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Bring the Book
a sermon based on 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
by Rev. Randy Quinn

Before I read the text, I want to ask you a few questions:

If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?

Where would you spend your time?

Who would you want to be with?

What are the things you would talk about?

Those are difficult questions for most of us to answer. They are difficult questions, in part, because we don't like to think about our own death. But the truth is, death is coming to all of us.

There are many who believe that we have before us Paul’s very last words. And they shed light on what kind of a man he was and suggest what kind of person God intends you and me to be.



Here is Paul. He can see that his days are numbered. He is in prison and will soon be led to his death. And in those precious moments left of his life, he asks for some warm clothes, a few close friends, and some books. The clothes and friends are named. He is clear about which particular articles of clothing and which particular people he wants with him.

Paul's request for his cloak reminded me of a story I read recently about a widower who wore the same coat every day for nearly 20 years. [1] It was an old coat when his wife sewed a new lining in it, but he wore it faithfully during her extended illness and then continued to wear it. He was afraid to have it cleaned for fear it would fall apart -- and he dared not let anyone repair it lest they make it into a different coat. Only after the man died did his family realize what the coat was about. It was his way of knowing his wife loved him. It was as if her arms were wrapped around him every time he had the lining in that coat wrapped around his shoulders.

When he died, there was a piece of paper in the pocket of the coat. On it was a passage of scripture:

Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, "Do not fear. I will help you. I will strengthen and uphold you with my own righteous hand." (Is 41:10)

Not only was his wife holding him, so was God. Paul's cloak probably didn't have the same meaning for him. Nor did it have the meaning some baseball players might attribute to it, suggesting it was a lucky cloak he had worn when he was in jail before.

I don't really know why the cloak. He was cold. Maybe it had some special memories associated with it or maybe it was simply his only coat. The people he names are people with whom he had worked. While he hadn't always agreed with them, he knew these were trusted and faithful friends with whom he could confide. My own sense is that he wants to leave them with a final word of encouragement for their continued ministry. He wants to remind them, "I have done what was necessary in my time; now you must do what is necessary in your time." [2]

Or perhaps these are the people who have experienced a history of answered prayers. That's who I would want with me if I were on death row. Faithful pray-ers whose prayers have been heard in the past and have been answered.

As I said, the clothing and the people are specifically named. We may not know the exact reasons, but we're sure of what and who he asks for. There is no confusion here. The books he requests, however, remain a mystery. What books? Why does he want them? I've been pondering that all week. Let me share with you some theories I've explored -- and remind you that they are merely theory, not proven fact.

My first theory is that he wants the parchment on which the first draft of Mark's Gospel has been written. He either wants to read it for himself and capture one more glimpse of Jesus on earth before he meets him in heaven -- or he wants to suggest editorial changes. That would make Luke's presence important, I suppose, since Luke was the better story teller of the two. Maybe Luke could help Mark with the Gospel.

If that were Paul's intention, there is no evidence that the meeting ever occurred. We do know that Luke had an early version of Mark's Gospel when he wrote his own Gospel, but there is nothing to suggest Paul had anything to do with either of their Gospels.

But the real problem with this theory was the 'so what?' question it left me. So what if it was to read or edit the Gospel? What would that say about Paul and what would that mean for me?

Not much. So I left it there.

My second theory was that these were church records. Membership records? Baptism records? Financial records? "Bring me the books" I want to audit them. While on the one hand I have no reason to think such books were even kept, on the other hand, I do know they are kept in today's church. And if I were on my death bed, I could see wanting to review, remember, and pray for those with whom I had been in ministry. Baptism and Membership records would be a good place to remember, give thanks, and pray for those who will remain after my death.

The financial records are much more dubious. But I wondered what it would mean for a missionary to review a list of financial supporters during their years of ministry. These may be as important to a person like Paul as wedding and funeral records would be to me.

"Bring me the books" may have been Paul's attempt to make a personal assessment of his life's ministry. Where have I been, what have I done, whose lives have been changed? It's an important reminder to us to periodically take stock and do a self-assessment of our own ministry -- whether we are lay people or clergy.

How many lives have we touched? How faithful have we been? Who will carry the message we've carried after we're gone?

Important questions to ask. And while it's doubtful that Paul had such records to review, it was helpful to remember the importance of periodic reviews of our life's work and ministry.

Some of us go too many years without evaluating our situation and spend our lives pursuing the wrong goals and objectives. I don't want to be one of those people, and I'm sure you don't either.

My third theory about the books Paul requests is closer to what most scholars believe. Paul was asking for the sacred scriptures he knew and loved -- learning them first as a child, but never tiring of hearing them. These were the stories he learned in the Synagogue and later used to preach in the Church. These were the hymns he had sung every week -- hymns we call the Psalms.

"Bring me the books" so I can read again what God has said to us, so I can hear them again before I die. These are words of comfort and cheer. These are words of encouragement and hope. These are words of promise from the one who has remained faithful to the end.

People have let Paul down. His clothing has worn thin. But God has remained with him. "Bring me the books" so I can study some more. I want to make sure I understand every aspect of the story of God's grace.

Up to the final days of his life, Paul was serving as a role model for us -- one who never tired of hearing the scripture, one who never tired of learning, one who never tired of finding new understanding.

Paul understood clearly that "yesterday's trophies do not win today's races." [3] He may be in the last lap of life, but the race is not over. So he continues to train. He continues to study.

And what does THAT say about us? How many of us still find time for study? How many of us are in Bible Study groups? How many of us are involved in Sunday School? Last week I suggested that some people act as if Confirmation is a graduation from Sunday School. For those who fell that way, what do you think Paul is saying to you?

I think he's saying you're never too old to learn. You're never too old to hear the stories. You're never too old to share what you've learned with someone else.

A week or so ago, Melissa had an appointment in a doctor's office. On most of my visits to see a doctor, I spend time waiting. So I came prepared. I brought a magazine to read. (Wouldn't you know it, the time I bring something to read we don't have to wait!)

My final theory about Paul's request for books relates to my waiting room experience. His appointment with death is coming soon. And while he waits, he wants to see his friends, he wants to ensure he is properly attired, and he wants something to read.

I have the image of Paul outside an elevator. He has pushed the button and is waiting for the doors to open. All he can take inside the elevator is what he can remember. I've stood with many people outside the doors to the operating room. It's the same place.

Friends and family come to wish us well. But Paul wants to review his notes one more time. At the end of the elevator ride, Paul will be where we all will be some day: looking over the counter at God, the judge.

Paul was ready. The question this text asks of us is, are we ready? If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today? Where would you spend your time? Who would you want to be with? What are the things you would talk about? Amen.

[1] "People of the Touch" by Mark William Olson.  The Other Side (November & December 1998).  pp 36-41.
[2] Oden, p 170.
[3] Demarest, p 292.