Much of the Apostle Paul’s writing in the New Testament is instructions for newer Christians who are trying to figure out what the Gospel looks like in everyday life. Timothy, the person receiving Paul’s words here, is someone Paul is mentoring into leadership within the church. I’d like to begin with the end in mind today. Take hold of the life that really is life. Rather than hear Paul’s writing as a list of rules, listen to where this passage is calling YOU to take hold of all that is life-giving and release the rest, the senseless things that trap our spirits and lead to destructive ways of being in this world.
1 Timothy 6: 6-19 “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it, 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
11 But as for you, Timothy, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but rather on God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
God created you and I to experience life in abundance- Paul gives great examples of “life that really is life” like making right choices, placing God at the center, practicing faith, love, endurance, & gentleness. All these, “treasures of a good foundation for our future.” He gives an example of the difference it makes in our hearts how we handle something as essential as money. What meaning are you attaching to it? Paul asks. Are you using it for the wellbeing of all- or just yourself? A spending spree feels good for a moment, yes it does, but generosity leads to life that really is life. Pursue that life, Paul says, the one in which people matter more than things.
We all yearn for deep connection. It's a truth that transcends time and space. Whether it’s today, in Paul’s day, in the time before written language itself…people needed other people. We know that life itself does not happen apart from a carefully orchestrated ecosystem. Look around you today- here’s the proof! And we know in an ecosystem what affects one, affects all. Even though we are wired for it, Paul reminds us we must TAKE HOLD of those relationships- pursuing them for abundant life’s sake.
This is our last week with Brene Brown’s guideposts for whole-hearted living. Along with courage and compassion, CONNECTION is essential to our well being. Life that really is life is a life truly connected.
In a 2017 interview with Forbes magazine, Brene Brown addresses the spiritual crisis of dehumanizing behavior we see in a society fractured along political and religious ideologies. She speaks of the courage and compassion needed, both of which cannot happen apart from real connection. “True belonging is not passive. It’s not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It’s not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it’s safer. It’s a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. If we are going to change what is happening in a meaningful way we’re going to need to intentionally be with people who are different from us. We’re going to have to sign up and join, and take a seat at the table. We’re going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain, and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.
Friends, I cannot think of a better place to practice this type of connection that right here in church. It takes courage for new members to join, and we rejoice in your courageous act today, Kyle & Casey. We hope to be an authentic and compassionate community that helps you raise Evelyn into life abundant. We also hope you take seriously the call to shape us into a new future together.
Relationships don’t just happen, and next week we’ll ponder together what new ways we as a church can prioritize being really connected. Even in the fabric of ministry leadership, I have learned so much in five years about the true value each of you bring to the table. But we’re in the park this morning, we have beautiful food and good conversation awaiting us, so I won’t launch into sermon number 2 today.
Let me wrap it up with this: I want this church to be a place where you discover the life that really is life. Where you can take hold of it alongside me. We need EVERY VOICE at the table to make it happen, and that begins with an invitation. A real human-to-human encounter that says “You matter.” Here’s my ask: Make one new connection within this church family this week. Send one card, write one email, use our member directory to reach out to one person. Grab coffee, go for a walk. Say a prayer together. You don’t even have to be strangers, maybe you’ve worshiped alongside each other for 5 years, but still don’t know if that person has any siblings. Ask. Practice that courage, compassion, and connection we know to be essential to OUR OWN wellbeing AND the wellbeing of this community centered in Christ’s love. That’s the best kind of generosity there is: the gift of attention. Thanks for being church for one another- we wouldn’t be as strong without you. Amen.
I am convinced that the only way we can have compassion for others is when we show compassion to our own selves. I am equally convinced that the only way we show compassion to ourselves is if we believe God shows compassion to us.
You’ll hear in our text today that true peace comes from accepting the compassion Christ offers each of us. Think you’re not worthy? Think again…because the way of salvation is allowing Christ to re-activate our sense of worthiness. Another way you often hear me say it… we claim God’s blessing on our lives, when we cultivate the kind of self-worth that leads to compassion- for ourselves and for every single other human on this planet.
1 Timothy 2: 1-7 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and acceptable before God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth; I am not lying), a teacher of the gentiles in faith and truth.
God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. The truth is, everyone deserves compassion, even you. We’ve been following Brene Brown’s work on whole-hearted living, including courage, compassion, and connection. Here’s what Brene Brown says about compassion in her book Rising Strong:
“In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience—our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
This is what Jesus is talking about. He KNOWS the human experience- he’s living it as he speaks. His compassion for us is not “there there now, it’ll be okay.” It’s “Oh I get it, life can really suck. Suck your energy, your sense of purpose, your ability to thrive. I’m human, I know how hard it can be. The saving grace of Christ’s compassion is not pity for us, it’s solidarity.
