HOLY LOCKER ROOM SPEECHES – FIGHT! FINISH! KEEP!
2 Timothy 4:6-8
February 11, 2018
Well, for sports junkies like myself, this is a bit of a downer of a Sunday. The Super Bowl is over, and the choices today are Olympic curling, Towson University basketball and reruns of Nationals baseball games.
If you are looking for something much more uplifting, scroll thru Netflix or go down to your nearest Redbox and pick up an obscure 2015 movie entitled McFarland USA. It’s based on the true-life story of Jim White, an unemployed football coach who, in 1987, ends up in the hardscrabble, predominantly Latino high school and community of McFarland, CA. located in the migrant farming region of central CA known as the San Joaquin Valley.
Once there, White discovers he has some strong runners, and he establishes a boys’ cross-country program. These migrant teens work in the fields before sunup, then go to school, then go back to the fields. They have precious little time or energy for practice, but they persevere. And they begin to win not only meets against much larger schools, but they also win the enduring respect of Coach White.
When they reach the state championship meet, he reminds them how superhuman they are, how they have worked harder than any other team to get there. He tells them how they have the biggest hearts of anyone he has ever met. He inspires them to run their race and to do their best, because they are already champions. They finish the race, and, amazingly, they capture the state title. It is an awesome achievement.
This morning we hear the Apostle Paul offering a holy locker room speech to his young mentee and friend Timothy. Paul reflects upon his life’s journey:
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 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.
Paul is in prison. He believes he is in the twilight years of his earthly life. The Romans had a custom of pouring a cup of wine out at the end of every meal as an act of sacrifice to their gods. As Paul awaits execution, he sees this as a sacrificial act of offering his life to Christ, a pouring out of a drink offering, so to speak.
The time of his departure is at hand. Paul envisions death as a camper loosening of the ropes that hold up a tent, packing it up for the journey, or as a sailor releasing the lines of a boat from its mooring on the pier and then shoving off to open waters.
Paul takes stock of his life, and he reminds us that true champions are those possess…
THE WILL TO FIGHT!
Yes, to fight the good fight!
It’s easy to journey through our years as a spectator, offering our snarky observations from the sidelines. It is quite another thing to resolve to stay involved and engaged, struggling for what is compassionate and right in an often cold and wrong world.
I have deep admiration for my sister-in-law Charlene. She has spent her entire career as a special ed teacher. And, at age 70, that career is still going strong. She still designs and implements programs for special needs children in Greene County. For nearly 50 years she has taught and advocated and believed that all children have an inner gift from God to learn and to grow, that all children are precious in God’s sight. She has knocked heads with callous administrators and spent countless hours mentoring young teachers. This has been her life’s passion, and she fights that good fight on behalf of special needs kids.
Someone once commented wisely that we ought to live less of out habit and more out of intent. It is sad how we can often plow thru each day on autopilot with eyes filled with tunnel vision, never really seeing the opportunities our Lord places right in front of us, opportunities to make a difference in someone else’s world. We live out of rote habit.
And yet, if we look around intentionally, we will find folk who need an encouraging word and a helping hand. Like the Apostle Paul, like Coach Jim White, like my sister-in-law Charlene, we can alter their destinies, imparting hope, imparting a future.
True champions are those who possess the will to fight that good fight!
And true champions are those who possess…
THE WILL TO FINISH!
Yes, to finish the race!
There is a vast difference, a world of difference, between saying “I quit!” and saying “I’m finished!”
At the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, the last marathon runner entered Olympic Stadium more than an hour behind the winner and the other competitors. Most of the spectators had gone home, the sun had already set, but still John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania ran.
Akhwari was in terrible condition. He had suffered a fall earlier in the race. He needed stitches. He was bandaged and bleeding, and was limping along with a dislocated a knee cap.
Car headlights were lighting his path as he approached the stadium. As he entered, those few fans left in the stands began to cheer wildly. Akhwari hobbled onto the track and triumphantly across the finish line. It was one of those courageous, enduring moments in Olympic history.
Why did Akhwari stay in the race? He told reporters, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start a race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish!”
John Stephen Akhwari finished 57th out of the 74 competitors who started the race. Dead last. But he finished, unlike 17 other runners with DNF marked beside their names. Did Not Finish.
Indeed, life is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep at it. Don’t give up. It matters not if you finish first or last or somewhere in between. It matters that you finish your race.
Too many individuals have already written their epitaph – Died at 30, Buried at 60. Don’t let that be you. Put one foot in front of the other and press on! And then one day you will be able to affirm with satisfaction the same fulfillment as the Apostle Paul – I have finished the race!
True champions are those who fight the good fight, finish the race, and who possess…
THE WILL TO KEEP THE FAITH
As Malcom Muggeridge used to point out, there are three testaments – Old, New….and You. We carry a precious cargo with us in our life’s journey that has the power to transform…and that cargo is faith. Most people will never bother to read the Old nor the New Testaments.
But they will read you. They will readily behold your faithfulness to God lived out on a daily basis. And it is that faith, lived consistently and authentically, day-in, day-out, that makes an enduring impression upon others. Realize you are the 3rd testament!
Theologian N.T. Wright talks of what keeping the faith means, even when we cannot see the impact of our striving: He mentions the work of a stonemason on a great cathedral. When these architectural wonders were built during medieval times, the construction process lasted for decades, even centuries. For example, the building of the Cologne Cathedral in Germany spanned more than 600 years.
For the individual stonemasons, the work began when an architect drew up blueprints and then passed his instructions on to supervisors, builders and, finally, to the masons. One mason would shape stones for a particular tower; another carved gargoyles or statues of saints. Others would labor in the quarries cutting roughhewn blocks.
When the workers were finished with their projects or assignments, their work was handed over without little knowledge of how it all fit together, or how these pieces contributed to the final product. Since most of the stonemasons would not live to see the building completed, they were forced to trust that the architect would make their work count.
In the same way, you and I do not know what our life’s work will look like in the end. We can only swing our hammer, chisel and trowel and complete our assignments, keeping the faith that God will eventually put all the pieces together into something of great beauty and meaning, perhaps in generations to come.
As N.T. Wright concludes, “The work we do in the present for our Lord only gains its full significance somewhere in the future.”
We may not see that future. We may not ever know in our lifetime how we contributed to life’s construction project, but we trust that, if we keep the faith, the Divine Architect will indeed make it fit together and will make it count for greater things.
[Ronnie McBrayer, May the Road Rise to Meet You, p. 36]
This is the Big Picture that Paul never loses sight of. This is why Paul never gives up on God, because he knows beyond all doubt that God has never given up on him.
Yes, Paul fights that good fight, he finishes the race, he keeps the faith. Like the runner receiving a crown of laurel at the end at the conclusion, Paul awaits a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to him.
And yes, Paul would have us know that this glorious crown is reserved not just for him, but to all who keep running to the very end! We will hear those words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter into your glorious rest!”
Yes, true champions fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith! Praise be to God! Amen!