1st lesson: Psalm 100
2nd lesson: 2 Timothy 4:1-9, 13, 19-22
Paul says to his dear friend and student, Timothy: “Do your best to come, before winter.”
Centuries later, the Roman Catholic Church names Paul and Timothy saints. The saints in our world have always been ordinary people who do extraordinary things. They sense a call from God and courageously respond with healing, compassionate, just words and deeds.
Saints come in all shapes and sizes of course. They are found in all races, all religions—they are men and women, young and old —each with unique gifts and talents to share. We find saints in the realm of music, art, medicine, religion, politics, indeed, in all labors which contribute greater hope, peace, and love to the world.
Some of the most inspiring and challenging saints I have met or read about in my life are those who care deeply about the earth and its creatures. I’ve noticed that these particular kinds of saints not only want to protect the earth and all its creatures, great and small—they deeply appreciate and are moved by the nature’s beauty.
Speaking of such saints, one of my Dad’s favorite hymns was: “For The Beauty of the Earth.”
Some of you may know that my Dad, Ted, loved to look at this world through a camera lens. As I grew older I realized that the beauty of nature helped my dad during challenging times to experience an enduring light of hope and faith shining in his heart. My Dad taught my brother, Peter, and me a deep appreciation of nature and to view all life, human and non-human, as a gift.
Dad once described the scenery he had viewed through his camera lens, including the area where he and my mom retired, just outside Santa Rosa on Highway 12, in the season before winter. You can sense my dad’s gratitude in these words:
“The trees and vineyards are beautiful hues of gold and red, orange and maroon and yellow, contrasted with the deep green of the evergreens. The last crop of roses is in full bloom.
High clouds are abruptly whipped at right angles by high winds in the blue sky.
Brightly colored leaves begin to drop--everywhere.
Winter is coming.
Cows spread out to graze all facing in the same direction. Then they quietly follow each other in long lines back to their barns. Flocks of birds rush from field to field, then settle as close together as possible on the telephone line. Mountain hawks wheel effortlessly, patrolling their routes and then circling together. Green humming birds with red heads flit from purple flower to flower. Tall white herons walk very slowly through the garden. Sparrows splash around in a puddle, left by the sprinkler, then dash into the grass looking for breakfast.”
Friends, my dad’s words remind us that the time before winter, in Sonoma County, as well as here in Pismo Beach and beyond, is very special. Like the seasons of the year, our very lives also exist for only a season, and then we move on. Such a realization enables a deeper appreciation of every hug, every kiss, every sunset, every conversation, and every goodbye.
You could say that the season before winter is a foretaste of new life emerging from change.
Throughout Northern California and in the mountains, cold strong winds will soon arrive, as well as rain and morning fog. The days will often be overcast and gray. With the end of daylight savings time darkness arrives earlier and days pass more quickly. Winter is coming.
With the approach of winter, it is interesting to listen to the words of one who was approaching his final winter season—the apostle Paul. Paul was a saint whose life was devoted to starting churches and spreading the gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike.
The apostle Paul, in a letter to Timothy, a young pastor and evangelist, sends a very personal message. Says Paul to Timothy: “Do your best to come before winter.”
In the fourth chapter of second Timothy, Paul has finished his last journey around the Mediterranean. He is imprisoned in Rome with little hope of being released. It seems he has a premonition that his life may soon end and his ministry will be over. Then it will be up to his student Timothy to carry on the ministry faithfully.
Paul writes: “I am already at the point of being sacrificed. The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith. Do your best to come to me soon.”
Friends, Paul charges Timothy to “be steady, to endure his share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, doing the work of an evangelist, preaching the word, being urgent in season and out of season, being unfailing in patience and in teaching.”
If Timothy does all that, he will not only fulfill his ministry; he will carry on Paul’s ministry of proclaiming the truth of eternal life in Jesus Christ. And that is exactly what Timothy did—he too, like his mentor Paul, kept the faith and finished the race.
Isn’t that our call as well? In a world, of hate and violence to “be steady”, “to endure suffering”, “to be unfailing in patience”, to love God and our neighbors, now and to the end?
As we learn from our second lesson, Paul also has some practical needs. He says to Timothy: “When you come, bring the coat that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books and above all the parchments.” The request so humanizes Paul. And reminds us that like most people as they face their mortality Paul doesn’t want to be alone. Paul wants Timothy to be there to share his death as well as his life.