You know that friend you turn to in hard times, because you know they’re gonna walk beside you. They won’t judge your big feelings. They understand- and the compassion they show is not pity. It’s solidarity. For me, that’s my sister Alison. We’re different in a lot of ways, but in the way it matters most, we get each other without fail. When I have a freak-out moment, I call her because I know she won’t pity me- she’ll show me compassion. This is the way Christ yearns to walk alongside each of us. I also turn to prayer when I’m having big feelings, but often that comes after I have a human encounter of solidarity.
One of the most intriguing parts of Brown’s work on compassion involves a finding that surprised even her. It turns out the most compassionate people she interviewed had ONE major commonality. I bet you wouldn’t guess what it is.
Let me start with what it’s NOT. It’s NOT overextending- making yourself available 24/7. It’s not losing sleep worrying about others. It’s not being the most helpful all the time. It’s not exhausting yourself in the name of justice.
No, the most compassionate people she encountered had the strongest boundaries. She offers a very simple definition for holding boundaries. Knowing and communicating “what’s ok and what’s not ok.” When we don’t set boundaries, we let people do things that aren’t ok and that leads to resentment. People who have boundaries are clear on what is and what is not their responsibility. In other words, compassionate people are NOT people-pleasers. They don’t lose sleep over someone else’s worry. They don’t assume authority over situations that someone else needs to own.
What’s the connection between compassion and boundaries? Well-boundaried people are the most self-compassionate. They don’t let people push them to a place of resentment because they believe they are worthy of being treated with respect. They believe in their own self-worth and are willing to pursue health and life abundant. That’s what boundaries offer, that’s also what Christ teaches us. When we hold boundaries, we have the mental and emotional and physical reserves to be truly compassionate toward others. So let’s take the airline attendant’s reminder seriously- Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
I get that it’s hard to do this. Setting firm boundaries isn’t popular with those in our lives who are not healthy. And we’ve acquired so many voices that disrupt even the best of our intentions. “I should.” Have you said this lately? You’re exhausted, but that one extra responsibility keeps nagging at you..even though you have nothing left to give. The word “should” creeps into our everyday language all the time. I want you to pay attention this week to how many times you say it. At its core, a “should” statement suggests remorse for a past failure. You might try substituting “ought” as a way to discern if you do need to make space for that responsibility in the future. “Ought” is lived forward in time, and you might just find that not as much needs your attention as those voices in your head told you. Maybe you can let some things go.
Maybe there’s other negative self-talk that get in the way of self-compassion or firm boundaries. What’s your self-talk sound like? “Gah, I’m so dumb.” “Stupid me, I should have remembered that!” “I’m always messing up.” “I don’t deserve love.” “I’m not good enough.” Do any of those sound like things Jesus would say?
You and I will NEVER be at peace until we start practicing self-compassion in the name of the one who created us good! It’s hardly selfish. In fact, it’s the only way to also practice compassion for others. We cannot see the good in others without first dealing with the voices that say we’re not worthy of compassion ourselves.
Are you willing to do something with me that might feel a little funny? Let’s practice self-compassion, like right now. It’s the ONLY way any of us are able to actually live out REAL compassion when we leave this place of worship.
Okay, repeat after me:
I am worthy of compassion. / I can make mistakes/ and still be lovable. / My worth is not tied to how pretty I am/ or how many people I can help/ or how much money’s in my bank account/ or what kind of clothes I wear/ or how often my family visits me. I am worthy of compassion/ because I am a child of God.
Jesus is a brilliant storyteller. We hear this in the parables today. His words speak directly to the heart of a matter, because he knows the hearts of those who are listening. In this story it’s the legalistic morality police & the sinners in the crowd. Jesus isn’t interested in labels we’ve been given by others, he wants to know how real we’re willing to get. Because that’s the kind of heart he can work with.
5 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Repentance. That’s not a word that often comes up at a gathering of friends. Hey Sue, how’s it going? What have you repented of lately? That’s what your dinner conversation sounds like, right? I love a good dinner chat- and I’ve NEVER heard that topic come up. Still, Jesus says that repentance leads to joy. How can this be?
