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Bishop's Monday Message: Trouble can produce endurance

Posted: June 15 2020 at 10:22 AM
Author: Bishop Sally Dyck


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Once I told my congregation that I wanted to tattoo this verse on the inside of my eyelids: “…we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Yeah, they thought it was a little weird, too, to imagine tattooing something on the inside of your eyelids. But it’s a message that guides us through our times of trouble to a place of hope.

We have troubles! We’ve been sheltering in place or at least restricted in our ability to go about our “normal” lives for three months now. In that period of time, we have experienced a number of historic changes regarding how we are church, an economy that has left some people behind, children being homeschooled (and the questions that raises about their ability to “catch up”), and a renewed and impassioned call for anti-racism. Oh, yes—and a pandemic that threatens our lives. 

In New Testament Greek, the word ‘trouble’ means unsettled, thrown into confusion, very upset and startled, but also wanting to ‘cry aloud, to scream.” Part of the Jewish tradition is to lament what we have lost or regret or mourn. As United Methodists, we’re not always great lamenters. We’re more likely to complain than lament! What we miss when we complain is the practice of prayer that cries for God’s help in our distress, asking God for relief. 

Practice lament (instead of complaining); it’s a spiritual practice for our time. Call upon God’s name and pour out your grief. Cry out your sin of racism. Weep the tears of loss and grief for all that has not been because of COVID-19.  

But trouble, the verse says, can produce endurance. The Greek word for endurance means ‘to bear up under great stress.’ The first image that comes to mind is Jesus bearing up under the cross to Calvary. He was enduring or bearing a heavyweight upon his shoulders.

We are bearing up under the weight of all the changes and loss that we have experienced as individuals, a community and even a nation. That’s hard to do by ourselves. Even Jesus didn’t bear the cross alone, did he? Simon Cyrene bore the cross for him in his distress. The women and John the disciple stayed by his side. He wasn’t left to bear up alone.  

Likewise, we too need to help each other. Be a little kinder. I see signs everywhere reminding people to call a friend or elderly family member. Help someone else bear up!

Endurance leads to character. Now here’s the interesting Greek word: the word translated ‘character’ is ‘an engraving.’ A person with an engraving tool makes an image on a metal or other surface. ‘Character’ means what the engraving is. Well, who do you want to be the engraver on your life? Whose character or image do you want engraved on your life?  

I hope the character or image that you want engraved upon your soul is that of Jesus. He’s the engraver and the engraving on us. One of our annual conference’s strategic goals is to grow in our discipleship; to become more like Jesus. How do we do that? To be more like Jesus is to spend time being engraved by prayer and scripture study; let Jesus engrave our character! Too often we spend our time on social media—and sometimes that doesn’t engrave Christ on our souls! If anything, it can make me angry at others or tempted to de-friend someone. Be careful about who is engraving on your soul and what is being engraved!

And then it says, we find ourselves at hope. A rabbi friend of mine once asked me what I was preaching on the following Sunday. I said “hope.” He threw up his hands and exclaimed “What’s hope?” I laughed because in many respects that’s a very good question. Hope often seems like a vague, ethereal, “wooey-wooey” term that is difficult to nail down.  

The rabbi began to reflect on it and said, “You know in the ancient Hebrew text, there is no word for hope.” I begged to differ! I began to rattle off a few passages from the Psalms off the top of my head:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God…(Psalm 42:5)
For God alone, my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. (Psalm 62:5)

What about these verses? In fact, I later counted the use of the word hope in the Hebrew scriptures to be 129 times in 121 verses! What do you mean there’s no word for hope? He agreed that’s how it’s translated into English but the root really means to focus. To be intentional, deliberate and disciplined in our focus on God.  

Why are you cast down, o my soul…focus on God.  
My soul waits in silence for my focus is on God.
 

Hope provides an intentional, spiritual direction. My friend went on to explain that often, especially in Job, the Psalms and Isaiah, the focus on God is in the midst of the humiliation that people were experiencing in exile. Or David being pursued by his enemies in the Psalms. Focus on God is what gets you through humiliation, loss, defeat, uncertainty and anxiety. Without focus on God—without hope—one gets lost in the weeds, the wilderness, the fog of worry, obsessing in the middle of the night, hate and fear.

The rabbi also said that Jews have specific commandments about how to focus or hope—it’s doing a mitzvah—or a good deed. In other words, it’s in doing acts of kindness and goodness that bring hope. Later he sent me a quote from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and a popular writer: 

To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope…Every ritual, every mitzvah/good deed…is a protest against escapism, resignation or the blind acceptance of fate. Judaism is a sustained struggle…against the world that is, in the name of the world that could be, should be, but is not yet.

As Christians, we follow Jesus on a pathway that is lined with trouble, watered with tears of endurance, marked by the image of Christ in us, and paved with “all the good we can do,” bringing us home to hope by focusing on God in the midst of it all.

No tattoos on the inside of my eyelids, but definitely a pathway to hope in times like these!
 

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