RSS

Guard the Good Deposit, the One Treasure Above Them All

09 Oct

In what way is the Bible like the Ring of Power?

+++

“…do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord… What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

–2 Tim 1:8, 13-14

+++

Brothers and sisters in Christ!

Here the Apostle Paul talks about successfully guarding the pattern of sound teaching he passes on.

That will involve some successful management, some measure of control…

And here, we might ask: “Is life, at least life for grown-ups, just about control? Having power? Getting power?”

It sometimes seems like that, doesn’t it?

Or, if people are not trying to gain power and control, maybe they just want to burn it all down…. Really stick it to “the man” anyway they can…

Wherever we turn these days, matters of power and control seem to be on people’s minds more and more…

Certainly, this is always a key issue in the political realm, and things seem to be ramping up in this regard. Polarization increasing the stakes.

In academia and even popular culture, the impression is given that most all analysis is done by viewing things through one lens: the lens of power and oppression.

Almost as if every moral question of life can be reduced to this!

There is an axis with oppression on one side and power on the other – I have in mind a picture I saw illustrating axes of privilege, domination, and oppression – and that’s basically it.[i]

Some have even provocatively commented that people these days sometimes have incentives to compete over who just might be the biggest victim.

The information we consume in our media has progressively fled from notions of objectivity and impartiality – even if some are loathe to admit this – and now accusations of “fake news” appear across the political spectrum,  as persons seemingly use words as best they can to win

…for worldly gain.

And here is a thought:

In this context, how might we interpret the popular statement “knowledge is power”?

+++

My vocation of academic librarianship is interesting in this regard.

Some in my profession continue to say reasonable-sounding things like: “[people] come to libraries seeking information that will help them create knowledge. They do not want misinformation or disinformation; they do not want to be deceived”.

On the other hand, I read others insisting that “power operates through knowledge production”, “knowledge production is […] historically situated and embedded in power relations” and its production “never occurs outside power relations”.

That idea sounds complicated, but maybe it really isn’t. Maybe its as simple as what another academic librarian says:

“its not even so much that knowledge is power, but “it’s more reflective of reality to say, ‘Power is knowledge'”.

Power is knowledge.

Cue the great contemporary philosopher Richard Rorty, now deceased: “Truth is what our peers will let us get away with saying.”

Rorty thought that was a good thing. For many an elite contemporary person then, knowledge and truth aren’t strictly related. Don’t necessarily go together.

Knowledge is “knowledge” [in quotes]…

Whatever words and skills that you pick up – and that you can employ — to get the job you and others want done done – that is ultimately what is important.[ii]

Do you see how the role of things like facts (“facts” in quotes) diminishes here?

What is important is that there are only other persons who exercise power over their circumstances, their worlds, and who trust each other or not.

We might say this is knowledge as conceivable, useful, trust.

Do you see why I am bringing this up?

People who have this view–even unconsciously–are definitely going to struggle with the Apostle Paul’s idea of “the pattern of sound teaching [or words]”

Why? Because the meaning of words changes and can change. Because all things, after all, evolve.

Radical transformation – not necessarily understood in a Christian sense – is what life is all about!

Even human nature is fluid…. Authors from the past die and we move on, radically reinterpreting their words for our era.

For the world, if there is a movement of the Spirit, it is about changing what has been considered “natural” and changing the future – not “tradition” in any sense!

+++

In Christianity, on the other hand, knowledge can be said to be power as well, but for a very, very different reason.

Knowledge is power because our understanding of knowledge is that it is not just conceivable useful trust but justified, true, belief.

If we do not believe something, it cannot be knowledge that we personally possess.

If we sincerely believe that something is true but it is false–it is not –this can hardly be called knowledge.

Finally, knowledge is something that can be justified – believing something is warranted because good evidence and reasons can be given…

This is the classical definition of knowledge, and goes hand in hand with the Christian faith.

It doesn’t matter if your words “work” for the goals that you try to reach.

If Christ is not raised – really raised from the dead! – all your words and works are ultimately in vain!

Sometimes well-meaning Christians say we uphold Scripture and not tradition. This though, is misled.

We do uphold traditions not contrary to Scripture—and our greatest tradition is Scripture itself, and the greatest content of the Scriptures is the Gospel.

“I am certain… I am confident. I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.”

So, like the runner in the relay race, pass on the baton.

+++

Today, in the world, as has always been the case, there is a battle for men’s souls.

Stories like Harry Potter, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the Lord of the Rings are right. It is all about good vs. evil.

Behind the veil, there is a spiritual war between light and darkness.

But don’t be afraid, because knowledge is power.

And as the Apostle Paul describes in his letter to Timothy, your power is through the Holy Spirit who creates a new man, an “inner man,” in us….

