What a day! Ok, not really, “what a day” in the usual sense of that expression. It isn’t said from a position of exhaustion at the end of an overwhelming day. It is not said with exasperation after a day of wrestling and confusion and mis-communication. It is not said, on the other hand, with a great sense of accomplishment over a job well done. What a day, in this case, simply means, man, there are distractions aplenty out there!
See our internet provider “upgraded their service” which means the equipment we have doesn’t really work all that well any more and we need to upgrade the stuff to match the upgrade on the service. Well, the new modem came yesterday and I decided to wait until today. So, did that, we are back online with new equipment and new service and woo hoo - I can’t really see any difference. But there you go. It took time, longer than it should have finding all the connections and sorting our the rat’s nest of cables we have strewn across the built in desk in the home office. Built in before anyone thought that maybe we will need to run miles of cables all over it just to send an email.
Anyway, did that. Now I’m ready to work. Except the dogs need to go out, and apparently so does every other dog and toddler and old guy in running shoes. So, it was a tug of war between me and the crazy dogs. Oh, yes the mowers came and we had to express disapproval of the volume of the equipment or something. And the house across the street is undergoing major renovation which apparently takes a cohort of workers who insist on being noisy, at least in the opinion of a couple of very opinionated dogs of dubious parentage.
Anyway, did that. Now I’m ready to work. Except that Maddie is home and was trying to do a project her mother gave her before leaving town for the day and I had to keep coming in to help her with the project - that frankly I didn’t understand either, even though I’ve done it myself a few times. And then, in the midst of that, Maddie decided that the fact that is was lunch time meant someone owed her lunch, and since the crazy dogs and the upstairs cats weren’t volunteering to fix a meal for us (they said something about not having opposable thumbs - I suspect they just didn’t want to bother), I had to get up and do that too.
Anyway, did that. Now I’m ready to work. Except that somewhere along the line my brain did a file dump and I can’t think of a thing to write. Great. Bodes well for church tomorrow too. Argh.
What a day. There is work to do. And I want to do it. But everything else gets in the way. Do the work! At least that is the advice of mentor Paul to his young charge Timothy in our reading for this week.
2 Timothy 4:1-5 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5 As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
Do the work, Timothy. Do the work. What work exactly? Do the work of an evangelist. Oh, crumbs. That’s what we’re talking about here? Do the work of an evangelist? Ranking slightly below used car salesmen and members of government, who in the world would want to do the work of an evangelist? Who in their right mind would want to do the work of an evangelist? Do they? Would they? Would you?
Do the work. What is the work of an evangelist? Um, dunno, but doesn’t it involve loud suits and big hair and the ability to pronounce God with multiple syllables? Doesn’t it involve constant fund raising and sketchy gimmicks purported to bring one closer to God and pointing fingers and weeping crocodile tears over the sinfulness of the world as a sign of God’s disfavor and ostentatious wealth as a sign of God’s favor? Doesn’t it involve asking people if they were to die tonight where would they spend eternity, and the uplifting message of comfort and grace encapsulated in the word “Turn or Burn!”?
Well, in a word, no. No it doesn’t. That isn’t anything like the work Paul wants Timothy to do. Yes, this passage is full of imperatives. Paul is urging Timothy on. Like a parent shouting from the stands at the high school basketball game (“shoot the ball, Timmy!) He is giving advice, and the list is impressive.
It ends with that all inclusive, catch-all: carry out your ministry fully. Do it all, Timmy, do it all. Don’t leave anything undone. What a day, Pastor Tim would declare from time to time after doing it all. What a day. OK, what is the full work of ministry, Paul. Well, replies Paul rubbing his hands together, let me give you a list!
Paul and his lists. What a day. OK, here is the list: proclaim the message, convince, rebuke, encourage, teach, stay sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist. Yeah, that’s got it covered. Wow, what a day. How in the world can one have a sense of accomplishment? Or of completion? It seems an on-going never ending task. Do the work.
Well, and then add to that the little interlude Paul inserts in the conversation. “There will come a time.” Well, guess what? That time has come. Itching ears abound in our world these days. Distractions aplenty, myths that seek to redefine life in ways that are a little more palatable, a little more controlled, a little more certain, a little more causal - do this and get that. Yeah, that stuff sells to itchy ears. The work of the evangelist is an uphill slog.
Which is why Paul tossed in two attitude words. He not only gave Timothy the what, he gave him some of the how. How does he encourage and rebuke, how does he convince and proclaim, how does he teach? With persistence. No matter what obstacles you encounter, no matter the level of readiness of the hearer, keep going. Keep sharing, keep living the life outwardly, keep hoping.
That’s the other how word. With utmost patience. Not just with patience, but with utmost patience. Why, because you are dealing with people. And people can try your patience. They can wear you down. They can make you throw up your hands in disgust and despair, and walk away. If all you’ve got is garden variety patience, you are doomed. You need utmost patience.
The old word for patience was long-suffering. It means to be able to endure a lot of pain, a lot of trials, a lot of rejection and still keep loving, keep teaching, keep hoping that one day something will get through, will overcome the itchy ears filled with so many voices and they will hear the clear, quiet voice that we hear, or have heard at some time. The Voice that lifts us up and reminds us we are worth more than we can imagine, we are loved more deeply than we can comprehend, and that we are privileged to participate in the building of the kingdom, the community of faith.
So, do the work. Not to irritate or drive away. Do the work of building God’s kingdom. Do the work of loving, of healing, of reconciling. Do the work of transforming, of saving, of redeeming. Do the work, knowing that it is God who works through us. And all that work is being done in us at the same time as we are working in those around us. Done in us. With utmost patience. Do the work.