Wednesday, 08 September 2010 15:12

September 5, 2010 Sermon

“Setting Priorities”
2 Timothy 2:1-26
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
September 5, 2010
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Hi.  Forgive me if I’m a little late.  I’m not sure I’m in the right place.  I’m kind of new to this. I’ve never done this kind of thing before.  What was I thinking anyway?  All of these buildings are so big.  There are so many people around.  Someone handed me a t-shirt.  I’m not sure I know my schedule or anything.  All I know is that I’m supposed to show up, and lead a congregation.  A congregation of educated people.  What was I thinking?  I’ve got nothing to say.  At least not anything worth listening to.

I hardly even believe this letter of recommendation:

“Dear members of the congregation at Ephesus.  Please receive my friend Timothy.  I worked with him since he was a small child.  He’s from the town of Lystra out in Asia Minor.  His father is Greek and his mother is a Jew who converted to Christianity.  Through this diverse family, he learned the ways of the world.  He’s got a good head on his shoulders and can provide you with wisdom, even though he’s still young.  I’ve known this family for a while.  His grandparents are fine upstanding people.  And if the apple falls anywhere close to that tree then he’ll be a real blessing to all of you.  I have spent some time instructing him and you can take his words as my words.  Give him the respect you would give to me.  Your colleague in the ministry, Paul.”

Great, I not only have to live up to my grandparents’ expectations, but Paul’s, too. What can I say that would be worth listening to?  What would they want to hear?  What do they need?  How do I distinguish the difference between giving them what they want and giving them what they need?

Paul told me to not be ashamed of my youth.  He told me that youth has its advantages.  Something about being stronger, more hopeful, less jaded.  Jesus only lived to 33 and look what he did.

So, maybe I ought to start out by setting some goals.

Goal 1. Don’t get killed.

Goal 2.     Find my way around.

Goal 3.     Pray.  Okay, I know that one.  I’ve been practicing really hard on that one.  My prayers are mostly “God, don’t make me do this.”

Goal 4.     Give them some hope. Maybe they’ll give me some, too.

Paul says that I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.  He says that a soldier needs to please the enlisting officer, that an athlete needs to follow the rules, and that a farmer ought to get the first fruits of the crops.  I think he means that I ought to set priorities.

Paul says that I have to settle disputes with the people.  He says that people are doing the wrong things, following other gods, even fighting with each other.   How am I supposed to accomplish any of that?  My grandmother always said that you can attract more flies with honey than with, well anything else.  I think she meant that I’m supposed to be kind, generous and make friends with people.  That sounds like a good goal.  I’ll have to add it to my list.

Paul says that people get caught up in words.  They fight and curse because a person has said the wrong thing.  Don’t fall into that trap, he says.  Rise above it, he says.  Do good work, be ethical, and don’t sweat the small stuff.  I bet as a preacher, I could really get caught up in the word thing.  Maybe what I need to do is have a good character, do good deeds, and earn respect.

I think Paul’s kind of losing it in his old age.  He sure writes a lot of letters for someone who says we ought to not worry about words.  Like here where he says this crazy thing about not letting women speak.  Is he talking about all women or just a couple of really annoying women?  Am I allowed to silence annoying men?  I would love to have the power to keep annoying people silent.  But that’s not consistent with Jesus’ message of inclusion and love.  One person’s annoyance is another’s wisdom.  I think I’ll ignore Paul on that one.

Okay, so back to setting my priorities.  
Let’s see, don’t get killed.
Don’t worry over words.
Do good work.
Make friends.
Pray.

Wait, I think I might need to change the order there.  
Pray.
Do good work.
Make friends.
Don’t worry over words.

Come to think of it, that don’t get killed piece is kind of cowardly.  Maybe what I do will get me killed, or at least thrown in prison.  Back to #1, Pray.

So, that’s going to be my first sermon to the people.  As they start out the year, I’ll ask them about their priorities.  I’ll have them write down a list of the top five things that are most important in their lives.  I’ll ask them to think about the things they have written down.  Does it involve other people, or is it just about you?  How long has this been important to you?  What does it conjure up for you?  What would your life be like if this were not in it? Who supports you in your life?    How is God revealed in the things that are important to you?

Now here’s the hard part.  Think about what you spend your most time on.  Where do you spend your physical, emotional, spiritual energy?  Are any of these things on your list of the top five things that are important to you?  Do you need to make any changes?  Reflect upon whether or not you values match your time and commitments.

Throughout the year we will be looking at building lives of substance.  We’ll be doing it through the lens of faith stories from the Bible, our community and our lives.  Think about the intersection of your life, the Biblical narrative and the stories of our community.  Are your priorities in line?  Are you building a life of substance?

Epilogue:

Dear Paul:
They wrote the things down.  They reflected.  And now I think they’re ready for a great year, or at least one that has their priorities in line.  Thanks for your letter of encouragement.  I’m going to take your advice.  I’m not going to worry so much about words today.  Instead, I’ll try to live my life in a fine upstanding manner;  one that would make grandma proud.

Send my best to our friends on the mission field.  Your friend, Tim.

P.S.  I’m keeping my priority list on my mirror so I can’t avoid it anymore.  Thanks for the good advice.

PPS.  I hope they’re feeding you well in prison.