| "Who do you say
that I am?" Jesus asked. Simon Peter answered, "You
are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus
answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are
Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra)
I will build my church..." Jesus then began to speak of
the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get
behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling
May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
Message preached October 24,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon 2 Timothy 4:6-8
Order of Worship
You wait in the wings, ready to step on stage and play your part. Each person faces these moments in a different way. Some clear their mind of everything. Others race through their lines or movements, making sure they remember each one. Still others sweat, physically and or mentally, worrying about potential flops, determined not to make them. The time arrives and the spotlight is upon you as you stand center stage. During the course of your performance, you pour out yourself before the crowd. Afterward, some actors leave the scene energized, others depleted.
That description could fit any of the forty persons who portrayed various characters in our church dinner theater production of "Oliver." Perhaps, in a slightly different way, it could describe the twenty or more others who have worked behind the scenes, in the orchestra, as stage hands, or even cooking and serving the meal. When our final performance is finished this afternoon, there will be a collective sigh of relief, even as there is a tinge of sadness that our time together is all over. We have poured out ourselves, to greater or lesser degrees.
This past week many of us watched the drama of baseball play-offs, as teams fought for the league pennant and the right to play in the world series. They poured their highly-paid energy out on the field, surely exhausted after seven games each, some of the longest play-off contests in history. Perhaps the Ďcurse of the bambinoí is over for the Boston Red Socks. Then again, they still have to face the formidable Cardinals of St. Louis. They did, however, beat the Yankees. Forgive me if you are a New York fan, but the Orioles fan in me must say, "Yes!"
In this morningís epistle lesson, the apostle Paul is pouring himself out, in a very personal way, before his young friend whom he has been mentoring: Timothy. Standing in the wings as his colleague prepares to step forward as a leader in the early church, Paul "solemnly" urges Timothy to "proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching... always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully" (2 Timothy 4:2,5).
"As for me," Paul goes on to say, "I am already being poured out..." He has been center stage in the developing church of Jesus Christ, at least from the perspective of what we have received in the writings of the New Testament. Almost 28% of it (all in the form of letters) has been attributed, directly or indirectly, to Paul - more than any other single person in the early church. He also figures prominently in Lukeís history of the beginning of the church - the Acts of the Apostles.
In these scriptures as we have received them, Paul has been poured out on these pages. Even though he long ago finished his earthly ministry, the words of this apostle continue to be poured out upon the stage of todayís church. We still go into "extra innings," if you will, contending over the interpretation of what he had to say. I wonder what he would have thought about that, though, if heíd known then that his letters would become holy writ.
In this morningís scripture, his are very personal words, looking ahead to the end of his life and ministry... I remember conversations with my own ministry mentor, Carl Zeigler. For many years Carl taught Bible at Elizabethtown College. By the time I came around, he was officially retired but still teaching one course a term. Every year, he continued to take under his wing a student, and I was privileged to be one of them. Carl was a unique person amid the contending forces of Brethren in eastern Pennsylvania. He was respected by Conservatives and Liberals alike, and often was the intermediary between them. In the privacy of his home, though, he shared his opinions of certain key figures in the Dunker drama, thoughts Iím sure heíd never want to become public.
I have to think of that as I read what the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy in the verses following this morningís text. He didnít mince words about those of whom he didnít think very highly, many of the names somewhat lost in the "ether" of history. Would Paul have considered his own personal opinions of these fellows worthy of being saved for eternity? I donít know. Regardless, they are part of scripture as we have received it.
My mentor Carl was not a perfect person, likewise the apostle Paul. Both would adamantly agree to that. I recall Carl talking with me about his ministry in the past tense, focusing - as he did so - on my own future tense ministry. It wasnít depressing, though, to think of his efforts having already been "poured out." His death was not imminent. It would be several years before he would join that cloud of witnesses we sometimes call the "church triumphant."
Was the end of Paulís own life and ministry behind what he shared with Timothy on this page? It would seem so, though his death is not recorded in the New Testament. We donít really know when or where. The words, however, should not be read in a depressing way. Yes, we often turn to this text at the time of a funeral, but letís make sure we put the words into context. This is a mentor sharing from the heart an encouragement to his younger friend and co-worker-in-Christ: "Confidently step onto the real-life stage and share the message you have received, whether or not you think you have been heard. Only God knows the effect of what you say and do, so be patient. Donít lose heart and get pulled into majoring in the minors, as some folks do. Stick to task, even when you face opposition. Be the good news you share" (my paraphrase of 4:2-5).