Think back on the last time you remember saying you were sorry. Who had you wronged? How did it feel to apologize? How long did it take to actually say it? Admitting our faults can be really hard. Being defensive is way easier- that’s what we’re taught, right? In fact, there’s this strange category in the study of theology called “apologetics.” You know what it means? The opposite of apologizing. It means “defending the faith.” As if God needs us to defend God. That’s a weird theological stance, especially if we take seriously this value Jesus teaches over and over: Don’t be self-righteous, repent! Turn away from believing you are right all the time. You’re human, you’re gonna get it wrong. The question is, how will you respond when you make a mistake?
“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons.”
Maybe it’s because I’ve had SO much practice being wrong and needing to clear my conscience over the years….but I’ve come to understand repentance as an act of courage.
One Wednesday afternoon last year, our wonderful crew of confirmands tested my patience. They were squirrely, but nothing about their behavior was particularly terrible. I, however, was having a stressful day and had had ENOUGH! Some of you might recall this evening. Parents got phone calls saying, “confirmation is done early today- come and pick up your child.” I’d never done this- and I know I surprised a few people- myself included. In fact, I said something I would NEVER imagine coming out of my mouth. Before the confirmands left that afternoon, I looked them in the eyes and said, “SHAME ON YOU for behaving this way.”
It took me awhile to process it all. But by the next Wednesday, I knew deep down that I owed them an apology. It just so happened that our topic that Wednesday was on forgiveness. Okay, thanks for that, God. :) I was nervous to see them all again, but with a sincere heart, I looked them in the eyes and apologized; most of all, I told them that I’d regretted using the word shame- “I am never ashamed of you, I said. I don’t always like what you do, but I always give thanks for who you are. Every single one of you, a blessing.”
A few of the confirmands also apologized, and one said this: “I’ve never had an adult apologize to me before.” Never? I asked. Never.
Friends, we need to practice saying we’re sorry because that’s what draws us closer to Christ. That’s what mends relationships. Repentance is not about shame- it’s about reclaiming our own belovedness, flaws and all.
I know how much courage it takes to say those three simple words: I am sorry. I also know how freeing and wonderful it can be to gain someone’s trust in the act of repentance.
By the end of the year, those confirmands were still squirrely on occasion, but something shifted in our relationship- they were more willing to listen, and I sensed it was because they trusted a pastor who’s willing to admit when I’m wrong.
The only way any of us can find the courage to repent is by trusting that God loves our whole selves, flaws and all. That admitting we’re wrong won’t make us less worthy in the eyes of God- but more. “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Courage is the first of Brene Brown’s three essential qualities for every person desiring a “whole-hearted life.” She says,
“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences -- good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’”
Jesus says it doesn’t matter how often you mess up. It matters how willing you are to be real. It matters how much ordinary courage you muster up when you’ve made a mistake.
Who needs to hear you say you’re sorry this week? The courage to be real, to be honest, and to make amends- it’s good because it’s hard-win. Admitting we’re wrong doesn’t make us less of a person, it makes us more whole. That’s the blessing that lies below the surface, our essential self waiting to emerge from the facade of being “put together” all the time. It’s a pathway to freedom, because repentance is the mending of relationship…even within our own selves.
Let’s find the courage to accept our whole selves this week- to admit when we’re wrong as a symbol of our trust that God’s still gonna love us anyway, flaws and all. Repentance is the pathway to freedom that Christ offers.. Let’s accept it.
Jesus spends the first part of this chapter in Matthew describing to the crowds what matters to God- and it’s basically the opposite of self-righteous “good deeds,” doing things for show rather than with humble spirits. If you’ve been following the stories of Jesus for a while now, this might not surprise you…but it’s totally foreign in a world intent on making us feel as if we need to earn God’s favor. Sometimes this mentality occurs within our church communities. Listen to what Jesus says next:
25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. 27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This is radical talk. Jesus chooses to reveal himself to those who choose rest, like babies and kids. More directly, Jesus says, my spirit will come to those who admit they cannot do it all on their own. But oh how we cling so tightly to the idea that we’ve got it all under control- if only we work hard enough.
In preparation for my sabbatical, I heard something odd from quite a few of my pastoral colleagues (both before and during sabbatical-even the final weekend of). It came in the form of a rhetorical question. Something like, “SURELY you will complete some extensive continuing education or write a book, maybe both! What will you produce during sabbatical!!”
Knowing the sheer mental and emotional fatigue most (if not all) of my pastor friends experience, I found this type of question surprising- especially from them. It was like sabbath wasn’t the important part of sabbatical, because it couldn’t be measured.
But this refrain isn’t really foreign to you, to any of us. Make your time really COUNT. Produce something of value, or YOU are not of any worth to this world.
