Updated: Nov 7, 2020
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up 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 loved His appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8
I don’t know how everyone else is handling lockdown – or even semi-lockdown, as it is here in Texas – but I’ve taken to walking the dog. Not that I didn’t walk the dog before a pandemic came along, but now, I’ve become much more intentional about it. Otherwise, I’ll go stir crazy inside while he destroys my backyard. With Texas heat coming on, we’re walking earlier and earlier, which is good for getting things done, but if it gets much earlier, we’ll be walking the night before. Whatever the case, my two-year-old mutt, Alex, has an excess of energy, and I have an excess of pounds, so we walk. It is his very favorite thing to do. He’s taken to napping beside the umbrella stand where his leash is hung, just in case I’m thinking of leaving without him.
Before we even reach the walking trail, Alex is primed and ready to go. It doesn’t matter that we were there the day before. He cannot wait to get out, and he wiggles and jumps and pulls, all 65 pounds of him, to get to the walkway, with me almost running to keep up, which is hilarious if you know me at all. Just about the time I get my stride going, he stops. Completely. Some dog that passed this way left a gift just for Alex to stop and smell. He’s not a roses kind of dog, more of an “other dogs’ leavings” kind of dog. If I ever knew, I’d forgotten that sniffing new and different smells is hard work for dogs and wears them out, which is essentially God’s reward for dog owners who walk their dogs. My point is that he races to get out of my truck, pulling and trying to run to get to the path, before coming to an abrupt standstill. More than once, I’ve nearly flipped over him, every time we walk.
Walking with Alex the other day brought to mind the Christian life. When we’re young in Christ, we’re full of enthusiasm and energy. This is true even when older people come to Christ as new Christians. The first fruit of faith and forgiveness, the first touch of the Spirit in the soul, no matter our biological age, gives a burst of new life and excitement. The vibrant presence of God produces vitality in each newly born Christian. As time passes, however, we grow accustomed to prayers, forgiveness, mercy, worship, small groups, and the like. It’s just easier to stroll than to run. No one lives in a constant or permanent state of joyful exuberance. If nothing else, we are mugged by the reality of sin. Slowing down does not give us permission to be complacent, however.
St. Paul never stopped proclaiming the Gospel. Even during imprisonment, he worked unceasingly to bring people to Christ, to shore up, admonish, and encourage faltering churches and church leaders, and to spread the Gospel as far and wide as he was able. We are called to do the same. The world is so present, so obvious, so demanding… It’s easy to let our discipleship slide, to reach some “plateau” of faith and be content there. God is just as we’ve known Him to be, and everything about being Christian is pretty straightforward. That’s about how I am with Alex. Regularly now, I walk farther than I used to walk, so I figure the current distance ought to do alright.
The thing is, none of the Apostles experienced Christian faith and life that way. What Paul wrote for himself could be said of all of the disciples who followed Jesus (except Judas, obviously). “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day…” Of the first generation of apostles, the original eleven plus the rest of the seventy sent in pairs, only St. John is known to have lived to an old age, over 100 years according to ancient accounts of those who knew him.
Memorial Day is the day we commemorate those who gave their lives for us, so that we might live free. I salute these men and women and am grateful beyond measure for the freedom that cost them everything. As we commemorate their sacrifice, I am compelled to ask myself “for what am I prepared to give everything?” At my age, the nation is not particularly interested in me.
One thing I do know: if we do not have something worth dying for, then neither do we have anything worth living for. That is a hard saying, but if nothing is worth our all, then nothing means much at all. All that is left is the glorious self, and if you look very closely, you’ll notice the self really isn’t all that glorious. The depths, the dignity and ingenuity, the beauty and majesty of the human creature are all wasted on lives lived for no purpose beyond the satisfaction of our next want. What a vain and vacuous existence. Human beings have the most remarkable capacities. We are the very image of God Himself. But when we forget and cease striving to rise to the fullness of life, we become small, silly, and frivolous. We pursue unworthy causes of no lasting import, and we invest ourselves in passing fancies soon forgotten.
The first part of the walk, he takes about five times as many steps as I do (multiplied by four legs), and he sniffs every little pile we pass. By about the last third of the trail, I am practically dragging Alex back to the truck. He’s worn out, with his tongue hanging out and his head hanging down. It’s about all he can do to make it back to his seat for the ride home.
Our God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is infinite and unfathomable, even as He is imminent and accessible. Unceasingly, He is calling us to ever greater, richer life in Him. The time we have here on this earth is like warm up, not unlike a baby growing in the womb preparing for birth. We are to be growing in Christ, increasing in understanding, love, and virtue in preparation for our birth to everlasting life in Christ’s Kingdom. But we have to keep the faith and stay the course to the very end. We are not going to run out of something new to learn about God or something new to experience in Him.
Never settle in Christian life. If you have not tasted the Kingdom enough to know that it is worth everything you are and have, that it is the only prize worthy of the gift of your whole self, then you still have room to grow in Christ. The freedom to worship was bought for you at the highest human price. The freedom to live eternally was bought for you at the highest divine price. If we get tired and lose interest, we don’t understand what is being offered. The whole of our self is not even close to being worthy of the crown of righteousness the Lord awards.
Stay the course. Finish the fight. Keep the faith. You were created for this, the crown of righteousness that is waiting. Never give up, and always give all. There is more ahead. Don’t stop now.
In Christ –
Rev. Elizabeth Moreau – (C) 2020