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It’s Always Too Soon To Quit

II Timothy 4:6-8

Summer of ’68.
Mexico City.
World class athletes from almost every nation have gathered for the Olympic Games. Thousands of eager spectators jammed the Olympic Stadium; millions more huddled in front of television sets in various spots around the world, all eager to partake of the action and the spectacle of those games. Interestingly enough, one of the most moving moments in those particular Olympic Games came in the marathon, but came in a most unexpected way. Well-trained runners began the 26-mile race. They moved out and circulated through the streets of Mexico City, ultimately returning to the Olympic Stadium, concluding the race with a lap around the track inside the stadium. When the winner had crossed the finish line, there was a great celebration. Afterwards, there was the medal award ceremony. The gold-medal winner stood atop the platform proudly, eyes glistening, as the national anthem of his country was played, and the flag of his country was raised. When the ceremony had concluded, the people there in the Olympic Stadium, turned their attention to the next and one of the most significant events on the Olympic schedule, the beginning of the closing ceremonies.

Some while later, a murmur began to roll through the crowd. They were made aware of the fact that the marathon actually had not been completed. There was one runner still out on the course. All of the other runners had finished long ago—more than an hour earlier, in fact, and yet, here came this one young runner from the African nation of Tanzania, hobbling his way into the tunnel, headed toward the track, limping agonizingly around the track toward the finish line. He was in great pain, you could see it on his face, and in the awkward way he pushed himself to keep on running. He had suffered a serious fall early in the race; had been badly injured, and now he was bleeding profusely. His legs were cramping; his body was becoming dehydrated; and yet he kept on running. Finally, painfully, he staggered across the finish line and collapsed to the ground in utter exhaustion. Later on, after he had recovered a bit, a television interviewer spoke with him. The television reporter said: “You were hurt early on. You were injured badly. You knew you couldn’t win the race. Why didn’t you just stop?” I love what the young runner said in reply. He said: “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the marathon, they sent me here to finish the marathon.”

Oh, there is an incredibly powerful lesson for us as Christians contained in that tiny little slice of Olympic history, and the message is simply this: that running the race of the Christian life reveals that perseverance is crucial and determination is essential. It is not enough just to make a good beginning in the faith. It is not enough to run the race well, but only for part of the way. We must finish what we start, and therefore, for us as Christians, the watchword has to be: We never give up and we never give in and we never give out. For us, as Christians, it is always too soon to quit.

Against that backdrop, the words of the Apostle Paul take on new power, for as he knew that death was soon to come, he wrote to his young friend Timothy: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” He finished what he started, and against that backdrop, the words of Jesus from the cross take on new power. With His very last breath, He uttered a great echoing cry from Calvary, and the words were these: “It is finished!” He finished what He started. The message, then, that I want to carve on your minds and on your hearts today is that as Christians, we never give up. We must finish the race. We must see it through. For us, as Christians, it is always too soon to quit. I’d like to spell that message out in three different ways…

First of all, never give up on commitment.

Maybe you heard the story of the young fellow who went to the photography studio carrying a framed picture of his girlfriend. He wanted a copy made of that picture, and of course, in order to do that, it was necessary to remove the picture from the frame. In doing so, the photographer noted that there was an inscription on the back of the photograph. The inscription read: “Dearest Tom, I love you with all of my heart. I love you more and more every day. I will love you forever and forever.” Signed “Diane”. There was, however, a postscript. “P.S.”, it read, “if we ever break up, I want this picture back.” Well, it seems like Diane wasn’t so all-fired committed after all.

Now, in contrast to that, I present this. Just recently, I came across a list of people who are great, but who came to greatness only because they absolutely refused to quit on their dreams. Did you know, for example, that after Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the MGM test director wrote this memo about him: “Can’t act. Going bald. Can dance a little.” Did you know that Beethoven’s teacher said that he was hopeless as a composer, that Caruso’s teacher said he had no voice at all, that Edison’s teacher said: “He is too stupid to learn anything.” Did you know that the editor of the Kansas City Star fired a young cartoonist named Walt Disney because he said: “Walt Disney cannot draw and he is not creative.” Did you know that Albert Einstein could not speak until he was four, could not read until he was seven and that the school authorities wrote on his report: “He is mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift in his foolish dreams.” Did you know that the great sculptor Rodin failed three times trying to gain admission to art school, causing his father to label him an idiot? Did you know that Winston Churchill not only failed the sixth grade, but then experienced a veritable lifetime of failures and defeats and setbacks until at last he was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain, but not until he was sixty-two years of age? Great people who became great simply because they wouldn’t quit on their dreams. The secret? Commitment.

In living the Christian life, unwavering commitment is an essential ingredient. We cannot go half-way with Jesus. We cannot be wishy-washy in our faith. We cannot be lukewarm in our devotion to God. The only way to fight the good fight and finish the race and keep the faith is unflinching, unwavering commitment. So when it comes to Christian commitment, my beloved, it is always too soon to quit!

And never give up on love.

