A Communion Meditation by Rev. Ronald W. Botts, Associate Minister, The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, October 7, 2001, Pentecost 19.

"A Word When Needed"

Psalm 37:1-9; II Timothy 1:1-14

There's something about being human that make us want to take on certain challenges in life. Sometimes they make sense; other times they don't, especially to others. So it was for one middle-aged man who decided to enter his first marathon. He had been running every morning for several years but this race, he knew, was going to require the utmost of his willpower and endurance. Even a recent increase in his training did not really test his ability to go 26 miles in competition. Still, he was determined to try.

Well, everything seemed to go right as he began the marathon and this built up his confidence. The first ten miles he was where he wanted to be in the middle of the pack. As time wore on, however, he began to be passed by more and more of the runners. His strength was definitely waning and he was losing ground. His confidence was slipping away, too. The man was surprised, then, when he began to move up on one of the contestants.

As he got closer he realized that it was his friend, Tom, a veteran of numerous marathons and usually a high finisher. What he only became aware of later was that Tom dropped back intentionally because he was worried about him.

"How are you doing, Ed?' his friend called out. He needn't have asked, though, for he could see that the other fellow was just about ready to quit. Ed was on the brink of being both physically and emotionally exhausted. He didn't have much more left in him.

It must have been then that Tom made a decision to forego his own placement in the race in order to stay with Ed and give him the encouragement and advice he needed to keep going. You might say it was an unselfish gift of companionship that was born out of genuine concern.

The harder it was to continue, the more Tom's words of reassurance helped keep Ed moving. With just a few miles to go, however, Ed seemed almost finished; but his friend gave him one final bit of advice: "Ed, the body can do more than the mind thinks it can." Trusting Tom's words and experience, Ed somehow managed to make it all the way to the finish line. While it had still been Ed's race to run, Tom' s presence and knowledge helped Ed find a strength he didn't even know he had. Without this friend with him he would have dropped out long before the end.

That's the same kind of role the apostle Paul plays in our New Testament reading this morning. This letter to his young co-worker, Timothy, offers encouraging words so that he might carry through with the work to which he had been called. In the book of Acts we learn that Timothy was from Lystra in Asia Minor, the son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother. Eunice became a Christian and that apparently introduced Timothy to the faith. Elsewhere in Acts Timothy is mentioned as a companion to Paul in his travels.

Second Timothy is the most personal of the pastoral letters, with Paul addressing himself directly to this young man. It is sincere correspondence between an experienced worker and his junior colleague. It pictures Timothy as responsible for a group of churches. Part of his work is to preserve those congregations from destructive influences without and from divisions within. Endurance would certainly be a critical quality for such a leader, for the task was not an easy one. So Paul encourages Timothy to rekindle the gift of God within him. He should never be reluctant to witness for the Lord and he must be willing to endure suffering for the cause of Jesus.

Near the end of the letter Paul says, "You have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and suffering…. But as for you, continue in what you have learned, knowing from whom you learned it." This is encouraging counsel Paul offers to Timothy. It's a way of keeping him going when he will be tempted to give it all up. Paul's confidence in Timothy shows through clearly in this letter.

Next to our family, and perhaps a close friend or two, the church is where we most often turn in our times of need. Sometimes we don't know what to do. Other times we just need confirmation that what we've done, or plan to do, is the best course. With the hard decisions in life, and even some of the smaller ones, we seem to need community. We need to talk things out with someone we trust. And here is such a place.

How helpful are we when others come to us? Perhaps the first requirement of a friend is simply to be a good listener. Often when a person shares a problem they need support more than anything else. They need warm words, comforting words, the assurance that someone who cares is with them. They may not even need help with resolving the problem, just a person with whom to share it. Often people feel capable of making a decision on their own; they just don't want to be alone in doing it.

But there are also times when advice is really appreciated. When it's called for, we ought to be willing to help a friend talk the problem out. In the middle of a difficulty, a person may need the clearer perspective another may bring to the situation. Suggesting some ideas for moving ahead may be just what's needed. An offer to pray with, or for, a fellow member is always right and appropriate.

Warm words and encouraging words are what Paul offered to Timothy. He gave his protégé what he had learned in his experience. He shared with him the understanding of faith that he had come to know. He pushed him to go on even when the going became difficult. He reminded him of the strength and power God gave to them.

And that is our assurance, too. Whether we're the person who brings the problem or the friend who hears it out, there is always a third presence in any conversation for people of faith. When we remember that God cares for us, God is with us, then we find a strength that is already there for us. We need not feel alone because we aren't alone.

Thirty years ago Bart Starr was a quarterback for the Green Bay Packers under legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Those were good years for the Packers and for Starr, but we need to remember that they didn't win all their games. They had their moments, too, when they looked like anything but champions.

One year Bart made a deal with his son to encourage good grades: for every "A" Bart Jr. brought home, his dad would give him ten cents (remember this was back in the 60's). This incentive seemed to work well and quite a bit of Bart Sr.'s loose change went to this effort.

One Sunday the Packers had a particularly bad game and Starr, as quarterback, didn't do well at all. It was a long plane ride back, but as he arrived home and entered his bedroom, Starr found this handwritten note from his son: "Dear Dad, I thought you played a great game. Love, Bart." Taped to the note were two dimes.

There are times in each of our lives when we can use a little encouragement, a little advice. We should ask for it when it's needed, give it when it's requested. And at all times and in all situations, we need to remember that God loves us and provides us with a reserve of strength to carry us through. Believing this and acting on this can make all the difference when it comes to facing life's difficult moments.

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