Summary: This message was for the funeral of an elderly Christian woman who was actively involved in ministry into late life.
“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 to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for this appearing.”
Paul is at the end of his life. He is expecting his life to pass soon. Yet, it is not with dread. He does not look at death as the angry destroyer of life, something to be denied, forestalled, avoided. There is nothing to gain in death. The only exception to that is for those whose prospect for life is so hopeless that death is seen as the only escape from the misery of living.
That is not, though, how Paul is looking at his death. It is not an escape, something to relieve a hopeless existence. Elsewhere he expressed “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In other words, he is saying death is a win-win prospect.
You would not hear that voiced by the average person in the street. For most people we face on a daily basis death is a lose-lose prospect.
The vocabulary he uses is waiting for a ship to depart from port. The countdown to the final boarding call has begun. The ship has begun to be loosened from its moorings, and everyone is coming aboard.
In more contemporary terms, Paul is walking through the airport. Looked up on the arrival and departure screen, and noticed that it is time to leave. His flight has begun to load passengers. The final call is about to be announced, his flight into the arms of God about to be realized.
Ms. Amy welcomed her departure as well. She has taken her seat, and been ushered into the presence of God.
We all have death to look forward to. None of us will be able to avoid that reality. It looms in all of our futures.
The question is not how will be avoid it because we canot. The real questions is “What makes death a welcomed transition for some while for others it is an event to dread?”
As we consider, what Paul says in those three verses in 2 Timothy, I think he lets us take a peek at what made the difference for him. It is also what made death a welcomed occasion for Ms. Amy.
Paul tells us “I fought the fight. I finished the race. I have kept the faith.” That is deep convictions … The three phrases in vs. 7 comprise an announcement of celebration, not a statement of sorrow. Paul is telling us that he has lived life well. That he has nothing to regret. That he has accomplished his purpose.
He put in the time. He wore out the soles of his shoes. He accomplished the tasks that were set before him. And while he would not have said he was perfect, he would say I did my best. I didn’t quit. I did not step back. I did not retreat. I lived out my unfailing commitment to God in Christ. I finished well.
Ms. Amy lived well as well. By the time I met her, many would say the best years of her life were behind her. She was already a spry 77. She has spunk. She was stubborn. She was independent. She liked people, and always had a smile that spread across her face. She loved her fast food particularly the White Castles on Sunday. I don’t know if this was just her personal greeting, reserved for only me, but she would wind back and punch me in the arm with the force I would never have expected from a woman of her size at her age.
But it was not all about how she lived, but how she finished in faith. On February 25, 1987, along with her husband Roy, Ms. Amy decided that it was no longer good enough to raise her children with faith. She had to move forward in her own faith journey, and she was baptized at age 67.
But her move of faith was not just a decision to join a church. She determined to engage in ministry. After I arrived in Chicago in 1996, it was decided to renew the churches AfterSchool Program. Ms. Amy now 78 years old was among the first to volunteer. She was affectionately known as the cookie lady by the neighborhood kids who attended. The three days a week of the program, Ms. Amy would man the kitchen and serve the 25-40 children who attended cookies and juice and clean the kitchen afterwards.