Living it Together1 & 2 Timothy Sep 12 – October 24, 2010.
Pentecost 22C, Week 6

Stand by me2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
6For I am already being poured out like a drink offering and the time has come for my departure. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Now 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.
16At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17But 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. 18The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Everyone needs someone to stand by them. We need someone to stand by us when we are under threat and when we are witnessing something joyous.
When fear rises, danger draws near and we feel the threat, it is so helpful and encouraging to have a trusted person with us to help us, protect us and share the fear with us.

When we are standing at some place of great meaning – a place we have always wanted to see, or we are finally doing that thing we have always wanted to experience, the first thing we naturally want to do is share the moment – share the joy with a person who stands with us in our joy.

“the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength”, declares Paul as he signs off.
Of course, it is not always possible to have that trusted other person near to stand with you in the good or bad moments.
In good times, others can stay away because of envy or jealousy. In bad times people can fall away from us because of fear or shame.
But the great human need we have is for someone to stand with us – which means to share our thoughts, our feelings, our fears; our hope. We all need someone to stand by us to protect us, to help us, to give of themselves to us, to broaden our own experience and learn things we cannot learn alone.

Paul declares that God has been this “stand by me”, ‘Other’ person for him all the way through. That statement of great praise of God’s ability to stand when all other people and things fall reminds me of a famous story about one of the early Church Fathers named Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna…

After dodging the Roman authorities for a few days and then seeing a vision of his own death given by the Lord, Polycarp was arrested under the persecution of the Roman empire in AD 156. He was a well regarded bishop and old man of faith in the church generally. He was pursued by a certain Constable, named of all names, ‘Herod’!

On the journey to the Coliseum he was put under a little more pressure than your run of the mill “atheist” (Christian) was put under by those gave their allegiance to the Caesar and Roman gods. “Just say, “Caesar is Lord”, and make a sacrifice to Caesar and all will be well, Polycarp!” Constable Herod and his father, Nicetes implored; first with just words, and then with physical tactics to the old but important man.
Polycarp made it clear he would not Hail Caesar or sacrifice to him. His fate was sealed as they eventually entered the stadium. Before the Proconsul, as the great crowd watched another “atheist-Christian” being eaten by the lions, Polycarp took a firm standing as the Proconsul attempted to get him to deny his faith in Jesus as Lord and declare publically that “the atheists” should be done away with. Say, “I curse Christ”, Polycarp, and I will release you.” it went on…

The Proconsul, knowing he had a much known and respected “atheist” before the crowd saw the opportunity to make a great attack on the faithful people of God. He pressed on and on…

And then comes the very famous response from a man of God in the face of the darkest and most sinister kind of evil aimed at destroying not only his faith, but attacking the faith foundation of the whole community of God…

“Eighty six years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong: how then can I blaspheme my King who saved me? Do you what you will”

Polycarp of Smyrna was then burnt at the stake instead of being fed to the lions in the great stadium and became a great inspiration to the whole church as he confessed faith in Jesus in the face of all fears and threats.
Paul and Polycarp betray a simple faith in God’s dependability, despite the injustice, attack, betrayal, hardship and doubt they experienced. Amazingly too, they also betray lack of anger at God. It seems that they have been through all of that. Surely they would have had their moments of being angry at what was happening to them in various fearful and even shameful moments.

Surely they would have prayed the psalms and the book of Job when they were under great pain or sorry or threat.

“Why do the wicked keep winning, God and the poor keep losing?”

Why do the unjust and corrupt people make it and the honest and kind people get trodden under foot?”

Why do we work so hard only to find out that the generation will squander we have worked for anyway?

Why is this happening to me, God? Where are you? Why don’t you respond to me?

But now it seems, as Paul speaks a final word to his son, Timothy, the time for anger at God, despondency with the church, anger at people who have hurt him and caused him great personal damage is passed.
Only One remains and His faithfulness and dependability is all that matters for whatever may come.

18The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.
Friend, I don’t know what you are angry about or if you are angry at all. I don’t know if you are despondent about your life and where it is heading or whether you’re pretty happy with how things are shaping up.
I don’t know if you have ever been angry with the Lord and whether or not you admitted it and told him or someone else that you were or whether you still are.
I don’t know if today you are where Paul has ended up – with no angry words to say to God or anyone else – just a word of praise of God’s ability to stand by people through to the end of it all.

Whether there are words to be had with God or not, the truth being proclaimed here is that God is a “stand by me” God. He stands not apart from, but he stands with his people.

He is calling us to believe this about him and inviting us to a deeper experience of his trustworthiness and inspiration in our place here.
Will we believe and will we let the Spirit of Jesus draw us further into the experience of God standing with us in all we are and all we are facing?

This God in whom we live and move and have our very being, is the God who stands by his people as much as is humanly possible in the shedding of the blood of his Son, and the giving of the gift of the Spirit to his people. He stands by us in all circumstances; shutting lion’s mouths, staying close and never abandoning you. As we follow his call to trust here and now, in our everyday things and our inner world, he will stand by you. His light and life will be with us in us all.
We will end up where Paul ends up – seeing so far beyond the current circumstances of chains, and grief and loneliness and instead, seeing life, community, God’s surrounding faithfulness, God’s promises coming to pass in his life and the people of God moving on to their goal – the presence and glory of Christ and his crown of victory.

To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.