Guarding Good Treasure

II Timothy 1:1-14
David A. Davis
November 17, 2019
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When a seminary graduate lands in parish ministry in a particular congregation somewhere, someplace, sometime, it can be like being dropped into a whole other world. A part of the country you’ve never lived. A congregation very different from the one that nurtured you. And theological landscape light years away from the context of a seminary campus. I grew up in a church of 2,500 members in Pittsburgh. I went to serve as a solo pastor for a congregation of 110 members in South Jersey. Down where they think Trenton is North Jersey. I was there before we were married. The whole congregation threw Cathy and me a surprise wedding shower after worship on Sunday. The women gifted Cathy with kitchen stuff. The men brought me tools; not all of them new. It was lovely. I started on July 1st. We were invited to a picnic on a rainy 4th of July. It didn’t stop the picnic. We just all circled up in the two-car garage separate from the house. I’ve never seen a garage as clean; before or since. You could have eaten off the concrete floor. On days of communion, worshippers would drop a communion registration card in the offering plate indicating they had been there to receive communion. I had no idea what a communion registration card was or what do with it. It took me a few weeks to realize that the financial secretary responsible for the offering collected it each Sunday in a paper bag, took it home to count all by himself, and kept it in his freezer until he had a chance to make a deposit at the bank later in the week. This was 1986, not 1926. And the bank with the dropbox was right next to the church. He guarded the church’s weekly deposit with his freezer.

“Guard the good treasure entrusted to you”, Paul writes to Timothy. The good treasure. This week I have been trying to figure out what it means to “guard the good treasure.” I have been thinking about “the good treasure.” Good treasured entrusted to you. Other translations refer to the good treasure as good thing, or good deposit, or precious treasure. “Guard the precious thing placed in your custody.”

At the end of I Timothy, Paul exhorts Timothy to “guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge; by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith.” (I Timothy 6:20). That seems to lean toward a connotation of the treasure as teaching, as truth, as content. Guard the content of the teaching, the truth, the gospel that has been entrusted to you. But the Greek word leans more toward that sense of a deposit. Something placed within you; more than something taught to you.

I asked for help on the “good treasure” inquiry from my early morning Wednesday small group. Last Wednesday, we studied this text from I Timothy. At one point in our conversation, I just asked. “What do you think the good treasure is here. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you.” Folks shared the language from the various translations around the room. One person was reading from his Portuguese bible. The thoughts around the circle kept coming. The good treasure is the gift of faith that God gives us through the Holy Spirit. The good treasure is the gospel account of the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The good treasure is the earthly riches God has given us along with God’s call for us to take good care of all that we have been given. The good treasure is what Paul mentions earlier here in chapter 1; “a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” God’s gift to us of the good treasure is a spirit of power and of love and of self-control. Eight to ten of us in the room between 6:30 and 7:30 am Wednesday morning and in good Presbyterian fashion, eight to ten takes on what Paul is referring to by the good treasure!

Is it faith? Is it the gospel? Is it a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline? Is it the content of teaching and its truth? Is it the earthly treasures entrusted to our care by God? I strongly suspect that the answer is “yes”. “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” Guarding good treasure. Maybe it’s less about figuring it all out and more about having the eyes to see it. Lois and Eunice for instance. “I am reminded of your sincere faith,” Timothy writes, “a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure, lives in you.” Timothy’s mother is mentioned in the 16th chapter of Acts. It is the description of Paul’s first meeting Timothy. Timothy, a disciple, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer and his father was Greek. Lois, Eunice, and a sincere faith passed on. Authentic faith lived. That sounds to me like guarding good treasure; Lois and Eunice.

Maybe I can’t figure it out exactly, define it precisely; guarding good treasure. But I’ve seen it. Oh, I have seen it. Like the long-time church member who once told me she responded to the wedding proposal from the man she would then marry and be with for the next 65 years or so, she told time she would say yes on the condition that they would always tithe to the church. She also told him her mother would always live with them. That’s the same saint of the church who, when the congregation would host about 25 homeless men in the fellowship hall two weeks of the year, she would arrive at 5:30 am each day to cook breakfast. She said, “every child of God deserves a hot breakfast.” A life-long witness to faith and vast love for all of God’s children. Guarding good treasure.

