Sermon for Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, "The Life that Really is Life," 1 Timothy 6:6-19
*I'm quite(!) delayed in posting this sermon, but I'm finally getting to it.
1 Timothy 6:6-19
The Life That Really Is Life
Our text for today ends with a phrase I find so compelling, so thought-provoking. We’ll come back to what leads into it, but for now, we’re beginning with the ending. The author, a mentor writing to encourage a younger, emerging ministry leader, finishes this section with these words, this aimed-for conclusion: “so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” “Take hold of the life that really is life.” This is the goal. Now we have to figure out how our mentor tells us we disciples should get there. The phrase “life that really is life” implies that there is life that isn’t really life, and that we can, without realizing it, settle for this other life, this non-real-life life. Timothy’s mentor suggests that he knows how to tell the difference between non-real-life, and life that is really life, and how, then, to claim the life that really is life.
So, do you have hold of the life that really is life? A couple of things pop into my mind. First, I think of great movie from the 1990s, The Truman Show. How many of you have seen that? One of Jim Carrey’s better films, the premise is that this man, Truman, unbeknownst to him, has been the star of a TV show his whole life. Everything in his life is a fake, so people could enjoy watching his life unfold for entertainment. Eventually, Truman realizes that his life isn’t really real life. And although the TV studio creator tries to convince him that this “fake” world Truman lives in is better, safe, less hurtful than life in the “real world,” Truman would rather take his changes. He doesn’t want a glossy masquerade of life, even if it is easier. He wants real life.
Another piece of media: One episode of the TV show Scrubs featured a beautiful song by Colin Hay called “Waiting for my Real Life to Begin.” In the song, the narrator imagines themselves in different scenes - just about to leave on a ship and sail away, just about to slay a dragon and prove the hero. He’s just waiting, waiting for the “just about” to happen, waiting for real life to begin. But in the meantime, the person to whom he’s singing keeps urging the singer to live in the now. The lyrics go: “And you say, be still my love / Open up your heart / Let the light shine in / But don't you understand / I already have a plan / I'm waiting for my real life to begin. And you say, just be here now / Forget about the past, your mask is wearing thin / Just let me throw one more dice / I know that I can win / I'm waiting for my real life to begin. In this case, the sense we get as listeners is that while the narrator is waiting for his “real life” to begin, his actual real life, including an actual real person who loves him, is just passing him by. In both these examples, there is, as there is in our scripture text, a sense that there’s real life to be had, but that there are also many ways we settle for lives made up of illusions. How can we take hold of the life that really is life?
Timothy’s mentor has some ideas for him about taking hold of this life that really is life. A key, I think, is in the verse first of our reading. We experience great gain in life when we pursue godliness - which means a life marked by devotion, piety, attention to God; and we experience great gain when we cultivate contentment in our life. Godliness and contentment. Godliness isn’t a very common word for us to use anymore to describe ourselves, or others, and I think the strangeness of the world can make it feel like something we can’t pursue or achieve. Something meant only for holy and pious people - not us, not regular, ordinary people. But I see godliness as immersing ourselves in our relationship with God, tending to our relationship with God, tending to our spiritual lives. Of course, being part of a faith community is a way we can tend to our spiritual lives. The author wraps up godliness with words like faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. I think it is a way we connect with God and with one another. How are we tending to our souls on a regular basis so that we are forming our characters, practicing love until it is a habit? Godliness is just that, I think: a habit. We’re always making habits of actions and behaviors. But what actions, what behaviors are we making into habits? Godliness is a habit of waiting on God, listening for God’s voice, seeking after God, through prayer, through worship, through being part of a community of faith, through loving like Jesus loves. And godliness, our author says, is part of the path to the life that really is life.
The other part - and that part where our author really spends his time, is contentment. To experience great gain, to really live, we must be content. I think we hear the word content and we think “happy,” but contentment is something a little deeper than we usually mean - or achieve - by chasing happiness. Contentment is deep satisfaction. It is a feeling that you already have everything you need to be satisfied with your life. Contentment means you aren’t ruled by what you want, what you think you need. It means your focus isn’t on getting more, and more, and more. Instead, contentment is a deep feeling of enough. Not just barely enough. But enough that your life feels quite full, complete. Content.
Ironically, the more stuff we have, the more money we have, the richer in things we are, the more difficult it is to experience contentment. That’s what our mentor warns about repeatedly in our text. “We brought nothing into the world, and we take nothing out.” “Those who want to be rich are tempted and trapped by senseless and harmful desires that lead to destruction. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” “In their eagerness to be rich, many wander away from faith.” “The rich shouldn’t be haughty.” “Don’t depend on riches.” “Only what God gives us makes us rich.” “Be rich in good works. Be generous. Be ready to share. Store up eternal treasure.” I count nearly 8 different sentences in this passage warning us that collecting things and money are more likely to lead us away from contentment than toward it. New Testament scholar A.K.M. Adam says that “the insatiable appetite for wealth narrows [our] field of vision; when [we gaze] fixedly at wealth, [we] cannot look around at [our] neighbors who demonstrate that riches are not necessary for abundant life.” (1) Instead of increasing our options, the pursuit of wealth limits our abilities when it comes to our ability to draw closer to God and one another, our ability to serve God and neighbor with our whole hearts. Whatever energy we spend seeking after accumulating more stuff, more wealth, more status, is heart and soul that we can’t spend seeking after God and God’s ways. Whether we consider ourselves wealthy or not, most of us are sure we’d be happier if we could at least get a little more. But the relentless pursuit of a little more and a little more means that we’re never content. It’s never enough. And if we’re never content? Then have we ever taken hold of the life that is really life?
We can read the mentor’s words to Timothy as I think they are meant to be - words a loving, wise, older friend or relative or guide wants to impart to a young person, one getting started, perhaps, in the next phase of life, so anxious to help them understand what’s really important in life, so wishing to help them thrive, to find joy. (2) The mentor wants Timothy to experience the life that really is life. What wisdom would you share with a young person just starting out about what really matters in life? What would you tell them is the most important thing to spend your time, your heart, your life pursuing? What would you tell them has brought you the deepest, most lasting joy? What would you tell them has brought you closest to God? And then, friends, are we spending our days following our own advice? Let us, too, set our hope, set our hearts, on God, who richly provides us with all we need to be content, and with that strong foundation, let us take hold of the life that really is life. Amen.
A.K.M. Adam, “Commentary on 1 Timothy 6:6-19,” The Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-26-3/commentary-on-1-timothy-66-19
H/T to Sunggu Yang for this line of thinking, “Commentary on 1 Timothy 6:6-19,” The Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-26-3/commentary-on-1-timothy-66-19-5