The text this morning comes from the
2nd letter to Timothy, chapter 4. But before I read it, just one
word of background. There's one strange word or term in here that
you may not be familiar with, and that is 'libation'. Libation was
an offering that was given at the end. It was the final offering,
an offering of an animal's blood that was poured out at the alter.
So that might help your understanding of this text:
In the presence of God
and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in
view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim
the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or
unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience
in teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with
sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for
themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away
from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you,
always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry
out your ministry fully.
6 As for me, I am
already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure
has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I
have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown
of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me
on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for
Many of you know that I take time out
at the beginning of the year to look at all the lectionary passages in
the coming year and to pick a theme for each Sunday of the year.
That's how our choir is so able to have music that fits the theme, Nancy
does a great job of selecting music to go along with that theme.
So it was back in January that I picked the theme for this
Now, there are those who believe that
coincidences are just a word for acts of God for which we have no other
explanation. I, on the other hand, tend to rebel against such
notions as trivializing the acts of God, while wars go unchecked and
And yet, there are those times when I
have to stop and say, "Huh?".
And this week I had one of those
occurrences, when I had just returned from the hospital visiting Gilbert
Kistler, obviously in the last days of his life. And I came back
to the office, pulled out my file for this Sunday to look to see what
text I had picked to preach on, and here I read this text:
"I have fought
the good fight.
I have finished the race.
I have kept the faith".
I know not everyone here knew Gilbert,
who passed on Thursday evening. But those of you who knew him and
were touched by his life, know that there is no other person for whom
this text is more appropriate.
have time tomorrow to remember and to celebrate Gilbert's life and I
hope many of you can be here for that. It's going to be a
hymn-fest, in part, because that was so much of his life, a ministry of
music. Those that knew Gilbert know that he spent his entire life
in service to Christ, and who, as a result, through much of his career,
especially in those early years (as his children here with us can attest
to) had to put in a lot of extra hours.
Had to work on weekends, preaching on
weekends at other churches around the area, even work in the summer at
the cannery to augment his meager income from teaching at Northwest
Christian College. He had picked the only career, back in those
days, that possibly paid less than pastoral ministry -- teaching at a
Gilbert never wavered in his devotion,
never complained about his calling. And as I said in my E-mail to
the Elders Thursday night announcing his death, he truly was one of the
saints of the church.
Well, the second letter to Timothy is
often called the last will and testament of the apostle Paul.
Whether or not it was actually written by Paul, it accurately reflects
his life and is a testimony to his faith in Christ. And in this
text this morning, we see the passing of the baton, as it were, to a
younger generation represented by Timothy. And with this baton,
Paul relays to the next generation his final, parting words of
admonition: "Stay true to your calling. Keep the faith
as I have done". And then continuing in this athletic image,
Paul alludes to the crown of laurel bestowed upon those winning athletes
in the Roman games, and says that ". . a crown of
righteousness" awaits him.
Hardly the image of humility that we
assume that we are supposed to have in Christ. Seems a bit presumptuous,
even for an apostle to make such a claim. But if, on the other
hand, this letter is written as a reflection on Paul's life by a later
disciple, then it is a strong affirmation of the importance of Paul's
example to later generations. It is their testimony, the witness
of that generation after Paul, that says 'here was a man who truly lived
the faith in every way, and he serves as a model for us'.
So then, I think, the message, in part,
that we take from this text, is to identify those models of faith that
have come before us. Those that we are called to pattern our lives
after. The Kistler's, and the Hyland's, and the Osborne's, and the
Conner's, and many others of this congregation. That generation
that Tom Brokaw calls The Greatest Generation. Who gave so
selflessly to build a better, safer world. And hence, our
consultant Dick Hamm calls this generation "The
Builders". Those who experienced the hard realities of the
Great Depression and world war, and thereafter sought to build a
different reality for their children and our future. They are the
ones of whom we can say 'they fought the good fight, they finished the
race, kept the faith'.
And so I ask, as we reflect on the
contributions of that generation to our world and to our faith and to
our church, what is it that we admire most? That we want to
replicate in our own lives?
Or to put it differently, if we were
writing this letter to Timothy today, about a Gilbert Kistler or a
Ronald Osborn or an Orace Wolfe, or our own parents or grandparents,
what would we say that their last words to us would be?
My guess is it would not be much
different than Paul, or what the author of this letter thought Paul's
would be: 'I solemnly urge you, to proclaim the message that I
passed on to you. To be persistent, whether the time is favorable
or unfavorable to that message. To do that work of an
evangelist. Carry out your faith fully. For this is your
time. My time is over. I fought the good fight, I finished
the race. I beat the Devils (or Arizona [Ducks won again on
I kept the faith. May you do the same'.
