- September 29, 2019
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for 29 September 2019
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: 1 Timothy 3.1,8-16; Psalm 146; Luke 16.19-31
Title: How One Ought To Behave
“I am writing these instructions to you so that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3.14-15).
My friends, do YOU know how one ought to behave in the household of God?
Of course you do! So perhaps the more important question is, what are we to do with these standards of behavior? How do we hold one another accountable to them?
As we are making our way through these two letters to Timothy, we come to this section outlining the expectations for those who desire to be leaders within the community of the church.
And perhaps it may be important to simply pause and to recognize together that, yes, in fact, there are clear standards of behavior for those who desire to lead the church, and for those who are members of the church.
We need to know how one ought to behave as members of the household of God, and to keep each other accountable to these standards of behavior.
This last week, when I was in Alexandria, Virginia for the annual symposium of Episcopal chaplains, I heard a brief but memorable story from someone who had first gone out to sea on a Navy ship as a Lieutenant JG – Junior Grade – a junior officer.
She told us that there was one senior chief petty officer who was particularly hard on her. One of her first days aboard, the chief was watching her walk across the deck and she happened to walk right past a piece of trash on the deck. She hadn’t noticed it, but the chief called her out and said, “Lieutenant, you just walked past a piece of trash!”
She stopped, a bit puzzled, and looked around, until she saw a small piece behind her on the deck. So she picked it up and made a half-hearted apology, “Oh, well, I didn’t see it.”
But the chief wasn’t letting her off so easy. “Lieutenant, you just set a precedent. All these petty officers here are watching you, and if you don’t pay attention to what you are doing, then neither will they!”
OK, so maybe that chief was being a bit overly dramatic, but he was trying to teach her an important lesson. And guess what? She has never forgotten it.
People ARE watching us, and our behavior does have lasting effects on those around us. And, perhaps even more important, according to our Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus, our behavior has even longer lasting consequences that truly matter.
It is right to hold those in leadership positions to a higher standard. We must do this, and we must not let our standards slip. People are watching and there are always consequences.
Let me make a confession to all of you. I am sick and tired of people in the public eye who make public claims about their Christian faith and then who turn out, in practice, to be hypocrites, to be people who are greedy for money, who are dishonest, who are not faithful in their marriages.
This kind of thing makes me sick to my stomach. Sadly, the news in our country is full of this kind of hypocrisy – including politicians on both the right AND the left, as well as church leaders of all kinds.
I know I am not the only one who feels such frustration. People ARE watching, and the household of God – the pillar and the bulwark of the truth – is slandered by these people who use the title of “Christian” for personal gain.
It is just not right. There are standards of behavior that have nothing to do with the law, but have everything to do with having a clear conscience, being blameless and above reproach, being faithful in all things.
But how do we actually hold each other accountable to these standards?
This is not an easy thing to do. For there is a fine line between holding each other accountable to clear standards of behavior, and the slippery slope into passing judgment.
The key to doing this well is not a surprise, because the key is love. To speak the truth in love. But remember that love is a verb. Love is action that seeks the well-being of the other, no matter what.
So if we truly love God, then we cannot sit back and do nothing while the name of God and the mystery of the Gospel is tarnished and smeared by the bad behavior of others.
And if we truly love our neighbor who we see going off the rails, then we cannot sit back and do nothing while they lose themselves in the wilderness.
If we truly love God and our neighbor, then we will always hold our leaders and each other accountable for our behavior – but never to punish, never to prove ourselves right, never to gain leverage for ourselves, but always, ALWAYS for the good of the other and for the glory of God.
If you are ever in that situation and you feel called to hold someone accountable, just pause and first ask yourself this question: whatever I am about to say or do, am I doing this or saying this only for the sake of the other, to help them, to bring them back on the good road, to call them back to the goodness of God?
I have heard preachers ask a congregation this question: If you were taken to court and charged with being a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, as a criminal offense, would a jury of your peers have enough evidence to convict you unanimously beyond a reasonable doubt? So what is the trail of evidence that you are leaving behind you each day?
Without a question, this is a challenge. But it is a good one, and it is necessary.
The world desperately needs more people who are unwilling to turn a blind eye to greed and to all those shameless things people do for selfish gain.
The world desperately needs more people who are willing to live in accordance with godly standards of behavior, people who want to live the gospel every day.
There ARE standards of behavior, my friends, and we must be clear in knowing that all who claim the title of “Christian” are expected to live by them.
But let us do this always with love and mercy, in pursuit of the common good and the glory of God. Amen.