He does this through the Word of God, through the Scriptures, our great treasure.

In some – but certainly not in all ways! – this treasure, this jewel, is similar to the Great Ring of Power in the Lord of Rings….

[I am hoping and trusting here that most all of you are familiar with that plot element in the Lord of the Rings – or at least the Hobbit!]

Of course, in many ways it is not like the ring of power

-The Scriptures were not forged by the Dark Lord and need to be destroyed!

-The Scriptures are no talisman that we can somewhat control, that bows to our desires. They do not have power by means of their being effective rhetoric or magic incantations, but because they give us truth:

Of who God is and what He has done.

Of who man is, what he should be, and what, in fact, he has done.

And what God has done in history through Jesus Christ.

-Finally, many do have much knowledge about the Scriptures, but miss the core, the plot, the heart.

As Jesus said to the Pharisees who opposed him: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me…”

So, there are many ways that the Ring of Power is not like our Jewel, our Treasure, the Scriptures.

But I still bring up this comparison after much thought.

We must, after all, be as wise as serpents…

So, in what way is the Bible is like that One Ring to Rule them all? The Ring of Power?

Well, we are talking about the Word of God… This is something that has authority over us, compels us, and guides us.

And there is power.

You know every knee will bow, right?…

Yes, I know there are many temptations.

You tell me you’ve heard that the Scriptures are old?

That they have been discredited or are irrelevant?

That there is, at least, all kinds of reasons to doubt them?

That it just “contains” the “Word of God” – which is perhaps just the tender and gentle stuff about Jesus?

I’ll say this as gently as I can: you’ve been lied too.

The Bible is the word of God.

Read. Learn. Inwardly digest.

This jewel, this treasure comes as a whole. It is not a necklace where we can get rid of some of the beads we don’t like, for example.

It is the jewel, the tradition, that must be handed on at all costs….

It is not so much “Scripture or Tradition” or “Scripture and Tradition”: again, the Scriptures are basically the Tradition that has been handed down….

+++

Still, in spite of my clarifications about this ring, I don’t doubt some of you here may nevertheless be disturbed by what I’m saying.

Didn’t Luther throw out the book of James and Revelation? Who is this guy? Who has transplanted him from the Middle Ages to here?

Preacher, don’t you know the Bible not only tells us about Jesus, but is full of some other more questionable things as well?

Obedience.

Submission.

Kings.

Masters.

Patriarchs.

Don’t you know we are Americans?

  • I mean, yes, I know in the Gospel reading for the day it talks about how a Master just expects his servant to do what he asks and the servant seems to think even a Good Master should do this, but… But we don’t believe this quite the same way today.
  • We certainly don’t think fear should ever be a component of how anyone is “ruled”! We don’t think that really has a place anymore. Things like the death penalty, for example, don’t belong in this world….
  • Biblical ideas like headship we know lead to abuse. We like it when everyone is equal in every single way! We like it when people are free! We like harmony! – when we can get lost in the music with those of like-mind!

Haven’t you felt the power of the crowd? Haven’t you lost yourself in the excitement, gotten taken up into something that is bigger than yourself?

Don’t you like that, want that, too?

+++

Well, no. Tempted sometimes though.

I do have an alternative that I find compelling however

It’s called the Christian church, and while its patriarchs and matriarchs don’t rule like the rulers of the world, they have guarded and passed down the sacred treasure.

The sacred jewel.

Do not be deceived brothers and sisters!

Stir up the fireplace! Now! Do not let the flame go out!

You have not been given timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, of self-discipline….

The sinful world wants a lot of things, and in many of the things it wants, there are echoes of good.

It wants unity! It wants harmony! It wants equality! It wants justice! It wants freedom!

It wants everyone to feel good about who they are and their neighbors as well. It wants, as the commercial said, to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…

In a sense, it is good and right to want all of these things.

That said, there is mass confusion about what these things ultimately look like, and how one can achieve them.

It doesn’t matter if you have the impression your words “work” for the goals that you try to reach.

Rhetoric without truth dies.

Again, if Christ is not raised – really raised! – all your words and works are in vain!

Satan loves all this confusion by the way.

And he hates the clear Gospel and that you have it.

He hates that men like Luther didn’t really throw out the book of James and Revelation, but rightly pointed out their relative importance compared with books like John and Romans…

He absolutely hates most all what Martin Luther did, bringing out the stark clarity of the situation he found himself in….

He hates that Luther was “mean” and didn’t care if persons didn’t like him because of the message he preached.

He hates that Luther clearly revealed his, Satan’s, hand….

+++

I don’t want to give the impression that I think Martin Luther always handled things perfectly.

