Brothers and Sisters:

One year ago, we gathered to inaugurate the Year of St. Paul, a year to celebrate, to study, and to reflect on the life and ministry of this remarkable saint of the Christian Church. In that year, Christians have traveled to many of the sites where St. Paul preached the Gospel and established the first churches. We have, hopefully, studied his writings more closely and the many excellent works interpreting them for us, from the Fathers of the Church to modern scholars. We close this year of celebration and focus, better informed about St. Paul and with greater insights into his significance for our Church and for our own lives as Christians. While we close this year of St. Paul, like Acts of the Apostles says about him, St. Paul has opened a door of faith for each one of us and invites us to walk through into a deeper relationship with the saint but ultimately with the Most High God, His Son, and His Church.

In the pericope from St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy that we heard this evening, our first thoughts, naturally, go to Timothy, the first person to encounter the great apostle’s message. Paul’s words of exhortation, were, of course, intended for him. St. Paul had known Timothy for a number of years, first encountering him in Lystra, Asia Minor, a city in south-central Turkey, near Iconium or today’s Konya. Timothy accompanied St. Paul on his missionary journeys and we hear about him in Acts of the Apostles and other epistles of Paul. Timothy was a good missionary, working alongside St. Paul as they preached the Gospel and established churches wherever they went. So, in this evening’s passage, we can image Timothy reading these words, receiving advice and counsel from his elder, the veteran missionary sharing his wisdom with his younger co-worker.

What do we hear St. Paul telling Timothy? Don’t give up; persevere in the face of adversity; be patient with people. St. Paul’s next sentence could also describe our own time: “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 desire, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” Even St. Paul recognized that people have the tendency to flock to teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. St. Paul knew that people often want an easy message or they want someone to tell them what to do, rather than accept responsibility for their own lives and their own faith. Too often even Christian preachers will fall into that temptation, seeking fame and popularity or power and control, and St. Paul seemingly knew that too. But St. Paul, uncompromising St. Paul, counsels Timothy to speak the truth “whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.” In other words, proclaim the message of Jesus Christ whether people are ready for it, want to hear it, or are even listening to it. Above all, remain faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our world today, the message of the Gospel is often seemingly drowned out the by noise generated by many other forces. Even in this time of economic recession, many look for the resurrection of the stock market or in the ascension of retail sales. This weekend’s movie blockbuster release will garner much greater headlines and attention than the miracles that faith and hope offer. Many still look to the “princes or sons of men” for salvation.

Rather than despair over the situation, I believe St. Paul would have relished this challenge. The marketplace of ideas that is our society today is remarkably similar to the agora of any ancient city, where not only goods were sold, but ideas and philosophies were debated. This is St. Paul’s element. St. Paul would have charged in, sharing his faith, hoping to convince all, but accepting any who believed - whether Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free man - because in Christ Jesus these categories could all be transcended so that the kingdom of God could be advanced. St. Paul’s message was simple - the Good News of Jesus Christ.

But in this pericope we also encounter a St. Paul who has come close to the end of his ministry. We know that St. Paul is on his way to Rome to face his martyrdom and so his words should have a special poignancy, especially when we hear those famous phrases, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” While St. Paul would preach the Gospel until his very last breath, his words place the responsibility for message of the Gospel and the ministry of the kingdom of God in the hands of another. St. Paul’s words to Timothy reflect the passing of the baton from one runner to the next. The race St. Paul ran was not a sprint; rather it was a relay. St. Paul was the opening leg of a journey that Timothy would continue.

The words of St. Paul to Timothy are words for us. The legacy of St. Paul given to Timothy has now traveled for countless generations and is in our hands today. The message of Jesus Christ is our inheritance, our parakatatheke. While we are faithful to that original apostolic preaching, we acknowledge the contributions of saints, holy fathers and mothers, millions of martyrs, and even more millions of men and women who have kept the faith alive in their hearts and their lives each according to their time and place, answering the questions of their age to the Gospel itself. Our tradition is not to replicate the past, but to present the Gospel as a living reality, able to address the challenges of contemporary men and women. St. Paul has passed the baton to us. We are the ones running the race, looking for that crown of righteousness.