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October 28, 2001
2 Timothy 4:6-8
by Tony Grant
Mairead Corrigan is a shorthand typist and secretary in Belfast, Northern Ireland. But she was not typing on the afternoon of August 10, 1976. Instead, she, her sister, and her three children hopped on bicycles and went for an outing. That same afternoon, the Irish Republican Army sent snipers to open fire on a British army patrol. Missing their targets, they fled, pursued by the patrol. The chase got inexorably closer to the women and children enjoying their bicycle ride. Then, the British troops fired on the fleeing IRA car. The IRA terrorist lost control of the car, and it careened directly into the innocent bystanders on their bikes. The three children were killed. They were what some military analysts call "collateral damage."
In the aftermath, Mairead Corrigan, and colleagues Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeown began to organize some of the largest peace demonstrations in the history of their region. The rallies throughout London, Belfast, Derry/Londonderry and Dublin spurred Corrigan and her compatriots to found an organization which they named "Women for Peace," but which continues to exist under the title, "The Peace People Organization," a movement of Catholics and Protestants dedicated to ending sectarian fighting in Northern Ireland.
Within one month of its birth, Corrigan's organization had united over 30,000 women in a common cause, and by its third planned march, the demonstrators included both Protestants and Catholics, marching side by side. For their fight for peace and justice, the two women were awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize.
In winning the Nobel Prize, they achieved a sort of immortality. They joined a pantheon of modern giants, an exclusive club of luminaries such as Albert Schweitzer, Marie Curie, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein and Mother Teresa. The Nobel Prize is one hundred years old this year. Should you win one, encyclopedias will profile you, newspapers will cover you, colleagues will envy you, and the public will admire you.
Like the Olympic gold medal, the Nobel Prize is international - winners have come from nearly fifty countries. Like the MacArthur "genius" award, the Nobel Prize implies that the recipients are extraordinary people. The selection process is neutral, and the cash--nearly one million bucks--is substantial. The awards party is a good one-- champagne, dancing, a banquet dinner with the Swedish royal family at the Golden Room in Stockholm's Town Hall. The Nobel is a canonization, a coronation and a deification--all rolled into one.
The 2001 Nobel Peace Prize was announced earlier this month, and will be awarded on December 10. Some of the nominees were a stunning surprise, such as Stanley Williams - a death-row inmate who writes gritty children's books and coordinates an international nonviolence effort for at-risk youth.
Equally unexpected was the nomination of soccer for the Peace Prize. Although more than a dozen fans died during riots at soccer games last year, Swedish lawmaker Lars Gustafsson insists that the game helps international relations. "Soccer has and will continue to play an important role in the global arena, when it comes to creating understanding between people," Gustafsson wrote in his nomination letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo. Gustafsson said soccer has survived two world wars and scores of ethnic and regional conflicts. Sometimes, he wrote, hostile nations meet on the soccer field when other contact would be unthinkable. He noted that Iran played the United States in the 1998 World Cup. ["Soccer is nominated for Nobel Peace Prize," The Washington Post, Tuesday, January 23, 2001, D2.].
Thus, the idea is if more countries played more international soccer, we would have fewer wars. I doubt that. I seem to remember that back in 1969 El Salvador and Honduras fought a brief warwhich had several causes, but the immediate cause, the straw that broke the camels back, was the June 1969 World Cup playoffs between the two countries. Thus, the war is called the Soccer War.
But the neat thing about the Nobel Prize is that you do not have to be a prime minister, a president, or a powerful politician to receive it. In 1999, the Nobel went to "Doctors Without Borders," and in 1997, it was awarded to an ordinary American named Jody Williams and her International Campaign to Ban Land Mines.
In other words, the Nobel can go to ordinary folks. Charles Kuralt has an interesting story about how he got a Nobel Prize. He says:
I was in Oslo, Norway working on some stories about Norway ... I wanted to do a story about the Nobel Peace Prize, which, under the terms of Alfred Nobel's will, is awarded in Oslo.
So I dropped around to the Nobel Institute and asked the director if I might have the use of the Peace Prize gold medal for the afternoon. ...
The director was agreeable and asked an assistant to bring the medal to his office. It arrived in a fine, velvet-lined walnut box, which was handed to me.
