Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 25

Text: 2 Timothy 4:6-8
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 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 to me on that day —and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Journey toward eternity

From the moment we are born, no, from the moment we are conceived, we are on a journey and as we know from experience, a journey can involve the expected and the unexpected, excitement and joy, as well as anxiety and sadness.  We are on this journey and we don’t know when this journey will come to an end.

Ann Holm wrote a short novel entitled, “I am David”. David is 12, an orphan. As long as he could remember he had been in an eastern European concentration camp.  Everything about this camp might be described as gray – the clothes, the buildings, the mood of people, the food and the weather were all gray. A man at the camp knew something about David’s background and helped him escape.  He told him to go to Italy and then turn north to Denmark. 

One night David set out alone and afraid.  On his journey, David experienced for the first time colour, beauty, forgiveness, happiness, trust, religion, love, generosity – things that he had never experienced in the hard life of a prison camp.  He also learnt that the world is a frightening place and full of danger and almost too hard for the 12-year-old to find his way.  He didn’t know who to trust.  He was hungry.  One farmer tried to make him a slave on his farm.  On the other hand, he experienced the joy of love for the first time when a family with their own children took him in.  He discovered what it was like to live in a loving home – strange and bewildering but wonderful.  He smiled for the first time.

But he was on journey.  He had discovered that his mother was alive in Denmark.  She didn’t know he had survived the war.

Almost at the point of exhaustion, he finally reached the front door of the address he had been given.  When the door opened, he looked at a woman and knew she was his mother.  He was home.  (I am David, by Ann Holm, 1963).

Like David, we are on a journey.  It’s not an easy journey.  Along this journey, like David, we experience many good things – forgiveness, happiness, trust, love, generosity, and kindness.  Mixed in with this, there is harshness, exhaustion, anger, anxiety, fear, sickness, and death.  At the end of the novel, I am David, the writer leaves us watching the exhausted David reaching out for the waiting arms of his mother.  His journey had been tough, but he had completed it.  From now on his life would be something totally new and wonderful beyond anything he had experienced before.  He was home.

Today in our second reading we hear the apostle Paul, writing to Timothy.  Paul knew that the end of his life was near.  He too had been on a journey, a journey with its joys and its hardships.  So many times, he suffered pain and was close to death at the hands of those who hated what he preached. He endured hardship on land and sea as he travelled far and wide carrying the Gospel to places far away.  Like David in the novel, he too experienced forgiveness, joy, trust, love, generosity, and kindness combined with harshness, exhaustion, betrayal, guilt, fear, sickness and the nearness of death.

And so we hear Paul say, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering”. This is a reference to the wine that was poured out at the base of the altar in the temple as a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  He saw his current situation in a prison and his approaching death not as something tragic, something catastrophic, something sad, something to be feared.  As his death approaches, he is looking back and happily not regretting one moment.  He is thanking God for the journey and the presence of God along the way that enabled him to endure what he did.  His journey is ending.  Dungeons in those days were very bleak unhappy places but Paul’s tone doesn’t match his surroundings.  He is thankful and honours God still wanting his life to be of service to the Lord to the very end. 

Paul goes on, “The time for my departure is near”. The word ‘departure’ here has some nautical connections.  Meaning like a ship untying its moorings to the wharf, or raising its anchor, or hoisting its sails, it departs on a journey not to somewhere uncertain but to a definite port somewhere across the sea.  Paul’s death is near, and he isn’t going to float off into nothingness.  He knows where the ship is going – it’s going to the wharf of eternal life in heaven. 

I love these words of Blaise Pascal. 
It is a glorious thing to ride upon a ship
that may well be shaken by storms and tossed about by the waves,
but no matter what happens,
we know, it will reach the harbour”.
Blaise Pascal lived in the 17th century.  From an early age Pascal was a genius in literature, maths, physics, an inventor (invented the first digital calculator), and theologian. He was highly successful, driven, stubborn and a perfectionist, but he suffered illness most of his life and died aged 39.

As smart as he was, his life wasn’t easy – like a fragile ship caught in a storm, in the end, he knew he would reach the safe and quiet waters of the harbour, eternal life. As he said so well -
It is a glorious thing to ride upon a ship
that may well be shaken by storms and tossed about by the waves,
but no matter what happens,
we know, it will reach the harbour”.

