There is something to be said for weathering a storm. That’s true this weekend, of course. It is also true in life. That’s one of the things I love about the whole of Christianity. There’s room for the troubles and the sufferings of the world, and ours too. Storms are a part of life. Challenges and difficulties and disappointments are to be expected. We expect not to agree on everything, not to see eye to eye. We understand that even at our best, we are often mired in confusion and misunderstanding. Trees break and so do relationships. Our best hopes often blow away on the wind. This is not a surprise for the Christian tradition which invites eyes-wide-open living.
I’ve been thinking about this lately as it has to do with the ebb and flow of the presidential election. There has been, I think, a broad sense of impending doom and discouragement on us as a whole. It has weighed us down. It has taken its toll on us. And then in the last few weeks some of that has lifted as some of the worst scenarios seem to have become less and less likely. I could be wrong about this. Maybe it is just me, but it seems to me we’ve breathed a collective sigh of relief even as we know the way forward will be uncertain, and tricky.
One of the stories I love most about Ernie is this. Two years ago, Ernie volunteered to help out at the REACH Thanksgiving meal. He worked all day in the dish pit, washing dishes…when he was 96! And that’s not really that unusual. That’s just the cherry on top of a lifetime of commitment to political and social advocacy and engagement.
Ernie has continued to try to improve himself—to learn and understand and grow. He told Pat Sharpe on several occasions that he regularly reads the copies of sermons Pat sends to him and a few others as a part of her volunteer work. And he reads much more than that and stays engaged in the political process and makes sure he knows what is going on in the world.
Ernie celebrated his 98th birthday yesterday.
I want to be like Ernie when I grow up.
He and I met on another occasion some months ago. I was surprised when he suggested we meet at Jimmy Mac’s Roadhouse, a restaurant in Renton. That’s not usually what my visits with 90-something-year-olds look like. I learned that family own and operate the place and Ernie is there about once a week.
Ernie’s cancer is catching up on him and his health is beginning to decline. He is on oxygen now. I sat with Ernie for a little while on Friday at Ruthaven Assisted Care. It is the same facility where his wife Mary Lena was for about two years before she died. Ernie drove—yes drove—the two miles from his apartment in Covington every day to spend afternoons with her once her health had declined to the point that she couldn’t be at home anymore. His granddaughter Erin told me the people at Ruthaven are like family to Ernie. How could they be otherwise after all that time.
There’s something that happens, you see, when you stick with something. There is something that happens with persistence—especially with persistence in the face of darkness, persistence, when things aren’t working out quite like you hoped, persistence when the virtues and the commitments and the belief you have given your life to seems not to have made any difference. Persistence when people have itching ears, when they “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires,” when they turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”[i]
I’ve been thinking about that as the anxiety has risen with this awful campaign season. I have the feeling it has taken more of a toll on us than we are aware of and may for some time to come. Surely you’ve read about this yourself. And surely you have heard, as I have, speeches and reflections from some of our better angels that have helped you to make sense of it all, that have helped you to clarify between what is right and wrong, good and destructive, that have helped you to hold on, that have given you hope and the energy to give yourself once again to what you know deep within you is true and worthy and right.
And perhaps you’ve noticed, as I think I have, a renewed commitment among a broad base of people across the political and religious spectrum to those values that hold us together as a nation and as a human family: decency and kindness, generosity, truthfulness, humility and empathy. Perhaps you’ve noticed, as I have, a renewed strength in the face of abusive behavior to speak out, to stand up for ourselves and for one another, to call into question demeaning language and dismissive treatment of others because of gender or religion or income or ethnicity.
I was thinking about this as well as we filled up three tables with St. Andrew folks at Doofers Restaurant on Tuesday night. I remember looking around and being just overwhelmed by the years together represented in that small, energized space. I was struck by the centuries of volunteering that group and you have given to do what you can to bless others and bless the world. I was heartened by the untold hours you have sat with one another in celebration and sorrow, holding grief, abiding disagreement, caring for children, listening, teaching, loving—magnifying each other’s joy.
I suppose the ominous nature of this season has created a stark contrast that has helped me to see how important such old-fashioned persistence is—this quiet, steady way of being in the world, guided by our most deeply cherished values and our commitment to a future. What you have lived is the truth of this gospel today.
Jesus told a tragic story of a persistent women, alone to fend for herself, with no one to rely on except an unjust judge who was more worried about his reputation than he was her. It is a sad story because it leaves so many questions. We might wonder where the community that was supposed to support and care for her had gone. Why was no one standing beside her? Why was she all alone? But then I thought about Ernie, and I thought about you and the years that you’ve given to doing precisely this, and I realized her story is not our story. Our story is what the church is all about—that long pattern of obedience in the same direction, that persistence of character and behavior and hope that makes for life.
This is the answer to Jesus’ story of the widow and the unjust judge. These are the days Jeremiah looked forward to when God’s law is written on your hearts. This is what it looks like to pray and not lose heart. This is the work of God’s Spirit as it bends through time and space toward justice.
If you have doubted, remember you are not alone. Timothy was a third generation Christian who had been steeped in these promises, but he too was facing resistance, and perhaps wrestling with doubt. What we can see is not all that there is.
Beloved of God, believe the gospel. Continue to give yourself to it. It is written on your hearts. Know that your commitments have not gone unnoticed. Do not underestimate the truth or the power of this gospel and your pledge to it. Pass it on to your children and grandchildren, to strangers and friends alike with humility and courage and persistence. Hold God’s people in your heart. Believe in this way, even when it is not readily apparent. Believe that God hears and loves and saves.
[i] 2 Timothy 4:3-4.