By Your Endurance
Gracious Lord, guard us in our blessings, and grant us the hope and the endurance needed to see your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
As I get older, I continually notice that the relationship I have with my parents is changing. Though I will always be their child, I find more and more that we are becoming friends and peers. Perhaps this is the natural course of things, as parents learn to gradually let go and children learn that mommy and daddy aren’t simply mommy and daddy.
As Yinghao and I have begun thinking about raising a family of our own, I found myself reminded of a time I shared with my mother not too long ago. When I was a student in college, coming home from Christmas break, I remember having a long and open conversation with her while we shopped for presents.
She talked about her pregnancy with me. Unlike stories of how I was a perfect 7 lbs 6 ounces, my mother told me that she and my father had been trying for a second child for quite some time. It was a difficult affair. And during the time she had carried me, the doctor ordered her several months of bed rest for fear that the pregnancy would be lost. There was a very good chance that I would not survive. But, through my mother’s diligence, those who helped care for her, and luck, I am glad to say, “here I stand,” quite significantly larger than 7lbs and 6 ounces.
My birth was a blessing she had hoped for and one that I am also quite pleased about. It is the kind of blessing that point to new creation and hope. Just as the waters of baptism mark’s the creation of spiritual rebirth. Just as the bonds of marriage blesses the creation of a new family in God. Just as the prophet Isaiah tells us about the hope of new heavens and a new earth brought on by the justice of God’s hand.
Still, amid this blessing, I realize how easily the story could have ended differently. What began as the possibility for new life could have easily been turned into a loss of hope or a loss of innocence. It is amazing to think of how fragile and humble the experience of carrying life within you must be, despite any level of reassurance. A mother can never truly know until the day the baby is born and a father can only imagine. Such is the world we encounter, a place that holds both blessings and curses, and the courage to hope for something better.
In Luke’s gospel we see Jesus instructing his disciples to share in this hope despite our world. Our reading begins with the disciples taking in all of the wonderful and grand aspects of the Jerusalem temple. On a smaller scale, I imagine their sense of amazement must have been like mine when I first visited the Jefferson Hotel. How on earth could human beings think to create something so beautiful? And Randy, tells me there was once a time, when they had live alligators in the fountains. If true, I fear for anyone who tried to get out of paying the bill.
Though, these things are amazing and beautiful, Jesus reminds us time and again that our minds cannot simply look to the heavens. We must come back down to the ground that first bore us. All material things will one day come to its end. They do not last.
At this time, Jesus shares with his disciples the foreknowledge that his end will come and that they must be prepared to endure by faith. They must live in hope.
Once he is gone from this world he says that certain things will take place before the son of man returns. There will be wars. There will be natural disasters. People will hunger and be persecuted. Christians, like others, will be arrested and some will die simply because of their beliefs. Even his disciples will face hardship, double cross, and perhaps death.
Yet, even in the midst of all of this, Jesus has courage and enough daring to say, “Not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” You may die because of me. Your treatment may be unfair and unjust, but “not a hair of your head will perish.” “Not a hair…by your endurance!”
Many scholars consider this portion of Luke’s gospel to be a prophetic and apocalyptic text. Jesus shares with his disciples the things that are to come. By that merit it surely is prophetic. His words also line up with the words of others who have predicted the end time of this world or the hope for a new world like in the book of Daniel, Isaiah, or Revelation.
Though these concepts are important, I believe the crux of Jesus’ argument is not focused solely on future times. Rather, his focus, prophetic or not, is on how his disciples will live in the moment as they await the future with uncertainty.
By you endurance…by your hope for something better…you will gain your souls.
Everything Jesus warns his disciples about has been going on before, during, and after his ministry. Our world continues to face war and hunger. Innocents such as the people living in the Philippines have endured the unyielding power of nature. People still die at the hands of human beings because of their belief or unbelief in God. Nothing he says in this text indicates that by them something new will come in its place.
Rather, Jesus shares with his disciples all that will likely occur no matter what and while he is gone from them, to believe that something new will come in spite of this world. Through this belief and hope, Jesus wants his disciples and all of us as followers of Christ to endure. But how do we endure? In what do we hope? How is it that in doing so, will we gain our souls?
I find these answers in a favorite book of mine by C.S. Lewis entitled The Great Divorce. It is a fictional work that at times is painful, and at others joyous. There are words that are hard to swallow, but others that soothe.
It begins in a place called grey town where it always rains, and there lies a continual hope of morning. It does not come. For some unexplainable reason, people from Grey Town are attracted to a bus stop, where the destination and time for departure is unknown. Yet, people still board.
As the bus begins its journey, instead of moving forward, some notice that it leaves the ground. As they journey upward the site of Grey Town is lost and the piercing light of unknown land becomes stronger and stronger. When they arrive to their destination, they notice a beautiful green world, with waterfalls, and a distant mountain where the light sits painfully bright upon its horizon. Some are scared to go further and return.
Others journey on, only to find that the grass is sharp as nails, and the water cuts like a blade. They are left bruised, but some remain curious and hopeful for the mountain and light that lies ahead. Greeted by spirits of the land, those on this new journey are promised that if they lean on them for help and carry on that they will soon find their feet. The grass will become softer. Their bodies will become whole and truly take in the splendor before them.
This journey stands for the promise of heaven and that the choice for this better world, for this hope, resides in their ability to endure the hardship. Here, I believe C. S. Lewis points to something that is very real about the human story. The knowledge of good in this world does not mean our experiences within the world will be good or happy or easy.
Rather, as people of God who have experienced love and God’s blessing, we must endure the times when love seems most absent. For if we don’t, then others will do the same. Others will not have someone to lean on or for a better time in which to hope. When there is war, we must hope and strive for peace. When there is natural disaster and many are left hungry and homeless, we must bring hope by feeding and sheltering those who have lost everything. When there are those who are persecuted and executed for their beliefs and their differences, we must be willing to stand up.
Jesus told his disciples of a time when he would no longer be with them. They would still face immense hardship, but they would need to hope in each other and in God to endure. By fostering God’s message of love and reconciliation in this cruel world, they would earn their stripes. They would endure and gain their souls.
The same message and task applies to us. By believing in good, hoping in good, and being the good, we endure in times when the world around us seems cruel. When we say no to that world and act on God’s vision, we become more of who we were created to be, we gain our souls. We become whole.
So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I ask you to abide in hope trusting in the message. Endure in God’s love and be to others what God expects of you. And as we journey on, though hardship may come, I offer you these words, to hold in memory and help you along the way.
“Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.”