“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
These words we hear today in our epistle reading are written by the Apostle Paul from a prison cell in Rome to his friend and protégée Timothy. It is not the first time Paul has gotten in trouble, or imprisoned, for preaching the gospel, but he senses it may be the last.
Persecutions against Christians are on the rise, and increasingly violent. Paul knows it is not going to be his fate to die of natural causes at an old age. Death, when it comes, will most likely be painful and violent.
And so he sits in his prison cell, anticipating the end, and reflecting on the life that is almost over.
Paul expresses few regrets about his extraordinary life, one that saw him turn from a feared persecutor of Christians to the greatest Christian evangelist and theologian of all time.
He will embrace death confidently, hopefully, and full of trust that he has been faithful to his calling and that Jesus, who called him into this life, will be waiting for him at its end.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” he writes to Timothy.
Those words came to my mind when I read the news of the death of Jim Redmond. You may not recognize the name: I didn’t. But I remembered his story, which was shared this week by journalist Dan Rather. I’ll let him tell the story.
“If Jim Redmond’s name doesn’t right a bell, you might remember his son, Derek, and a remarkable event that occurred 30 years ago at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
“It was the semifinals of the men’s 400 meters in track and field. Derek Redmond, one of the best sprinters Great Britain has ever produced, was a favorite to win a medal. He got off to a great start, but as he approached the halfway point, he suddenly broke his stride and pulled up, grasping the back of his leg.
“He quickly crumpled to the track, writhing in pain. He had torn his hamstring. His Olympic dreams were over. But not his Olympic story.
“What happened next became an iconic moment in sports history. Willing himself back up, Redmond limped forward, determined to go on. All that training, all that sacrifice, all the dedication and hard work Redmond had invested to shape his body for strength and speed was now leveraged toward one final goal — finishing the race.
“Jim, who had been sitting in the stands, rushed to his son’s aid. By then, Derek was sobbing in agony and disappointment.
“‘You don’t have to do this,’ the son remembered his father comforting him. ‘You don’t have to pull yourself through this.’
“When Derek responded that he had to, Jim then said, ‘Well, then, we’re going to finish this together.’
“And they did. A crescendo of cheers swept the Olympic stadium, with millions of TV watchers doubtless joining in around the world.
“The lessons we can take from this event are the stuff of motivational sayings,” Rather writes. “But in this case they are also quite literal.
“When fate knocks you down, try to pick yourself up.
“There is value in the journey, as well as the destination.
“When in need, lean on someone you love.
“When others are in need, help carry. their burdens.
“Winning isn’t everything.”
In fact, Paul says nothing about winning. In scripture winning at all costs is never the goal. It’s about staying true to the gospel, helping one another, staying true to the love of Christ, the one who awaits us all at the finish line.