And then Paul turns to his own journey and, with multiple metaphors in both present and past tense, opens up his own journey with Jesus. "As for me," he writes, "I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (4:6-8).
With those words, our minds jump from sanctuary, to seaport, to wrestling mat, to Olympic stadium, to courtroom. Whoa! Iíve often heard that people are busier in retirement than they were in their "working" years. If Paul is describing his "sunset years" here, he has been and remains one active guy. One metaphor isnít enough to contain it all.
As "the time of (his) departure has come," we hear the "all aboard" (or whatever they used to say back then) sing out. Seagulls sound out overhead and the crashing of waves on the shore mixes with the smell of the saltwater. An adventure awaits... Then the scene changes to a wrestling match. He is not bruised and bloody from a contest that has not gone well. No, he here has "fought the good fight." But he is not filled with arrogance over his wins nor bitterness over his loses. He has contested "nobly." By the way (if youíll excuse my flipping from wrestling to baseball), even the best batters miss over half the time. You win some and you lose some.
The curtain closes, then opens upon a marathon. Are you keeping up with the changing scenery? Paul has "finished the race," he says. Imagine a long-distance runner who has paced himself through the many miles of the course, gone from second to third or even fourth wind, "hit the wall" as runners describe that moment when muscles cry out "enough!" and come close to shutting down, then suddenly revive. Imagine the final push, the last effort to cross the finish line, then the let-down as exhaustion and pride merge. It takes a while for the latter to gain the upper hand. Through it all, Paul says he has remained faithful. Like a runner in a relay (another scene change, by the way), he had been entrusted with the baton of faith, which he has not dropped as he has run the race. In many ways this letter to Timothy is like a pass-off of the baton to the next runner.
At the Olympics this past summer, they revived an old tradition. In addition to medals hung from around the neck, garlands - laurel wreaths - were placed upon the head of the winners, a practice of the ancient Greek games thousands of years ago. "There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness," Paul wrote, an allusion to this ritual. Here, however, the one who decides the winner is "not a human umpire," as John Chrysostom - a fourth century church leader - once wrote. This contest "has not men for spectators," he added (Oden, p.173). God is the judge, and yet again the scene in this passage shifts to a courtroom on judgement day.
In a previous letter to young Timothy, Paul had confessed that before Christ interrupted his life on the way to Damascus, he was the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15-16), worthy of anything but a garland of righteousness at the end of the road. However, Jesus came to save sinners, and Paul - chief among sinners, according to his own accounting - became an example of Godís mercy. It was because of Jesus that, on the last day, Paul faced not a death sentence but a victorís wreath from the very hand of God.
Here, then, is the final scene in this passage. We have raced from act to act, metaphor to metaphor to get here. The curtain parts and Paul portrays himself standing before a righteous judge - that is, God. Whereas previous scenes were flashbacks to past events or vignettes from present experience, this one is set in the future. As I already revealed, this is not, however, about a judge passing sentence on a guilty man. In this scene a crown (of sorts), the garland of a victor is placed upon Paulís head. Then Paul, if you will, throws the garland offstage into the audience, like a bride might throw her bouquet. This garland, this victorís wreath, he says, is for everyone who longs for Jesus, whose eyes are on the horizon waiting for the real runner to arrive. That crown really belongs to him, to Christ. But you know Jesus. Heís going to share it.
Sing "Untitled Hymn - Come to Jesus," by Chris Rice (lyrics, music/midi)
Perhaps itís that last scene which transforms this personal letter from Paul to Timothy into something so much bigger, words that somehow become a Word from God. Itís not really all about Paul, as the apostle would be the first to confess. Itís about keeping our eyes on Jesus, whose life was poured out for us on the cross that we might live, really live... Oh yeah, I left out a scene in Paulís drama, a metaphor with which he began in this morningís scripture. "I am already being poured out as a libation," Paul wrote, starting us out at the altar. Thatís an appropriate place to begin and to end. Our lives, you see, are an offering to God, poured out on the altar of our everyday experience.
So, "Come to Jesus ... sing to Jesus ... fall on Jesus
... cry to Jesus ...
dance for Jesus ... fly to Jesus, and live!" (quotes above song)
|online resources for this scripture text
For commentaries consulted, see Pastoral Epistles.
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)
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