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When's the Party
October 25, 1992

2 TIMOTHY 4:6-8

Time magazine has a fascinating edition this fall called “2000” containing predictions about the next century. December 31, 1999, will be a once-in-a-century New Year's Eve. Some people are already making reservations at restaurants and clubs where they predict a party of all parties will be held. December 31, 1999 is a long time to wait for a party! In the scripture lesson today the author wrote, 2 Timothy 4:6-8, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” His reward for fighting the good fight, for running the race, for keeping the faith is deferred. When’s the party? The author is living in the in-between times, the time between running the race and receiving the reward, the time between what has happened and what will happen, the time between looking back and looking ahead, the time between the battle and the victory, the time between God’s triumph over death and evil at Easter, and God’s ultimate triumph, the time between what was and what will be, the time of what is, but when’s the party?

Most of us live in tension between what was and the not yet. We live in anticipation in the tension of anticipating the fulfillment of our dreams and visions. Sometimes we achieve, sometimes we accomplish what we set out to do and then we can party and enjoy the reward. But much of the time, we're waiting for the accomplishment, waiting for the success, waiting for the reward. I visited the owner of a small business the other day. He works seven days a week, twelve to fourteen hours per day striving to make his business successful. He lives in the tension. These are difficult economic times. He has had the business two years and he's giving it his best shot. He is fighting the fight, he is running the race, he is keeping the faith, he’s holding on to his vision. He lives in tension between striving and accomplishment. But, when’s the party?

Most of us experience in-between times tension striving for reconciliation with someone, seeking a job promotion, just hanging on to a job, trying to solve a problem, agonizing over a loved one, waiting for the reward, waiting for the kingdom of God, waiting for the crown of righteousness. And if we're honest with ourselves, there's usually something in the past about which we are sorry, wishing we could do it over— sorry, repentant and remorseful. There is little we do without making an error, without knowing we could have done it differently. And often we're sorry for words that slip out in frustration and hurt someone unnecessarily and regrettably. If we are honest with ourselves, there is usually something every Sunday we bring to the worship service to confess, to be sorry for, to be repentant of, to ask forgiveness, and we live in the in-between times, in the tension between repentance over the past and the achievement of our hopes. So when’s the party? Is the party deferred until we have our lives altogether? Is the party deferred until that magical day when all our relationships are perfect, our dreams realized and our goals achieved?

Today is Commitment Sunday in our congregation, and we present our financial pledges to do God’s work. We recognize that as a congregation, as a church, we are intentional. We firmly believe victory is ahead of us. We firmly believe God has great things in store for our church. I refuse to believe the best days of our church are in the past. We firmly believe in the future, but in the meantime we struggle with finances; there is rarely enough. We struggle with attendance, we struggle with growth, we recognize our mistakes and our shortcomings. We repent and confess errors and as a congregation, as a church, we live in the what-if, in the tension between what was and what is yet to come. Therefore we gather in faith today, every week. We gather in faith and today we present our pledges because we are fighting the good fight, we are running the race, we are keeping the faith. We are holding to our commitments. We have faith in God, we have faith in our church’s future. But, when’s the party?

Biblical scholars do not agree about the authorship of 2 Timothy, our lesson today. Tradition tells us that Paul wrote the letter but most of the scholars do not agree. Tradition tells us that Paul wrote this letter to Timothy while he was in prison awaiting the end of his life. But scholars do agree that Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians while he was in prison. Interestingly, Paul includes Timothy in Philippians’ salutation. Timothy evidently was visiting him at the time and Paul was dispatching Timothy to go back to the Philippians and give them Paul’s love. What is inspiring in the letter to the Philippians, Paul's last letter, is the joy he is experiencing while he lives in prison, in tension between what he has done and the fulfillment of what he has done.

The theme of Philippians is joy. Paul rejoices in the Lord and in this short book, joy in its various forms appears sixteen times. Paul begins his letter to the Philippians in 1:3-4, “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you.” And he ends the letter by thanking them for the gift they sent him, 4:10-13, “I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me. Indeed you were concerned for me but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need, for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” In other words, Paul discovered that the party is now. Even in prison which is hardly a reward for his work, which is hardly the crown of righteousness, even in prison, Paul experienced joy, contentment and victory in Christ. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

So we present our pledges in faith. We present our pledges as a sign of keeping faith. And even though the vision of all we want for our church is yet to be fulfilled, even though all that we hope God will do with us and through us has not yet fully been realized, yet we party right now. Why? Our campaign theme states the reason boldly—Celebrating God’s Presence in Our Lives. The presents on the altar symbolize God’s presence with us . And we present our faith offering in celebration, in gratitude for God's presence with us. The party is now because Christ is with us. The party is now because there is deep joy in knowing we can do all things through Christ who is not only with us, but strengthens us. I concluded last week's sermon on tithing, one of the important ways we fulfill our ministry of stewardship, with these words, “There is great joy in being faithful, there is great joy knowing you are doing your part, there is great joy working in partnership with God, there is great joy placing your tithe on the offering plate.” The party is now.

Wherever you are in your personal life, whatever tension you are experiencing between what was, what is and what is yet to come, between what you are sorry for and ultimate success; right now while you fight the fight, run the race, keep the faith, the party is now. God is for us. Christ walks with you. Christ walks beside you encouraging you, and Christ walks ahead of you showing the way. The joy is inexpressible. The party is now so celebrate God's presence with joy. I'm talking today about joy and enthusiasm. If any people can be enthusiastic today, it should be Christians; it should be church people. God is for us. God takes away fear of the future. God takes away guilt over the past and God takes away anxiety about the present. Let’s be enthusiastic—kindling and nurturing a triumphant spirit! The body of Christ is a body of bounce. Life has a lilt to it . The Christian life is a dance step—a polka! We should be the most enthusiastic people around. There should be excitement in our lives—excitement and anticipation. Yes! Hope, yes! Sorry for what we've not done and sorry for what we’ve done, but God forgives and offers second chances. The party is now! Rejoice in the Lord. The party is now.

Illinois University football coach Bob Zook was renowned for the fire and fervor of his halftime pep talks. One afternoon his team came into the locker room after the first half way behind in points and enthusiasm. So Coach Zook began talking and the more he talked, the louder he got and the more dramatic he got. Momentum built up in the players. Finally, the coach pointed to the door at the far end of the locker room, and he said, “Now go out there and win this game!” With enthusiasm the players left the bench, rushed to the door, charged through the door. But it was the wrong door and one by one, they fell into the swimming pool. Sisters and brothers we know where the door is. We have the right door. We have the door to the kingdom of God. We have Jesus Christ who said, “I am the door.” And we have his church here on this spot with a magnificent facility, a congregation filled with talented, committed and gifted people. We have a staff of talented and dedicated leaders. We have the Holy Spirit. What is stopping us? Nothing! Nothing! We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

Let's fight the fight, run the race, keep the faith and let's party! The party is now.

© 1992 Douglas I. Norris