Running the Race

Scripture:  2 Timothy 4:6-8   For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.   I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Do you see a theme here?  Racing appears in the call to worship, the scripture reading and the sermon title.

How many of you enjoy racing?  Have you ever competed in a race?  Perhaps in grade school in phys ed.  Or maybe at a picnic like a family reunion or a company picnic?  Was there a prize at the end of the race?  Did everybody get a prize?

My dad liked racing.  He always wanted to go to the county fair to watch the harness racing.  Now dad was raised in a different era and one I think some of you can relate to.  He lived during the great Depression but dropped out of school to help support his family.  He had six living siblings and he was the oldest.  I can understand his love of horse racing since he was from a generation when horses were used to do some of the farming.  I can remember visiting some of the family when we kids climbed up on a wagon and held on to the hay rack while grandpa raced down the road.  Of course, our mothers were less than happy.

Now my husband enjoyed a different kind of racing.  He was into Nascar and enjoyed watching races on television.  I didn’t especially enjoy that but with only one television, guess what we watched on the weekends.

Personally, I prefer to watch bull riding when it’s on the television on Sunday.  Some of you have heard me say I needed to get home on Sunday because the PBR was on at one or two in the afternoon.  That’s “Professional Bull Riding”.  Now I don’t know why I like to watch that and I have absolutely no desire to try it, not even on a mechanical bull on the very lowest setting, but it’s kind of fun to see if the rider can stay on the bull for the full 8 seconds.  Fortunately, I am not so totally fixated on the sport that I keep track of who has the most points and I cannot tell you from one season to the next who is the champion.

So, what does this have to do with today’s scripture?  One Saturday, Pastor Keith texted me and asked if I would have a children’s message the following day.  I answered by telling him I would do that but that it was a good thing he asked when he did because the Belmont Stakes had just finished, and we had a Triple Crown winner this year.  He asked if I had won any money and I had to confess I don’t bet on the races, I just enjoy watching them.  I must have gotten that from my dad.

What other kind of races do we know?  Perhaps, the Olympic races, sporting events?  The race to have more than our neighbors?  The race to keep up with the Joneses?  We are a people who like to win!

In the scripture reading Paul is giving Timothy his “famous last words.”  Paul Is not about to die however he has been convicted as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth.  Quite a turn around from a known hater of Christians before his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.  He is in a cold Roman prison – no central heating in those days – He is cut off from the world with only one or two visitors and his writing material.  Now remember, Paul’s eyesight is failing so even being able to write, while a blessing, is a difficult task.  He knows he is to be executed so he is writing his final thoughts to Timothy – passing on the torch of leadership and reminding him of what is important and encouraging him in his faith.

What would our final words be to our family if we knew we would no longer be here?  We may not be dying – perhaps moving to a distant state or embarking on a mission trip to another country?  

My Sarah used to call and start her conversation with the comment “Mom, I have a question”.  She did it so often that if I answered the phone and Steve asked who it was I only needed to say, “I have a question,” and he would say “Hi Sarah”.

Paul wanted Timothy to continue as a faithful minister of Christ.   Those are big shoes to fill.  If you wanted to be as good as your favorite athlete or musician, what would you do?  Learn the game or how to play an instrument or sing?  This certainly takes a lot of practice.  We can watch others to get tips or take lessons.  We can also get tips on how to approach others.  Do we really want someone in our faces about something we don’t want to hear?  Sometimes a subtle mention or even our actions speak louder than that “in your face” action.

Let’s get back to the horses.  Training any animal is a slow but careful practice.  This might be a great example of how to approach others with God’s word.  Of course, gentle training is much better than using a whip or harsh words.  That reminds me of putting on the full armor of God as in Ephesians 6:13 that states “Therefore, put on the full armor of God, do that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”  Let’s stand firm in our faith since we have God’s shield, but we can do so tenderly.  Remember the news stories of athletes who are winning a race but stop to help a fallen competitor?  This seems especially true in the Special Olympics where good sportsmanship is more important than a medal.  What a wonderful example for all of us.

Attending a Bible study is something I like to do.  I don’t proclaim to be an expert on the Bible.  That is why I like to participate in studies – to help me learn more of God’s teachings.  Bible study is one of my training practices.  We discussed in our Bible study class this past Wednesday how having the church pray for us can affect our lives.  We don’t always realize that is what is happening but on reflection we realize the benefits of the church’s prayer.

Paul’s race has such a victorious ending.  He has the knowledge that he has done a good job training Timothy.  He also knows where he is going when he dies.  He has the blessing of knowing our Savior and he will be with him in Paradise.

In verse 2 of Chapter 4 Paul tells Timothy that to be judged favorably he must preach, or proclaim, the word, give it out – don’t hoard it – share it with his fellow man.  If we are to give thanks in all things, then we should be ready to share the Word whenever necessary.

Paul was ready for his execution.  He felt he had run his race and was a winner – waiting for his transition to heaven and he wanted Timothy and his other friends to carry on the mission of spreading God’s word.

It’s time for us to continue the race and carry God’s word out into the world.