Guide My Feet


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John Weems considered: How do we exit the hamster wheel of life and find deeper meaning in life?

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

2 Timothy 4:1-8

“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: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For 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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From 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 his appearing.”

 

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Full Text of Sermon

As the race began, I jumped out to a quick lead. I was feeling strong, setting the pace in the first of two laps in the 800 meters. Suddenly the whole situation took a turn for the worse. I felt a cramp and had a quick flashback to the nachos I had eaten less than one hour before the race. These were the kind of nachos with the liquid yellow cheese food with a shelf life so long that survivalists like to keep it in their bunkers. I was a freshman running the 800 for the first time at a high school meet and didn’t exactly think through my pre-race meal. If you can swim an hour after eating, why not run a two-lap sprint? My body quickly sent warning signals. If there had been a soundtrack for the second half of the race, it could have been Bach’s “Come, Sweet Death,” or Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again.” I faded from first to the middle of the pack. My shoes felt like they were filled with cement. My stomach felt like it was filled with nacho cheese. I continued to fade, finishing last in my heat. I had lost the race, but learned an important lesson about training, pacing, and eating right.

How often in life do we fill ourselves with spiritual junk food? How often do we run off on our own without seeking sustenance from the Bread of Life?

Today’s Scripture challenges us to prepare for the marathon of life with faith.

Please listen for what God may have to say to you through Second Timothy 4:1-8:

“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: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For 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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From 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 his appearing.” 

This letter was addressed to Timothy, a protégé of the apostle Paul. While biblical scholars debate whether Paul himself wrote it, or it was inspired by his style, we can learn a great deal about the early church and wrestle with similar challenges in our day. Timothy was a third generation follower of The Way of Jesus. On his mission to start new churches, Paul had visited Lystra. (in modern day Turkey) He encountered Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice, both of whom converted to the new Christian faith. Timothy became a right hand to Paul, who entrusted him as a chief pastor in one of the churches Paul had founded. In the context of today’s reading, it was highly questionable whether the Christian faith will survive to another generation. Paul himself was imprisoned and gave his life for what he believed.

People had heard of the miracles of Jesus. They had practical needs of their own, and wondered when this Son of God was going to help. Many believers felt the end of the world or some form of Second Coming of Jesus was imminent.

Looking around today, I hear people with the same questions and fears. Christians tormented by ISIS, losing lives and seeing sacred texts destroyed. More than enough refugees from Syria to fill the entire Bay Area. Record temperatures. Drought. Fires. Certain presidential candidates. Questions emerge, what is going to happen to our country, planet, and where is God?

Today’s reading offers encouragement to anyone struggling to see how the love and light of God will break through darkness. Within that encouragement, however, is a challenge to not simply find teachers to tickle our ears, but to “. . . be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable,” (2 Tim 4:2), to “carry out your ministry fully.” (2 Tim 4:5).

What does it mean to carry out your ministry fully? I would like it to mean that we work hard for a while, then have unlimited access to our favorite island or lake or luxury hotel in our favorite city. While it is a privilege to experience moments of relaxation, enduring blessings focus on God’s will first.

As we run through the race of life, are we asking God to guide us each day?

I intentionally talk a fair amount about the Priesthood of All Believers (1 Peter 2:5).

We all have a ministry of some form, a way to serve and glorify God.

These are the sorts of issues we explore at the Calvary Faith and Work group (meeting in the Financial District on First and Third Thursdays at 7 am) The group is open to anyone regardless of membership, and involves people ranging from their twenties to ages the Social Security Administration would say qualify for retirement. We all work in some way.

Last Thursday, new Calvary member Brian Elbogen facilitated an excellent discussion and shared a story from Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. I recommend many of Keller’s books, including Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.

In Every Good Endeavor, Keller tells a story about J.R.R. Tolkien. In his early fifties, Tolkien had already been working on The Lord of the Rings for decades, developing characters and subplots and languages. Tolkien was stuck. The author had experienced the horror of World War I. Though he was not directly involved in World War II, he began to despair that he might not finish the major work of his life.

Then one morning he had an idea for a short story that he ended up sending to The Dublin Review about a painter named Niggle. Niggle was a perfectionist, never satisfied with his work and easily distracted. Niggle had a long journey to make, but he did not want to go. A “long journey” in Anglo-Saxon literature was death.

Niggle wanted to paint. First he had a vision of a leaf, which expanded to that of a whole tree, then to an entire country. Niggle’s vision required a canvas so large he needed a ladder. He knew he had to take the long journey of death, but just wanted to finish this one picture. Niggle wasn’t making significant progress for two reasons. First and foremost, he was really good at painting leaves. He fixated on the shading and the dewdrops and wanted everything to be just so. He loved leaves. His extensive work on a single leaf limited his progress, which was also hindered by Niggle’s kind heart.

His neighbor Parish did not care about Niggle’s painting and kept asking him to help with favors. On one wet and cold night when Niggle knows his time is almost up, Parish insisted that Niggle go out to bring the doctor to Parish’s ill wife. Niggle ends up getting very sick and desperately works to finish his painting, but is interrupted by the Driver coming to take him on the long journey he didn’t want to take. Niggle bursts into tears because his painting isn’t finished.

After his death, the people who purchased his house move in to find that huge canvas, the one on which Niggle had tried to paint a tree and then an entire country.

Everything on the massive canvas had decayed except for one thing.

The townspeople put the remaining portion of the canvas in the museum.

They called it, “Leaf: by Niggle.”

In today’s Scripture we hear, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Will we allow the spiritual junk food of the world to convince us that we cannot make a difference and continue on? Or will we will press on?

 

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