“Hold”

1 Samuel 2:1-10; Hebrews 10:19-25

Rev. Tasha Blackburn

November 18, 2018

2018 is coming to a close. You could say we are in the evening hours of the year. Of course, you know this. It is mid-November and obvious that we are coming to the end. For Christians, it is even later in the day. For our new year begins in two weeks with the first Sunday of Advent. All of this is to say that it has been a long time since we inaugurated the year’s beginning, a long time since we began.

Remember when the new year was fresh? When we had such grand hopes and plans. We even wrote some of them down as promises to keep. There was such possibility at the beginning. But as the year wore on, plans went awry and some of the promises we wrote were broken or left undone. As the days wore on even our hope faded for what this year could bring.

Life gets to that place too, our faith gets to that place: the place where it is late in the day and that first blush, the newness, is far behind us. Up until this moment we’ve relied on our own energy or talent or dogged determination to get us this far. Or we have ridden the wave of the awe and majesty we experienced the last time God drew near to us. But the day is over and it is late and what now?

This is exactly what the congregation is facing in the book of Hebrews. They have been so faithful and tried so hard and now they are running out of steam. The writer begs them to “show diligence” and “not become sluggish” (6:12). He asks them to try to pay attention so they won’t drift away (2: 1). They have been faithful throughout the long day and are now coming to realize that faith and perseverance go hand in hand. The one needs the other. For there are plenty of things that are ready to wear away their faith they had earlier in the day.

The satanic mentor Screwtape teaches his devil-in-training in C.S. Lewis’ novel The Screwtape Letters, he teaches him this: “It’s so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity…the quiet despair…the drabness which we create in their lives…all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.” It is so hard for us to persevere, so hard; because there are plenty of opportunities for our souls to be worn out by attrition. In our life, in our faith, we find ourselves trying to persevere by holding on tightly and gritting our teeth like we are gutting it out. But holding on like that is not perseverance. At least, it does not persevere our faith.

We will get closer to the way of perseverance if we remember when our faith was all new. Remember when the stories of the Bible surprised you and the only hymn you knew was the hymn most of us first knew? “Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong; they are weak but he is strong.”

Persevering in our faith is not about holding on by gritting our teeth and buckling down. Persevering in our faith is about trusting that the one doing the holding is Jesus. “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” our author writes, “for he who has promised is faithful.” Let us hold fast to hope, not because our grip is so tight on it or because we are so strong.

No. We hold fast to hope because Jesus has made promises to us and he is faithful. We don’t need to grip tighter or get stronger or know more. We need to remember that he is faithful. That he is the one doing the holding. This is the only way to persevere in our faith. It is the only way. We cannot keep ourselves there, holding on for dear life. That is the way of discouragement and shadow.

Instead, we can be honest. We can be honest with each other and ourselves about how strong we really are or how strong we really aren’t. The words of our first and favorite hymn need a bit of editing. Our faith is not: “they are weak but he is strong” it is “we are weak but he is strong.” “We are weak, but he is strong.” You know the next line don’t you? “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.” In this place, we can be honest and we can be grateful. We can be grateful because we are weak but Jesus is strong. He is the one doing the holding.

It is late in the year. It is late, late, late. But it is not so late that we cannot remember when the day was new. This hour is about persevering, not with our own grit but with gratitude. A hero of mine recently passed away. You will know him as well. He was Presbyterian pastor and author Eugene Peterson who wrote, among other things, The Message paraphrase of the Bible.  Remembering him, I read one of his sermons the other day. In it he talked about the dawn of creation, so early in the day. The first day in fact, when we read in Genesis that “it was evening, it was morning; the first day.”

Here is what he said about that: “And odd way to describe a day, but not if you see it as a victory of God’s light…A day is described first as the conclusion of the creative work of God…[but] does night or light have the last word? The answer is in the phrase, ‘and there was morning, one day.’…The shadows are there,” Peterson continues, “night descends upon life…sickness, death, trouble, and sorrow. But it does not have the last word: “[There was evening] and there was morning, the first day.”

Our Christian year is coming to a close. It is the evening and we are called to persevere. But not on our own. We persevere because, for God, evening is just the beginning of the day. Amen.