“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus…”

It is true that “faith and love” are to form the atmosphere, so to speak, in which the “sound words” are to be preserved.

That said, let us not forget the battle we are in, the need for tough love…. and the admonition to be as wise as serpents.

A little parable to share….

I read it about three weeks ago, and I think it is particularly appropriate to our day and age…

….

“Once upon a time, there were 10 brothers who were charged with guarding a gem the king had given to their village — a beautiful stone that promised them the king’s favor and protection.

When charging the brothers to secure this precious gem, the king gave them clear instructions:

“My enemy will constantly be scheming to take this gem away from you. He will threaten you with violence.

He will mock you and turn your friends against you. He will try to convince you the gem is not really yours or you don’t really need it.

But no matter what approach he uses, don’t fall for his tricks.”

One day, the king’s enemy approached the 10 brothers with a small army behind him.

“I imagine you’ve come here to steal our gem,” the oldest brother said.

“Absolutely not,” the enemy insisted. “I think it’s wonderful that you have it. I just hate to see the way your brother is using the gem.

His tone is always abrasive and arrogant when he talks about protecting it.

It gives the rest of you a bad name. Dismiss him from his post guarding the gem, and my army will leave you alone.”

The oldest brother always found his youngest sibling a bit irritating and embarrassing, so he considered this a no-brainer and immediately gave the enemy what he asked.

A week later, the enemy returned with his army, now claiming he had problems with the second-youngest brother.

“This guy has been saying the gem doesn’t belong to certain people in the village, people he doesn’t like. This is unloving and cruel. Disavow him too, and we’ll be friends.”

The oldest brother wasn’t especially fond of that brother either, so he once again gave the enemy what he wanted.

But week after week, the enemy kept returning and asking for the oldest brother to separate himself from another one of his brothers until, eventually, the oldest brother stood alone — the sole remaining guardian of the gem.

Seeing that the man now had no one left to defend him, the enemy walked up to the oldest brother, whispered, “You fell for it,” into his ear, stabbed him through the heart, and walked away with the gem.

The writer of this “parable of the guardians” explains:

The king is Christ. The gem is, [ultimately,] his salvation.

The brothers are Christians. The enemy is the devil, and his army is the mob of anti-Christian voices in the world.

And the moral of the story is this: No matter what they say, the devil and this world won’t be content until they’ve taken Christ’s salvation away from you.

So don’t throw your fellow believers under the bus to escape persecution. All you’ll do is hasten your demise.”

+++

You see, first the world tells you they don’t like the way you say it.

Then, you discover that they simply don’t like what you say….

Folks, I forgot to tell you one other way the Scriptures and the Gospel it contains is unlike the Ring of Power.

We are told of it (as least according to the movie version), as regards the story of the Ring  “some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth… the Ring passed out of all knowledge”

Well, at least since the time of the Exodus, the message of God’s Promised Messiah and His glorious rule has never been widely lost.[iii]

And now, in these last days, it is even clearer:

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel

A pattern of very, very sound words!

Merry Christmas!

These are life giving words!

Be encouraged brothers and sisters! Do not let things like suffering and persecution in the world discourage you – or slow you down…

When Paul encourages Timothy, he brings up how his faithful mother and grandmothers passed on the faith to him. As one ancient commentator (Theodoret) put, it, “nothing helps like a domestic example”.

That, is true. I remember when I was a teacher in Slovakia for two years, hearing the stories of the serious Lutherans who had come through communism because of faithful grandmothers who taught them.

Thanks be to God for faithful traditioners such as these!

Be faithful to God’s word. Be faithful to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Pass The Message On.

Realize that the best way to guard the faith is not to play defense, but to go on the offensive. To learn it, to inwardly digest it, and to proclaim it.

This is not something that you can do in your own strength, but with the strength God provides: “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us…”

By grace through faith, not by works…Christ has been crucified for your sins, and by His work has overcome the world!

He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

The same yesterday, today, and forever!

The victor over sin, death, and the devil.

And the King will return, to set all things right.

So, by His Holy Spirit

….we will Guard the Good Deposit, the One Treasure Above Them All.

FIN

Updated version of this sermon preached at Clam Falls on Oct. 2, 2022: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nLrmLqhRpnThZrrpvEJZYlQu2DNQGa8NEWylz8I7ccs/edit?usp=sharing

[i] https://journeyofisajennie.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/privilegeandoppression/

[ii] Here, the best kind of competence will not have to do with things like know how to fix cars, for example, but will reveal “hierarchies of domination” and explore how they can be overturned and neutralized… That really, is the main thing that will work…

[iii] Some of you might think of the Denzel Washington movie the “Book of Eli” as well….

Advertisement
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 9, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: