Sermon: Proper 25 / Pentecost 22 RCL C – “Perseverance”

Legend has it that one day Socrates and Plato were walking down the beach, deep in conversation and Plato had expressed to Socrates his desire to gain the wisdom and knowledge that Socrates had.  Socrates didn’t answer him, but instead said, “Walk with me into the ocean.”  So, they turned and walked into the sea together.

Now, in your imagination, picture that happening: Student and teacher, two of the greatest philosophers of history, striding into the surf side by side.

The water started out around their ankles, then rose up to their knees. As the water got higher Plato wondered to himself, “What is the lesson my master is trying to teach me?”

When the water was shoulder height, Socrates asked Plato, “What is it exactly you want from me?” “Knowledge,” Plato answered, at which point Socrates abruptly grabbed Plato’s head and pushed him down under the water. After a half a minute or so Socrates let Plato up and asked him again, “What is it you want?” “Knowledge,” was again Plato’s answer, at which point Socrates shoved him back down under the water.

After a time, when Plato ran out of air, he began to struggle to get his head above the surface. He punched and kicked and grabbed to get free, but Socrates was a strong man and held him down. At the last moment before Plato blacked out, Socrates let him up and asked that same simple question, “What is it you want?” Plato coughed and spluttered finally responding, “Air! I need air!” Socrates calmly stated, “When you desire knowledge as much as you desired a breath of air, then you shall have it.”

Another story. This one has built up around the life of Blind Bartimaeus.

He was very young when he lost his sight and although his life was difficult, he was able to get married, have a daughter, and support them through begging. He had a small lamb that was very much like a seeing eye dog that would lead him to the city gates of Jericho where he would spend the day begging for coins. Like so many others who were unable to earn a living, he found a gimmick that would at least provide some entertainment to those who supported him through their generosity. He had two turtledoves that would remain with him and on command, perform summersaults on the small patch of ground in front of him.

One evening, after spending the day at the city gates, Bartimaeus came home to find his wife quite ill. They said she was dying, so Bartimaeus prayed to the Lord, “If you will spare my wife, I will take the two turtledoves and give them to the priest at the temple for a sacrifice.” The following day, his wife fully recovered and Bartimaeus did not hesitate. He took the two doves and had them sacrificed as a thanksgiving to the Lord.

However, only a few weeks later, Bartimaeus’ daughter also became very ill. And again Bartimaeus prayed to God, this time offering God the only thing he had left, the lamb. As he approached the temple, a priest asked where he was going and when Bartimaeus told him, the priest said he could do no such thing, the lamb was his eyes, so the priest offered Bartimaeus money to go and buy another lamb to sacrifice to God, but Bartimaeus told the priest, “I did not promise the Lord just any lamb. I promised the Lord this lamb. Also,” Bartimaeus said, “if I keep my promise to God, God will provide a lamb for Bartimaeus’ eyes.”

Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The people told him to hush, but Bartimaeus was persistent, and called even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

When Jesus heard his cries, he had Bartimaeus brought to him and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

In the midst of so many troubles, so many obstacles, Bartimaeus persevered and remained faithful to God, offering all he had including his little lamb, firmly believing that God would send another lamb to help him. And behold, the Lamb of God spoke, and Bartimaeus, through faith was made well.

These past weeks we have been reading about Job. We know his troubles. He has lost everything except his life. Yet, Job remained faithful and never cursed God. He persevered in the face of so many troubles. His only complaint was that he wanted to ask God why all these things had happened. In last week’s reading, God answered him, “Who do you think you are in questioning me?” A hard answer, but we’ve come to understand that there is mystery surrounding the actions of God, and in today’s reading, so did Job. He says to the Lord, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” In the end, the Lord restored all Job’s fortunes and blessed his days. He ended up with vast wealth, handsome sons and the most beautiful daughters.

During a Monday night football game between the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants, one of the announcers observed that Walter Payton, the Bears’ running back, had accumulated over nine miles in career rushing yardage. The other announcer remarked, “Yeah, and that’s with somebody knocking him down every 4.6 yards!”

Plato persevered, wanting knowledge as much as he needed air and became one of the greatest philosophers. Bartimaeus persevered in faith and in calling on Jesus regained his sight. Job persevered, never cursing God and ended up living in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegone “Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” And Walter Payton persevered, 4.6 yards at a time, to become one of the greatest running backs of all time.

What do those examples say to you? What do they prove? Answer: Absolutely nothing. I played football all through grade school and when I got to the eighth grade I tried out. I persevered and did fair right up until they weighed us in. I weighed 99 pounds. They laughed. I made water boy.

I know of many who have persevered in faith and after overcoming some great trial end up experiencing an even greater trial. I’ve known people who have persevered in faith all their lives and who have also been blind all their lives. And I know some folks who think they are wise, but will turn to you and say, “Hold my beer” and go do something incredibly stupid.

Perseverance does not imply success. Perseverance has more to do with a state of mind. It means standing in the face of adversity and continuing forward – or maybe even backwards – but continuing. And that is our goal as a Christian people. Contrary to popular belief, life is not a game that you set out to win. Life is about following Jesus as his disciples, seeking not our greatest good, but instead seeking His. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, ”God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.”

There will be trials, obstacles, or in the case of Bartimaeus, blindness, and we are not going to overcome them all. There will be times when we fail. Lewis is saying we will not be judged based on whether or not we overcame those obstacles, whether or not we were able to see when we were physically blind. We will not be judged on whether we win or fail, but we will be judged on whether or not we were passionate and persevered in faith.

Job and Bartimaeus, these are not examples of winning some temporary prize. These are examples of perseverance. Of what it means to stand in faith in good times and bad and from the heart of your being, to call on God – in full expectation that he will hear you and answer you – but regardless of the outcome, loving him and knowing that you are loved as only God can, for the “prize” we seek is not temporary, but eternal life with him.

Let us Pray: Father, keep us from vain strife of words. Grant to us constant profession of the Truth! Preserve us in a true and undefiled Faith so that we may hold fast to that which we professed when we were baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — that we may have Thee for our Father, that we may abide in Thy Son and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

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