He was young. And you know what it is like to be young, especially if you are. And he was a pastor. And he was in a way supposed to be in charge of the other pastors of that congregation. But he was young. People expected he knew what he was doing. But he was young. So God took pity on him. The Holy Spirit inspired a whole book of the Bible to be written just to him, and a second book eventually, written to this young pastor, whose name was Timothy. God instructed Timothy, and therefore us, on how things are to be with pastors and with congregations.
After making clear in I Timothy that pastors are to teach the Word in its truth and purity, that Jesus Christ wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, about worship and how the men are to take leadership and not wimp out, how the ladies are to dress modestly and be eager to learn the Word in quietness and full submission, how everything God created is good and is to be enjoyed and received with thanksgiving, and that what we are staking our lives on is on a God who is the Savior of all people, especially those who believe. After all that, the Holy Spirit tells us 5/6ths of the way through I Timothy to take care of our families. That just as God provides for his family, so he wants us to provide for our families.
The HS inspired Paul speaks specifically about four types of family situations in our reading. Four types that we will reflect on as if we were watching a documentary.
The camera fades into a woman putting on her makeup in the bathroom mirror. She looks tired. You notice a little bit of grey in her hair. Later we will find out that she is part of the sandwich generation. Her children are in high school and college, which are some of the most stressful years for parents, and no piece of cake for their children, either. Her parents are declining. She runs them to doctors’ appointments, takes them shopping for groceries. She is not sure how much longer she can keep this pace up.
But she is sure of is that what she is doing is a good thing. More than a good thing. A God-pleasing thing. Later in the documentary we see her at the kitchen table with her husband. He is reading to her from the Bible. “But if a widow (he looks up and adds with a smile “or aging parents”) has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.” She smiles. So does he. It’s good to know that what you are doing is pleasing to God. Especially when it is using up all your energy.
But they both know that when you are in your middle years, that is when God gives you the gift of being the most productive. You still have decent health, you have experience, and you should have gained some chutzpah. God gives you these gifts so that you can use them to serve others, use yourself up for others, as Christ used himself up, emptied himself, for you and me, by being obedient to death, even death on a cross. This Jesus, who did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. This Jesus who served and serves us so we can serve others. And this serving starts with your own relatives. That’s how God does it—he provides for this middle aged couple who are part of his family by faith so they can provide for the younger and older parts of their family. That’s a lesson to be learned, as Paul put it, “these should LEARN first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family.”
The documentary shifts to an elderly man at a coffee shop. He is alone. You can see on his face that he is worried. He needs a little help. But he has no one to ask for help. Every so often he looks up. After a long while, he walks slowly back to his apartment, every so often he stops, leans on a light post and looks up. In the next scene we see him sitting in a chair in his apartment reading, all alone. He stops reading, sighs, and looks up. You can see behind him pictures of him with friends, skiing in the Canadian Rockies, deep sea fishing, with his buddies by a tank in Vietnam. They are gone. He is alone. He’s so worried he will end up in a nursing home. So worried. But that can be avoided, if only he can get a little help.
Which is why we see him pausing and looking up so often. Because he is, as the HS wrote it through Paul, “the widow (or single person) who is really in need and left all alone puts (his) hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.” That’s what he is doing when he looks up. Asking God for help. As Luther explained this passage in his commentary on I Timothy, “(Such a person) cannot pray day and night in such a way that (he) never stops…Rather, (he) should look up with brief prayers day and night.” (p.335)
This man finds it easier to ask for God for help than to ask anyone at church for help. Because this man hates being dependent on others. But this is what he must learn. All his life he has been the one who helped others. Now his role is to be the one who receives help. Which is a crushing blow to his ego. But that is a good thing. For what is ego but just another name for sinful pride? And sinful pride always tries to keep God at a distance. And that is death. Horrible, eternal death.
But sinful pride is like noxious weeds—keeps coming back. So God must continually find ways to let us be embarrassed, humiliated, have our egos deflated, most of all by his own Commandments. His 10 Commandments are meant to deflate our sinful ego that thinks that I am a pretty good person, that I can do things so that I deserve God’s blessings, and maybe even do enough good to earn heaven. He does this painful work, this alien work, because he wants to build us up, up so high that we can see heaven. He builds us up by telling us that he forgives us everything because of his Son’s sacrifice, as we heard in the Absolution. He builds you up by calling you his own dear child at your baptism, the day he adopted you and pledged his love to you. He builds us up by giving us Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, the full price of our salvation.
The documentary film does not have a happy ending for this man. Because this man must wait a little longer to learn the dependence and humility God would have him learn. But when he has finally learned it enough, the man will get up the courage to ask his pastor, “Do you know anyone in the congregation who could help me out a little bit each week?” And in that way, God will answer his prayers. For the family our Lord wants us to help is not just our biological one, but also our spiritual one.
Now the screen on the documentary suddenly becomes bright and there’s flashing lights and you see a woman dancing and laughing. She is wearing a cross necklace because she goes to church regularly. She has the look of someone who exercises frequently. Which is surprising. Because she drinks at least one glass of wine every night, usually more. The camera zooms in, and you can see stress lines. She has a lot of money stress because when she feels depressed she engages in shopping therapy with her credit card. The scene changes, it’s quiet, soft music, at her home, you see a bit of smoke rising up, the camera pans down and you see her smoking marijuana. She says to the camera, “Don’t freak out, it’s not like I smoke this stuff very often.”
Which is how a person speaks who is physically alive but spiritually dead. The Holy Spirit’s observation on this is, “The (person) who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives.” An addiction to pleasure is as deadly to the soul as burning a Bible. Because it’s not just our money that we are to use to provide for our families, but our pleasures, too. The things that give us pleasure, including wine, are meant always to do two thigngs: for us to enjoy and give thanks to God for; and to make us better servants of those around us. Even the pleasures that our heavenly Father provides for his family are to be used in a way to serve our families.
The screen changes and we see a well-dressed man arguing with a woman. She is sitting in a car. It is old, tires bald. You can see a church in the background. There are three children in car seats. The woman is crying. She is saying, “You are six months behind on child support.” He gives her a look and then turns around and walks into church. He is late, the pastor is reading the Scripture lessons, as the man sits down in the back, he hears the pastor read these words, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” The words drain him of all anger; these words are like a mirror for him and it is an ugly reality being reflected back at him, “worse than an unbeliever”, and he begins to silently weep. The screen goes dark.
Because ours is a God who provides for his family so that you might provide for your family.
The last scene of the documentary is of a pastor. He is in a pulpit, preaching. He wants to explain to God’s people so many things about good stewardship, about all the financial decisions must be made when providing for family and extended family, about what this means for young people, for the sandwich generation, for singles, for the divorced, for retirees, for congregations. But it is too much, there is too much to say. So he instead he simply says, “You who believe and are baptized are God’s family. In Christ, he will always provide for you, body and soul. And he is so very happy when he sees you doing what he does, providing for your family.” And then as the film ends, the pastor says, “Amen.”