2 Kings 2:1-12; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18

October 23, 2022

  • God’s enduring presence in our lives


One of the more endearing movies from my growing up years is an Irish movie called Waking Ned Divine.  A small, poor village on the coast of Ireland receives a huge bit of news.  Some lucky soul among their residents has the winning ticket to the national lottery.  The neighbors discover that the elderly Ned Divine is the winner, but when Ned realized that he had won the fortune, he died right there in front of the tele.  His friends decide they cannot let the ticket go to waste.  That’s not what Ned would have wanted, so they hatch an elaborate scheme involving all the village’s residents for one of them to impersonate Ned to the authorities.  One of the most special scenes is when the lottery official shows up in the middle of the real Ned’s funeral, and the person eulogizing Ned has to switch the message instantly to his best friend, giving a touching and heartfelt eulogy for his friend sitting right there in front of him.

Avoiding any more spoilers for the movie, I want to dwell for a moment in that rare gift.  It is a strange thing to be eulogized while we are still living, but that seems like a sad thing.  How often have you heard the kind of thoughts that people might share once we are no longer here in this world?  I am going to guess that it is not that often, if at all.  Sure, our loved ones might express their dear appreciation of us while we still draw breath.  Sure, our special people might do nice, even extravagant things to celebrate our presence in this world, but to actually hear others share the kind of impact we have made in this world, to recount the moments and qualities that we contributed to this world that meant the most to others is something that just does not happen.

I wonder if there is a part of us that needs to wait in case there are any surprises just before the end.  Sue might be 97 years old, but we’d better wait to express to her the wonder of her life in case she decides to go bonkers and run off with a 23-year-old circus performer.  Really?  We need witnesses to God’s goodness in our lives all the way to the end, and we can use them now.  We do not need to wait until the life here is over.  I certainly hope we are all making a mark in this world and building a legacy before our last day.  Is it wrong to notice?

This passage from 2 Timothy is a beautiful love statement that Paul is making about himself for Timothy.  It might sound a little weird or conceited to have Paul talking about himself in this way.  He is doing a little self-eulogizing here, but he also feels pretty alone.  He knows that his life is drawing to a close soon – maybe very soon, but he feels like he has been true to his call in Christ.  He feels a sense of accomplishment, and he wants to share that joy with Timothy because he loves Timothy and wants him to have that example.  Paul cannot be with him in person, so he is with him in spirit.

There are times when we have all dealt with loneliness.  Some of us have waited at home while loved ones have gone to war which has to be one of the toughest kinds of loneliness – not knowing if you will see your love, again.  In that regard, I feel sorry for both Ukrainians and Russians who never asked for that kind of loneliness and worse but who were simply born into a place where lives can be so abused.  People are cut off from their loved ones all over this world in devastating ways.  It was not long ago that children were separated from their parents at our own border.  I cannot begin to imagine the toll that would take on young minds.  I know that when I was a little person my first camp experience was a week at Camp Buck in NC.  I hated that time with a passion unrivalled in my life, and I was filled with a depth of homesickness that I have never since known.  I felt completely alone and cut off from anyone who cared about me, and that was only for a week.  Those children were cut off for many months.

The pandemic also did a number on our hearts and minds, cutting off people and making relationships harder.  People became more alone than they ever were before, and right now people are struggling to reconnect at work and in the world.  They are stressed to just talk to people face to face, again, and to make in-person connections.  It is not good for us to be alone.  No one is an island.

The passage from 2 Kings is one that pushes me in humorous ways.  Elijah is at the end of his life.  He knows it, and he tries to get Elisha to leave again and again.  But Elisha refuses, and he does not want others to remind him of what’s coming.  “I have to go over there, Elisha.  You stay here and I’ll go on,” Elijah would say.  Elisha would not let Elijah go, however.  No way, Jose.  “You are not leaving me,” Elisha responds again and again.  Even when Elijah is taken up into heaven, Elisha wants a double portion of the Elijah’s spirit.  That is a huge ask, but he wants Elijah to remain with him in that powerful way.

I was visiting with one of our church members a few weeks ago over at Brookview, and she was lamenting that life in that facility is strange in a way that I had never considered.  People are nervous about making friends.  For one, you do not know how long you might have to create a new relationship, but even more, if something were to happen, privacy rules would prevent you from even knowing what happened.  One day your dinner mates might be there and the next day one is missing and you don’t know why.  The uncertainty and lack of transparency means it is extra tricky making friends in such a facility.  I do not mean to disparage Brookview or any place like that.  As we age, it might be harder and harder to make new friends whether we are in a facility or not for the same reasons.  I think it is just exacerbated in a facility that is bound by hipaa laws and patient confidentiality.  We absolutely need to respect personal confidentiality, but it is even more important to give people space to be friends in our later years and throughout our lives.  We need to know without the shadow of a doubt that we are not alone.

When Paul felt he had no one left, no friends, and that he was all alone, he managed to remember that he was never alone.  God was with him in a powerful way, especially when he had greatest need.  You have all heard the Footsteps poem about Jesus walking with us through life, and when there was only one set of footprints in the sand of our lives, it was when Jesus was carrying us.  Jesus himself tells us something similar at the very end of the Gospel of Matthew.  In that passage called “the Great Commission” Jesus affirms his desire for his disciples to go out into the world, baptizing people in the Triune God and teaching Jesus’ commands, but the end of that verse and the whole gospel is in the assurance that we will never be alone.  Jesus will be with us always, throughout time.  Or if you would rather, “even in the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil….” Why?  “Because you are with me…..”

Elisha goes out of his way to impress on Elijah that he is with him through his end.  Paul is adamant that he still hold Timothy in his heart and that God holds him all the way to his end.  What are we missing?  We are also called to be with each other.

Nonagenarians are a special gift.  That is the word for people in their 90s in case you do not know.  You may have heard of Septuagenarians for folk in their 70s or Octogenarians for the 80s.  Nonagenarians are a rarer breed, but we have a lovely collection of sisters and brothers in their 90s here.  God has walked with you in beautiful and sublime and profound ways, often with grace unrealized at the time, but looking back over your lives, you have seen what I am trying to share and could express my ideas here much more eloquently than I can.  You have seen and known and felt God’s companionship, God’s help and strength, God’s provision, and God’s love.  You are living witnesses that God is with us through the end, but you also certainly must have had your days of struggle and loneliness.  Maybe it is more difficult for those of us who are without the circles of family and friends that we once had.  How much more important for us to be with each other, too!  Our Lord has given us this model and example.  We have his command to remain and to witness the goodness that we carry between us.  We do need to celebrate each other and the lives that we have known while we can still do that together.  This is my challenge to you today: speak those blessings to each other – spouses, friends, family.  Express the ways we have made a mark on this world for God’s good.  We all want to leave some mark, some legacy, some testament to God’s goodness.  Should we not share with each other some ideas of these marks no matter our age or how many years we might still have?

None of God’s children should be written off no matter how long they have lived, especially for how long they have lived.  We should not forget our sisters or brothers in the Lord.  Those who have lived many years have the most unique perspective of life and time.  They have gone through tough and lonely times, and they have made impressions on this world and our lives.  We need to remember and celebrate each other, and we need to walk with each other ‘til the end with steps that are confident and respectful and loving.  We will struggle sometimes to do this as Jesus would have us walk, but walking with each other will always be easier and better than walking alone.  To God be the glory.  Amen.