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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There is a memorial stone on the road outside the city of Athens honoring the legendary Greek soldier named Pheidippedes. He fought courageously in a battle against the Persians in the 4th century B.C., but that is not reason that he is remembered, nor is it the reason a memorial stone was erected in his name. No, the young Pheidippedes is remembered primarily as the bearer of the good news of the Greek victory over the Persians. On the Plains of Marathon, the Greek army had been outnumbered four to one. The Athenians had little support from the neighboring city states. The defense of the region seemed suicidal, but at the end of the day, 6000 Persians had been killed and only 192 Greeks. The Persians retreated in defeat, and then, according to Plutarch, “In the Glory of Athens,” the young soldier named Pheidippedes, already exhausted from the battle began a harrowing run. He crossed foothills and forest, for 26.2 miles and when at last he arrived in the city of Athens, he shouted in a loud voice, “Nenikekamen,” which means, “We were victorious!” And the runner collapsed and died.
No one knows how long it took the young soldier Pheidippedes to cover those arduous miles. Certainly he was not like the modern marathoners who complete the race in a little over two hours. But Pheidippedes possessed that powerful human character known as endurance which allowed him to stay focused to reach his goal. Endurance, you see, or true grit, may be one of the most difficult characteristics to learn, but it is ultimately the discipline that allows you to be victorious to the end and to gain your soul.
My friends, on this Remembrance Day, as we commemorate the sacrifice of men and women in war and in so doing honor their memory, let us meditate on the character of human endurance.
There are many sayings tied to endurance. Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle, who had painstakingly rewritten his three volume history of the French Revolution after his house maid accidentally threw the only manuscript into the fire, could dare to write, “Endurance is patience concentrated. “ Catherine of Siena, a 14th century of Christian mystic, who is sought to rebuild Italy after a corrupt period, wrote, “Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.“
So what is endurance? It can be said that endurance is the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions. It is a human trait that we can experience in many people which can make them appear heroic in our eyes. Christopher Reeves, the Hollywood actor who played Superman, but later became a quadriplegic after a horse riding accident wrote, “I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” But to develop character trait, discipline may be needed. Indeed, endurance is often associated with tempering, self-control and discipline. Endurance, you see, is about choosing between what you want now and want you want most.
Now why is endurance needed in life? Well, frankly endurance is not needed- if all is going your way. Human endurance has no purpose, when you don’t have to worry about tomorrow or the challenges of life. Unfortunately, that is not reality of our human existence. Life is always changing. The mighty temples and institutions in which we place our trust often seem to be falling down on the wayside. You may have thought that your health, your marriage, your family, your church, your political party would stand forever, but then they toppled. Of course, we don’t know when life is going to change – because it changes all the time.
My friends, Jesus wants you to experience an enduring confidence and trust even in midst of the life’s changes. And so he warns us that that in order to finish the race you will need to develop a courageous mindset like the runner Pheidippedes. This will ultimately, make the difference between finishing and failing, or never getting out of the starting blocks. So this morning, let me suggest three steps for building your capacity for endurance. . First, have a vision of the entire course; second, be committed to preparation and training; and third, never give up.
In life as in a race, you need to have a vision of the entire course that is set before you. You need to know the stretches of road that are going to be uphill and long, and know when you can rest on the easy, flat stretches. The classic marathon runner is a true visionary who “sees” the entire race from start to finish. The distance itself is a daunting challenge, both physically and mentally. When you have a clear vision, when you know what is ultimately importantly and you can keep your eyes fixed on that goal, you can live with the hard times. You know that there will be physical hurdles: at times you are going to be running behind others; sometimes you’ll be with the pack, and other times, you will be going at it alone. But you can do it, knowing that endurance has purpose.
Secondly, you must be committed to preparation and training. It was of the first lessons I learned as a Boy Scout. Proper preparation prevents poor performance. To run a great distance, to take on a great task, you must be thoroughly prepared. This demands a decision from you- to be ready and to begin training. We can all have good intentions about what we would like to do, but they will fall short, if you are not committed to preparation.
An important discipline in your preparation may be patience. Patience is far more than simply waiting for something to happen—patience is actively working toward worthwhile goals and not getting discouraged when the results don’t appear instantly or without effort. Patience, you see, is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. For the Christian this may mean prayer and time for daily for devotion. It may mean being nurtured in regular worship and being encouraged by the community of fellow believers. Endurance means staying with something and doing all that you can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of your heart is delayed. And you do it, because you are confident, that in his time, God will act.
Finally, you need a determination to never give up. The early Christians knew all about the “endurance” of Stoic grit, toughing it out, and their endurance was often tested. Saving endurance is itself a gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Christians who have been admired for their persistence know the source of that hidden strength, and they will say, “It was only by God’s grace that I held on.” It is what will keep you pressing on as well.
David Livingstone, the legendary missionary to Africa, prayed, “Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.” And he testified, “What has sustained me is the promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” That confidence allowed him to endure many challenges. The same will be true for you.
My friends, like the ancient runner Pheidippedes, the Lord has entrusted to you with the good news of Jesus Christ. He has entrusted you with the story of love and forgiveness. He has entrusted you with the story of salvation. It is your gift. It is your message to run and proclaim. The “opportunity to testify” doesn’t require Jesus’ followers to know everything about “why bad things happen to good people.” Instead, Jesus promises that he will give you the “words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” So now, run with endurance. Have a vision for the course, be committed to preparation, and never give up. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.