Message on perseverance from January 31, 2021 The Revs. Megan and Dave Collins
We both grew up with just one older sibling who is about five years older than us. You’ve got to feel a little bad for them. Their lives were just great until we came along. Then they ended up with a little brother or a little sister who just couldn’t do anything, completely immature. We took their parents attention away. They got us back though.
One time, my brother Rob convinced me that I had died. We were on vacation with some cousins, and I came into the motor home and they all pretended I wasn’t there, and they talked about how terribly sad it was that I had fallen off that waterfall. And they stuck with it long enough that I started to believe them! He made me doubt my own existence! That’s some high level older brother stuff.
Our final scripture this week comes from the opening of the letter from Jesus’ brother, well half-brother technically, James. Can you imagine growing up with Jesus as your older brother? There would have been some advantages of course. Having a sinless older brother would help you avoid some of the things that I went through. But boy what a long shadow he would cast. When you mother says, “Why can’t you be more like your brother, imagine if she meant Jesus?”
But whenever we struggle with doubt, we should look to James. Because James’ older brother claimed to be the son of God, and James ended up believing him! That’s some pretty solid proof of the resurrection right there. James became one of the first leaders of the church during a time of great trouble and turmoil. And the words he wrote to his congregation then, apply to us today. Let’s hear what he has to say to us.
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy,
Notice that he doesn’t say, “God forbid, should you ever have to face trials” he says, “Whenever you face trials”. Because you are going to face trials. They won’t always drag on for the whole world for a year, but apparently, sometimes they will. Whenever you face trials, he says, Consider it nothing but joy. Now this word consider is a really particular kind of word. It could also be translated as “account it as” like when you’re balancing a budget with profits and losses. James says that when you face trials, you should account it in the profit column, not the loss one. You should consider it as joy. It’s not joy, but you should count it as joy. Isn’t that weird? Why would you count something as joy that doesn’t make you giggle and laugh and feel happy? Well, James tells us why.
because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect,
We should count our trials as joy because these trials, and the way they test our faith in God, and test our faith in each other, they produce endurance, perseverance, what we’ve been talking about this month. And we have to let endurance, it says in verse 4, have its full effect. That is, we don’t grow through just a little endurance. You start out with just a little, for sure. But you grow from letting endurance have it’s full effect on you. You grow through a lot of endurance, James says, “so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” Trials lead to endurance, and lots of endurance leads to maturity, and maturity is a kind of joy that you can’t find anywhere else, or get any other way.
You know, if you ask any Londoner who is around 80 to 90 years old what the most joyful time of their life was, do you know what most of them will say? The Blitz. The time when the Nazis bombed their homes every night, all night, and they all slept in bomb shelters with their whole neighborhoods in complete darkness. That was the best part of their lives. They got one thing out of it that we don’t get to have during all of this. They got to be together, which did provide a great deal of comfort and joy. But through it all, the people of London came to maturity, not only as individuals, but as a community.
The reason behind the Blitz was to break the people’s will to fight. The bad guys reasoned that if the civilians lost the will to fight the war, the army would give up. It had the opposite affect. Those who lived through the Blitz came to see that they were a part of what their nation was doing. Their resolve strengthened. In fact, the same thing happened whenever a city of civilians is targeted in war like that, no matter what country they’re from. Their resolve strengthens. They grow up. They stop prizing their own comfort and start focusing on the greater good.
A researcher named Charles Fritz studied this phenomenon after that war, and tested it in other cities that suffered natural disasters. Disasters, he proposed, create a “community of sufferers”. As people come together to face an existential threat, Fritz found that class differences are temporarily erased, income disparities become irrelevant, racism goes on hold, and people are assessed simply by what they are willing to do for the group. In other words, people become mature, at least for a while. Fritz found that when the crisis subsided, the old immature divisions came back. But for a while at least, people lived as God intended us to live.
Perseverance can do that for us, too, in our private lives, in our families, and in our community.
Each person here has known suffering and trials and hardship. Some of you have had illnesses that put your life on hold. Some of you have lost jobs and faced an uncertain future.
Some of you have had to say goodbye to loved ones and walked the unimaginable path of grief. Some of you carry invisible suffering that no one sees. Then all of us, we’ve gone through trials and tribulations together, over this past year. We’ve faced and continue to deal with things we would never have imagined. We wouldn’t wish any of these things for any of us. Suffering and trials aren’t something to seek out. But somehow, through the grace of God, at the end you look back at those times and God worked in you growing your endurance, growing your faith, growing your maturity, and growing your bond with others who go through things too so you don’t have to do it alone.
Sometimes that looks like whole communities coming together to get through a war or a pandemic. Sometimes it is the shared support at a grief group or recovery meeting. Sometimes it is feeling a strength you didn’t know you had well up within you.
All of it is God.