That’s what Paul is talking about and that’s the confidence that we can also have.  Only God knows what tomorrow will bring.  We may be tossed about like a tiny ship in a raging storm.  We may sink into death suddenly without warning or slowly.  As Pascal said reflecting Paul’s words, “No matter what happens, we know, our ship will reach the harbour”.

Our life with God is not like a mystery story where the ending is unclear until you get to the very last page.  Rather on the first pages of our life, when the baptismal blessing is pronounced over us, he reveals what the ending will be.  At your baptism you were “baptised into the death of Jesus” (Rom 6.3), and “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father” you have been given the certainty of a resurrection like that of Jesus’.  Listen to Paul, “If we have been united with him like this in death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom 6.5).  In other words, on the horizon of our story, there stands a person at whose feet all the winding and twisted roads in the journey of our life in this world will end. 

Because of Christ, we know where our ship will come to shore.  We know that our future is safe in the hands of our loving Saviour who has already written the end of our life stories for us.  He tells us with the deepest love, ‘Your story will have a triumphant ending’.  That’s tremendously comforting to know when we walk under the shadow of trouble and defeat. ‘The Lord is with us!  He is with us every step of the way as we go through it, to strengthen and help us if the way gets hard’.

Paul goes on and gives us another image.  He says, “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” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).  Paul is looking back on his life journey. 

Does he have any regrets?  It’s been a struggle.  At his trial before Nero no-one gave him any support; everyone deserted him (2 Tim 4:16), but he doesn’t hold any grudges.  Like an athlete he has continued to the finish line in the best way possible even though life was ever so tough at times.  He was imperfect like any man; he had his own personal struggles with sin and sickness and people who upset him and made him angry, but he held strong to his faith in Christ and his saving death and resurrection. 

All his weaknesses and sin have been covered by Christ's righteousness.  He firmly believed “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1) He has been pronounced ‘not guilty’, holy, a saint by the grace of God.  He was ever so certain that what waited for him was “the crown of righteousness” a reference to the laurel wreath an Olympian champion would receive after crossing the finishing line. 

There was no doubt in Paul’s mind where his ship will come to shore when he departed this life – home in the heavenly land with his Saviour and all the saints who have gone before him.

The “crown of righteousness” is God’s gift not only for the first across the finishing line as in an Olympic marathon but for all who fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith.  God’s grace is for all of us as we reach forward with faith in Christ our Saviour to cross the finishing line.

Paul talked about his “departure” with confidence and without fear because he knew Christ, and Christ knew him.  In faith he knew his life and death were held in the hands of a gracious God and he had nothing to fear.  God has already written our final chapter.  Jesus says, ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms …. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2) or as Paul says, “In Christ all (meaning you and me) will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22).

As life unfolds, I’m not suggesting that we will never feel fear, shed buckets of tears, be terrified as life smacks us in the face and knocks us down.  We react to these things like anyone else, but they don’t deliver a final overwhelming knockout blow. 

Paul’s reflection on his life’s journey can also be ours.  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. We can say with Paul, “Life has had its joyful and tough times.  There are moments that have thrilled me and moments of which I’m not proud.  But despite all of this, God has been good to me and enabled me to be strong in the face of everything that has tried to knock me down.  God has stood by me and enabled me to continue.  Jesus has walked beside me and even gave his life to cover all my weaknesses.  I have accomplished everything only because of the strength that God has given me.  Now my work is done.  There is in store for me the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim 4:7-8), eternal life in heaven”.

Yes, we are on a journey, a journey that involves a good deal of uncertainty. 
But there is one certainty that never ceases to be rock solid.
We are loved by God.  We belong to Christ destined for eternity, and because of this
“it is a glorious thing to ride upon a ship
that may well be shaken by storms and tossed by the waves of life,
but we know that no matter what happens
it will reach the harbour”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

23rd October 2022

More Sermons

Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.

All material written by Vince Gerhardy is copyright, but permission is freely given for limited use.
Please e-mail for permission, or with questions or comments about this web site.