I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ for My Journey

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The End of a Journey

All great epic tales end—and yet they don’t.

Let me give you an example. At the end of The Lord of the Rings, one of the great literary sagas of all time, the main characters, Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, and the elven characters Elrond and Galadriel, prepare to board a ship and leave for the Undying Lands across the sea. As they leave, Merry, Pippin, and Sam watch from the shore, heartbroken at seeing their friends for the last time. It would seem that the fellowship is well and truly broken and at an end as the three hobbits walk away from the dock and make their way back to The Shire.

Yet the story is not at an end. While the Tolkien chooses not to tell all the tale in that book, he goes to write in short stories and letters about how Sam returns to the Shire where he finds his wife Rosie and their daughter Elanor waiting for him. Sam has been given Frodo’s home Bag End and all of Frodo’s possessions including the Red Book of Westmarch which tells the story of Bilbo, Frodo, and their adventures, a rather generous benefaction for Sam and his family. Sam and Rosie would go on to have a large family and live happily in Bag End, with Sam eventually being elected mayor of The Shire seven times. In time, Rosie passed away and Sam, having been a bearer of the Ring for a short time was given the opportunity to travel to the Undying Lands to be reunited with his old friends.

If you watched the movies, all you get at the end is Sam and his family standing in front of Bag End waving goodbye. But the story goes even further than that in the other writings. What happens to Elanor, the eldest daughter of Sam and Rosie and keeper of the Red Book? What of her brothers and sisters, all twelve of them? What of Merry? Pippin? The story goes on from there but it simply isn’t told to us. For us it ends because the film goes black or the pages run out but the story itself, the story goes on.[1]

 

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we find the writing of a man who knows his days are numbered, knows the screen will go dark and the pages will run out and soon. Thomas Oden writes in his commentary on the letters to Timothy and Titus, “As the letter nears its end, Paul’s life is drawing to an end. Second Timothy chapter four is the passing of the baton…”[2] In other words, Paul knows that his story is about to be over, there are no more pages, no more screen time, the curtain is falling. The end of this letter is a series of admonitions starting in chapter three and going on to the end of the passage we read this morning. Paul gives Timothy warnings about false teachers (3.1-9), living through difficulty and persecution (3.10-17), and the ‘solemn’ charge that Paul gives Timothy toward the work of ministry (4:1-8).

What is interesting to me in this story is that we come to the end of Paul’s story and church history/tradition says he was martyred under the rule of Nero, beheaded as a merciful death because of his Roman citizenship. Timothy is mentioned again as being released from prison in Hebrews 13.23 but we have nothing else of Timothy beyond this in the Bible. Again church history/tradition has a story. According to historian Philip Schaff, after Paul’s death, Timothy continued to minister in Asia Minor, eventually becoming bishop of Ephesus.[3] Like many prominent New Testament figures, there is ample legend and extra-biblical writing about Timothy, including the non-canonical work entitled, The Acts of Timothy.

This particular piece of literature, The Acts of Timothy, has only been translated into Greek and Latin for the most part, but it tells an account of what may have happened to Timothy toward the end of his life. In it, Timothy is now bishop of Ephesus and opposing the local festival of Katagogia, a supposed pagan festival where the participants dressed in masks, carrying clubs and idols around the city for the purpose of worship, apparently beating those who were not with them. In the story, Timothy says to them, “Men of Ephesus, do not be mad for idols but acknowledge the one who is truly God.” At this, Timothy is beaten nearly to death and later dies of his wounds.[4]

Even at this, the story goes on. There are disciples that continue the work begun by Timothy and according to the Acts of Timothy, John of Patmos plays a major role in the community after Timothy’s death. The city continued to be occupied off and on until the sixteenth century although it was only a shell of its former glory after a barbarian invasion in the third century and an earthquake in the sixth century. Even so, its ruins are a major source of historical, theological, and archaeological interest, with excavations continuing to this day.

The truth is, the story has never ceased. From one generation to the next, we have carried the stories of our predecessors into our own story and continued their telling as we live and tell our own stories. I’d like to share a little of the story in my time I’ve shared with you and what it has meant to me.

