Year C Proper 25 2 Timothy 4
Three Secrets of a Life Well Lived
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

"I understand your church is looking for a pastor. I should like to submit my application. I am generally considered to be a good preacher. I have been a leader in most of the places I have served. I have also found time to do some writing on the side. I am over fifty years of age, and while my health is not the best, I still manage to get enough work done to please my congregation. As for a reference, I am somewhat handicapped. I have never served in any place more than three years, and the churches where I have preached have generally been pretty small, even though they were located in rather large cities. Some places I had to leave because my ministry caused riots and disturbances. When I stayed, I did not get along too well with other religious leaders in town which may influence the kind of references these places will send you. I have also been threatened several times and been physically attacked. Three or four times I have gone to jail for expressing my thoughts. You will need to know that there are some men who follow me around undermining my work. Still, I feel sure I can bring vitality to your church. If you can use me, I should be pleased to be considered."

The committee was dismayed that anyone would think that their church could use such a man. A trouble-making, absent-minded, ex-jailbird could not possible be an effective pastor let alone be accepted by the community. "What was his name?" they asked. The chairman of the committee said, I do not know. The letter is simply signed, 'Paul'.

Most leadership of the early church wouldn't make it through the church interview process today. Theirs was a rough and dangerous world. Turmoil on every side, both in the Jewish nation and the Roman. Think of the pictures we have seen from Afghanistan these past few weeks and you get an idea of hardships the Apostle Paul faced as he traveled for 20 years and thousands of miles all over the Roman world.

And now the end was near for Paul. This was not just a guess; it was certainty. He was under house arrest in Rome. He was under no illusion about his fate. So it was that he took pen in hand and wrote a parting letter to his friend and close associate Timothy of Ephesus. He writes: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

It might be well for us this morning to review the secret of a life well lived. Here are the three secrets:

  1. A good fight is worth fighting for.
  2. Desertion does not mean defeat.
  3. Faith must not be lost.

License to Steal
Luke 18:9-14

So what do you think? Should we manufacture money that doesn't really exist in order to buy up debts, stimulate banks to lend, and jumpstart our economy? Or do we tighten our belts and hold our breath?

For most of us, trying to figure out the monetary wizardry of our economic gurus is about as easy as figuring out how magician David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty "disappear." Maybe in the end it all comes down to smoke and mirrors — whether it's magic or the market.

But there is one bankable economic disclosure. US currency is still stamped with the assertion "In God We Trust." The question is, do we?

Well, do we?

"In God We Trust" doesn't mean you don't wear your seat belt, or stop paying your life insurance premium, or stop recycling, or ignore getting your flu shot. What "In God We Trust" does mean is that our faith points us towards something higher, a top drawer beyond the bottom line. "In God We Trust" challenges us with a broader and higher perspective beyond that of human calculations.

The greatest security this world offers is concretized in human capabilities.

The best security system you can purchase.
The most impenetrable "firewall" you can download in your computer.
"Gated communities" that keep careful tabs on who comes in and who goes out.
Government insured securities, pensions, and investments. Extended warranties.
Pre-nuptial agreements.
No-fault divorces.

Everything in our calculated lives is designed to keep us maximally secure and minimally exposed.

But are all these safeguards, all these assurances of a safety-first, risk-free life, nothing more than our 21st century version of the 1st century Pharisee's prayer in this week's gospel text? We might not boast about how often we fast, or how much we tithe. But in our hearts we carry the same pride about our ability to shape our world and protect our investments.

We don't trust anyone except ourselves to be in charge of our lives. Our actions, our attitudes, our works and worries — those are what bring us to a place of safety, security, and spiritual peace. Self-sufficiency is our greatest god. Self-sufficiency is the reason we buy both life insurance and lottery tickets. Everyone wants to believe that if we don't need anyone for anything, life will be better and blessed.

Everyone except Jesus. Jesus did not condone off-the-grid independence. Jesus knew there was a humanity-wide neediness that could never be covered over or wished away by the works of human hands. That "neediness," that dependence, was defined by the most basic, essential condition of the human spirit--"sinfulness." Sinfulness is the huge gaping hole we all keep falling into as we try to stride into an imagined Shangri-la of solitary self-reliance. The cross is the only footbridge that can get us across that chasm into the true Promised Land.

Golgotha was a place of infamy. And this was when "infamy" was not equated with celebrity. Golgotha was the termination zone for the wickedest and the worst, as judged by Roman law and society. When Jesus was crucified at Golgotha he was one of three criminals. On either side of him were two thieves put to death for their crimes that day. But the Romans had it right. Jesus was as much as a thief as those robbers on his left and his right... presents Leonard Sweet