23O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. 24The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. 25I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. 26You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 27You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
6As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation,
and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought
the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the
faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown
of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me
on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for
16At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. 18The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Last weekend after church my family and I went down to the national gallery of Art… now I'm not an artist and I'm not an art critic… I don't know what I'm supposed to look for when I walk into a room that has priceless paintings on the walls but I do enjoy going. And when I walk into the room my process is pretty simple. I usually look around to see which picture catches my eye and then I walk toward it, trying to notice what caught my attention and taking note of what I see as I continue to get closer to it… and it's amazing how perspective changes what you see in a painting… last week when I walked into the impressionist gallery, the painting that caught my eye was a pretty simple painting… From the top, a little over half if it was a blue-gray mostly cloudy sky, and as my eye traveled down the painting, on the horizon there were trees and a house somewhat off in the distance with the setting sun hitting the tops of the trees and in the foreground was a bright green field. There were children playing in the field but they were too far off in the distance to see clearly what they were up to. As I walked toward the painting I realized that what was drawing me to it was the sense of movement. Obviously the paint wasn't moving on the canvas and the painting itself was securely fastened to the wall… The only thing in the room that was actually moving was me, carrying my daughter and asking her what she noticed about the paintings in the room… When I got to the point where I could read the plaque, I saw that the painting was titled Hampton Court Green and it was painted by Camille Pissarro in 1891. I don't know anything about Hampton Court and I don't know much about Pissarro or what was going on in the world in 1891, but I was able to imagine the noises made by the kids running around and rustling of the leaves… I began to see how the illusion of movement was created. You see there are no lines in the whole painting… The clouds, the trees, the people, the house, the field… the whole painting was made up of these detached brushstrokes… as I got closer I realized I could see every one of them and none looked more than about a half an inch long. The parts of the painting were differentiated by color and texture, by the spacing of the brushstrokes and even the length of the brushstrokes.
I don't know if they artist was intentional about some sort of planning process before he started painting or if he just pulled out a brush and saw what emerged as he went about making those tiny little brushstrokes. There were thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of brushstrokes… from across the room I could see the whole picture but as I got closer to the painting, the individual and particular brushstrokes became all I could see… and somewhere along the way as got so close to the painting that I couldn't see the whole thing anymore, I realized that none of the individual brushstrokes made a whole lot of sense by themselves, but when you put them all together what you got was a masterpiece that still has the ability to catch my eye 220 years after it was painted. And it made me wonder what if our lives are like that kind of painting… each day a brushstroke and our lives the entire picture…
For a few weeks now we've been looking at the second letter to Timothy. I've told you that it's one of the most personal books in the entire bible. I've told you that a big part of the author's goal in writing it was to pass on his faith and mission to Timothy and to encourage Timothy to do whatever he had to do to pass on his faith and mission to the next generation. Our passage today is the last substantive portion of the letter and the author seems to be signing off. He's saying goodbye. He's resigned to the fact that his journey is very likely going to end in the Roman prison where he's currently held as a prisoner… but it's amazing what perspective can do. Even while he's writing about the end of his own life, he's aware that he can still be an encouragement to Timothy and so he points to the source of his hope. From now on I have the crown of righteousness to look forward to he says. He's confident that even if he doesn't make it out of his current predicament alive, God is still in control and God's still going to take care of him.
He trusts God's goodness and believes in God's faithfulness in part
because he's seen it at work in his own life. In verse 16 he
remembers the first time he was on trial… we don't get to know
many of the specifics, but the part that he remembers well is that no
one came to help him out, and yet God gave him strength to
persevere… straight out of the lion's mouth he says, and so he
trusts God's goodness and believes in God's faithfulness… But
it also wasn't just a matter of I saw it once and so I believe…
He spent his life cultivating his response to God's goodness. We
don't get to see the whole of his life from this particular passage
but as he looks back and reflects, we do get to see that he's
confident that in his life, he's done what God would have him
do… He saw that there wasn't much hope to change his current
situation so he looked back on his own life with a long enough
perspective that he could see the entire picture. He saw the ways God
had worked in his life and he saw the ways he had responded and he was
able to summarize what he saw by saying,
I've fought the good
fight… I've finished the race… I've kept the faith and
now I trust in God's promises for what the future holds.
It's an interesting exercise… to look back at life, specifically looking for ways God has acted and ways that you have responded… I think that often we get wrapped up in the individual brushstroke that is today… the day we're currently living always seems to hold enough troubles and worries that sometimes we forget to take a step back and look at the big picture… but it's amazing what perspective can do and the big picture can be instructive. I had a mentor once ask me about my mission in life is. He said there may be many jobs that you have and many hobbies that you take on… there will certainly be many roles you fill and things you do and say while you're here on this earth. There will be lots of different relationships, some of which you'll cherish for a long, long time, others will come and go without much consequence. But in all of life you will have one mission and it will shape the big picture.
That was in the neighborhood of 12 years ago, early on in my first experience working as an intern in youth ministry. I decided that if that's true, I didn't want to just start painting and see what came…I wanted to be intentional, I wanted to spend some time in prayer and then decide what my mission would be… and what I came up with was this: to listen for God's invitation, to respond faithfully and to help others do likewise. My understanding of what that means has shifted over the years but it has definitely shaped the big picture of my life… it's part of why I'm a pastor today.
Collectively as a church we've identified our mission as Christian Unity and service… hopefully that shapes everything we do… and I can't help but wonder how many of us have ever taken a step back and looked at our lives with a long enough perspective to ask what is my mission… What does the big picture look like? The author of our passage today wrote his mission in verse 17: that through him, the message might be fully proclaimed and all the gentiles might hear it. And isn't it interesting that here we are nearing two thousand years after his death and the words he wrote are still working toward his mission.
But of course, in reality it's only partly his mission because God's the one who called him to it and it's God's responsibility to see it through… his role is to play his part as faithfully as he can; he didn't ever go it alone because God was with him every step of the way. And that's all part of the big picture.
You see the big picture is what holds the daily grind together. It's what helps us make sense of the day to day ins and outs of living especially when those ins and outs lead us to feeling overwhelmed or isolated or leave us searching for meaning. And along with Timothy, we can take heart in the words of the letter because God is with us we are not ever alone. What we do has purpose because we're invited to be part of what God is doing. And we can always hope because when we respond faithfully to the mission that's been given to us, God just might be painting a masterpiece with our lives. Thanks be to God. Amen.
The foregoing sermon was given by Rev. Dan Holland at the United Parish of Bowie on October 10, 2010.
© 2010 Daniel Holland
The image of Camille Pissarro's Hampton Court Green, London,
was provided by www.camille-pissarro.org
under a Creative
Attribution/Non-Commercial/No Derivative Works