Like the couple who held down the choir of twelve people week after week. I was the bass section. She was a soprano. He was a tenor. He was an electrician. She drove a school bus and I never heard her say a negative or cross word. Once a year they would sing a duet; “Out of the Ivory Palaces into a World of Woe.” I would melt like butter. Not because it was a musical masterpiece, but because no one in that congregation showed me and my family more love and faith and commitment to us and to that community of faith. A contagious devotion to the body of Christ. Guarding good treasure. Like the gruff, old Presbyterian pastor who took me under his wings. He served a congregation in the heart of Camden, New Jersey for decades. He could curse with the best of them but his commitment and work for justice and serving the poor and speaking for the voiceless never-wavered in his lifetime of ministry. He worked for the full inclusion of the LGBT community in the Presbyterian church starting more than 40 years ago. Guarding the good treasure by never giving it up in the work of God’s kingdom.

Like the saint of the church here at Nassau who was our best evangelist for worship. She treated each Sunday’s worship like a delicacy. She was to worship as a “foody” is to fancy food. She was very clear about how her life and faith and joy were nurtured by worship. And she would tell anyone and everyone that every Sunday was an Easter Sunday to her. Like all those adult advisors who take vacation days and give of there time, summer after summer, to lead our youth from Nassau in the week of a mission at the Appalachian Service Project. Like the church school teachers who year after year, week after week, teach your children and grandchildren about Jesus, just the way they taught mine. Like the World War II veteran here at Nassau never met a long sentence or a fancy word or a bad joke he wouldn’t like or wouldn’t use. But near the end of his life, he told me that when it came to things of God and complexities of faith and the yearnings to figure it all out, he had come to the conclusion that it all came down to love; God’s love for him. And that was enough, more than enough. Basking unashamed less in the life of the mind and more in the love of God. Passing on the stories of Jesus from generation to generation. Leading a group of young people for a week that they will never forget and will shape how they view the world. Living into and being a role model for others in what it means to glorify God and enjoy God forever. Oh yes, guarding the good treasure entrusted to you? I have seen it again and again.

Guarding the good treasure. It’s not something to define precisely. It’s something to look around and see. Fred Craddock taught preaching, wrote about preaching, and preached in a way that influenced several generations of preachers including me. There is a well-known Craddock sermon preserved in audio form entitled “When the Roll is Called Down Here.” It is a sermon on the last chapter of Romans where Paul asks to bring greetings to a whole bunch of people and he does it by name: Priscilla and Aguila, Epaenetus, Mary, Andronicus, Junia, and a few others. The refrain in the sermon is “don’t just call it a list”. It is Paul remembering and giving thanks for the saints in his life. For those who guarded the good treasure entrusted to them. Or as Paul describes it there in Romans, those “who risked their necks” for the sake of Jesus Christ.

At the end of the sermon, the preacher tells the congregation to take their bulletin and write this: “I thank my God for all my remembrance of you”. And he tells them to write down a name, and then another name, and another. And he tells them to keep it. It’s not just a list but keep the list. Add to it when you can and always take it with you. Take it with you all the way to the gates of heaven. “I know, I know” he says, “the bible teaches us that we came into the world with nothing and we can take nothing out of it. But take it anyway. And when you get there, St. Peter is going to say to you, what is that? And you’re going to say, it’s just a list of names. And Peter’s going to say, show me the list. No, don’t worry about it, it’s just my list. St. Peter says, come on now, show me the list. You give it to him. He looks at it. And he says, “Oh I know all these people. I just passed them all on the way here to the gate. They were hanging up a big sign that says “Welcome home”.

Guarding the good treasure. You really can’t define it. But if you look around, believe me, you can see it.