Joel 2:23-32, Psalm 65, 2 Timothy 4:6-8

October 25, 1998 by Tad Mitsui

I once had a board game called, "Careers". To begin the game, everybody is asked to write out their life”s goals by allocating a fixed number of points into four categories according to your values. The categories are: money, fame, power, and happiness. The purpose of the game is to reach your goals as quickly as possible, by travelling around the board and accumulating the number of points you”ve specified in each category.

The assumption of the game is that you have to make choices in life. If money is the most important, you will have to sacrifice happiness. But to be truly happy, you have to give up fame, power, and wealth. For example, if you want power and want to be Prime Minister or an MP, you will have no time to go fly-fishing with your son, thus costing your happiness. Or if you want to climb Mt. Everest and to become famous, you will have to spend a lot of money for equipment, and you will have to be away from your family a lot of time, making you less happy and less rich. Your wife may leave you saying things like, "Marry the bloody mountain." And so on. This game makes you realize that you have to set priorities in your life. Some people think that they can have everything they want if they try very hard. But we know that life is not like that. We have to know what is the most important in life, and we have to make choices.

A story has it that a young missionary went to Africa with a conviction that he could help Africans to have abundant life. On his first day in Africa, as he walked about the village, he ran into a young man having a snooze in the nice cool shade of a tree. So he stopped to talk to him. "Good morning! What are you doing?" The young man half opened his eyes and said, "What do you think I”m doing? Can”t you see." The missionary looked annoyed. "But it is a middle of the day. It”s too early to take a nap. Don”t you work?" "Work? What for?" The young man looked truly puzzled. "Well," said the missionary, "If you work, you can earn money." "Money? What”s that for?" "Now is the chance to win a convert.", the missionary thought. So he patiently preached a short sermon according to his idea of European Christian values. "If you have money, you can live in a nice house, eat good food, marry a pretty wife. Then, you can relax, be happy, and can think of higher things." "But", said the sleepy young man now truly puzzled, "I”m relaxing and happy now. I was dreaming about higher things before you rudely woke me up. Why should I get up and work?" It”s all the matter of priorities, isn”t it?

When Paul was writing the letter to Timothy, he was in a prison, knowing that he would never be free, and that he would soon die a horrible death. Unlike Paul”s other combative or theoretical writings, the tone of the chapter four of the second letter of Paul to Timothy is calm and reflective. He was old and weak, I guess, and knew that the end of his life was near. He sounds content even though he lived in the terrible conditions and with a gloomy prospect. I think that this is because he knew that he was in possession of what was the most important in his life – which is why I think that he was a contented man when he died.

Every one wants to live a long and healthy life. But the fact of the matter is that we all have to die sometime. There is justice in death, because it treats everyone equally. The idea of one”s own death helps you realize the importance of knowing what counts most in your life. Paul knew that he was going to die soon when he said, "I ran a good race; I had good fights; and I kept the faith. I am ready to go. My life has been poured out as libation. The crown of righteousness is waiting for me.". He knew he won the gold medal. Paul was content as he faced the end of his life.

I am fascinated by the word, "libation" in this passage. It means a cup of wine poured out for God. At a social occasion, when we take the first glass of drink, we raise it and say, "Cheers", "To your health", or "To the bride" or "to the Queen." This custom comes from the idea of libation. We celebrate the occasion of being together by offering the first cup to God wishing that God will grant health and happiness, etc. However, some translations used the word "sacrifice" even though the original Greek word means "libation". But I prefer libation. Paul considered his life a success, because his life was libation – an instrument of celebration shared between God and people. He knew what was the most important in his life – his relationship with God through Christ. He was convinced that nobody and nothing, even death, could take that away from him.

Dr. Bill Taylor was the Principal of the Theological College in Vancouver where I studied. He was a respected scholar, a good administrator, a successful fund-raiser, and a builder of many new college buildings. He received many degrees and honours. His achievements are still evident on the campus of the University of British Columbia. But I remember him most of all as a gentle and kind person. He died last August at the age of 92. Jim Taylor, Bill”s son and a well-known and much loved writer in our church, recalled the last days he spent with his father in his hospital room on a recent CBC radio program. At the end, Dr. Taylor declined all the extraordinary measures to prolong his life. As Jim kept watch at his father”s death bed, father and son had the most profound conversations of their life together. "Achievements, degrees, honours, and money all faded into insignificance as we faced the imminent death of my father." said Jim, "What counted more than anything else in the whole universe at such a moment was relationships." It was the assurance of love between father and son that made them content. They were absolutely sure that the relationship would continue beyond this life. They were absolutely sure that God granted Bill Taylor eternal life because of the quality of his relationships with people and his God.

Happiness is knowing what counts most in your life, and is something that even death can not destroy. Next Sunday is All Saints Day. It is the day to celebrate the communion of the living and the dead and the continuing relationships between them that nurture and sustain through memory. That”s the idea of All Saints Day and the reason that the night before is "Hallowe”en". Let us not put our hopes in the things that pass away. But let us keep our eyes on what is most important. Like Paul, let us be libation for God and people, an instrument to celebrate relationships. If you know what counts more than anything else in your life and live fully in accordance, death itself will fade into insignificance.






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