Just as I was about to depart, the director said, "Oh, I suppose it might be a good idea for you to give me a receipt." He wrote one out on Nobel Institute stationery, and I signed it.
When I returned the medal, he gave me the receipt, and I have it. It says, "I have received the Nobel Peace Prize." Of course, this makes me one with Mother Teresa. Except for the next line, which reads, "and I promise to return it by 10 o'clock tomorrow morning." [Charles Kuralt, "One with Mother Teresa," www.RememberingCharlesKuralt.com]
Just as all kinds of folks can receive the Nobel Prize, so can all kinds of folks receive another high honor--the "Noble Prize"which is described by the apostle Paul in our text today. Paul looks back over his ministry and observes, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (4:7). Using the imagery of an athletic contest or race, Paul describes himself as one who has competed fairly and kept his solemn promise to put out his utmost effort. Coming close to the finish line, he squints into the future and says, "From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing" (v. 8).
This is the Noble Prize: "The crown of righteousness." Better than the crown of flowers that ancient Jews wore at feasts, and more coveted than the wreaths given to victorious Greeks at athletic contests, this prize is awarded on judgment day, on that day when the Lord of life confers honors on all who have kept the faith. It is not a Nobel Prize, for which you garner nine million Swedish crowns; it is the Noble Prize, for which you receive the "crown of life."
But how does one qualify for such an award? In many ways, you run the same race that the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize have run: You fight the good fight.
Mairead Corrigan and Company were not halfhearted pretenders. When they began marching against violence in Northern Ireland, they encountered resistance from factions that objected to what they were doing. Paramilitary organizations threatened to shoot them if they walked on certain roads, but Corrigan and her colleagues boldly moved ahead. "We said we are not afraid," she reports. "We said that we are going to walk those roads and we encouraged people by the thousands to come. We walked up the Protestant areas, we walked the Catholic areas, we walked down many roads--we actually walked into areas where we knew they were bombing and the police said we'll offer you protection and we said we don't want protection--we want to live unarmed lives."
And the result? Within the first year of the Peace People, there was a 70 percent decrease in the rate of violence. 70%! That is astonishing. That is miraculous. This group brought men and women together to break down the sectarian divide, and to begin to rebuild Northern Ireland from the bottom up. They fought the good fight, and began to win it.
It is also important to finish the race, as tough as it might be. The struggles of Christian living can be grinding, the obstacles can be daunting, and the suffering intense, but the Lord will stand by us and give us strength (v. 17).
Jody Williams is a woman who first learned of the dangers of land mines when she met children in Nicaragua and Honduras who had lost limbs to mines. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 1991, she attended a meeting in Washington at the offices of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. That gathering yielded a new branch of the foundation: The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines.
"When we began, we were just three people sitting in a room," she recalls. "None of us thought we would ever ban land mines. I never thought it would happen in just six years." But it did happen, thanks in part to her doggedness and resolve. With the help of the Internet, Williams managed to do in six years what dozens of powerful organizations, including the United Nations, had been unable to do. In December 1997, 121 countries signed a land mine ban.
"It's breathtaking what you can do when you set a goal and put all your energy into it," Jody Williams says. Good point. Whether you are devoted to banning land mines around the world or feeding the hungry around the block, it is essential to strive for your goal without ceasing. The crown of righteousness is reserved for those who are fearless and determined and willing to act on their beliefs.
The crown is for those who keep the faith. Keep the faith of Jesus, who says, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40). When we feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and clothe the naked, we are not simply helping the helpless - we are assisting our Lord.
"We are not really social workers," said another Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. "We may be doing social work in the eyes of people. But we are really .... touching the body of Christ." Whenever we share love and peace and joy with others, we are touching the body of Christ in the world today. That is what it means to keep the faith. It means we strive to do good in our relationships with family members, coworkers and neighbors in need. "It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do," stressed Mother Teresa. "If we could only remember that God loves us, and we have an opportunity to love others as he loves us, not in big things, but in small things with great love."
Down through the generations many have grasped the crown of righteousness. On this Reformation Sabbath, we think of those who have gone before us in the faith. We think of the founding of this church 148 years ago.
