Warning: In honor of St. Francis’ feastday this week, this blog has gone to the dogs.
My daughter and her friend have cooked up a scheme for Halloween. They want to be the Weasley twins (ala Harry Potter) and turn her wheelchair into the flying car, and carry Fluffy the Three Headed Dog on the back of it to protect them. It’s a delightful and ambitious scheme. Fluffy the Three Headed Dog, you may or may not know, was guardian of the Philospher’s Stone. The Philospher’s Stone was the ancient holy grail: it would turn base metals into gold and rejuvenate life in those who possess it. Fluffy is derived from the Greek mythological character Cerebrus–the guardian over Hades. I don’t know if I am particularly more comforted by the protection of Fluffy the Three Headed Dog over my trick or treaters, but I do know that anyone who would bring harm to my daughter would wish they were only dealing with a Three Headed Dog. That has as much to do with the ferocity of a parent’s protectiveness as it does the character of my daughter armed with a 350 lb. wheelchair.
In this week’s lectionary reading (2 Timothy 1) old dog Paul, nearing the end of his life, passes on his legacy and wisdom to the young pup, Timothy. (For all the textual background on authorship, etc. go to Textweek.com. For my purposes, we’re just going to enter the story as it is given to us.) Paul writes: …But I am not ashamed for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” Guard the good treasure. What is the treasure we guard most zealously? Guarding the Gospel isn’t what comes to mind immediately for me. If you took an inventory of your treasure, what would be the top fifty items in your treasury? Dare you to try it. How do you guard those items? How many other resources (time, energy, attention, money, wisdom and it’s tools, etc.) are devoted to guarding your treasure? At least fifty more items in a list. Don’t forget Money magazine, Wall Street Journal subscriptions, financial counselor’s fees, home improvements to guard the value of your house, voting privileges that you exercise to protect …what?….., Scott’s lawncare products to protect your lawn through the winter, vaccinations for the kids, the pets, keep going. Let’s cut a little deeper. How about guarding one’s heart, spirit, vulnerability, weakness, frailty, honor, youthfulness, reputation, dignity….Fifty is a short list.
Guard the good treasure. What, exactly is the “Good” treasure, and what makes it “more Good” than any other of our many treasures? Is there a bad treasure?
Let’s see what we can learn about the treasure from what is set to guard it.
Sound teaching is one of the heads of the three headed dog who guards this good treasure. Sometimes we mix up which is which, and protect our dogma (have you noticed this blog is a little doggy?) as though it were the treasure. I applaud Pope Francis for challenging us all on this score, urging the Roman Catholic Church to think beyond Abortion and Homosexuality as the only things important to God. That doesn’t mean anything goes. It means that sound teaching belongs to the Three Headed Dog. The treasure lies under the trapdoor the dog is sitting on. Teachings about Christology, Pneumatology, Ecclesiology . Missiology, Creation, Soteriology, and all that jazz are the things we need to say to keep the Gospel good in our time. They aren’t unimportant. That’s why we must stay engaged with this head of the dog, feeding it, grooming it, trimming it’s nails, training it. Sound teaching is ongoing in it’s conversation with the world. If left to go feral, teaching does more to keep the world away from the Gospel than spread it. In particularly ugly moods, it will turn and devour the treasure it was supposed to guard.
Another head on this dog is All that has been Handed On to Us. This head is about the legacies handed on to us by those who love us, the Pauls, Eunices, and Loises. It’s about the part of Christianity that resides in the cemetery, and they get a vote. Some have given their lives to protect this treasure. In acts great and small, daily these Christians have passed the treasure on in tradition, liturgy, teaching, and the very stories of their lives through which we can learn and gain encouragement. In this way, Timothy’s Paul is very conserving/conservative. Again, it’s important to remember that these things are the dog, not the treasure. There’s a funny thing about inheriting someone else’s treasure. Sometimes we open the box from the storage unit and say, “Huh?? What is this? Why did she keep this? What do I do with it?” I’ve been doing a LOT of that the past few years. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with all the pictures of turkeys and hams and place settings from every feast my mother and cousin cooked up. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with the lock of my grandmother’s hair saved in a velvet jewelry box. Some things I couldn’t part with at first, but now that I’m a little further down the road, I’m ready. I can finally part with the giant collection of Avon collectible perfume decanters my mother and Aunt gifted me with. I can finally separate the memory I love from the thing I don’t need to love anymore. This head of the dog that guards the Gospel is like the world’s longest running garage sale, sifting and sorting and testing, and making room for what is needed now. My grandmother, like many people at both ends of life, lost her sense of value about things. She would keep the particleboard knock down table and have the junk man take away the solid brass bed. We can confuse the treasure with the dog here too. But ah! “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” We have a helper, a consultant, a counselor.
The third head of the dog? I would be interested to know what you might name it. From Timothy 1, this is what I think I know about it: vs. 7 it has a spirit of power and love and self-discipline, not cowardice. vs. 8, it is nothing to be ashamed of, and protects us when we suffer on account of the treasure over which we have guardianship vs. 9 it has a holy calling, a mission sacred to God and for which God has purpose and gives grace so we can carry it out, vs. 9b we didn’t invent it or give birth to it, and it’s been around a loooooong time vs. 10 through this treasure Jesus Christ defeats death and brings life vs 12 there are times of suffering and times when we might be embarrassed or unsure of ourselves, because of this treasure and the way it changes our position vis a vis the world, but Jesus himself guards what we trust to him with his very life and until the last day. Ok. Name that dog.
But, but, but, what’s the treasure????
I’m going to hazard a guess. It’s the love of God revealed to us from the foundations of the world, the love God has for all that God has made, the love through which God continues to give life and healing and hope , the love for which God is willing to pay mightily, the love in which we are made partners, guardians, protectors, advocates, friends, of that and whom God loves in this world. This treasure is indeed the very Philosopher’s Stone, It transforms even the most base and ordinary good work in Christ’s name into pure shining gold. It rejuvenates, revivifies, and recreates life itself. With this rock, even faith the size of a mulberry tree or a mustard seed is enough, because like all true treasure, it’s not about how big the treasure is. It’s about how much it is loved and cherished. Always.