Come Before Winter

2 Timothy 4: 6-22

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.

Alexander, the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the Lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”

 There is no question when the season changes on the north shore. Fall feels cool, crisp, and fresh. The trees have such vivid oranges and yellows. In the midst of fall’s beauty there are reminders that winter is on the way. As the leaves fall and carpet the ground, we get closer and closer to the end of fall. They remind us that time is moving and the seasons are changing, and if we want to do something before the winter arrives, we need to attend to it quickly.

When my mother visited this week she bought each grandchild a little rake. When a three, five, and eight-year-old rake leaves, the piles do not get too high before they are flattened again. I had a sense of time passing, of the children growing older, of childhood’s temporal freedom and delight. It was a picture of generations being together and playing together. Whenever I see a moment like that I feel as if the world is in tune.

Moments of world harmony are few and far between. Yet this week as the world watched and prayed for the Chilean miners, the world was more unified than it had been in a long while; so many were gripped in prayer, waiting to see if the miners would be rescued. When the miners first went missing seventeen days passed before anyone knew whether they were dead or alive. Finally after 69 days underground they were rescued one by one. The topologist stated that the rescue was 75% engineering and 25% miracle. The world had been hanging on every moment hoping for a miracle, praying for their families. As each miner was rescued alive, the world thanked God that this was good news to the very end.

Today’s Scripture depicts Paul’s letter to Timothy as he waited in Nero’s prison. Paul probably went through some of the same anguish that the miners faced, much like today’s Psalm stated,

My heart is in anguish within

me; the terrors of death

assail me.

Fear and trembling have

beset me;

Horror has overwhelmed me.

I said, “Oh that I had the

wings of a dove!

I would fly away and be

at rest…”

(Psalm 55: 4-6)

Paul’s letter has a tone of urgency to his protégé, Timothy, whom he urged to visit him before the seasons changed. Paul is waiting in the dark depths of prison pondering death. Since the Mediterranean ports closed for the winter due to treacherous waters, he wrote that Timothy should “come before winter.” Paul requested some books, parchments, and his favorite coat, but the names he mentions demonstrate that the people in his life were most important.

May the urgency of this letter to Timothy to act quickly provoke us. When Clarence McCartney preached his sermon “Come Before Winter” for the first time, a medical student was so inspired that he immediately wrote his mother a letter. When the student rushed to visit his mother, she had just passed away, but his letter was near her head on the bed. He was so grateful that the sermon provoked him that he told Reverend McCartney to preach it every year, and he did, for almost forty years.

There is someone who needs to hear from us today, and we should not wait to deliver words of love. There is a loved one who needs to be forgiven or to hear that we are sorry. We should not wait to do that. There is someone that needs to hear we are thinking about them, praying for them, missing them. Even though we treasure our loved ones, we take it for granted that our feelings are communicated enough, but they usually are not. Until we express what needs to be said, the words wait in the bottom of the mine. Why should we wait to tell our loved ones the most beautiful expressions of our hearts? We should not. We should go to them immediately and pour our hearts out because that is what is most important to our lives: our relationships.

When Alexander the Great was asked what made him great, he replied that it was because he acted without delay. Granted, that meant that he did not delay in marshalling his armies to crush a neighboring country, but in our context, when asked what makes us great, we should answer, “We did not delay in preserving our relationships.” That is what makes us great. Money, status, title, education do not make us great. Our loves are what make us great. When we learn to love those closest to us, we grow in love and learn to love those we do know.

Have you ever read the poem Before it is Too Late?

If you have a tender message, or a loving word to say,

Do not wait til you forget it, but whisper it today;

The tender word unspoken, the letter never sent,

The long forgotten messages, the wealth of love unspent—

For these some hearts are breaking,

For these some loved ones wait;

So show then that you care for them before it is too late.

(Frank Herbert Sweet)

Did Timothy get there before winter? Did he get on the ship in time before the ports closed for the winter, or was he too late? Did he wait through the winter until the ports opened again? Although there are many theories both ways, there is no definitive answer. We are not told whether he arrived in time or not. But that is not the point of the letter. So many times we miss the boat, don’t we? This is not a sermon about guilt or regret. The point of “come before winter” is to tell our loved ones that we have with us how much we love them today. We should not take our loved ones for granted.

Some of our loved ones have passed away. Some may not have made it out of the mine. How are we supposed to feel about that? Jesus teaches the message that love heals those feelings of regret. We know that through the fallen leaves, through the snow, there is a heavenly realm where we will be reunited with our loved ones. Our faith in that enables us to love those who are still with us. Our love is not diminished when we lose a loved one. Rather, gratefulness should strengthen us to love those still here.

This weekend my mother and I attended a lecture by a former seminary professor, Anna Carter Florence. She made the point that when Jesus died, the disciples were gathered together wondering what was next until the women arrived with news that Jesus had risen. Professor Florence raised the point that Peter may have felt a little uneasy to hear this news. After all, it is much worse to feel betrayed by friends and family than to be crucified by strangers. I never considered that Peter may have wondered how Jesus would receive him. Jesus returned with such strong words of love that the disciples became charged with love for the world.

The leaves are falling outside. They are falling one by one and soon the last leaf will hit the ground. What do we need to say today? Who needs to hear those words? Speak them today, do not wait any longer. Time is passing. Come before winter! That is a message for Timothy and also a message for each of us. Come before winter! Amen.