- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Paul J. Dovre
- Anna Rhode â€™09
- Arland Jacobson
- Larry Papenfuss
- Polly Kloster
- Roger Degerman
- Stephanie Ahlfeldt
- Susan Oâ€™Shaughnessy
- Kristi Rendahl
- Dr. Heidi Manning
- Roy Hammerling
- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Jan Pranger
- Nikoli Falenschek '11
- Bruce Vieweg
- Dr. Paul Dovre
- Whitney Myhra '11
- Bruce Houglum
- Dr. Lisa Sethre-Hofstad
- Dr. Paul Dovre, Interim President
- Nick Ellig
- Virginia Connell
- Per Anderson
- Vincent Reusch
- Larry Papenfuss
- Carl-Martin Nelson
- President William Craft
- Dr. Olin Storvick
- George Connell
- Robert Chabora
Dr. Paul J. Dovre, President EmeritusCommunities of Character
I Timothy 5:9-16 (1-25)
Concordia Chapel, 11/10/09
Paul J. Dovre
You’re probably asking, “what is he going to do with that text?’ I had the same question after first reading the text. It could create confusion. But then we live in confusing times: there is confusion in the Lutheran church about polity issues; there is confusion in the county about how to get the economy moving again; there is confusion in the public square as we grapple with a range of issues related to health, the environment, energy and the Middle East.
But we are not the first people to live in confusing times. Put yourself into the shoes of Timothy, a young apostle in a new assignment in the first century church. If you were him, how would you lead a still forming community where there are people of all ages, people of different economic and marital status, people with diverse views about how to understand God and how to follow Jesus in what was a polyglot culture?
Clearly, there was need for clear teaching about how the community should respond to the gospel it had received and claimed, how it should respond to issues of injustice and inequality, and how it should respond to false teachings. And, moreover, how would you provide leadership when you were young and inexperienced? Timothy found a very good answer to that question, he leaned on the advice of a mentor, someone with a lot of experience in leading Christian communities, the Apostle Paul.
I think it’s worth considering the advice Paul gave Timothy and how that might relate to where we find ourselves. To get a better grasp on Paul’s counsel, it is necessary to read passages both before and after the text of the day. This expanded text is framed by both the Jewish legacy and the revelations of Christ. That is, the Old Testament legacy instructs religious communities to care for widows, orphans, strangers and the poor. And it calls for faithfulness to the teachings of the prophets, priest and kings. Christ, the one who fulfilled the words of the prophets, claimed that legacy as his own and expanded on it in sermons like the one given on the Mount and in conversations with people like Mary and Zacheus. Paul was familiar with all of this and so, he told Timothy, the hall marks of a community of Christian character are these:
• There must be justice
• There must be respect
• And there must be accountability
This advice was offered in some detail but let me give you a few examples.
1. Paul said there must be justice for the widows and the elderly who were without resources. In addition the elements of a community of Christian character must be nurtured by priest and teachers and they should be adequately supported.
2. And he advised young Timothy to show respect for the elderly whose wisdom and experience should be valued and honored, and he must be careful, use some finesse, in dealing with people in his own age group and younger.
3. And he urged, at some length, that there be accountability.
• If families had the resources to care for their relatives, they should do so. If you fail to do so, said Paul, you have denied the faith and behaved like an unbeliever.
• Idlers and gossips and busybodies are admonished
• Those sitting in judgment are instructed to be impartial.
Now you might ask, why would a community want to behave in these ways? Was it a matter of obeying a new set of laws in order to please a new leader, Timothy, and the ultimate leader, Christ? No, of course not. The members of this emerging community of Christian character were motivated by the Gospel. Many of them had spent most of their lives chasing illusory religious idols or animals or laws in quest of their salvation. And they had come up empty. Then comes Jesus Christ in whom they hear the echoes of the great promises that were made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Ruth and Esther; promises Christ now fulfilled…in some cases before their very eyes. In Christ they found freedom and new life in the midst of their political servitude. So, out of gratitude they sought to build communities of the way, communities of care and quality, of wisdom and faithfulness. And it wasn’t as though all would be sweetness and light on their new journey, that’s why they needed the leadership of Paul and Timothy, the counsel of unnamed priests and teachers, and an emerging tradition of church councils to settle differences.
We find precedent in this story for our own mandate to be communities of Character. Just as the new Christian communities found it useful to refresh their memories of the journeys of the Israelites, so we find it useful to recall the stories of Paul and the lives of the saints. Just as these early, aspiring communities needed leadership, so we also lean on presidents and chairs and coordinators for essential direction. And just as early communities required clarity about core values, so do we. And yes, like the early communities, we need means to address matters in contention just like the first Century communities. And we pursue such strategies because we are thankful for the grace that has come upon us and we are willing to do what my friend Ray Siegle called “the hard work of hope.” Yes, we too, would follow Christ and serve our neighbors in our time and places.
And what does that amount to in our time and place? Well to begin with, every task faced by a community needs leadership. It is a sacred calling and trust. People called to leadership are deserving of our trust, our support and our advice. And if you are the leader of a club or a department or a college, you don’t need to start from scratch. There are mentors in both the real time of this year and the historic time of the last decade or the last century and the ones before that. Leaders need not be isolated in their time, it is respectable and wise to seek the counsel and wisdom of mentors. We share the same mandate as the early Christians did to be communities of character and Paul offered good counsel when he identified the core values of justice, respect and accountability. Such values cannot be taken for granted and we see through his letters that Paul tended to these core values at virtually every turn. And so should we. Communities of character honor their philosophers and theologians and pastors for just this reason and therefore we assign such people to high station. And human communities are places of contention around a variety of issues. Such contention is inevitable and often a sign of good health. So, as in the early church’s convocation in Jerusalem, our communities need forums in which to work things out, to discern the path of faithfulness and service.
I think in these sometimes discouraging days about how all of this fits the life of the Lutheran Church. We live now with some very uncomfortable consequences of a decision which, in the view of many, we should not have taken. But we have good counsel and good leadership which urges us to respect the conscience of those with whom we are in disagreement and join together in behalf of the dynamic mission to which we have been called. And for me, that mission transcends the disagreements about who may or may not be ordained and called. There is so much more at stake than that one issue and we must not allow ourselves to be sidetracked by it.
On the national scene we labor over issues concerning health care. Justice is at stake. Our leaders have spoken but not with one voice. Now it is essential that our representatives act. I do not have an opinion about what should or should not be the outcome. But I note that in the past this nation has achieved noble compromise on many vexing issues including civil rights, health care, social security and education. Those decisions were framed in the crucible of great debates. What made the debates great is that people listened with respect and then found the common ground on which they could act. We cannot afford to feed our partisan egos with slander and distortions on this matter for respect and justice are both at stake. So I bid our leaders, in the name of all that’s noble in our life and history as a nation, find the common ground and act.
It is the season of Thanksgiving. Along with many of my fellow citizens, I am grateful for the blessings of this free and democratic land. And, in gratitude, I am willing to join the common causes that will lead to justice, respect and accountability on a host of issues. And God has blessed me beyond my comprehension and certainly my merit. “For all of which I in duty bound to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.” This is most certainly true!