Sermon for Sunday October 27th, 2019, the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 65; Joel 2:23-32; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
The Text: 2 Timothy 4:6-8
The Topic: The time to assess our lives is now.
The first half of the New York City Marathon is a party. You’re swept along by 28,000 runners and the crowds lining the streets. You’re touring the ethnic neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens. You feel like you could run forever. At mile 13, you cross over into Manhattan and start heading north, away from the finish line. The crowds are thinner now. The party’s over.
At about mile 16 or 18, you hit the wall. You’re absolutely miserable. Physically and psychologically, you’re busted. I remember passing one of the first-aid stations, where runners were lying on cots — pale and gaunt, with IVs dripping into their arms. I thought, Those lucky dogs. At that point I began to despair. I imagined myself having to go home and tell everybody I didn’t finish. Why did I ever sign up for this race? What made me think I could do this?
That’s when it hit me: one way or another, I had to get to Central Park. I had no car, no money. I would have to get there on my own two feet. So I might as well keep running. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t think about the next six miles; just think about the next step. Gradually the miles will pass. And when you cross that finish line, it feels like glory — even when you’re in 10,044th place.
Some of you may be hitting the wall right now — feeling like you can’t go on, like you’ll never make it. Following Christ is harder than you ever imagined it would be, and you’re thinking about giving up — about doing something foolish. Don’t do it!
There’s no magic to endurance racing. It’s all about making it to the finish line.
— Bryan Wilkerson, “Endurance,”
2 TIMOTHY 4:6-8: ST. PAUL ABOUT HIS LIFE – ENDURANCE TO THE END
In the first part of our Second Lesson/Epistle today St. Paul makes a confident declaration about his life, the equivalent of saying he has just about reached the finish line. In the second section of this Lesson, St. Paul writes that everyone forsook him at his first trial, though the Lord stood by him and strengthened him, and he was delivered from the mouth of the lion, which means he was saved from being sentenced to death by combat with lions in the arena of the Colosseum. This was probably during his imprisonment at Rome, which may have been a second imprisonment, after the one recorded in Acts 28. St. Paul was aware that the time of his martyrdom would soon come, for he writes, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tim. 4:6, KJV). The first expression, “I am now ready to be offered,” expresses the idea of a drink offering, a libation, being poured out to God, while the second, “the time of my departure is at hand,” conveys the idea of a ship whose moorings are being cast off as she leaves the dock.
St. Paul, after saying that he is ready to be offered up as a sacrifice to God, and that his time of departure is at hand, makes three bold statements about his life: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7, KJV). In fact, the Greek text is better translated, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (NKJV). For the good fight that St. Paul fought is the whole course of the spiritual warfare that he engaged in throughout his life, and the course that he has finished as an athlete would, is the course of the Christian life, in which his eyes have been set on the Lord Jesus Christ from start to finish (Heb. 12:2). The faith that he has kept inviolate is the Christian faith which he has lived and taught accurately all his life. From then on, St. Paul, in company with all the saints who persevered to the end, has waited for the crown of righteousness to be given by the Lord on the day of his coming, to him and to all who have loved the Lord’s appearing (2 Tim. 6:8).
THE IMPORTANCE OF ASSESSING OUR LIVES TO SEE IF WE ARE OBEYING GOD
The English critic Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote that when a man knows he is to be hanged within the next fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully (James Boswell: The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D., Vol. III). But for the Christian, it is vital to his spiritual progress to assess his life from time to time to see if he is indeed fighting the good fight of faith, continuing the spiritual race towards the finish line, and keeping the faith. Then, when he arrives at his own time of departure from this life, he will be able to say that he, too, has fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith. Along these lines, St. Paul commands the Corinthian Christians:
Examine yourselves, as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified.
(2 Corinthians 13:5, NKJV)
In Anglican Christianity, we emphasize that everyone should undertake this self-examination before coming to a service of Holy Communion, so that no-one may receive Communion unworthily, but, having examined his conscience, confessed and repented of his sins, he may be assured of God’s forgiveness and strengthened by God’s grace to live a godly and holy life.
We also use the seasons of Lent and Advent to examine our lives and to see whether we are following God’s commandments and living according to the Way of Christ. Are we tracking the course of our thoughts, words and actions according to the principles of God’s word, and of the Christian faith as we have received it? Are we even aware that as Christians we are fighting a spiritual war daily, and that we must put on the whole armor of God? How sad it would be to fail to realize that there were spiritual battles to be fought and won, the spiritual race to run, and the faith to keep? What if the material concerns of daily life choked the growth of God’s word in our lives (Mark 4:19)? What if we arrived, each one at his own time of death, and we could not say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith,” because we had given up the good fight of faith, dropped out of the race, and abandoned the faith? Of course, Satan is doing his level best to tempt us to give up and drop out of the race.
How determined, then, we should all be to finish this spiritual race well, with the help of God’s grace! All of us should aim to be able to claim with St. Paul one day, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).