Sermon: All in! Come Before Winter!
Scripture: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-22
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: October 27, 2019
How many of you have a will? A will is a legal document that specifies how you want your remaining assets and estate to distribute to others after you die. But did you know there is such a thing called an ethical will?
An ethical will contains a person’s personal ethical, spiritual, and moral values to those they love. It’s not about leaving money or property; it’s about bequeathing your values to a future generation. Ethical wills can be written or they can be recorded. They can be presented in photographs, videos, or simply through basic storytelling. When you leave an ethical will, you are simply sharing the life-lessons you want to leave your family and friends about what you think is important and what you want them to remember.
Today’s text picks up from where Nic left off last week in 2 Timothy. These pastoral epistles, as they are known, are letters from the Apostle Paul to his protégé, Timothy, who was living in Ephesus at the time. Paul is in a prison in Rome awaiting his second trial with Emperor Nero. Today, we have Paul’s ethical will as these are thought to be the very last words he wrote before he died.
These are some of the most tender words in scripture. Written by an old man who has spent the last thirty years doing ministry traipsing back and forth from Palestine to Italy and all parts in between, these are words written by a man who is facing imminent death and fully realizes that his time is about through. As you listen to the text, listen to what is important to Paul and what he values. Listen to what consists of his earthly estate. Listen for his urgency. Hear the Word of the Lord.
2 Timothy 4:6-22
6As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
9Do your best to come to me soon, 10for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. 12I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds. 15You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message.
16At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! 17But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
19Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20Erastus remained in Corinth; Trophimus I left ill in Miletus. 21Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers and sisters. 22The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.
Did you note what was important to Paul? Relationships! Relationships with friends, colleagues, members of the church family, and most of all, his relationship with Jesus. We can hear the sadness in his voice as he recounts this long list of people, most of them friends, who totally deserted him when the going got tough. Demas, a longtime ministry colleague with Paul seems to have not been able to muster the challenges of ministry and chose the easy path of the world and went back to Thessalonica. Crescens and Titus are too wrapped up in their own work to get there to Rome and support him. Only Luke is with him.
Relationships are important to Paul. He even asks Timothy to find Mark and bring him along as well. If you’ll remember, this is John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin, that Paul got angry with because earlier in his life, Mark did not show the fortitude or maturity to be a minister of the Lord; he literally abandoned his post and went home. Paul and Barnabas had a horrible falling out that sent them both on their separate ways. But Paul has matured. Mark has matured. Paul is showing us that even old enmities need to be dealt with and healed. Over the course of years, Paul forgave Mark and wants this one-time deserter to be by his deathbed when the time comes knocking on the door. Relationships matter. Paul is lonely.
Beloved, who are the people that matter most to you? Have you told them so? Do they know it? Are there people in your life that you, like Paul, need to forgive and move on in your relationship with them? It may simply mean letting go of the anger or hate that paralyzes you in that relationship; let that person go, let their actions go, and make peace within yourself.
Did you hear how Paul relates to earthly needs and goods? Quite unlike people today, Paul had a personal stewardship that relied totally on the Lord. Throughout his ministry, he beheld how in every town, in every circumstance, the Lord provided for him whether it was through the generosity of the churches he served or through the gifts of his working as a tentmaker. Paul’s possessions, Paul’s estate, were the experiences of grace and strength of God’s presence in Christ. When he was stoned, he possessed the presence of Christ. When the ship was being battered and torn asunder by the reef, he possessed the presence of Christ. When he was knocked off his horse at his conversion and was blind, his only possession was the presence of Christ.
