Community Church Sermons
January 11, 2015
A Sense of Urgency
2 Timothy 4:6-9, 11-13; 21a
Interim Senior Pastor Dan Ivins
The Text Says:
Today's text is from Paul's letter to Timothy, as the faithful Apostle approaches the end of his eventful life as a missionary. "The time of my departure has come." Faced with death, it's natural to speak of what lies beyond and what ultimately matters. People of faith speak of God. Paul expresses gratitude for his friends, Timothy and Luke, and disdain for those who deserted him. He is matter‑of‑fact about his approaching death, noting that he felt abandoned by some, but never by God. There are striking similarities of the way Paul died. And Jesus, who did feel abandoned by God "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
The Preacher Says:
The Bible has a lot to say about time. Not just for its own sake. Time is the gift of life. Those with lots of time, take it for granted. For those running outa time, it is extremely valuable. Like anything of value, it can be wasted or invested. My wife’s Dad said to me once at a friend’s funeral. “You know death wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to stay dead so long!” The same can be said about our window of time. Once it goes, there’s a finality about it.
The Bible’s most realistic passage about time is in the 3rd Chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes. In a normal life-span, There’s a time for every season under heaven. A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, a time to harvest; a time to kill, a time to heal; a time to tear down, a time to build up; a time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, a time to dance.
We all inherit so much time. It is God’s to give and sadly some prefer to take; while others give back, as the case may be. But unlike Jesus, we don’t get to pick our birthday. Our only say is how we spend the ones allotted to us. That makes time a sacred matter. We normally think of stewardship as having to do with money. But it’s also about how we spend our time -- responsibly and productively, or irresponsibly and inconsequential.
I think one of the most dreadful experiences would be to look back across an entire life and wonder “will it matter what I was?” Did my being here accomplish anything of value? Or is it just a “get all I can and give as little as I can” existence? Therefore what we do with the moments that make up our lives, our opportunities, our relationships, roads less taken matters because sooner or later, we are all alike in this, time will be no more.
You can buy a clock or a watch, but nobody can buy any time. I’m sure there are some who try, but time is one product that can’t be bought. Or manufactured. It can be saved or wasted. But our goal is to use it wisely. I don’t think people realize how much we are slaves to time. We just live it away.
The guy who sits in front of us at the Thompson Boling Arena in Knoxville was texting during the Lady Vols game with Missouri. I don’t know why that irritated me. Maybe the disrespect. He stopped when they had that cat-fight though. I mean texting at a ball game, or while driving, or the preacher’s preaching! What if I miss a call? We’re so glued to our cells. I saw a cartoon with a man in his casket lying like this (with cell at his ear)!
The over 60 bunch has had more time to spend than these young sprouts. How can you tell a 16 year old what it’s like being 70? At 16, your whole life’s ahead of you. Why bother with a house to live in or retirement income to live on? Or insurance to fight with? 70 year olds can remember handwritten letters and snail mail. 60 year olds rely on email. The under 30 crowd communicates via Facebook. And if you’re really hip and cool, you Twitter and Tweet. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: real men don’t “tweet!”
Time has become the new currency of life. For those whose time is running out, time is one of the things that matters more than money. Ask somebody with terminal illness about time. We do what we can. Some try anything to have more time. Chemo treatment can be worse than the illness. So people don’t know whether they’re living or dying or both! Some of the most welcome words you’ll ever hear after surgery is: “They got it all!” Did you hear that? They got it all! That means, you have more time.
The Psalmist thought a lot about time, “Teach us to number our days” (90:12). I’ve had so many I can’t remember as the future/present slides into the past, the numbers build up. Why bother to # our days? So that we may “gain a heart of wisdom.” Wisdom to spend our time wisely. We normally think of “souls” being redeemed. But the Bible says time can be redeemed (Eph. 5:16). To “redeem the time” means to “make every minute count.” God knows those who take the time to “number their days” will appreciate them more; and plan like they’ll live forever; but live like they’ll die tomorrow.
A poet puts the matter squarely before us: “Time, like an ever‑rolling stream, bears all its sons away. They fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening of the day.” When a person knows they’re gonna die in the morning, it has a way of concentrating the mind.
