July 24, 2016 – Persistence Pays Off

Luke 11:1-13

        “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” How many times have we said that one to our kids?  Right now we are hearing all the inspirational stories of the Olympic athletes as they head off to Rio to represent the United States.  We hear of the numerous times each has tried, failed, yet got up again to keep going, often going on to do some great things.

Walt Disney was turned down 302 times before he got financing for his dream of creating the “Happiest Place on Earth”. Today, due to his persistence, millions of people have shared ‘the joy of Disney’. Colonel Sanders spent two years driving across the United States looking for restaurants to buy his chicken recipe. He was turned down 1,009 times! Probably the greatest example of persistence is Abraham Lincoln. If you want to learn about somebody who didn’t quit, look no further.

Born into poverty, Lincoln was faced with defeat throughout his life. He lost eight elections, twice failed in business and suffered a nervous breakdown.  He could have quit many times – but he didn’t and because he didn’t quit, he became one of the greatest presidents in the history of our country.

Each of these folks could have given up at any time. So could we.  I have heard a lot of frustration and anger concerning recent events in the US and around the world.  The senseless violence can make each of us so afraid that we just want to cocoon ourselves and our families in a safe place and let the world figure itself out.  I am so tired of lighting candles for special commemorations.  The latest terror acts in Nice and Brussels, the continued attacks on law enforcement officers and the widespread racial tensions have me spending a lot of time asking God for answers.  Fear is a powerful weapon.

The scripture from the gospel of Luke has two distinct pieces. First, we see this gospel’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. The disciples are confused about how to pray and Jesus gives them specific instructions with this caveat: “When you pray….”  We are to pray – we are given specific instructions to keep the lines of communication open between us and God.  We begin with acknowledging God as God as us as God’s precious children.  I think sometimes we forget that part. We cannot understand how God would allow so much hatred to rule in our world that we cannot see God as anything but a farce.  We wrestle with how to keep our children safe from those evil forces of wickedness that seem to surround us.

Perhaps we trust that God will bring good out of all this evil.  Perhaps we drop to our knees and regularly pray for those who seem to succumb to the lies of the evil one. Maybe we stop trying to play the blame game and look to the Creator of the earth and heavens – “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name.”  It starts with a change in attitude – from an attitude of fear and frustration to an attitude of faith and trust in God, and a caring for one another.

The prayer Jesus taught his disciples continues and as his disciples this applies to us as well.  We pray for God to provide for us and our families, our church family, our community, and our world.  We pray that God will forgive our sins, but only as we forgive the sins of others.  How often can we get hung up on that one?  This is one of my personal struggles – to let go of the hurts from the past and move on. Forgive those who have wronged me and as Elsa says it, just “Let it go….”  Sometimes we don’t want to let it go, because we don’t think the person we are forgiving deserves grace – do we?  Take a look at this clip from the movie, “War Room” where Miss Clara is helping Elizabeth who is in an extremely troubled marriage and is struggling to forgive her husband. [Play movie]  When we forgive others, we let go of the hurt that keeps gnawing away at us and we move to a place where our sins are forgiven as well.

If you do not believe the real enemy is alive and well in our midst, look no further than the latest news stream.  If we do not acknowledge the evil that exists in our world, or are set on placing blame on our government or our school system or video gaming, it is time to really open our eyes and see what hatred and greed and the ugliness of sin are doing to us.  “Forgive us as we forgive others who have sinned against us….”

“Lead us not into temptation…” – we have talked about this part of the Lord’s Prayer that gives some folks a bit of discomfort. Does God really lead us into temptation, or are we asking God to lead us away from the temptation we are so capable of leading ourselves into?  I can easily lead myself into my biggest areas of temptation – particularly my sugar addiction.  Yet when I have a change of attitude; when I am able to focus on working in the community garden to promote healthy eating, or when I take a day to fast from eating in order to have time for prayer and study while working to make connections for us in the community – I find I am trusting God to lead me not into my beeline toward temptation.  Perhaps this is the area we can explore in ourselves in order to become everyday Christians. Jesus called us to be disciples, and at times it is not comfortable or easy, but most definitely rewarding.

We started today with stories of persistence.  I have a couple more to share but my focus is once again on prayer.  Many of you have signed the commitment to daily prayer and scripture reading.  Starting with minimal amounts of time, I hope we find real joy in communicating openly with God. Give God your fear, frustration, anger, despair.  Give God your thanks and joy in knowing you are God’s precious children.  But let us be persistent in prayer. It takes some time for practices to become habit. Make prayer and scripture reading a habit. I hope to add some additional Bible studies in the fall that can help us wrestle with difficult scripture and topics. There are many online helps, and after the first of the year I’m looking at a focus on becoming followers of Jesus instead of just fans.

At the end of the growing season, I was hoping to host a free farmer’s market but I do not think we will get enough produce to make this happen. However, I wanted to borrow an idea from another church for a ‘Give and Take’ cart.  Those of you who grow your own foods at times end up with a lot of extras. Combining those with what we are growing out back, we can create a ‘Give and Take’ cart where folks give their excess produce, and can take what they need – all free of charge.  I’ve shared with you my first attempt to grow tomatoes when I was the only tomato eater in the house. I thought 10 plants would be enough, and needless to say everyone I know got tomatoes that year! Give of our abundance, take what we need.

I’d like to close with a couple more stories of persistence to encourage us as we continue to become more like Christ.

Michael Jordan, indisputably the greatest basketball player of all time, admitted, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. . . . I can accept failure, but I can’t accept not trying.”

Finally, consider the focus for our sermon series beginning next week.  Was he already dreaming up “The Cat in the Hat” or “Green Eggs and Ham”, when he became a household name? Theodore Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, became best known as the author of some of the funniest and most amazing children’s books ever published. His stories are full of tongue twisters and some very innovative vocabulary. But consider the fact that his first manuscript titled “And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street (1937)”, was rejected by twenty-eight publishers before Random House/Vanguard Press chose to publish it.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Seek God in prayer. Be persistent. Let us keep our focus on being followers of Christ in a broken world. Continue to shine the light of love among the darkness of hatred and despair.

Amen.                     [Inspirational stories source: www.wikipedia.com]

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