bible Study
• Discovery – Large Lecture-based Bible Study 3rd Floor
• Advent – Large Lecture-based Bible Study
• New Friendship – Mid-sized Group Book & Bible Study

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Join us this Sunday, December 8 at 10:05am as our Middle Highs lead us in our first Lovefeast celebrating the coming of the Christ Child!

We share a time of lovefeast especially for children, with hot chocolate and a play, in the Fellowship Hall.  Everyone is invited, we hope to see you there!

Even before Advent began, many preparations were already taking place to get us ready.  Our youth and children have been practicing music, preparing to serve lovefeast, creating a play to act out, getting ready for caroling at Salemtowne, raking leaves and creating new Chrismon ornaments for a tree in our vestibule!  All our groups have been busy…

As the picture above shows off the work of our New Phillies on their Chrismon tree, we hope the Children’s Lovefeast this Sunday will show off the enthusiasm of our Middle and Senior High Youth.

It will be a busy Sunday, as our New Phillies and their families will also be caroling for residents at Salemtowne during the afternoon.  Come out and join in the joy and expectation of the season!

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“Anyone who encounters Scripture should not suppose that the single one of its riches that [they have] found is the only one to exist; rather, [they] should realize that [they themselves are] only capable of discovering that one out of the many riches which exist in it.” (Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on the Diatessaron)

Not my words, those of a Christian mystic. I could think of no better way of expressing the value of the study of scripture that can only happen within a community. Each one of us hears and drinks from our own experiences of scripture, but it is only when we gather and become the collected community, the cloud of witnesses to what scripture has to offer us – that we are able to truly know the richness of what we can find and come to know.

And it is this very sort of exploration of scripture, one that founds us in community, that I want to invite us into as we think about what it means to name education as an element of our stewardship. I’m not simply lifting up the importance or value of choosing to teach Sunday School or lead a smaller Bible study group – although some of you are learning that, yes, I will find you and ask you or seek to figure out what it is that you might be most uniquely able to offer others in our learning together. As I noted recently to the CE committee, for our Children and Youth programs to be fully staffed each Sunday Morning (and only Sunday Morning) I need 24 to 25 leaders every week. And this doesn’t count the many folks who take on leadership in Adult Sunday School classes.

I think it is critically important that we remember that it is a commitment of our time, talent, resources and energy to simply study scripture, spend time in a community of love and accountability, and to worship our God. And it is a choice that we have to engage each day because it asks that we set aside a portion of lives toward it.

Perhaps I am making this sound a bit too much like work… but I believe that this constancy of our engagement leads us to the first key trait that leads to lifelong learning as a manner of our stewardship: Persistence.

Luke shares with us one of Jesus’ parables and I have to share how a commentator on this passage recounts it because she gets right to the heart of it…
Who knew Jesus was a comedian too? It is not hard to imagine [Jesus’] listeners throwing their heads back and slapping their knees as they laugh at this ridiculous tale. A woman pound and pounds on the door of a rotten politician who could not care less about her plight, until finally he sticks his head out the window and shouts, “All right, already! Knock it off! I will give you whatever you want if you will just shut up!” They laugh because they know this woman. She always gets a raw deal, because she has nothing–no husband, no inheritance, no social standing. They know this judge too, the one who is only out for himself. No public servant, this one, so they guffaw at the idea of one of their own, this powerless woman, annoying the smarmy guy everyone loves to hate until, finally, he does something good in spite of himself.
Good story! They laugh, and then they sigh, and they remember that Jesus told them that this is what prayer is like. (Kimberly Bracken Long, Feasting on the Word)

Irreverent maybe, but her retelling certainly vivifies and breaths a realism into the text. This widow exemplifies persistence. That it is in holding constant, coming back time and again, never giving up hope that we find faith – not always the answer we seek or the problem we face being solved, but hope and faith.

And really, are we the persistent ones? The persistent widow sounds a great deal more like God in God’s quest of love being offered to all of creation.

Another author offers, “In a way, the widow in Jesus’ parable represents not only the need to pray always, as Luke puts it, but also the Spirit’s incessant work of encouraging us to pray, the Spirit’s nagging persistence and unrelenting perseverance.” (Margit Ernst-Habib, Feasting on the Word)

To those two readings of this parable, I’d offer up my own lens on it. Our persistence toward God matters very little when it remains exclusively between ourselves and God. When we seek to draw closer to God, stay at the task of prayer with this sort of persistence, our requests just might begin to change. In our coming to God, we must find ourselves reminded that to love God is to be drawn into loving the rest of what God has created.

And this is the parabolic nature of the parable, there are simply so many ways to view their meanings and just when we feel we have a handle on it, our view changes and we see something new.

