Running The Race of Discipleship With Perseverance: a Reflection on Jeremiah 23:23-29, Psalm 82, Hebrews 11:29-12:2, and Luke 12:49-56
If you were doomed to live the same life over and over again for eternity, would you choose the life you are living now? The question is interesting enough, but I’ve always thought the point of asking it is really the unspoken, potentially devastating follow-up question. That is, if the answer is no, then why are you living the life you are living now? Stop making excuses, and do something about it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Jesus does not invite humanity to join a new religion, but life.” And life is relationally driven.
Phyllis Tickle, who passed away a few years ago, was a lay Eucharistic minister in the Episcopal Church and a senior fellow of Cathedral College at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. She was engaged in social analysis on the church and its relationship to, in, and with society. Tickle concluded that the cultural and religious changes we face todayare rapid, pervasive, and significant. She argues that the church has not faced changes like this since the Reformation. A change in behavior is required by followers of Jesus and the local church.
Miroslav Volf calls on adherents within the world religions and political institutions to distinguish “…between constitutive moral principles or values and operative modes or means. Freedom of conscience and equality of respect are moral principles; separation of religion and state and impartiality of the state toward all religions and a-religious are the operative modes.” To be disciples running the race of a life with Jesus, we must persevere within these moral principles and values of freedom of conscience and equality of respect as well the operative modes and means of separation of religion and state and impartiality of the state toward all. And therein lies the challenge.
Perseverance is required because of the reality of division and the salvation provided in unity. Jesus says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” The Gospel reading in Luke clearly indicates that the person and purpose of Jesus was divisive. Jesus’ values, ethics, and spirituality were unsettling. He challenged the status quo and called for a relationship with God that was personal, not ritualistic. Children against their parents or parents against their children are divisions engendered by Christ’s work. What is God’s purpose in division? To persevere in that tension to demonstrate the light of Jesus conquering darkness and bringing salvation through unity.
The prophet Jeremiah writes in Jeremiah 23:28-29, “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” The people of God attempted to ignore their God and adopt cultural and societal understandings of God. And we do the same. Civil religion which equates God’s will to a particular group, party affiliation or even God and country is not authentic Christianity. An authentic relationship with the God of the Bible is one that perseveres with the simple truth of salvation and encounter with anyone who needs that touch from God in word and deed.
The Psalmist declares in Psalm 82:3-4, “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” A persevering relationship with God and others demonstrates doing justice. It requires reading the signs of the times, it necessitates speaking and doing the truth.
The writer of Hebrews sets forth in Hebrews 11:29-31, “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.” The writer of Hebrews reminds us that relationship is what gives final meaning to life and the ability to persevere. Hebrews 12:1-2 reads “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” Those who have gone before us and persevered as light in darkness loving others in the divisions and seeing divisions crumble and unity occur should encourage and motivate us to do the same. Christians have a responsibility to embrace the great divides that exist in our society and work for unity. And this requires perseverance.
Let’s adopt a mindset and behavior of respect for others with whom we disagree. Let’s be uniters not dividers. That requires perseverance as individuals and a church. In Jesus, there is real hope for real life. Unity is possible when division is authentically and honestly embraced through persevering relationships.
The good news of Jesus is the unconditional love, grace, mercy, hope, peace, and joy of God. Political attachments to the good news is not truth, but a lie. It is never Jesus plus that sheds light on divisions. Relationships rooted in the good news matter: with God and others.
William Alexander, The $64 Tomato (Algonquin Books, 2007), 245. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison (London: Fontana Books, 1959). Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2008). Miroslav Volf, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion In A Globalized World (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2015), 134. Idea gleaned from Audrey West in David Barrett and Barbara Browne Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 360, 362. In the paragraphs of biblical interpretation above, I am grateful for the thinking and writing of Elizabeth C. Larocca-Pitts, Robert A. Ratcliff, Angela Dienhart Hancock, Paul K. Hooker, Jill Duffield, Elizabeth F. Caldwell, and Sally Smith Holt in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 233-235, 236-237, 238-241, 242-244, 244-246, 247-249, and 249-250.