My Journey in Newcastle

What has God been teaching me? Simplicity – stick with the basics as pastor

One of the things that could happen with those of us who have been to seminary is that we feel a need to share all of our knowledge with the church after we graduate. We do it a little at a time while we are in seminary but we are usually too busy writing papers to really sink our teeth into it. After seminary, especially if we find ourselves in churches that may or may not see eye to eye with us, some of us have a tendency to want to ‘fight the system’.

In my first appointment after seminary, I was busy trying to show the church that they had a properly trained philosopher/theologian in their hands. I was at odds with the senior pastor, at odds with those who disagreed with me, but more than that, I was at odds with myself. It almost cost me my ordination and my ministry because I was too blind to see what was happening.

As I came to Newcastle, I had to remember what the ministry is really about: loving God and loving others. You can’t love people if you are trying to ‘show them truth’. You have to live into truth and let others see it in you. Rather than try to pontificate on what truth was I simply tried to be a good pastor: preach the gospel to the best of my ability, teach and be taught as a matter of course, love the people, be with the people, and remember that the goal is not numbers or growth metrics but maturing faith in Christ.

How have I grown? I have found balance in ministry and peace in Spirit

One of the greatest trials in the life of a minister is being balanced. Balance is a funny thing because when you finally find a balance you have to work to keep it. You can’t just sit there permanently and enjoy the balance you have to lean back and forth so you don’t find yourself leaning too far one way or the other. Over the last two years, I have managed to at least understand this, even if I can’t or don’t always practice it.

How has the church blessed me and my family? The church has shown love and grace beyond what we could have imagined.

From the beginning, this church has been a people that showed themselves to be loving and grace-filled. No matter what madcap hijinks your pastor has thought up, you have been patient and encouraging. You have been there for our family in any situation where we needed your help and support. When we asked for workers, you worked. When asked for prayers, you prayed. When we have needed you, you were there. I believe that no matter would have needed, you would have tried to offer it to us.

Offer thanks for worship, work, and witness/ministry

            And I thank you for this. For the work that you put into the worship services as accompanist, choir members, liturgists, kitchen workers, children’s workers, VBS workers, youth workers, maintenance technicians, and every other sort of minister that has been a part of what we have worked on together for the past two years, thank you. Your work is a light and a lifeline to this community and has been the principal reason that God has blessed our time and work together.

The Journey Ahead

But you don’t get off the hook that easily. In the same way that all of the stories we talked about – Samwise, Paul, and every other human life that touched another human life in history – have continued after they were gone, you continue your work as well. As Brenda becomes your new pastor in a few weeks, you will need to carry on this work and ministry because it is the work and ministry of God through the power of the Holy Spirit to show Jesus the Christ to the world that needs Him. Just because we are not working on this together in the same place does not mean that we are not working on together.

As the Body of Christ, connected in the Holy Spirit, we will always be working together no matter where our physical journey takes us. As Paul writes, “Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.”[5] I encourage you to continue living into your part in the body whatever that has been, or whatever the calling is for it to be in the future. And I want to leave you with the words of a wise pastor,

The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It educates us so that we can live sensible, ethical, and godly lives right now by rejecting ungodly lives and the desires of this world. At the same time we wait for the blessed hope and the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. He gave himself for us in order to rescue us from every kind of lawless behavior, and cleanse a special people for himself who are eager to do good actions. Talk about these things. Encourage and correct with complete authority. Don’t let anyone disrespect you.[6]


[1] The information in this first section taken from the novel The Lord of the Rings, via The Lord of the Rings Wiki website (http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Samwise_Gamgee)

[2] Oden, Thomas C. First and Second Timothy and Titus: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Preaching and Teaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, p.134

[3] Schaff, Philip. The History of the Christian Church: Eight Volumes in One.  Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, LLC. 2014, Kindle Edition. Loc. 7019

[4] Concannon, Cavan W. “The Acts of Timothy: A New Translation and Introduction” in New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1. Ed. Burke, Tony and Landau, Brent (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2016), p.395-404

[5] 1 Corinthians 12:12-13

[6] Titus 2:11-15

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