18 October 2010

Fighting the good fight, finishing the race, keeping the faith

Patrick Comerford

Isaiah 35: 3-6 or Acts 16: 6-12a; Psalm 147: 1-7; II Timothy 4: 5-17; Luke 10: 1-9

On this day in the Church calendar we remember Saint Luke the Evangelist. Luke is thought of so often as a physician and healer. But I love that line in the psalm for today: “He heals the broken-hearted” (Psalm 147: 3). How many of us see healing broken hearts at the heart of our ministry?

As I was preparing a short few words on Saint Luke for this evening’s Eucharist, and was reading over the Lectionary readings for today, I wondered whether I should draw on the Epistle reading (2 Timothy 4: 5-17).

I wondered, because there is a story of an Irish Anglican chaplain at the Cape in the early 19th century who chose this passage to preach in front of the Governor, who was also Irish-born, the Earl of Caledon. The Caledon family made some of their fortune from copper mining, and their family name is Alexander.

The chaplain, a clerical impostor who styled himself the Revd Laurence Hynes Halloran (1765-1831) right, preached on the verse: “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds” (verse 14) – and was promptly sacked.

On the other hand, I was wondering whether any of our Second Year students would find that the Gospel reading at the Eucharist this evening (Luke 10: 1-9) puts them off as they consider their choices for next year’s placements: “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road (verses 3-4).”

But I returned again to the Epistle reading for today (2 Timothy 4: 5-17), which is found in the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy.

Those pastoral letters are so instructive, yet so personal, I have found it very appropriate in the past to work through them in Bible studies with tutorial groups.

By the time he comes to writing this letter, Paul thinks he is coming to the end of his career, the end of his life’s work, the end of his ministry. He is on his own, apart from the companionship of Saint Luke. And he tells Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (verse 7).

Yet Paul, as his days are closing in, is still encouraging, cajoling, inspiring Timothy in his ministry, and displays a beatific faith in what truly awaits him in the future. He remembers his students one-by-one – some of them named nowhere else in the New Testament – and wishes them well, prays for them, in their far-flung ministry placements: Thessaloniki, Galatia, Dalmatia, Ephesus, Troy …

I wonder, in years to come, whether we as staff, when we have moved on and the students here have moved on too, will we still remember those students in our prayers, and pray for them and for the places they are ministering in as rectors, or even as bishops?

Like Paul, will be able to forgive those – if there are any – who we feel have done us wrong, be able to live free from bearing the grudges so many people burden themselves with in life?

Like Paul, will we still be calling for books and papers, still eager to study, to read, to be kept informed, to learn new insights ourselves, to be refreshed with the ideas of others?

Will we still encourage those who remain close to us, helping them to draw on the gifts they have been given to equip them in ministry, to carry on their ministry fully?

And finally, will others be able to say we have fought the good fight, have finished the race, that we have kept the faith?

And so, let us pray:

Almighty God,
you called Luke the physician,
whose praise is in the gospel,
to be an evangelist and physician of the soul:
By the grace of the Spirit
and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel,
give your Church the same love and power to heal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at a meeting of the academic staff on 18 October 2010.

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