Rev. George Miller
2 Timothy 1:1-14
“Unguarding the Good Treasure”
Oct 6, 2013
I don’t talk much about my family and since they live far away and are scattered about, people often ask me if I have brothers and sisters, if I’m the oldest or youngest.
The answer is I am the oldest of four children. There is me, born in 1970, followed by my brother Timmy. He lives in St. Louis and is the father of one. Timmy and I bond over stupid, silly films, like “Zoolander” that we quote back and forth.
There is my sister Cindy who is the mother of two and lives in California. She and I bond over organic living and nature, doing things like shopping at the farmer’s market and swimming in the ocean.
Then there is Samantha, the baby of the family and proud mama of three boys. She lives just outside of Nashville and her and I bond over books we suggest to one another. She likes books about young women living in small towns overcoming insurmountable odds. I like light, quick reading that features romance and food.
Recently, Samantha and I decided to read the same book at the same time, so we chose the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Good Earth written in 1931 by Pearl Buck.
The Good Earth takes place in China. It’s about a man named Wang Lung and his wife O-Lan and it’s an exquisitely written novel, rich with details that allow you to see, taste, and feel what they are going through.
My sister and I are only 100 pages in, but wow! does a lot happen. The two get married; she gets pregnant. They work the field. He buys more land. She gives birth. They slowly accumulate money. She gets pregnant again, gives birth and that same day goes right back to tending the field.
Then, the rains stop, the earth dries up and a famine hits. The family eats everything they have, including their ox. They survive on mashed up corn husks.
It is as if the environment has gone into its own government shut down. There are no animals left anywhere; there are no beans, no rice, and no meat.
People turn to eating grass, bark off the tree, even dirt. O-lan gives birth to another child who dies immediately.
Fearing for their lives Wang Lung and his family leave their home, leave their land, and travel 100 miles south to a city…a city that is rich with treasures.
How rich? The author describes sumptuous markets filled with smoked ducks, barrels filled with swimming fish, beans of every kind and vats of rice so deep that a man can fall in and drown, not to be discovered.
How rich? So rich that even the poorest of the people can eat to their fill of rice every morning for a penny at the public kitchen.
At first Wang Lung is too proud to accept a hand out, but realizes he can no longer listen to his children cry out with hunger.
So every morning his family travels to the kitchen with their soup bowls waiting to be filled with rice.
Wang Lung is astonished that it’s possible to feed all the impoverished people of the city. He asks “But why should any give like this to the poor and who is it that gives?” (pg 75)
The answer he gets is that “It is the rich and the gentry of the town who do it, and some do it for a good deed for the future, that by saving lives they may get merit in heaven, and some do it for righteousness that men may speak well of them.”
Wang Lung responds “Nevertheless it is a good deed for whatever reason, and some must do it out of a good heart.”
When the man does not answer him, he adds “At least there are a few of these?”
Within this conversation, the author sets up a concept to be explored a little later on: the idea of faith and how it causes people to do what they do and why they do it.
The unnamed man assumes that people give so they can gain something in return; yet even at his most destitute moment Wang Lung wishes to believe people will give out of the goodness of their heart.
It’s kind of like the conversation we’ve been having about being justified by faith in Jesus Christ. If we recall, we explored that theme back in June when we studied Paul’s letter to the Galatian church.
In Galatians 2:15-21, Paul wrote “Yet we know a person is justified, not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ...”
Galatians 2 is about freedom. It’s about knowing that through our faith there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. It’s already been given.
This freedom means that we don’t do good deeds for the future, that we don’t save lives so we can get points in heaven, nor do we do good deeds so people can speak well of us.
It means that in Jesus Christ we have already won the race, we have already been promised the future and that we are already participants in the Kingdom of God.
So we don’t do or give or share or speak well of others because we have too; we do so because we can; we do so because we have already discovered that in Christ we have enough and that in Christ there is “more, so much more.”
Today’s reading reminds us of these things all too well.
