Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Persistence is said to be the key to success, but it is also one of the most difficult traits to acquire. You need to cultivate persistence. Not all persistence however, is useful. One day, a man walked out of his car and into a store. He was only in there for about five minutes, but when he came out there was a policeman writing a parking ticket. So the man went up to him and said, “Come on buddy, how about giving a guy a break?’ The policeman ignored the man and continued writing the ticket. So the man called the policeman stupid. The policeman glared at him and started writing another ticket for having bald tires! Then the man got really angry at the cop, as he began to writing a third ticket! This went on for about 20 minutes. The more the man provoked the police man, the more tickets he wrote. The man, however, didn’t care, and finally walked away. His car was parked around the corner. Not all persistence, you see, is helpful.
Over the last three weeks, we have been meditating on St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy and the theme of spiritual perseverance. According to tradition, St. Paul was under house arrest in Rome and knew that he was to be executed. He wrote the epistle as his wisdom and counsel for Timothy to continue his ministry. Timothy, however, was not sure. So Paul began by the letter by commending his sincere faith and citing Timothy’s own grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice as examples. Paul then encouraged Timothy to remember acts of faith for the apostle himself had willingly suffered for the sake of the gospel. And finally, the apostle referred Timothy to the most fundamental truth of the Christian faith Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. This was the one truth, Paul believed, that changed the perspective on all life, and gave meaning even to suffering. Let us now turn to today’s theme of persistence.
St. Paul then declared, “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.” This word was written for to St. Timothy, but it is a message for every age. Proclaiming the message is the central work of the church everywhere. It is true for missionaries working in the far corners of the world, just as it is true for you in your corner of the neighborhood, and in your own home. St. Paul, however, was also extremely selective and deliberate about his language. He did not write to Timothy to say that the end justifies the means. Nor did he say that faith gives a license for Christians to berate or criticize or steamroll their neighbors for the sake of the gospel. Instead, we read that we are to “convince, rebuke, and encourage” and to teach “with the utmost patience.”
So, where do we begin? Unfortunately, many people don’t know where to find the living source of their proclamation. It was true in the Biblical times as well. There were prophets who spoke merely from personal revelation, while others turned to the popular writings of the time. Paul repeatedly criticized others for unsound teaching, false doctrine and twitching ears. Perhaps even Timothy wondered what he should use. To this end, St. Paul reminded him of the faithful example of Lois and Eunice and their nurturing, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Now how does persistence fit into this story? It certainly doesn’t mean that you should stand on the corner shouting loudly until the world listens. Or read scripture aloud in the park with a distant hope that someone might notice. I am reminded of the story of the pastor who was a bit misguided. On a very cold day, snowy Sunday, only one farmer parishioner and the pastor showed up at the village church. The pastor said, “Well, I guess we won’t have a service today.” The farmer said, “If only one cow shows up at feeding time, I still feed it.” The pastor obliged, and did the entire service. As the farmer was leaving, the pastor shook his hand asked him, “So how did I do?” The farmer looked up and said, “It was OK, but if only one cow shows up at feeding time, I don’t drop the whole load on it.”
Let me share with you two convictions on persistence and God’s word. First, I believe that meditating on scripture teaches us that a persistent faith cannot moved by temptation, and second, I believe that meditating on scriptures teaches us that a persistent faith is not confined by time’s horizons.
We’ll begin with temptation. We live in a world filled with temptations, but surprisingly the most difficult temptation is despair. It is the nagging voice telling you to let go of your trust in God. You lose your job, a relationship crumbles, your health departs, or your reputation is tarnished by untruths. In these times it is easy to despair. It’s easy to withdraw, to get depressed and to cry out, “Why me, Lord.” The stories, characters, and poetry in scripture remind us that there is another way. But it is a choice.
Petr was the son of a bishop in Slovakia, who had studied to be a pastor, but had chosen to be a teacher instead. Petr was habitually in a good mood. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, “I don’t deserve to be so happy. If I were any better, I would be twins!” He was a big man, so that always brought a smile to my face. I once asked Petr, “How do you do it?” He replied, “Each morning I wake up and say to myself, Petr you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or you can choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or can choose to learn from it.” Several years ago Petr fell seriously ill and was put into a medically induced coma. After weeks in the hospital and months of recovery, he was allowed out to return to work. When I ask him how he was, he replied. “I don’t deserve to be so happy. If I were any better, I’d be twins. Want to see my scars?” What allowed this man to see the worldly so differently from the rest? Certainly a persistent faith. But more importantly, he had made a choice based on the riches of scripture. Meditating on scripture, you see, teaches us that faith cannot be moved by the temptation of despair.
Now let us to turn to the second lesson a persistent faith is not confined by time’s horizons. Although St. Paul reminded Timothy to “remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead,” it is often difficult for Christians to hold on to a promise that seems only to be a part of a distance future, and so we place limits on what God can do in the present. Author Dan Miller captures beautifully the nature of the life of person living with a persistent faith in his story of the Chinese bamboo farmer. It actually based on the botany of plants. The farmer took a little seed, planted it, watered it, and fertilized it for a whole year, and nothing happened. The second year he watered it and fertilized it, and nothing happened. The third year he watered it and fertilized it, and nothing happened. How discouraging that might have been. The fifth year he continued to water and fertilize the seed and then, sometime during the fifth year, the Chinese bamboo tree sprouted and grew ninety feet in six weeks. Unlike any other plant, bamboo grows to its full height and width in one growing season- three feet a day. Life for God’s faithful people can be likened to the growing process of the Chinese bamboo tree. It is often discouraging. We do things right, and nothing happens. But for those who wait and who know what is possible, who are persistent and not discouraged, they can expect God’s treasurer. Meditating on scripture teaches us that a persistent faith cannot be moved by the limitation of time. All because we know what God has done before.
The temptation of despair and the limit of time’s horizon are two of the hurdles facing the Christian faith every day. So we have to make a choice about our attitude in life. Did the Chinese Bamboo Tree lie dormant for four years only to grow dramatically in the fifth? Or, was the little tree growing underground, developing a root system strong enough to support its potential for outward growth in the fifth year and beyond? The answer is obvious. Had the tree not developed a strong unseen foundation it could not have sustained its life as it grew. For people of faith, that foundation is established by reading and meditating on God’s word- even in the dormant years.
St. Paul wrote, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” And by through the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, God will give you strength. My friends, be persistent in your faith and be equipped for God’s work in the world. Do not let the temptation of despair and the limitation of time defeat you, instead, meditate on the promises of God’s word, for persistence in the key to success. Amen
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.