In truth, I struggled with this feeling some too, a preoccupation with “producing” something of value this summer, even though deep in my soul, I recognized an even deeper need to practice true sabbath- to find Jesus in rest. It’s within us all, a pull between what we know is necessary for our health and what we hear the world say makes us worthy. And that voice is loud- and it never calls us to rest.
You, church, are wonderful. You offered your pastor the exceptional gift of sabbatical. Time to refresh relationships with my family, renew my connection with God, and invest more fully in my creative spirit. I am pleased to inform you that Pastor Emily has rested. Now you, wise as you are, didn’t ask me to produce anything of substance during my sabbatical…and I cannot affirm enough how much that matters.
I also read more books than I’ve had time for since seminary. Nourishing reads, like Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection.” In the next three sermons, I will highlight spiritual truths inspired by her work that aligns with Gospel good news for us all. She says, “Whole-hearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It’s about cultivating the gifts of imperfection: courage, compassion, and connection. It’s about waking up in the morning and thinking- no matter what gets done, and how much is left undone, I’m enough. It’s going to bed at night and thinking yes- I’m imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I’m also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
Seriously, the perfect final book to read on sabbatical. Embracing the gifts of our imperfections SO THAT we no longer tie our sense of worthiness to our net worth or how clean our house is or how many beloved church members we make contact with immediately following sabbatical! I long to be connected with each of you, and I thank you for your patience as I settle into a healthy rhythm- one I’ve learned this summer.
I really rested. I played with my kids. I read books and journaled prayers, I traveled to see friends and family. I met strangers and saw new lands. I refinished the dresser my dad used as a child. I swam in the ocean and walked the pastures of our ranch. I lived a whole-hearted life, and STILL I have to actively fight the voices in my own head (and those of well-intentioned colleagues) that tell me I should have produced more.
Here's the voice that counts most. Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
A connection emerged for me this week that I’d never made before. Jesus says this about rest RIGHT after saying to his Father, “you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” Wanna know who’s BEST at not believing their worth is tied to productivity? Kids. One of Brene Brown’s essential guideposts for whole-hearted living is this: “Cultivating play and rest: letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.”
Why? Because rest and play ARE the moments of true connection. A spirit of rest is essential if we desire meaningful relationships with God, within our own spirits, and with those who deserve our whole hearts.
Sabbatical was not magical, I still struggle to release my need for productivity. But I am inspired to keep trying, because my kids deserve a more focused and present mom. That I did learn deeply this sabbatical.
Who in your life deserves a well-rested you? Maybe you do.
Last week I had several furniture projects I wanted to finish before sabbatical was over (the allure of productivity was strong). Briggs and Daddy were at soccer, so Blaire and I began the evening playing in the backyard. Blaire had to use the bathroom, so what did I do with that minute? I snuck into the garage to work on furniture. I’m not proud of myself. Three months into sabbatical and I STILL couldn’t let go of that need to get just one more thing done. Blaire found me in the garage, paintbrush in hand, and said in a matter-of-fact way, “Mom, I’ve set up a restaurant here, and you’ll be my customer.” “Blaire, I’m just going to finish this last drawer.” But she knows how fixated I get on my projects, so she boldly announced, “The store will be closing to all customers in three seconds! Three! Two! If you want dessert, you better get in here! One!”
What I did next does not come easily to me. I threw down my paintbrush, ran into the kitchen and said, “Okay ma’am, I’d LOVE some dessert.” And she served me the most delightful fig newtons, root beer, and flat watermelon flavored water. Recognizing how easily I could have NOT made that memory with my daughter (choosing my paintbrush instead)- I looked her in the eyes and told her exactly how much I loved spending my sabbatical summer playing with her. And her sweet hug, an affirmation of our spirits connected, revealed why rest & play are essential- more so than our productivity.
Maybe you will hold me accountable to this truth in my life.
I don’t know who’s voice told you that you were only worthy of love if you proved it with your helpfulness or net worth or productivity, but it’s a lie. Your worth is not what you do. Not in this church, not for your pastor, and especially not in the eyes of your Creator. Until we each come to believe that we are worthy of love and belonging regardless of what we do…we will continue to give into the allure of productivity until it consumes us, spirits and all.
Child of the living God, hear this voice of truth, even as I speak it to my own soul: “Come to me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.”
A final note of humor. Briggs came down this morning as I was finalizing my sermon. He took one look at my word document and said, “you really have to say all THAT?”
No, I didn’t. Not to be loved by you or by God. But being away for 3 months is a long time…and I just can’t help sharing this good news. As I pray, I invite you to offer up whatever is keeping you from embracing your full worth- just as you are- beloved in the eyes of God, accepted and loved in this faith community. Let’s pray.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.