II Timothy 4:7; Psalm 84:1-4
The Rev. Tom Herbek
November 4, 2018
My grandfather Jordan once said to me: “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” And Paul, who many in his day would have considered to be a loser, famously said:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Of course, Pearl Bailey once added a little reality to it when she said: “I’ve had winning and I’ve had losing, and, believe me, winning is better.”
When I was 14, some friends of mine and I decided to form a basketball team for a youth league. However, we forgot to check out one thing before we started to play: we all had virtually no talent. We lost every single game for the entire season. In fact, in one game, we scored a total of 8 points. So, to echo Pearl Bailey, “I’ve had losing, and believe me, winning is better.”
I’m sure there are some Yankee fans who would affirm that this year. But winners must always remember what Yogi Berra once said: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!”
Real winners do their best to finish races even when they can’t win, because we finish races based on what we value, what is important to us. This Sunday is All Saints Day in many churches. In our tradition, we don’t designate saints, but there are many who have gone before us who I would consider saints.
In 1906, the Rev. Anna Howard Shaw delivered the following eulogy at Central Presbyterian Church in Rochester, for her friend Susan B. Anthony, who I consider a saint:
Her character was well poised; she did not emphasize one characteristic to the exclusion of others; she taught us that the real beauty of a true life is found in the harmonious blending of diverse elements, and her life was the epitome of her teaching. She merged a keen sense of justice with the deepest love; her masterful intellect never for one moment checked the tenderness of her emotions; her splendid self-assertion found its highest realization in perfect self-surrender; she demonstrated the divine principle that the truest self-development must go hand in hand with the greatest and most arduous service for others.
Her quenchless passion for her cause was that it was yours and mine, the cause of the whole world. She knew that where freedom is, there is the center of power. In it she saw potentially all that humanity might attain when possessed by its spirit. Hence her cause, perfect equality of rights, of opportunity, of privilege for all, civil and political, was to her the bedrock upon which all true progress must rest.
She was in the truest sense a reformer unhindered in her service by the narrowness and negative destructiveness that often so sadly hampers the work of true reform. Possessed by an unfaltering conviction of the primary importance of her own cause, she nevertheless recognized that every effort by either one or many earnest souls toward what they believed to be a better or saner life should be met in a spirit of encouragement and helpfulness.
The world is profoundly stirred by the loss of our great leader, and in consequence the lukewarm are becoming zealous, the prejudiced are disarming, the suffragists are renewing their vows of fidelity to the cause for which Miss Anthony lived and died. Her talismanic words, the last she ever uttered before a public audience, ‘Failure is impossible,’ should be inscribed on our banners and engraved on our hearts.
- Farewell, Godspeed
She was a saint, a winner, in my eyes, who kept the faith. Even with all his ordinary human failings, Paul was still a winner. Ultimately, Paul understood that when we stand up for what is loving, what is most valuable in life, and when we live out of the grace of God, we do not fail. As Susan B. Anthony reminded us: “Failure is impossible.”
We are winners, not because of what we do, but because of who we become when we stand up for the fact that all people are children of God, when we stand up for all that brings us together in the face of all that seeks to divide us.
One of the wonderful things about this church family is that we treasure all that brings us together, even though we don’t all agree on everything. We live in a world that is polarized in so many ways, where divisions are encouraged and hatred of difference is pushed so often. Let us remember, as winners, that our diversity is what makes us strong, and it is in our compassion and caring that we come together to finish the race, to keep the faith.
There is a true story from a Special Olympics that I love. Several years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and paused. Then they all turned around and went back. Every one of them.
One girl with Down’s syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, ‘This will make it better.’ Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line.
Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for ten minutes. People who were there are still telling the story.
Because deep down we know this one thing: What matters in this life is more than winning for yourself. What truly matters in this life is helping others win, even if it means slowing yourself down and changing your course.
May we be in the business of helping other to win. May we all realize that we can fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith, as a church family and as individuals, because we realize we are all winners– together– and, therefore, we cannot fail.
May our church family, all of us, continue to grow as winners in the race of life, as we reflect the love and grace of God in our lives, and as we help others around us to win, as well, and to know that they, too, are children of God.