This is a tough, tragic world we are living in. Sometimes it seems that hatred and prejudice and hostility are in firm control of everything. We hear of churches being burned and children being killed in drive-by shootings and innocent people being blown away by terrorist bombs, and on and on we go. I’ve had a number of people say to me recently that they are no longer able to watch the news on television because it is so depressing to them. I understand that. Sometimes it does seem that hatred is ruling the day in the world in which we live, but dear friends, don’t you believe that for a moment. And don’t you believe it because love is the most powerful thing in the world, not hatred. Jesus shows us that kind of love from the cross. On the day that Jesus died, it seemed quite clear that hatred had won the victory. Only later, did we learn, that actually, the victory belonged to love. Love always wins in the end.

I must tell you that it is those specially challenged people in our midst who call forth from me the deepest expression of Christian love, and I must tell you that one of the greatest blessings of this great church is that we have a veritable multitude of those who move through life in the face of special challenges. I think that’s a part of what makes this people of God the people of God. Just recently some friends in this church shared with me a wonderful little piece. It is entitled “Beatitudes for Special People”. They underscore the point I am trying to make. Won’t you listen, please?

BEATITUDES FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE

Blessed are you who take time to listen to difficult speech, for you help us to know that if we persevere we can be understood.

Blessed are you who walk with us in public places, and ignore the stares of strangers, for in your friendship we feel good to be ourselves.

Blessed are you who never bid us to “hurry up” and, more blessed, you who do not snatch our tasks from our hands to do them for us, for often we need time rather than help.

Blessed are you who stand beside us as we enter new and untried ventures, for our unsureness will be outweighed by the times when we surprise ourselves and you.

Blessed are you who ask for our help and realize our giftedness for our greatest need is to be needed.

Blessed are you who help us with the graciousness of Christ, for often we need the help we cannot ask for.

Blessed are you when, by all things, you assure us that what makes us individuals is not our particular disability or difficulty, but our beautiful God-given personhood which no handicapping condition can confine.

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for your understanding and love have opened doors for us to enjoy life to its full and you have helped us to believe in ourselves as valued and gifted people.

Amen.

A remarkable story, this time from the Special Olympics. Nine children lined up to run the 100-yard dash. The signal was given, and the contestants began to run, but then, suddenly, one of the participants fell—fell hard, and he began to cry. Another runner, a young girl with Down’s Syndrome stopped, turned, came back to the fallen boy, knelt down beside him, and kissed his knee which he had so badly scraped. And with that, all of the other participants in the race stopped. They all turned and came back and crowded around the fallen competitor. They then helped him up to his feet. And then, arm in arm, one line, all nine of them, walked together across the finish line at the same time. The crowd was electrified because the people realized that they had just seen revealed in a vivid and unforgettable way what life in this world is all about. For one brief shining moment, they saw what God intended for the world to be. Those specially challenged children challenged the prevailing notion that winning always and only means finishing first. Those specially challenged children understood that ribbons and medals don’t mean a thing when someone else has fallen, when someone else is hurting. What only matters in life is this: helping one another up so that all can finish the race.

Love is the most powerful force in the world. “Make love your aim”, Paul writes. Put love first in your life. Make love the theme of your life. When it comes to Christian love, it’s always too soon to quit.

And never give up on Jesus.

In this chaotic world in which we live, it’s easy for us to become victims of what Marshall McLuhan calls “implosion”—that is a whole raft of ideas, causes, and philosophies which come cascading and crashing in upon us, demanding of us allegiance and loyalty and energy and resources, and in the midst of this implosion, we have to ask: What do we believe? Where do we stand? What do we give our hearts to? Whom can we trust? Crucial questions for building a life. What’s so amazing is that there is only one answer to all four questions, and we have the answer. And we’ve had the answer all along. We’ve had the answer for 2,000 years. It’s in the book. It’s in this Book. The answer is Jesus. Jesus yesterday, today, and forever is the answer. So don’t be hoodwinked by all of those high-sounding fads that come along screaming for your allegiance. Don’t be snookered by those sweet-sounding sophistries which promise you everything and deliver nothing. Don’t be taken in by that which will take you nowhere. No. Just give your heart and your soul to Jesus.

Recently, at a Promise Keepers Rally, one of the leaders did a most unusual thing. There were 42,000 men gathered in the stadium, and suddenly the leader said: “On the count of three, I want each of you to shout as loud as you can the name of the town where you live.” At the count of three, they shouted the names. It sounded like the Tower of Babel. Then the leader said: “At the count of three, I want you to shout as loud as you can your favorite sport.” Once again, total chaos. Then the leader said: “Now, on the count of three, I want you to shout out the name of your religious denomination.” Once again, a cacophony of meaningless sound. And then the leader said: “Now, on the count of three, I want you to shout as loud as you can the name of your Savior.” And in unison, one voice, 42,000 men shouted as clear as a bell the name of Jesus. The point is simply this, that we may live in different places—some of us in Orlando, others Jacksonville or New York or Los Angeles. And some of us like football; others like basketball or tennis or golf. Some of us are Presbyterians, but others are Methodist or Baptist or Roman Catholics. But the one thing we all hold in common, the one thing that unites us all is Jesus.

My beloved, whatever you take away from this sermon today, please take this: When it comes to Jesus Christ, it’s always too soon to quit. Never, ever give up on Jesus. Why? Because…

Jesus never, ever gives up on you!

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