In the fall of 1853, this church was organized in a private home by First Presbytery of the Associate Reformed Synod of the South. The charter members numbered fourteen. The congregation held its services for the most part in a building that stood on a lot opposite the old Yorkville Cemetery near the present site of the Confederate Monument. In 1855, a large wooden building was completed on East Madison Street. It was located on a lot next to the present church and was given by George Washington Williams.
It is impossible to give a complete list of the officers of the Church. The records from 1853 to 1890 were burned when fire destroyed the Yorkville Enquirer Building. At that time, Dave Grist was Clerk of Session and kept the records in his office at the Enquirer. The lot on which the present building stands was purchased in 1912 and the new church was dedicated on July 25, 1920.
Perhaps the most exciting thing that has happened in the church was that General Synod met here November 15-19, 1916. Perhaps our worst disaster occurred in the mid-1950's when a hailstorm struck York inflicting heavy losses to property. The church building was extensively damaged. In 1956, the church building had to be completely renovated.
We think back to that little group of fourteen Individuals who came together to begin a work that we are still participating in todaythis church. They have finished their race, but we continue in that same tradition.
We think also of the history of our denomination. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church had its beginnings in the preaching of John Knox in Scotland. The Scottish Church became the official Church of Scotland in 1560. As always, when church and state become too closely allied, controversy and bitter strife over control were the norm for church and state alike. Things improved somewhat under King William III. In 1688, he reorganized the Church of Scotland into the Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland. In spite of the improvement, however, many problems still existed, and in 1733, a pastor by the name of Ebenezer Erskine led a group of Christians in forming a separate Associate Presbytery. Ten years later, another group of Christians who for years had suffered problems with the established church organized themselves into the Reformed Presbytery.
Both churches spread to Northern Ireland with Scots who were forced to emigrate and both churches came to America with those same "Scots-Irish" folks. The immigrants came to Pennsylvania first, and between 1750 and 1770 both the Associate and the Reformed Presbyteries of Pennsylvania were organized.
The new America was emerging and our forefathers were creating a new church as well. Formal union talks between the "Associates" and the "Reformed" began in 1777 and by 1782--the year after the Revolutionary War concluded--the Associate Reformed Synod came to be in Philadelphia. This Synod, even though all "Associates" and "Reformeds" did not join, included churches in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
Eight years later, the Associate Reformed Presbytery of the Carolinas and Georgia was created in Abbeville County, S.C. Twenty years later (1803) the Associate Reformed Synod was subdivided into four Synods--the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, New York, and Scioto. The headquarters of the church was in Philadelphia. In 1822, the Associate Reformed Synod of the South was granted separate status, and by the end of the century was the sole remaining body of the Associate Reformed Church. Several mergers over the years absorbed the rest of the denomination into the old United Presbyterian Church. The Associate Reformed Synod of the South continued on and eventually became the denomination we have todayThe Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
So today we remember all those people who have gone before us in the faith. We have a spiritual genealogy. We honor our spiritual ancestors all the way back to Apostle Paul. They have received the crown of righteousness. They are an example to us. We are to carry on where they left off. We are to fight the good fight and finish the race.
There is a wonderful scene from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. John Stephen Akhwari, of Tanzania, enters at the far end of the stadium, pain hobbling his every step, his leg bloody and bandaged. The winner of the Olympic marathon had been declared over an hour earlier. Only a few spectators remained. But the lone runner pressed on. As he crossed the finish line, the small crowd roared out its appreciation. Afterward, a reporter asked the runner why he had not retired from the race, since he had no chance of winning. John Stephen Akhwari answered: "My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me to finish." ["The greatest last-place finish ever," Fast Company, October 2000, 331.] God did not put us on this earth to start the journey of life. The crown of righteousness is not for those who start. It is for those who finish. Amen.
Anderson, Bruce. "How to live forever." Attaché, March 2001, 49ff.
Engle, Dawn and Ivan Suvanjieff. "An interview with Mairead Corrigan Maguire," August 14, 1995. PeaceJam.org.
"Jody Williams: The woman who waged war on land mines." Cnn.com.
Mother Teresa, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 1979, Oslo, Norway. tisv.be/mt/nobel.htm.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 11/05/01