Paul’s life as a missionary and evangelist, according to his own words, has included suffering such as being whipped, beaten with rods, stoned, constantly in peril on land and at sea—often he has been hungry, thirsty and cold. And now Paul is nearing the end. In that trying hour we hear a very human request of a man and a friend:
“Do your best to come before winter.”
Winter was about to set in, in Rome, and Paul, now in his late 50’s or early 60’s wanted his cloak, the heavy winter coat he had left in Troas. It is likely the only coat he owns and there is no heat in his prison cell. The cell walls are likely wet with saltwater brine from the Mediterranean Ocean, but Paul’s heavy coat has withstood snows in Galatia, dust on the Appian Way, and it has protected him from angry crowds, who have hit him and driven him out of their towns. Paul wants his books and parchments so that during his last hours he can write letters to the young churches he has founded. Now that’s dedication.
I think most of all, Paul wants to see Timothy himself.
“Do your best to come before winter.”
A simple phrase—yet, so deeply moving.
Theologian Henri Nouwen has written: “Simply being present to people who face death can be our greatest gift to them.” Friends, the Apostle Paul knew from experience that when winter arrived, the season for sailing on the Mediterranean would close. It would be too dangerous for ships to go to sea. He himself had traveled those same waters and had been shipwrecked at least 3 or 4 times. Paul knew how dangerous a journey it was in winter.
If Timothy waits until winter, he will not be able to sail until spring, and Paul has a premonition, which turned out to be right, that he will not live to see another spring. It is therefore a matter of coming before winter or never.
As with Timothy, so it is with most of us. There are some things, which may never be done unless we do them now, before winter. There is only so much time available for certain things we need to do. And once the time has passed it cannot be reversed. Winter will come and winter will pass away and new flowers will bloom. Yes, there will be new opportunities in a new time, but the past will remain past. Thus Paul’s request echoes in our ears as well, “come before winter.”
There are opportunities now for each of us to show our love and concern, to take action and strengthen our relationships with people. The possibilities may not be there next month or next Spring. A truth which was painfully revealed recently in a house of God in Pittsburgh, as senseless violence, a misguided cowardly act, stole the lives of 11 Jews as prayed and worshipped God. Yes, Life can be gone in a moment.
Thus every day is a tremendous blessing, every smile of a child, a miracle to be cherished. Every chance to love must be grasped, and every gift, accepted with gratitude. I believe we honor the fallen by trying never to take even one day for granted. And by never giving up our pursuit of peace and justice in God’s world.
Friends, the time before winter—how quickly it passes. It is a perfect parable of everything and everybody that is here for only a limited time, time that we need to take advantage of, and not waste or neglect. Paul reminds us not to put off what needs doing now, to stop thinking and wondering, and start doing.
He reminds us that despite all the things going on outside us, the primary motivation for our taking action or not is going on inside us. When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy he knew that his problem was inside his own spirit. Thus, I believe Paul is also saying to his friend, essentially, “come, before winter comes inside me”. And I believe Timothy came immediately to the aid of his friend and mentor.
Suppose Timothy had not come, saying to himself “I’ll go and see Paul one of these days after I finish all the important things I am doing now.” If so, Timothy would have missed the last ship, waited until spring and arrived too late to say goodbye. Legend has it that Timothy did come before winter. He heard the need and he responded to the voice requesting friendship and affection—as well as a warm coat. Many believe that Timothy walked with Paul to his execution. That he received Paul’s final benediction. I like to think that Paul didn’t die alone. Yes, Timothy heard a call to action and he responded while there was still time.
Today, let us recommit ourselves to hear all the voices, which cry out to us, as Paul cried out to Timothy, “Come, before winter”, come and be with me, come and be my friend.
Next Spring, may it be said of us, the members and friends of the Community Presbyterian Church of Pismo Beach, that there was someone’s need we heard and met, while there was still time--a family member, a friend or neighbor, or a stranger. That yes, we came, before winter. We went to persons, sharing our humanity, being there when we were needed and called. If we do that we too will re-discover the presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts, the man for others, the man for all seasons.
You know, in closing, one thing about saints, before they rest in the embrace of God, as all saints ultimately do, they enthusiastically and courageously carry out in the world their labor of love and devotion.
Empowered by the Grace of God--may we go and do likewise.