Worth observed this week as I shared Chapel time with our Preschool… Since I’m new and it’s a new school year, it was easy to begin sharing the story portion of the Godly Play curriculum that we are working toward implementing for our Children’s Church. This month, I told them the Parable of the Good Shepherd, it is considered one of the foundational stories of Godly Play because it introduces what a parable is. Godly Play is called that because it introduces the Bible to young children experientially through physical materials they can work with, even before they can read, to enable them to tell the Biblical narrative. The parts of the Bible are laid out around the room, in physical space, just as you’d find them printed in your Bible. Parables are special and they have their own shelving unit, just for them.

Why? Well, humor me a minute, (you might also begin to understand why I love doing theology with children as much as I do adults) as we take a look at one of these special parable boxes.

What color is it? Gold. Why would a parable be painted gold?
What does it look like? A present. Why would a parable look like a present?
How do you open it? It has a lid. Why does a parable have a lid?

The parable of the persistent widow most certainly is all of these things. It is precious, like gold. It most certainly requires some unwrapping to see all the different nuances that are alive in this story that might, at first blush, seem so simple. And it has a lid, one that needs many times to be opened and pondered on in order to understand what is held inside.

But each of those ways of considering it comes back to the persistence of us as listeners returning time and again to drink from the fountain of this text.

I suggest that our next key trait toward lifelong learning is coming to our study of scripture with the eyes of our hearts open.

I like a Celtic Christian phrase I encountered several years ago on a pilgrimage to the island of Iona, Scotland. That we leave the doors of our hearts ajar. It lifts up the possibility that God may have something new, different or even radical for us to consider – and that we need to leave enough space for God to enter in and shed new light on the ancient words we study.

Since we began in Luke today, I want to point out that, “Luke is the only Gospel writer to include Mary’s hymn of praise, known traditionally as the Magnificat, in his birth narrative. He is also the only one, to end his account with a description of the ascension of Jesus. These two events frame a Gospel that is preoccupied with issues of power, making the case over and over that those on the margins of society are inheritors of the realm of God.” (Joyce Hollyday, Feasting on the Word, pp. 511-515)

So in light of the Luke-Acts lens, when we turn our attention toward the words of our Ephesians text this morning, a dramatic point emerges about the shifts in our perceptions of power that this enlightenment of the eyes of our hearts through Christ’s ascension ought to inspire or illuminate.

Reading this passage from Ephesians, with its backdrop of the ascension of Christ, hearing, “so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,” (v.18)
…it becomes the culmination of a prophetic call to the nations to repent from exploiting the poor, rather than simply a promise of personal atonement. The term for forgiveness in the Greek is literally and technically a term for liberation from captivity, or repayment or cancellation of financial obligation. … we need look no further than Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer in consideration of this, which reads: ‘Forgive us our sins, as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.’” (Peter J. B. Carman, Feasting on the Word, pp. 516-520)

When we read of this return of Jesus to God in the letter to the Ephesian community tied so closely to the prayers to God that those in the community may know God through Jesus’ ministry and have the eyes of their hearts be enlightened, lifts up the concept that we must learn to see the world through this very different set of lenses that Jesus has introduced to us. How do we acquire this different vision?

“[The recently retired] Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, tries to explain it in this way: imagine what it is like when you first wake up in the morning. When you put on the light, all you are conscious of is the brightness of the light itself. Only gradually do your eyes adjust sufficiently to the light that you are able to make out other objects. After a few moments, however, you cease to be conscious of the light itself, and start to see what else is in the room, as it is illumined by the light. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, says Williams, show him to have been like that initial morning light: at first Jesus’ resurrected self was so blinding that the disciples could be conscious only of him. The ascension, however, is that moment when the light itself recedes into the background, so that Jesus becomes the one through whom we see the rest of the world. ‘He is the light we see by; we see the world in a new way because we see it through him, see it with his eyes.’” (Joseph H. Britton, Feasting on the Word, pp. 510 – 514)

The Ascension matters. Christ returns to the universal being of God and in so doing becomes woven into the fabric of all that is in creation, becoming the “fullness of the one who fills everything in every way” (v. 23). Christ has come to us, bringing tidings of the country of our soul, the far country that we are born trying to remember. It takes much listening and deep curiosity to stay in the quest for the God of our creation. It is in this movement of the ascension that now we, as the disciples were in that original moment then, are invited to view all of the world through the eyes of Jesus. Imagine it as an explosion of love showering down around us, giving us a new lens through which to move through the world. It is in this different view, with the eyes of our heart opened, with the knowledge of that far country of God, that we become able to engage the world in the ways Jesus always calls us to.