With the reassertion of Eugene as
'Track Town USA', the coming of the Olympic Trials once again to our
city, it's a very timely image for us, this image of the athlete who has
finished the race, fought the fight. But note that Paul does not
say that he WON the hard fight, that he finished the race in world
record time -- only that he was IN the game and gave it his best.
Which of course are the words of consolation that we always give to the
losing team -- you know, Arizona State fought their best, they gave it
their all. And it wasn't enough J.
So maybe that's not a good image for us to use J.
To put it differently: keeping
the faith is really not about our destination, or at least it's not
solely about the destination, it's also about the journey. It is
about how we play the game. How we get to the end is often as
important, sometimes more important, than the end itself.
And that's why doping of athletes, for
instance, is just not OK. We can not tolerate that. It's why
peace through justice is always preferred over peace through victory,
which is often very shallow.
That's why pre-emptive war produces
post-emptive peace. That's why killing people is not the best way
to show that killing people is wrong! Something that the rest of
the industrial world realizes, and hence capital punishment has been
banned in every Western nation except our own.
Do you spank a child in order to show
that child that hitting children is wrong? Somewhere the message
is going to backfire.
Or to use an example from this week on
campus at the University of Oregon, the best way to honor free speech
when a Holocaust denier comes to town is not to forbid that person from
speaking, but rather it is to counter with more speech that uncovers the
deception and the half-truths.
For us as Christians, to value the
journey as much as the destination means to see our faith as a way of
life, not just as a set of beliefs. Faith in Christ is not about
believing the right things about Jesus, it is about living the way of
Jesus. As Paul wrote in his great epistle on faith, the letter to
the Romans, in the first chapter: "For I'm not ashamed of the
gospel. It is of God, for salvation to everyone who has
faith. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through
faith for faith, as it is written 'The one who is righteous will live by
And we see plenty of examples of people
who believe Jesus is the son of God, who believe he died
for our sins. And yet who do not live the way he taught. Who
show no love for their enemies. Who make war instead of
peace. Who ignore the cries of the hungry, the ill, and the
oppressed, to accumulate wealth for themselves while they ignore the
plight of the poor. Who serve mammon instead of God. Who
serve themselves instead of others.
To live the way Jesus taught us to
live, we have to do more than believe the right things, we have
to do the right things.
Keeping the faith, therefore, has
little to do with our beliefs and has everything to do with our actions.
And that's precisely why the example of
athletes is so appropriate in this text. You don't get to be a top
athlete, or even a mediocre one, by believing the right things
about how to play the game, about how to be competitive, about how
to be in shape, otherwise, I would be a Heisman Trophy candidate
too! Check out my moves . . . .oooh, that hurt J.
You have to eat right, you have to
train, you have to practice what you believe.
Friday night, there was a free-speech
rally to counter the appearance of Mark Weber, that Holocaust
denier. Turns out his flight was canceled -- he didn't make it to
Eugene. And that spawned all kinds of jokes about conspiracy
theories -- 'must have had a Jewish pilot' that knew he was coming,
At any rate, Peter Straton, a member
of our church in the first service, opened the rally with an excellent
speech that he made, right after Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin.
And I closed it. And I told the group that I didn't prepare any
comments as I typically do for those types of occasions, because I
wanted to be in the spirit. I wanted to speak from the
And what came to me as I listened to
the other speakers that night at the rally, is that it was not about
free speech. It was about human decency.
In the article that appeared this week,
written by Jeff Wright of the Register Guard, Mr. Weber was quoted as
saying that because the death of Anne Frank in the concentration camp
was from a disease -- Typhus -- rather than in a gas chamber, he
questioned whether or not she could be counted as a Holocaust victim.
I said: 'What more evidence do
you need of a Holocaust denier?' He does not have the basic,
common human decency to recognize that she was a victim. The
decency to recognize the impact that statement has upon all the
survivors of the Holocaust. Upon all the Jews. Indeed, upon
all those who are victims of tyranny and oppression. It's about
common human decency. And I said -- the response that we have to
have is not to respond with indecency toward indecency, but precisely
decency to those who are indecent.
To respond in a different way, with our
actions and our words, to show our decency. For it does no good if
we believe the right things about history but then we don't learn the
lessons and apply them in our lives.
We are called to learn from the history
of Christ and the generations of Christians who followed that the faith
we keep is the faith we live, everyday.
So may we fight the good fight.
May we finish the race. May we keep the faith with the way that we
live our lives.