Paul traveled light. If he possessed the presence of Christ, it was enough, and it was the presence of the Lord in his life that determined what he owned. In other words, friends, Paul lived simply. As he awaited his trial and death, he only wanted his friends to bring him his books, some parchments, and his robe to ward off the cold of the Italian winters. What these books and parchments were are left to speculation. Some think they were scrolls of the Torah. Others believe that perhaps the parchments were Paul’s personal notes on the various churches he founded. Some even speculate that Paul wanted John Mark, who spent a lot of time with Simon Peter, to join both he and Luke in Rome so he could edit their written accounts of the gospels! We just don’t know. What we do know is that what Paul owned could be carried in a suitcase. Books, loose writings, and a coat. He traveled light. He did not need much because what he lacked he was confident the Lord would provide through the relationships and network he had developed.
The question confronts you and me: What are those things we possess? Or better yet, do our things possess us? Paul possessed experiences with Christ through the relationships and experiences in his life. His possessions, the books, and parchments were used to help sharpen that relationship with God and with others. What do our possessions say about us? Do they sharpen and enhance our relationship with God and our neighbor? If we had to pack a suitcase of all that is vital for us, what would be in it?
Finally, did you hear the words of urgency? “Come before winter.” His life was being poured out, death was coming down the street. He was longing to have those relationships, experiences with those he loved, his scripture and notes, and his cloak to stay warm. Paul’s words to Timothy would have cost Timothy something. It would require him to drop everything he was doing in Ephesus, travel one hundred miles north to get Paul’s cloak in Troas, and then make his way over the sea to Rome. “Come before winter” Paul urges. Why? One, he didn’t want to be a shivering old man! But he also knew that boats quit sailing in late autumn because the seas grew too rough to sail. It would take Timothy some four or more months to get to Paul depending on conditions and Paul wanted him to get on with it.
Years ago, Dr. Clarence McCartney who pastored the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, preached a sermon called, “Come Before Winter.” As he reflects on our text, he wonders what would have happened if Timothy hesitated before leaving. What if Timothy waited until springtime to go see Paul? Dr. McCartney puts it this way:
Suppose that Timothy, when he received that letter from Paul asking him to come before winter, had said to himself: “Yes, I shall start for Rome; but first of all I must clear up some matters here at Ephesus, and then go down to Miletus to ordain elders there, and thence over to Colossae to celebrate the Communion there.” When he has attended to these matters, he starts for Troas, and there inquires when he can get a ship which will carry him across to Macedonia, and thence to Italy, or one that is sailing around Greece into the Mediterranean. He is told that the season for navigation is over and that no vessels will sail till springtime. “No ships for Italy till April!
All through that anxious winter, we can imagine Timothy reproaching himself that he did not go at once when he received Paul’s letter, and wondering how it fares with the Apostle. When the first vessel sails in the springtime, Timothy…hurries to Rome. There he seeks out Paul’s prison, only to be cursed and repulsed by the guard. Then he goes to the house of Claudia, or Pudens, or Narcissus, or Mary, or Ampliatus, and asks where he can find Paul. I can hear them say: “And are you Timothy? Don’t you know that Paul was beheaded last December? Every time the jailer put the key in the door of his cell, Paul thought you were coming. His last message was for you, ‘Give my love to Timothy, my beloved son in the faith when he comes.’” How Timothy then must have wished that he had come before winter!
Beloved, Paul’s words are words of urgency. What do you and I need to do before winter comes? Life has a and python populations with temps in the 90’s at the end of October. Winter? Who needs to plan for winter? I’ve got plenty of time!
But do we? Come before winter. There is urgency in Paul’s words. Is there something you need to do in your life to tie up loose ends? Are there personal letters that need to be written to share what you really feel towards another? Are there phone calls to be made to people who matter in your life? Are there commitments you need to make to the church as you start putting Christ in the center of your life like Paul did? Are you all in or are you going to wait until spring? Let’s come before Winter!
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 Please see Ethical Wills at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_will.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 See Acts 15:36 ff.
 Clarence Macartney (1879–1957), Come Before Winter, accessed 10/25/2019 at
https://www.preceptaustin.org/come_before_winter. My former colleague, the late W. Frank Harrington, Pastor of the Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta took up McCartney’s mantel and preached a “Come Before Winter” every Labor Day weekend.