As soon as I read Rowan Williams metaphor of the light, I immediately thought of the chorus of a song by Bob Schneider:
The world exploded into love all around me
And everytime I take a look around me
I have to smile

“If all things are now filled by Christ’s presence, then the consequence for Christian living is that nothing and no one can be taken as insignificant or of no importance. Our commitment to God means that we are also committed to what God is committed to: the whole of creation, as it has been filled by Christ’s presence.” (Joseph H. Britton, Feasting on the Word, pp. 510 – 514)

This insight or illumination into God’s commitment to all of creation, of the worth and worthiness of all that is in it, through the eyes of Jesus is a knowledge that doesn’t come in a flash. Just as Williams metaphor of a light turned on in the morning, it takes the passage of time not to be blinded by it. Or even in Schneider’s explosion of love, the sparks and embers drift gradually into our awareness, always seeing something more that points toward this loveliness that is possible, bringing a smile, a warmth, as it is seen. This knowledge is one that progresses, it is a formative process, it “is about being shaped and fashioned over time. … there is a participatory, communal element to Christian faith that enlightens the eyes of the heart. … [it] is learned and lived within community and expressed through relationships.” (Paul “Skip” Johnson, Feasting on the Word, pp. 510-514)

And that learning and living within community, of an enlightenment for the eyes of the heart being expressed through relationship, it leads us to our final key trait for lifelong learning this morning: Patience.

We turn now to the second letter to Timothy – a letter filled with advice for him in his ministry. And what we hear is that:
“Authority in matters of truth and doctrine does not come from charismatic speakers who might charm an audience, or from propositions that might ease one’s way of living; instead, authentic authority comes from the experience and insights of those who have lived their faith and shared it with the church. It is their instruction, their model of fidelity and insight, to which Timothy [and ourselves are] urged to turn.” (Joseph L. Price, Feasting on the Word)

Where I want to point us in this passage is the simple little phrase, “with the utmost patience in teaching”. Much of what we hear in this passage might very well overwhelm us, make us step back from the challenge of the teaching task. We hear all the ways that teaching is critical, but also that teaching properly is a task that may not always be received as well as we might like, that we are held to such a high standard. But how can we engage in lifelong learning if there aren’t those who step into this task, who recognize the gifts, the fruits of the harvest, that can only come to us when we step into the role of teacher.

This trait of patience isn’t just for the challenge of the teaching task, it is patience for ourselves as student teachers, servant leaders. Whether attentive to it or not, each of us as we come into community, are teaching. We are demonstrating to one another the message that brings us all here – that God’s presence can be found here, that we feel led to carry the inspiration of God into our lives and the world we live in, that we are bearers of Christ’s light.

And not only this, but our patience is one of the only ways we have to cope with the tensions of being in community because it is always difficult… it is challenging to uplift the value of remaining in relationship even when we may disagree – this is part of why Timothy receives this letter, a method of encouragement in his work though some are neglecting his teaching.

Becoming attentive to all the ways our lives are teaching everyday requires a great deal of patience with ourselves. Patience to quiet the storm of thoughts and information that we attempt to make sense of each day, patience to sit down and try to push aside our work – meaningful though it may be – and hear the questions of the youngest in our midst. It is the patience required to recognize that God asks us to teach through our lives as long as we shall live – not always in formal ways, but that we have need to engage in the life of the whole community, to share and spread our roots as wide as we can. That in teaching there will always be learning, new insights and understandings to be sipped from the fountain of scripture and God’s grace.

It is why we hear in this letter to Timothy that is not just what we have learned, it is knowing all the ones from whom you have learned it. And so the utmost patience in teaching leads us back into community… and so I have a story to share – a praise for just this kind of patience we are asked to bring in the stewardship of our lifelong learning.

Tom Nelson was one of the gentlemen who touched base with Dawn Sides this Summer about volunteering with Vacation Bible School. Tom corrected my false assumption recently, sharing that he just thought it would be fun to help and so offered his help – not that he had been recruited to participate. In telling me about his experience with the children at VBS, a rather active group with lots of little boys in it, he shared that one day as they were moving between activities he felt one warm little boy hand slide into his. Before he could even respond, he felt a different little hand slide into his other hand. As they were walking along, a third boy in the group came up looking to join in – one of the young gentlemen informed this newcomer, “Both his hands are taken now, you’ll just have to hold my hand instead.”

This is the patience that I am lifting up in this passage – that in pursuit of the sort of lifelong learning each of us is asked to live out – there is unexpected beauty and new revelations to be found if we take the time and have the patience to engage it. That God is always breathing life into God’s word. We have to let it breathe and be participants in a community that can, through allowing God’s word to breathe, breathe new life into us.

Through persistence, keeping the eyes of our hearts open, and patience we are able to, as Charles Spurgeon offers us, “deal with God’s word – not merely to contemplate it, or to study it, as a student does; but to live on it, as [a] squirrel lives on his tree. Let it be you, spiritually, your house, your home, your food, your medicine, your clothing, the one essential element of your soul’s life and growth.” (Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon preached at the Tabernacle, London, Autobiography, rev. ed. (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), p. 218.)

“We cannot segregate God’s word from the historical reality in which it is proclaimed. It would not then be God’s word. It would be history, it would be a pious book, a Bible that is just a book in our library. It becomes God’s Word because it vivifies, enlightens, contrasts, repudiates, praises what is going on today in this society.” (Oscar Romero)

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