This week I didn’t write today. Did it yesterday. A few weeks ago I received an invitation to preach at Calvary UMC in San Jose and took some time yesterday to do the writing part. So rather than trying to write something new, I thought I’d just share with all of you what I wrote for my friends at church. Maybe next week I’ll do a poem or show pictures of my workshop that I am hard at work cleaning.
Till next week,
Bible Text: 2 Timothy 4:9-22 (NRSV)
Time. What shall we do with our time? Well, there is always tomorrow – isn’t there? Tomorrow will dawn and we’ll face another day. Won’t we? Tomorrow and tomorrow will come, the endless days will allow us to do all those things we desire.
We’ve all been asked the question, “What would you do if had just been told that you had three months to live?” Likely you’ve thought about it and even discussed it with someone. In the movie, “The Bucket List,” the main characters have been told they are dying of cancer and make their bucket lists – the list of what you’re going to do before you kick the bucket. In the movie the two men go off and do many of those things.
It’s an interesting notion and the phrase has entered our language as a general excuse to do something out of the ordinary. In a casual conversation with co-workers I mentioned that I had been to Paris. One of the them replied, “Oh, that’s on my bucket list too.”
I think it is great to have a list like that and to do the things on that list. But…
But I find the concept in the movie to be flawed. When the doctor walks into your room and says, “You’ve only got three months,” it’s far too late. With only three months to live, you’d be far too sick to do anything. How many times have we seen that? I recall when my mother received the news that she had pancreatic cancer and had just a few months to live.
She was taken to hospice care and I went home and made plans for all the things we could do in the time left. I’d help her finish the family history, we could drive one last time to the lighthouse in Santa Cruz, we’d have time to talk, we’d …
We had none of those. In hospice she quickly lost strength and died in a month. The family history remains unfinished – sent to a cousin to keep and pass to his children. Whenever I go to Santa Cruz my first thought is of my mother and the last trip we never got to share.
From personal experience I’ll tell you that when the doctor calls and says you have cancer, the first thing you do isn’t to write your bucket list but rather to start crossing off things you know you won’t be doing. More urgent matters come to mind, like: when do I start treatments? How much strength will I have in three months. Will I lose my hair?
These kinds of memories do remind me of my favorite sermon. It was preached by Reverend Paul Nelson. Some of you will remember him. Pastor Nelson was the pastor here when I was a teen. One sermon I remember he used the text we read, from the last chapter of second Timothy with a focus on the 22nd verse, “come before winter,” to which Pastor Nelson added, “or it will be too late.”
Second Timothy is a very personal letter written by the apostle Paul to Timothy near the end of Paul’s life. There are questions about the purpose of the letter and questions about its authorship but let’s just look at what the text says and pretend for a moment it was written to you. Paul reminds Timothy of the gifts that God had given Timothy, offers advice and warnings to Timothy, does a little complaining, and a little preaching. In chapter four Timothy is reminded to “proclaim the message; be persistent, whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.” In verse nine Timothy is told, “Do your best to come to me soon” and again at the end of the letter in verse 21 instructs Timothy to, “Do your best to come before winter.”
At time of the writing of this letter Paul is presumed to be in Rome, in prison and likely to be executed soon – no doubt under great hardship and according to the letter he has few friends left with him. Paul needs assistance and we can infer that he needs it soon – he repeats his request to “come soon.” The request that Timothy “come before winter” is significant because the ships of that time would not have been able to travel during the winter and would have greatly delayed Timothy’s arrival – possibly by six months or more. It’s possible that a delay would have resulted in Timothy arriving after Paul has been executed so we can infer that Paul’s request was very urgent.
Certainly Reverend Nelson interpreted it that way and used this text as part of his urging us to not wait to start doing God’s work. Reverend Nelson’s words still ring in my ears, “Come before winter, or it will be too late.” There is an urgency in this work for certain things, the love we give, the hope we share and work that God has called us to do. If we don’t act now, when will it happen?
Time. Sweat time. Endless and yet we only get a small amount to use in this life. Time to build a life. Time live life to the full. Time to waste. Time to …
What would you have done if you’d received a letter like Paul’s? Would you have dropped everything and made the journey? Would you have put it off? I’d like to think I would have taken the next ship out but it’s just as likely I’d have let some crisis or other need distract me. I fear I’d have let time slip through my fingers until winter had come.
Now is the time. Paul’s letter is a call for action. A call to do God’s work – bring the books, the cloak, and attend those in need. A call to use your gifts for that work. Think of all the things you’ve left undone. Calling that old friend, going to that place you’ve never been, and writing that “bucket list.” Now is the time to all that while there is still time.
Before winter. Before it’s too late.
It’s easy to casually say, “There will be time to do that later.” Sometimes later never comes. Some times we need a wake up call. Some times events provides the call, sometimes God provokes you. About three years ago a friend of mine sent me an email. Occasionally this friend and I discuss our spiritual journeys together but this email was out of character. The subject was “Writing.” It was a short message that read, “How’s the writing going? I was praying today and I’m supposed to ask. Don’t know why.”
Come before winter or it will be too late.
At the time I had mostly given up on writing and hadn’t written in some time. I took the email as a small note from God and tried to get back into writing regularly. A few months after that I did start writing an on-line blog but without much consistency. In the last couple of years, I’ve managed to be more disciplined about my writing. I’ve not archived any great heights in writing – no novel or book is about to published – but I’ve been able to make that creative outlet a regular part of my life.
And my friend hasn’t sent me any more emails like that.
It was two years ago at my regular physical that I got sent down another path that really grabbed my attention about time. My doctor noted that my PSA was a little high for a man of my age and suggested some routine follow ups. Of all the things a doctor can tell you, the word, “cancer” is among the most frightening and shattering words they can say. For months my world was in turmoil.
Would there be any more time? What would that time be like?
Hardly a day would go by when I didn’t think of that phase, “Come before winter.”
I am grateful that my doctors were able to successfully treat me and have handed me a large box of time. Time I can spend. Time that I thought I had lost. Time that I want to spend carefully. Time that I want to spend using my gifts of language, creativity, love, caring and faith.
Come before winter.
Have you received a letter? What did it say? What is your gift? Where have you been asked to go?
Now, or it will be too late.