“Fight the Good Fight” (1 Timothy 1:18-20; 3:1-7)
Sunday, July 15, 2018
New Elder Installation/Ordination
Dirty money; Matthew became rich by overtaxing his fellow Jews. Smelly, stinky hands; Peter and Andrew, James and John, the sets of fishing brothers handle fish all day. Dark, dangerous ideas; Simon the Zealot was a part of the revolutionary movement intent on throwing Rome out of Israel by violence. These and others were the first followers of Jesus, each one called by Jesus. This rogue’s gallery is who Jesus sought out to make up the community around him.
After the resurrection and ascension, with Jesus departed, gone in body but present in the Holy Spirit, who were the leaders of the early church? There were those disciples I mentioned; also, among the early church leaders was an expert in debating scripture, an indefatigable worker, and a capable tent-maker: Paul of Tarsus. There was a man born of a Greek father and Jewish Mother: Timothy. And, a man of religion who understood the heart of the word of God as much as others overemphasized the letter of the law: the great encourager, Barnabas.
What marvelous diversity we see in the skill-sets, personalities, and temperaments of the men and women who comprised the early church. We don’t want to overlook the sage Priscilla, advisor to preachers; or the tailor and fabric maker Tabitha. Or, the woman Paul called his compatriot and “prominent among the apostles,” Junia (Rom. 16:7).
In the tradition of the early church, we recognize the gifts of women and men. We ordain as elders women and men. And, standing upon the foundation established by the Holy Spirit, we see among us a variety of people who are called to serve in elder ministry. Today we install as elders, a doctor who specializes in treating infants, a nutritionist who comes from the UNC School of public health, and a scientist who studied chemistry at UNC. They have been ordained and served previously and today join the active elder board. Along with them we ordain two new elders, one a yoga instructor, dancer, and current school of public health student and the other a science fiction fan and expert in HVAC systems.
These to be ordained are different from each other. They are men and women, of different ages, with different skill-sets, varying ideas, unique life experiences, diverse personalities, and each with their own story about how God brought them to this day on which they commit to three years of service as active elders overseeing the ministry of HillSong Church.
Paul writes in 1 Timothy that he’s giving the instructions he has written in that letter so that the church may “fight the good fight, having faith and a good conscience” (1:18b-19a). The church in our 21st American cultural climate is in a fight, a fight for truth, for freedom from destructive temptations, and for identity. This is why Paul not only wants us to fight, but to do so with a clean conscience. How we bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is as important as the Gospel we share. As a church we must be gentle and generous, stubbornly committed to the word of God, stubbornly committed to the way of Christ, but also open to welcome all, especially those not yet on the way of Christ.
To succeed in being a church that leads the lost to Jesus and helps people grow as his disciples, we need our leadership to be sound and committed. Paul touches on this both in his first letter to Timothy and in his letter to Titus. Leadership was and is essential in the church.
The first Christian leaders, Peter, Paul, Timothy, and the rest, had a strong sense of calling. And I believe these who stand as our elders today have that same sense. They are committed to excellence in their work in the Monday-Friday world, whatever that work is, and they are just as committed to their role as leaders in discerning God’s wisdom in our church. That discernment is one way we fight the good fight.
We battle division and contentious rhetoric, with generous, hospitable welcome, showering people who come to us with loving, gentle words. We reject divisive nationalism and instead insist that we are family here. We come from different parts of America and different countries of the world, but here we live in an eternal family, brothers and sisters in Christ. We know that hatred and evil are on the loose, wreaking havoc in the world. But we also know our church has been set here by God to be a lighthouse shining God’s light so all can see God’s truth. Our church is a safe harbor, welcoming people in from the devastating storms of life, and helping them make their way into the grace-filled arms of Jesus. Making sure our church does this work – that’s what you sign up for when you accept the call to serve as an elder.
All of us are called to Christ, called to salvation, and called to discipleship. Living as disciples, we know that each and every one of us is called to ministry in some form as well as to living our lives as witnesses. For many weeks now, you have heard on Sunday mornings that we need volunteers in hospitality ministry, as front door greeters, and in children’s Sunday school. Each one of us can listen for God’s call and when it comes, we answer. Your church needs you to be God’s agent in helping our ministries thrive. Our elders have the special task of overseeing the entire church to make sure we’re all living into the calling God has for us.
Paul writes, “I am writing these instructions to you so that … you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (3:15). The phrase “how to behave” has nothing to do with culturally bound mores such as how we dress or style of music. Particular cultures have expectations about hats and foods and greeting customs and modes of conversation. We see our church family as a blending of cultures that welcomes and doesn’t get bent out of shape when people behave in different ways, as long as we are all respectful of each other and loving toward one another. We know Paul’s phrase “how one ought to behave” is about our hearts. What is in our hearts?
With the new elders our board, our leaders know that hearts full of love and grace will behave in a way worthy of the household of God. And that is what we are, the household of God.
This may be your first time worshiping with us, or maybe you’ve been coming only a short time. We’re glad you’re here. You too are called to salvation and to discipleship. That means you can find today how you can be part of the ministry of this church. As Hong Zhou, our minister for Chinese ministries has said, and I am paraphrasing here, serving God in the church is the most meaningful and wonderful gift you can give to God, to the church, and to yourself. As we go through the service of ordination this morning, I encourage everyone to pray and think about the specific ways God is calling you to serve in the church and in your life.