James 1:2-4 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. NIV
Today our church has begun to worship in our Sanctuary. We have not been in the Sanctuary for ninety-eight days during which the world as we knew it has changed – dramatically. When you enter, you will find that half of the pews have been closed so that we can observe “social distancing”. We have a simple half-page bulletin and all of our worship liturgies and hymns will be in PowerPoint. All of us will have masks on and abundant hand-sanitizers are available. The service will be shorter, and we cannot have hospitality time after worship. Our world has changed! However, Pleasant Grove UMC has persevered over 150 years witnessing God’s steadfast love for us to counter the pain and suffering of our community.
For more than three months we have had to endure “stay and home” directions from the governor. Many of our favorite stores have had to close and our travel restrictions have been in place. Our ability to be patient has been severely tested. Staying at home is hard and it is very easy to become slothful. Isn’t it? Fortunately for me, it is springtime and the garden has needed significant work to keep it up and fruitful. Ann is relieved of my attention elsewhere and not my “micro-managing” the house.
As a congregation we have had to persevere! We have had to be patient and we will have to continue to be patient. Perseverance and patience go hand in hand. This is hard for all of us. Even though you have been receiving messages of encouragement from Lynn and myself, we still have a sense of loss. Maybe our faith has weakened. In James, the author has written you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. We have been tested. Perseverance is not giving up! It is persistence and tenacity, the effort required to do something and keep doing it till the end, even if it’s hard. The last 100 days have tested our ability to preserve. We have had a significant experience to see if we have the fortitude to endure. We still are a long way until we can claim our normalcy.
It’s been said that nothing teaches like experience. Pain and suffering teach us endurance and empathy. The experience of mercy and forgiveness inclines us to be more merciful and forgiving. We gain moral maturity each day precisely because each day brings some difficulty that we must overcome. Like it or not, we persevere, and we are morally the better for it. This is why James tells us to “consider it pure joy … whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that we may become mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). A person who has been at a constant feud with misfortunes acquires skin calloused by suffering; she yields to no evil and even if she stumbles, she carries the fight on upon her knees.
Misfortunes are designed to build virtue in us, and among the virtues gained through difficulty is patience. That family member or work associate who annoys you is God’s gift to you to build your patience. If you’re stuck with a job you don’t like, and you can’t find any other work, then God is building your patience. Each nuisance, long wait, and affliction, every mosquito bite, traffic jam, and body ache in the life of the Christian raises our threshold of tolerance ever so much. Even tedious sermons and difficult reading (perhaps including what you are enduring right now!) can make you a more patient person.
Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5 3 …… wealso glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hopedoes not put us to shame, because God’s lovehas been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
In 1967 Joni Eareckson jumped into the Chesapeake Bay. Having misjudged the depth of the water Joni Eareckson emerged forever changed. She would from that point forward be a quadriplegic, living her entire life in a wheelchair. She has written extensively of her experiences. She has been an inspiration to many people. She is a picture of our text in James 1:1-4. She models joy in the midst of suffering. Furthermore, she shows that God often has a good purpose in our suffering. On one occasion Joni discussed having her wheelchair in heaven. She said: Where does that type of joy come from? Ultimately, we know the answer to that question is that such joy can only come from God. James 1:1-4 helps our answer to that question become more specific.
Our second Scripture from Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me is our stabilizing base for our perseverance. It is through our faith in God’s mighty plan for us through Jesus that we are given the power and grace to sustain us. Yes, there will be days of frustration and concerns. There will dark and raining days also. But there will be glorious days when God’s light on us is abundantly clear and uplifting. There is coming a time —- no more masks – no more social distancing — no more elbow bumps – just plain old life – compassionate and caring life through an active community of Christians who have persevered.