2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
Good morning. I have to start by saying a big, huge thank-you to all of you for allowing me the space to slip away during the week, particularly the Session. Thank you all, for practicing such grace. The last two weeks of my life have been physically and emotionally exhausting. It was reassuring to know that you were all supporting me with your prayers and your patience. I am grateful beyond words.
And that’s saying something, because I’m rarely at a loss for words.
One of my running jokes, particularly in the context of mission trips is: “I don’t have any useful skills, I’m a pastor.” This isn’t a lack of self-esteem on my part; though I know some of you get a little uncomfortable when I make that joke. I can teach and explain, write and speak in public without a great deal of fear or anxiety. Those are useful skills. It turns out, those are particularly useful skills when someone dies.
As you may recall, last Sunday, after the baptism, I drove to Philadelphia to officiate a funeral for one of my fraternity brothers. It was one of the more difficult funerals that I’ve officiated. It was difficult for the obvious reasons: Mark was a good friend; I’ve known him for 30 years. He was 53; he died far too young. He left behind a husband and a son; they were devastated. I could feel the pain and loss in their house when I planned the funeral. It was overwhelming.
The funeral was difficult for another reason: Mark was agnostic; his family and closest friends didn’t want a religious funeral. My job, at a funeral, is to speak a word of grace into a room full of people who are mourning. I draw my words of grace from the Bible—usually the Gospel of John. But I was asked to leave scripture out of the service.
In our reading this morning from the Second Letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul states: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
I volunteered to officiate Mark’s funeral because he was my friend. I wanted to honor his memory by using some of my useful skills in preparing a funeral service and speaking words of grace and peace in his honor—even if they weren’t rooted in the proclamation of the Scriptures.
After the funeral, I got one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received. One of Mark’s relatives told me that I did a great job. She’s Catholic and she wore a big crucifix around her neck. She told me that even though I didn’t utter a word of Scripture, I still preached the Gospel.
I felt so gratified, that she heard the grace that I offered. The agnostics and the atheists also thanked me for my words. Though I wanted to preach reconciliation through Christ, I knew that some would have trouble hearing that message. That day, I was able to teach in a way that brought everyone together.
Our reading from Second Timothy is all about good teaching. The Apostle Paul uses the words “sound doctrine” but I think a more effective translation might be “good teaching.” But we live in a world that celebrates bad teaching. We live in a world that attaches a material value to every person. We live in a world that says that my skills as a pastor are less valuable than those of a doctor or a lawyer or a pharmaceutical sales rep. We live in a world that says the doctor is not as valuable as a stock broker or a hedge fund manager. We live in world that says that all of those people are more valuable than a person on welfare, a person who’s a “public charge.” We live in a world that values us for what we do and what we produce.
Some of you are probably thinking, “Pastor, that’s the way of the world; that’s the way things work.” And yes, you’re right. That is the way of the world. But we’re called to change that world. We’re called to remake the world as God would have it, to build the kingdom of heaven here on Earth. We’re not called to throw up our hands and say, “you can’t question the free market.”
I’m not offering a political solution, nor am I telling you how to use your money. I’m simply reminding you that we all participate in this cult