Though scholars question its true authorship, the letter takes the form of an older, wiser church leader imparting wisdom to a much younger one who is just starting out.
In this reading, the author encourages the recipient to rekindle the gift from God that is within and is encouraged to “guard the good treasure entrusted to you...”
Now, upon reading this I know the author is referring to the personal treasures we have: our faith, our relationship with Christ, our belief in God, grace, justification, and forgiveness.
The author is saying “Don’t lose these treasured things. Don’t lose your light, your love, your calling. Don’t allow anyone the power to strip these away from you or to diminish what you hold dear.”
But I had another thought when I read the phrase “guard the good treasure”: here we are, a church in which we encourage and invite people to read scripture on their own, wrestle with God and come to their own faithful decisions on what God is Still Speaking.
Here we are, at a church in which we preach total acceptance of others. We may not always follow it, but we preach it.
Here we are: a church in which our members recently stated in a survey that the welcome they receive when they come here Sunday morning is our most excellent attribute.
We are a church striving to say “You are welcome here, regardless if you are rich with rice or surviving on bark.”
Those are at least three treasures that we have, among others, so why wouldn’t we want to share it?
You can’t guard treasures like those; you got to release them. You got to let them go, out into the congregation, out into the community, out into the universe.
Because when we do, those treasures just seem to keep on a comin’ back and back and back again…
When people think of treasures, when they think of giving, they think of finances, they think of money. But here’s a truth: money comes; money goes.
When Stephanie and I attended the UCC Conference in Orlando, do you know what the presenter said was the most valuable resource, the most valuable treasure people had?
It was time that was most precious; it was time people valued and held onto.
As we move out of summer into our fall and winter season, as our northern members continue to fly and drive back to us, it is good to keep in mind that as we continue to grow (and to experience growing pains) that we are rich with treasures that cannot be bought.
People with compassion in their hearts.
People with able bodies that are willing to work and help another.
People with years of experience, be it managing businesses, teaching in schools, or running a home.
I think of the two successful years we’ve had of Vacation Bible School. They weren’t successful because our food was the tastiest or our music was the bounciest or our lessons were the best planned in the history of VBS.
It was successful because the kids were accepted as is; it was successful because the kids were able to think for themselves; it was successful because the volunteers made the children feel welcome.
At the end of the day, those are the treasures that matter; those are the treasures people will remember long after their food is digested and their lessons have been taught.
Today, for World Communion Sunday, we are invited to receive the treasures of heaven through the broken bread and a shared cup.
As you do so, think of what those treasures are: forgiveness of sins, strength, mercy, another chance to do better, another opportunity to grow.
As we participate in World Communion Sunday also think about and embrace the treasures you have stored within you that make you unique and valuable.
If those gifts are on fire, great! If they have grown a bit tarnished, invite the Holy Spirit in to polish them up.
And if someone has tried to put them out, let the Holy Spirit fire them back up.
We are a church filled with treasures.
Guard our treasures? Why? That would be like putting our light under a bushel and refusing to let it shine.
I say unguard, and unguard graciously.
Sometimes there will be success, sometimes there will be pandemonium, and sometimes there will be heartbreak and disagreements.
But it is better to unguard our treasures then to keep them hidden and away…
The author of today’s reading encourages the listener to guard the good treasure entrusted to them.
There are people in our world who are spiritually starving, surviving on bark and rice, when in Christ we can offer more, so much more.
When it comes to knowing we are justified, when it comes to knowing we are forgiven, when it comes to knowing we are recipients of grace, why wouldn’t we want to share that with the world?
Mercy, peace and welcome are treasures we can share: with our neighbors, with our family, with one another and perhaps most importantly, we can share with ourselves.
Let us share not so we get merit in heaven or that others may speak well of us; let us do it out of the goodness of our heart, knowing that in our faith we are already justified, knowing that in Jesus we have already won.
In Christ we give thanks; to God we sing all praise; through the Holy Spirit we dare to share the treasures which abound.
For that, let the whole church say “Amen.”