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Last week, at the Covenanting Service, I gave each of the Transition Team members a small pottery heart with the words, ‘Take Heart’ on them. That phrase comes from one of my favourite passages of scripture, from Matthew 14: It’s when Jesus comes walking on the water, and the disciples are terrified. And Jesus responds with the words, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” It’s a passage that I return to again and again, reminding me that Jesus is present with me on the journey. That Jesus is present with US on the journey.
I have hearts for all of you this week… not the pottery hearts, but little wooden ones… ones that you can keep in your purse or pocket to remind you of Jesus’s presence in our lives. This week we are exploring having a heart for persistence.
Here is a non-rhetorical question: What does having persistence mean? Persistence is the ability to stick with something. Jeremiah had a heart for persistence. He told the people over and over again what would happen if they didn’t live according to God’s covenant.
Jeremiah is a prophet that often preached doom, gloom and destruction as he tried to warn the people of what was to come if they didn’t listen to God. But today we hear words of reconstruction, words of a new covenant, a covenant written on our hearts, not set in stone. Words of building up rather than demolishing. Perhaps this new covenant would not have been possible without the previous destruction, perhaps the people of Israel are ready now for the feast that God has set before them. The same God that watched over the destruction of Israel, so God watches over the restoration. The days are surely coming when God’s covenant will be so entwined in our hearts that love and justice and peace will be one. Jeremiah had a heart for persistence.
In the gospel according to Luke, we hear another parable, this one about a persistent widow. Remember that parables are supposed to be shocking and challenge what we think is usual. They are supposed to reveal something about the nature of God. Let’s listen with fresh ears to what Luke tell us in chapter 18:1-8:
18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
18:2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.
18:3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’
18:4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,
18:5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”
18:6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.
18:7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?
18:8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
One interpretation is that the early church community was being told not to lose heart… despite the fact that Jesus had not returned, praying and keeping the faith was important. In other words persisting. And I don’t dispute the praying and keeping the faith is important.
As Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber says, “Prayer may be the invisible strands that connect us to one another and to God and those threads are how God is stitching together and mending the world. So this interpretation has the judge as the God-figure in the story… and that with constant prayer, God will grant us what we want/need/desire. I have issues with this… this interpretation reminds me of a child that with persistence will wear a parent down until the parent gives in and grants the child what he or she wants. Is that what we believe about the nature of God… that if we pray hard enough and long enough, God will grant us our prayers? That leads to troubling theology like the idea that if we only had enough faith or enough prayers that our loved ones would be healed of whatever. Is that the idea of a loving God? Of a God that promises to be present? In all circumstances? I don’t think so.
I have come to believe that the ‘God’ figure in this parable is actually the widow. Like God, she persists in coming to us… calling us to act justly. We are like the judge… when we don’t want to hear the cries of the excluded and marginalized… at least not if it is going to cause us some discomfort. We are the judge… when we don’t want to hear about white privilege in relation to all people of colour. We are the judge… when we don’t want to hear about sexism… or ageism… or ableism… And we are the persistent widow when we contribute in some way to the Food Bank… even if we can’t totally eradicate hunger.
We are the persistent widow when we sponsor a refugee even when we can’t sponsor all of them. We are the persistent widow when we demand that our politicians, at every level, work for the good of all citizens, not just some of them. We are the persistent widow when we show up again and again… not getting discouraged… or when we are, to remember that action for justice, even crying out for justice mends the world a little bit.
The publishing company, Fast Company describes the 7 Habits Of Highly Persistent People as:
1. An All-Consuming Vision. Persistent people have a goal or vision in mind that motivates and drives them. …
2. A Burning Desire. …
3. Inner Confidence. …
4. Highly Developed Habits. …
5. Ability To Adjust And Adapt. …
6. Commitment To Lifelong Learning. …
7. Role Models That Act As Guides And Mentors.
Do you, or do we, embody those seven characteristics? As we embark on this Intentional Interim Ministry, will we able to be persistent in focusing on our Vision Statement: Faith that matters, love that matters, community that matters? I don’t actually envision us changing those words… but perhaps the way they are lived out will change.
Let me explore a little bit further those seven characteristics:
1. An All-Consuming Vision. Persistent people have a goal or vision in mind that motivates and drives them.
a. The Listening Circles are designed for all of us to participate in a process what ultimately leads to a shared vision, something bigger than anything we might have dreamed on our own.
b. Because even as we are individuals, we don’t carry the entire vision of who we can become. So, if you haven’t signed up for a Listening Circle, please do so, someone from the Transition Team is on hand to sign you up. And they don’t work unless there are at least 6 people signed up.
2. A Burning Desire.
a. Do we have a burning desire to share God’s love with all people?
b. Are we prepared to be part of God creating something new?
3. Inner Confidence.
a. Do we have the confidence that God is part of our future… no matter what the future holds? Even if the future looks very different than the past?
b. Or do we think that God has abandoned us, because the church of our childhood, the church of our young adulthood is gone.
4. Highly Developed Habits.
a. What habits of persistence do we cultivate?
b. Are we prepared to be like the persistent widow?
c. Are we prepared to cultivate the habit of listening for God’s voice for this time?
d. Do we remember to turn to God in prayer and praise?
5. Ability To Adjust And Adapt.
a. How adaptable are we?
b. How ready are we for God to do a new thing? God doing new things has always been a part of our history.
c. Or will we get mad when things don’t get done either your way or the way things have always been done.
6. Commitment To Lifelong Learning.
a. Are we prepared to learn something new?
b. Are we prepared to let some things go… things that might not be life giving any longer?
c. Are we prepared to have our assumptions shaped and reshaped, formed and reformed?
7. Role Models That Act As Guides And Mentors.
a. Who are our role models in this new undertaking?
b. Besides Jesus of course! 😉
c. In our situation, I would say the Transition Team are the ones that will mentor and guide the congregation through this time. They are the ones you have chosen for this time.
We will be working closely on the goal that has been set: To engage the congregation in a process of spiritual discernment for the future of the congregation, assessing the resources of the congregation, including, but not limited to: mission, connection to the community, people, building, and finances.
Jeremiah had a heart for persistence in calling his community to account… to have the covenant written on their hearts. The widow had a heart for persistence in demanding justice. Let us be like them, with the covenant written on our hearts.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of loving and following Jesus, amen.