Based on Acts 2:37-42, 1Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35
The words “persistence” and “perseverance” are often used interchangeably in the English language. If I asked you to define each word, I suspect that you like many dictionary writers, would end up with explanations that looked almost identical. However, there is an important distinction for our spiritual journeys between the two words. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word persistence as continuing to do something in spite of difficulty or opposition. An individual who is persistent makes a tremendous effort to achieve defined goals. This dedication towards goal achievement is immense, almost limitless. The key feature in persistence is single-mindedness of the individual towards the achievement of a goal or goals.
Perseverance according to the same dictionary, can be defined as continuing a course of action in spite a lack of success. However, unlike persistence, perseverance endures until obstacles or demanding situations are overcome. For example, imagine you are having family problems and you are having to shelter-at-home simultaneously. You feel overwhelmed by the situation and the suffering, but you keep on diligently working and enduring until the situation improves. Unlike persistence, where there is single-mindedness towards the achievement of a goal, perseverance is an enduring determination to overcome difficult situations in life. Thus, perseverance has a quality of steadfastness about it that can be trustworthy and healing.
We speak a lot in spiritual circles about how our God’s love for all of creation is steadfast and faithful. How that unconditional love is Almighty because there is nothing that it cannot overcome. God always perseveres…no matter what humans do to try and thwart God’s purpose in the world. Our scriptures for today point us to the perseverance of God’s love in the world. The writer of 1Peter reminds the believers that they have been born anew through the living and enduring word of God. The Apostle Peter has just finished his first sermon and 3000 people are waiting to be baptized (this makes Peter a really hard act to follow for all successive preachers) into the enduring promise of God for all who believe. Cleopas and Simon meet the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus and ask the risen Christ to stay with them. Let us take a moment now in prayer to thank God for persevering with us and all of Creation…
1Peter is a pastoral letter written to believers in what was then Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). As a pastoral letter, it seeks to remind the faithful of what they are to believe so that they might, “…live in reverent fear (aka awe) during the time of their [your] exile….” Peter goes on to state that since their souls have been purified through the action of the Holy Spirit, they have hearts full of genuine mutual love. This all comes to them from the living and pervasive love of God.
The Apostle Peter’s first sermon was convincing to those Jews who had gathered for the celebration of Pentecost. There was a collective regret over the murder of the Messiah, and the crowd wanted to know what they should do to absolve themselves of this crime against God. Peter tells them to “repent and be baptized, every one of you…”. Then the promise of salvation will be available to all of them through the Holy Spirit’s action. God’s love, which persevered over the worldly powers of Rome and death was now made evident as about 3000 people were baptized and then they “…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to breaking of bread and the prayers….”
The final chapter of the Gospel of Luke starts at Easter Sunday and goes through the Ascension. Embedded in there is the story of the Emmaus road encounter. Cleopas and Simon are walking the seven miles from Jerusalem processing the things that had happened to Jesus. Along comes another traveler (Jesus) who teaches them as they walk. Interestingly, these disciples do not recognize Jesus in His rabbinical mode, but they are moved by their hearts to ask him to come and stay with them. By staying with the risen Christ, they come to recognize him when he breaks the bread. The disciples then return to the group back in Jerusalem and spread the word that they have seen the risen Christ.
The Road to Emmaus has been preached about for millennia. There are many good sermons contained in those 23 verses of scripture to be sure. For our purposes today, I want to spend some time with the decision that Cleopas and Simon made to ask Jesus to stay with them instead of continuing on His way. Perseverance, as I mentioned in the beginning, is an enduring determination to overcome difficult situations in life. Most truly difficult life situations cannot be overcome through force of will. Rather, they need to have the intervention of an outside force – something that can deliver the endurance to see our way through. The Bible offers us a way to access that “outside force” when we decide to stay with our spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, stewardship, ministry to the world, and fellowship with each other. The only reason that Cleopas and Simon were able to recognize the risen Christ was that they trusted the burning in their hearts and asked for Him to stay with them – to be a part of their lives.
Over the last 20 years, God has been working on my spiritual growth as a Stephen Minister and Leader, an adult Sunday school teacher, a contemplative prayer practitioner and teacher, Lay Leader, a part-time hospital chaplain (nights and weekends), a seminarian, and now closing in on three years as a licensed minister. During all that time I have had many occasions where I was at a loss of how to be with someone, and asked God to stay with me and open my heart, so that I could help provide comfort and care for some of life’s most difficult and mysterious issues. God has opened the scriptures to me and I have found comfort and strength in two short phrases that together occur many hundreds of times in the Bible. These phrases have allowed me to persevere with God and God’s people through the most challenging times. Can you guess what those short phrases might be?
The two phrases are: “and it came to pass” and “but God”. The first phrase occurs primarily in the King James Version of the Bible and connotes that every time there seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle placed before the people of God, that “it came to pass” that God acted to further God’s purpose in the world. Similarly, the phrase “but God” or “but then God” denotes the miraculous power of God’s unconditional love to break through worldly wisdom and barriers to overcome and move God’s people further along in their relationship with God. Note that in both phrases, there is no human control over when God will act – just the abiding faith that God will indeed act to provide the strength for God’s people to persevere.
As Easter people, people who believe in the miracle of the Resurrection, we know that in the fullness of time it came to pass that God came to earth as Emmanuel – God with us. Jesus lived and grew and tried His best to change the world while He was living. He got cross-wise (literally) with the political powers and ended up being tortured and killed, but God…but then God(!) intervened and raised Him from the grip of a death enabled by systemic human sin. God’s Almighty love persevered over human powers and principalities and the actions of sin – and continued to create as told in scripture.
Easter people trust that the love of God will continue to intervene in our lives and world in just the right way and at just the right time. We believe that there is nothing more powerful than God and that it will come to pass that this current trial will end and we all will be better able to persevere through any worldly calamity. We believe that we will meet the risen Jesus in our everyday lives. Most importantly, we believe that if we ask Him to stay with us – if we persevere with our prayers, study of scripture, worship and following the commandments to love God with all that we have and all that we are and our neighbors as ourselves, that we will have our minds, hearts, ears and eyes broken open by God. We believe that God will overcome and will act to allow God’s children to persevere and find salvation.
I said earlier that perseverance is an enduring determination to overcome difficult situations in life. Easter people believe that we can persevere by asking the risen Christ to stay with us in all that happens in our lives. By trusting in the abiding presence of the living Word, we come to know that in God’s time it will come to pass that God’s love will make all things new. It may be that we see a dead end in our lives or for our world, but God will continue to do what God does best – overcome the wisdom of the world with Almighty love. Thanks be to God who stays with us so that we might persevere. Amen!