Chained to the Rock 20th Pentecost
Psalm 65 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
While I was serving in Elko, I was invited to be a guest speaker at a class at the local community college, Great Basin College. The class was entitled “The Meaning of Life.” This seminar group had been reading a variety of sources, and talking at length about what gives life significance and, of course, how they could live life more deeply. I was asked to come and share “the Christian perspective” of what gives life meaning, and I saw this as a great honor as well as an opportunity to share my faith. But let me tell you, it was a little intimidating to have to distill down the whole of Christian teaching into a short presentation!
One thing that helped was all the training I had done for Hospice volunteers on The Spiritual Care of the Dying, and we had discussed leading the client through a process referred to as //:a Life Review.:\\ It’s a way of going over a person’s life, highlighting: 1. Ways that they have made an impact on others, 2. Ways that they have brightened their corner of the world, 3. Achievements, 4. Things that have made their lives significant. It’s an important task to do because, at the end of life, it’s easier to let go if we have a sense that we’ve made a difference…that our life has served a purpose.
So I talked to this class about how //:our mortality brings clarity and focus to how we live our life.:\\ I talked about how Jesus faced his own death, and how he lived his life fully and deeply and wanted us to live life to the fullest as well.
Our Psalm for today gives praise to God who takes care of us. And our Epistle reading is just a snippet from Paul’s second letter to Timothy—but it reveals how Paul was doing his “life review” as he approached his imminent death. He refers to it this way, “The time of my departure has come.” It sounds like he has his ticket, and he’s waiting for his cruise ship to leave the dock! Yes, Paul has done his “life review”!
- He’s looked honestly at what his life has been all about;
- “I have fought the good fight” (the fight is over now);
- “I have finished the race” (ready to receive the victor’s crown!)
- “I have kept the faith” (nothing in his experience—not even prison—has dissuaded him away from his faith in Jesus Christ!
So, what about you? If you got a terminal diagnosis, with only months to live–//:how would you assess your life?:\\ What is it that has given your life significance and meaning? Are you able to say that you have fulfilled your purpose? Keep these questions in mind as we explore these texts.
The End Is Near
In Second Timothy, Paul is “passing the reigns” of his ministry to Timothy. He does this, NOT with a sense of failure and despair, but one of Triumph and a hint of relief. William Barclay says, “Ever since his conversion, he had offered everything to God—his money, his scholarship, his time, the vigor of his body, the acuteness of his mind, the devotion of his heart. Only life itself was left to offer, and gladly he was going to lay it down.” In history, we learned that Nathan Hale spied on the British, and he was caught. Right before he was hanged, he declared, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
For the Christian, death is laying down the burden in order to rest; casting off the ropes which bind us to this world in order to set sail on a voyage—the voyage which ends in the presence of God. Who then shall fear it?
Paul said he was looking forward to a “crown of righteousness.” He is borrowing imagery from the Olympic Games, where the winners didn’t receive a gold medal—they got a crown of laurel leaves. This crown celebrates the glory of the moment, and it will eventually crumble. The crown Paul is anticipating would never fade, and its glory would last forever!
How Did Paul End Up in Prison?
Well, first he was falsely accused by some people in Jerusalem, and the Roman soldiers there arrested him to keep him from being killed by an angry mob. He spent two years, waiting for justice. During that time, he proclaimed the Gospel to the Roman authorities and to King Agrippa (who was so moved by his teaching that he responded, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?!”) Paul finally exercised his right as a Roman Citizen to appeal his case all the way up to the Emperor. So he was taken to Rome to await his day in court.
[I would encourage you to read Acts 24, 25, and 26 on your own—it’s better than any drama you’ll ever encounter!]
While he waited in Rome, he was under what scholars say was “house arrest.” He was in a home, but was chained to a guard day and night. He was able to receive visitors, and MANY came to spend time with him, learning from him, bringing encouragement to him. And, since he couldn’t travel, he wrote letters. In addition to 1 and 2 Timothy, he wrote messages to the Colossians, the Ephesians, the Philippians, and a personal letter to Philemon. These we know about—and there were probably many more that have been lost. And, as I mentioned in a previous sermon, Paul lived the Gospel in such an authentic way that even some of his guards came to the faith!
How Then Shall We Live?
You and I can be inspired by Paul, but none of us is Paul. Each of us has a completely unique life situation, and our challenges are our own. But just knowing about someone who faced such hardship, such unfairness, and death—and still had a sense of PURPOSE—gives me courage to live my life intentionally and with hope!
Just imagine that you’ve been informed that you only have a few months to live. 1. What would you do? Whom would you call? What would you say? In Hospice, we encouraged people to say five things:
- Forgive me
- I forgive you
- I love you
- Thank you
(Actually, except for the final “goodbye,” it might be a good idea to express these things to your friends and family even without a grim prognosis!)
If you knew that you didn’t have long to live, you would be helped by doing a Life Review.
- How was the world made brighter because you lived?
- Who has been affected by your life?
- What might your legacy be, and how might it live on?
John Ortberg writes, “You can drift: get up, go to work, come home, eat supper, watch TV, retire, and die. OR, you can take each moment and say, “God, this is yours.”
You see, if we live our lives knowing that they are finite—that our days will eventually come to an end—then we are liberated! We can take risks and follow where God is leading and be a part of the Grand Adventure! We can invest ourselves in people, knowing that our relationships will live on long after we are goneJ
At the end of his fatherly letter to Timothy, Paul expresses this thought: “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
This is a man, sitting in chains, knowing that his death is near! He is confident that God is taking care of him, and he gives God glory! He’s not miserable, just hunkering down, waiting for death. NO! He’s living life to its fullest, even though his parameters have been severely limited.
Friends, you and I have limited parameters as well, to varying degrees. But we can live our lives with courage, with forgiveness, with love.