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Preaching from Timothy
Over the past few weeks I have been preaching through the so-called ‘Pastoral Epistles’ – Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. They offer a fascinating glimpse into an age when the church was emerging from the shadows as no longer a ragtag collection of followers but an entity in society. After Paul’s pithy description of the Gospel for which we ‘labour and strive’ (1 Timothy 4 v. 10) , we then find ourselves plunged into a catalogue of nitty-gritty details on everything from benefits for widows and preachers’ wages to diet and discipline! It was this journey from the sublime to the pragmatic which led me to the two stories below.
When Abraham Darby III opened the world’s first Iron Bridge in 1781, his Christian principles were outlined in the toll notice you see below.His strong belief that all were created equal led to the pricing policy for the bridge, where everybody, including the Royal Family, paid the same toll. As well as being an engineering marvel, these 279 tons of ironwork underpinned his theology.
The other image is a t-shirt design bearing the words of George Loveless, farm labourer, Methodist Preacher and Tolpuddle martyr. Along with a small band of others. Loveless formed an illegal association in 1834 to protest against the unjust treatment of manual labourers by wealthy landowners. They paid a high price for their protest – and were transported to the other side of the world as punishment. Like Darby before him, Loveless’ practical actions were driven by his theological convictions – that all men deserved a certain dignity and justice under God.
From the fields of Dorset we returned to the passage, and Paul’s injunction to young Timothy to ‘keep these instructions without partiality, and do nothing out of favouritism’ (1 Timothy 5 v. 21). From there the path lay back into the world to ‘love and serve the Lord’ – which is where the real sermon will now be preached in shops, office, homes, schools and elsewhere.
Earlier this week I embarked on one of my favourite tasks as a minister – a discipleship/ enquiry class with someone who is new to Christianity. Questions abounded and the enthusiasm for all things God was palpable. At these classes I try to ‘unpack’ some of the great truths of the Gospel and hold them up to the light for scrutiny. Very often as we do so, their true beauty is not only revealed to the person enquiring, but to the rest of us as well. It can be an experience not unlike that for a small child when they get their first ‘magic’ colouring book. Each swish of water across the page reveals a rainbow of colour on the page underneath. To call it a ‘lightbulb’ moment is too angular and manafactured. It is a moment of revelation, nothing less.
Until this week I had never come across Jeff Koons’ sculpture ‘Colouring Book’. The shape is taken from a Winnie the Pooh colouring book, which is then reproduced in brightly coloured acyrlic over 5 metres high. As you can see below, it then transforms the view of anything observed through it. Wonder if I could fit a smaller version ion in my office?
Hobson’s homiletical choice
Back in the Autumn, when I was planning the church’s Spring preaching programme, it seemed like a really good idea to hold some kind of “Valentine’s special” this Sunday. Now that it is nearly here – I’m not so sure.
I can’t decide between speaking out about the shabby tat and lewd nonsense which passes for romantic (and sounding like Mr Grumpy in the process) or rolling over and joining in with the lovefest, whilst seeking to bring some Christian significance to it. Add to that the complications of the singles and others in the church who would be happy to let Valentine’s pass them by – and you have a real dilemma. Which should it be?
Whilst pondering that – think on this. Last time I went looking for some worthwhile Valentines’ gift the best one I found was …in a new age shop, surrounded by ‘faeries’ spell books and ‘magic stones’. There in the midst of them was a beautiful candle, engraved with 1 Corinthians 13. It seemed like a real ‘Paul-in-Athens’ moment, with a yearning for God expressed in amongst the pagan statuary.
The guiding light on occasions such as Valentines’, I’m sure, is to ‘make the most of every opportunity’ (Ephesians 5 v.16) for the Gospel- whilst all the while avoiding sounding like Mr Grumpy!
[PS: perhaps there are more positive ways to express the love at this time of year – see my post on the Toilet Twinning blog: http://toilettwinning.blogspot.com/]