I guess it’s natural to assume there’s always gonna be a tomorrow. They keep showing up thus far. But it is riveting if you’re not long for this world. And you realize you have more yesterdays than tomorrows. That is the situation in our text for Epiphany Sunday. The Apostle Paul wrote his final letter to his young protégé Timothy, that ended up in our New Testament. In the 4th Chap. of 2nd Tim, we’re let in on the “last will and testament” of the Apostle, who confronts his death squarely, measures his life thankfully, and faces the future hopefully. His mood is confident and his message is grace.
Not long after he wrote these final words to his friend, the curtain closes on his illustrious life. What happened next has been debated for 2,000 years, but tradition has it that he was beheaded in Rome by Nero the Emperor. One day to live. The “handwriting’s on the wall.” It streamlines the mind. What was on Paul’s mind is there for all to see. His last recorded words were not about himself. He was too big a man for that. Rather, they are mostly about other people. I think that’s fine of him.
In his final days his thoughts went to a few who let him down at crunch-time. Things like that one never forgets. But Paul also thought of other good friends and colleagues who served the Lord with him and were now serving in other places. He’s most grateful for Dr. Luke, who remained in Rome to stand by him while he was in jail. He mentions “Alexander, the metalworker,” who opposed him and did all he could to stop the spread of his preaching of the gospel. Ah those engineers have been at it a long time!
He mentions friends in far places. And to Timothy, he sends greetings. And most of all, he gives thanks to God for seeing him thru his trials, when it seemed like all else had forsaken him. The Lord delivered him from the mouth of a lion. That must’ve been pretty neat! Paul never felt let-down by God, like Jesus did; in the garden and on the cross.
But one thing mattered more than all that other stuff. Paul wanted Timothy to visit him in prison, before he died. But Timothy’s in Ephesus, hundreds of miles away; and it would take several months to get toRome. This seasoned Apostle wanted to see his young disciple as time was running out on him. Then he could die in peace. Here’s how he puts it. “Please come to me quickly” (v. 9). “Bring Mark with you” (v. 11). “I could use the coat I left with Carpus at Troas, cause it’s cold here. And the scrolls! Above all else, don’t forget the parchments” (12).
And then this powerful text that exposes the heart of a dying servant of God on his last lap, “Do your best to come before winter” (v. 21). “Come before winter!” The undiluted urgency of Paul’s phrase. “Come now. Don’t wait. Time is short. I won’t be here much longer. Come quickly, my friend. Come before winter!” Whew!
I recall Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching his “I have a dream” speech in August 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. What a timely oration it was! “We have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now!” That’s gotta rate right up there with St. Paul’s “Come before winter.” “The fierce urgency of now!” Some things can’t be put off forever. “There’s a season for every activity under God’s heaven.” It’s always the season for justice.
There’ a story of 3 apprentice devils who were being sent to earth for their first assignment. Beelzebub wanted to know their strategy. The first one said, “I’ll tell people there is no God.” And the Devil said, “That won’t work, because in their heart of hearts they know there’s a God.” The 2nd one said, “I’ll tell them there is no hell.” The Devil nixed that one too. “That won’t work either, cause there’s so much hell on earth, they know there’s gotta be one.” The 3rd trainee said, “I’ll tell them that there’s no hurry.” “Bingo!” “Tell ‘em that and it’ll ruin ‘em by the millions.”
I’m not advocating feverish living; or obsessive existence. We want to use our time wisely: to be the best, but do it and relax. So many are living today with no sense of urgency. “There’s no hurry!” There’s plenty of time. Perhaps so. For those luckier ones. I guess that’s what makes today’s hipsters the “whatever generation.”
Completely ignoring the uniqueness of each moment in time. There’s a sense in which “we’ll never pass this way again,” exactly as it is now. Sooner or later we’ll all find ourselves in St. Paul’s shoes. And our days are numbered. It’s a difficult thing to know, if you happen to know it. I’d just as soon not know it! I just wanta be up to it.
But somebody who’s lived awhile wrote a rhyme about it: “When I was a child I laughed and wept, time crept. When I was a youth I waxed more bold, time strolled. When I became a man, time ran. When older still I daily grew, time flew. One day I shall find, in passing-on, time’s gone.” What then?
Come before winter!