I Timothy 6:17-19
November 4, 2018
Emmanuel Baptist Church, Rev. Kathy Donley
“Take hold of the life that really is life,” Paul says to his protégé, Timothy. This comes at just about the end of the letter. Maybe Paul thinks he’s offering a summary statement. Maybe in his mind, the rest of the letter has been about “the life that really is life”, but I wish he had boiled it down a little bit more.
I’d like to ask him, “What is life?’ What is the difference between life and ‘life that really is life’? And how does a person take hold of that better kind?” I mean, I have read enough of Paul to know that he would say it has to do with Jesus, but in this context, he was mostly talking about money and generosity and sharing.
This is Guadalupe. She was born in southern Mexico on Halloween. Her mother had been walking long distances every day for the preceding two weeks. She was 8 ½ months pregnant when she and her husband and three children left their home in Honduras because of abject poverty and violence. I saw a video of Guadalupe. She was crying and obviously hungry, because what does a newborn know about the meaning of life other than the need for food and clean diaper and a warm place to sleep?
Maybe that is what her parents and the other members of the migrant caravan want too. Two-thirds of the people in Honduras are underemployed. Two-thirds of the people live under the poverty line. If a person is asking questions about the meaning of life, then maybe starting with the basics – food, clothing, shelter, safety – is appropriate. But what if your basic needs are met or as is true for almost all of us, what if they are more than met? How do we answer the question? What is the meaning, the purpose, the goal of my life?
I think of the windigos, the native American monsters with whom we began this season. The windigos whose hunger could never be satisfied. The story of the windigos became a way to warn against letting hunger or fear or the desire for self-preservation become the only goal in life.
I think of windigos when I see this bumper sticker “the one who dies with the most toys wins”
Some of us have found a real joy in life in toys or fabric or yarn or tools or guitars or books, and there is nothing wrong with that, except that the windigo voices in our culture keep saying that we need more toys, more yarn, more tools, more books.
Earlier in this chapter, Paul said to Timothy that we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. The bumper sticker version of that is “whoever dies with the most toys still dies.”
Isabelle Allende, is popular and award-winning novelist. She is the niece of former Chilean President Salvador Allende. A few years ago she was interviewed on the NPR program This I Believe. She said:
I have lived with passion and in a hurry, trying to accomplish too many things. I never had time to think about my beliefs until my twenty-eight-year-old daughter Paula fell ill. She was in a coma for a year, and I took care of her at home until she died in my arms. During that year of agony and the following year of my grieving, everything stopped for me. There was nothing to do — just cry and remember.
Paralyzed and silent and in her bed, my daughter Paula taught me a lesson that is now my mantra: You only have what you give. It’s by spending yourself that you become rich. Paula had given her life away essentially. Gave her life to others, serving, helping, volunteering. When she died she had nothing—but a heart full of love.
The pain of losing my child was a cleansing experience. I had to throw overboard all excess baggage and keep only what is essential. Because of Paula I don’t cling to anything anymore. Now I like to give more than to receive. I am happier when I love than when I am loved.
Give, give, give . . . what is the point of having experience, wisdom, or talent if I don’t give it away? ? Of having stories if I don't tell them to others? What is the point of having wealth if I don’t share it?” 
It is often difficult to discern what our excess baggage is, to realize that we might still be chasing after the most toys, long after that stopped being rewarding or meaningful or joyful. Sometimes it takes an experience like Isabelle Allende had, a significant grief or the wisdom that comes from living a long time, before we will realize what is truly essential.
But most of us in this room are trying to learn what we can, without necessarily undergoing that kind of difficult teaching and while we still have some years of life left. We are doing our best to follow Jesus who said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” If we look to Jesus as our model for abundant living, for the life that is really life, what might we find? Reading the gospels, we see a man who enjoyed good stories and meaningful conversation and meals with friends, and parties. He liked to laugh. It’s too bad that the humor has been translated out of much of his stories, because we might not think of him as funny, but he was. His reputation, among his detractors, was that he wasn’t serious enough. His critics called him a glutton and a drunkard. The picture that emerges from the gospels is of someone who loved life, who knew how to enjoy the company of other people. I have to think that is part of the abundant life he offered to everyone.
But if Jesus is our model for abundant living, then we also need to attend to his compassion demonstrated in his acts of healing and his efforts to include those who had been marginalized. We also need to remember his preaching and teaching that challenged injustice and oppression and encouraged those who were suffering. That was also part of the fullness of life that Jesus demonstrated.
One time someone asked Jesus what the most important commandment was. That’s as close as anyone ever came to asking him the meaning of life. Jesus’ answer was that the most important commandment was to love God and the next most important was to love your neighbor as yourself. Love of God and love of neighbor – that was Jesus’ summary for the good life. Everything else that he said or did fits into one or both of those categories.
I’m not going go through all of the gospels and illustrate that. But since we started this with Paul, who was talking about money, I do want to remember one more thing that Jesus said. He said, “You cannot serve God and money.” We cannot simultaneously love God and still be trying to get all the toys before we die. Loving God and loving our neighbor is going to affect what we do with our time, our money, our possessions, our energy.
And so for the final time this year, we hear the challenge to move out of scarcity, to trust in God’s abundant faithfulness and to learn to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share. The challenge to discover, in Isabel Allende’s words that we only have what we give -- our wealth, our love, our lives – and that it is often in letting go that we take hold of the life that is really life. Thanks be to God. Amen.