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Patient Endurance

I. John Wesley was a priest in the Church of England known for his powerful and persuasive sermons. He preached all over the British countryside and would draw in crowds in the thousands. His ministry wasn’t all glamour, however, as you can see in his private diary. Here’s a little sample:

May 5th. Preached in St. Anne’s. Was asked not to come back anymore

May 12th. Preached in St. Jude’s. Can’t go back there, either.

May 19th. Preached in St. Somebody Else’s. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return.

May 19th. Preached on street. Kicked off street.

May 26th. Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow, as bull was turned loose during service.

June 2nd. Preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear.

His life sounds a lot like the life of St. Paul. Paul was flogged forty times on five occasions. He was beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, robbed, imprisoned and starved. In our epistle reading today, he tells about his “thorn in the flesh” which, though he prayed on it many times, he bore to the end. St. Paul wrote nearly half of the New Testament and converted the Roman Empire. Yet, his Christian walk was anything but smooth sailing. So no one could preach with more conviction the words in Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 36:

“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will” (Hebrews 10:36).

II. Today, I want to talk about endurance.

It’s easy to marvel at the accomplishments of great men and women in history. Sometimes we imagine what wonderful Christians we’d be if we were missionaries some place else or leaders in a distinguished position. We might even fantasize about the glory of being flogged for Jesus Christ. But that misses the point, doesn’t it? God has a vocation for all of us, right here and right now. What really matters is the way we endure through the little trials and temptations of ordinary life.

When you don’t get your way, when you’re discouraged, or when you’re pulled in a hundred directions by the demands of life…that is where God calls you to work out your salvation.

III. Jesus Christ gives us this parable:

“A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold” (Luke 8:5-8).

This is the Christian life. God sews the good seed into the fields of our hearts. Some hearts are open and receptive to Him, others are cold or dry, and most are somewhere in between. As life goes on, that seed gets trampled on, the birds swoop down against it and the thorns rise up and choke. Our task is to guard and nurture the seed.

IV. Lent is around the corner.

This is the Orthodox version of a tent revival.

It’s our chance to step out of the rat race and become a little more introspective: to spend more time in silence and prayer, to fast and gives alms, and to align our hearts to God.

Lent is a splash of water on faces. What is the condition of our hearts?

Are we responding to God? Are we listening? Have we become indifferent or uninterested? Have we tended the garden or has it been run over by weeds?

V. There are all kinds of thorns in the garden.

They’re often subtle. We can get complaisant and comfortable in our Christianity. We can become over-zealous, and then burn out. We can simply be distracted by the noise, rush or never-ending demands of modern life, so stuffed full of stuff that we never really have room for God.

Oftentimes, it’s the good things that get us off track. Maybe we’ve started a new hobby. At first it’s just fun. Gradually it consumes more and more time and church becomes secondary. Perhaps we’ve fallen in love or invested ourselves in charity. What begins as an innocent or noble pursuit ends up becoming idolatry.

Or else, we may simply have become discouraged. It’s all too easy to feel like that seed in the field trodden down and choked.

So what can we do?

VI. Patient endurance.

“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will” (Hebrews 10:36).

In our parable last week, the master didn’t care whether the laborers had labored all day or had come in at the last hour. What mattered was that they were in the field at the setting of the sun. “He that shall endure unto the end,” our Lord and God said, “the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

God has given us His work to do, and He will give us His strength too. All we have to do is pick up the spade and start pulling up one weed at a time. By God’s grace, we will turn around and see the most beautiful garden.

VII. If we’re faithful to the end, we too will be able to say with Paul: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness is laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day" (1 Timothy 4:7).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.


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