Being Persistent in the Faith
“In those days,” is a phrase that sticks out from Jeremiah’s vision of God’s intention to bring into being a new community, one that is bound together not by a covenant written on stone tablets, but on human hearts. “In those days” carries a future tense, a sense that God is up to something, and that God will bring this “plan” to fruition. Theologians call this kind of talk “eschatology.” Eschatology has to do with so-called “last things,” but it entails much more than wrapping up things at the end. Instead, it is a conversation about the promise that stands out front of us as people of God.
As I read these three texts together, seeking a sense of what they might have to say to us today, the word “persistence” stands out. You will find the word explicitly used in the 2nd letter to Timothy, a letter written by an experienced pastor to a younger one, seeking to offer a word of encouragement to someone who is struggling with the demands of guiding a community of faith in the direction he (I’m assuming the pastor is a male due to the times) believes God is leading. Jeremiah has a similar job – announcing to a people living in exile that God is with them, and that God is going to do a new thing in and for them.
God will, Jeremiah says, “sow the house of Israel and the hose of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals” (Jeremiah 31:27). Yes, the God who plucked up and destroyed will replant the houses of Israel and Judah. But, the time is not yet present, because the message remains “in those days they shall no longer say.” The time is coming, but is not yet. The unstated request is that they remain persistent, until that time in which the new covenant is established, and then they shall again be God’s people. Then, they’ll no longer have to teach one another to know the Lord, for everyone will know the Lord and their “iniquity” will be forgiven and they shall sin no more. The time is coming, but is not yet, and yet, that the word is announced is suggestive that the recipients of this word should start living as if the promised age has already been established.
In Luke’s gospel, we have this parable, in which a woman comes to a judge seeking justice against her opponent. We don’t know what the issue is. Perhaps the opponent is seeking to evict her from her home, because as a widow with no visible means of support she’s unable to pay her rent. Maybe the opponent is a family member who has taken control of her assets and is robbing her. The judge, whose tenure on the bench seems so secure that he is unconcerned about how the public deems him, sees no point in acting on her request. After all, she’s just a widow. Why bother? But the woman is persistent. She keeps knocking on his door, perhaps even camping out in front of his office, until the judge finally relents and grants her requests. The judge doesn’t act because it’s the right thing to do or because he’ll gain greater respect from the community or even God, but so that the widow will go away. Well, Jesus says, if a judge will do such a thing due to the persistence of this widow; then surely God, who is just and merciful, will grant us justice without delay. Of course, there’s a caveat at the end – one that again points to the future – when the son of Man arrives, will he find faith present in those who claim to be the children of God? In other words, is their persistence in the things of God?
All of this leads to the text I’ve decided to focus on in my preaching this coming Sunday – the piece from 2 Timothy. In this passage, the older pastor, the mentor of the younger pastor, writes a word of encouragement to one who is struggling to lead a beleaguered community of faith into God’s future. The word is “be persistent whether the time is favorable or not.” Indeed, the pastor writes that the younger leader should keep in mind the impending appearing of God and God’s kingdom, and so in that spirit be consistent in proclaiming the message of God, convincing, rebuking (oh a word that we’d just as soon leave out of the conversation), and encourage the people – with patience! Persistence is needed because not everyone is ready to hear the word that the pastor had learned from the scriptures, a word passed on not only by this pastor, but others who understood the things of God, and had offered this guidance, so that this young pastor might be proficient and equipped for every good work.
Yes, be persistent in the things of God and carry out your ministry fully. Do so knowing that God is at work in the world, bringing into existence the realm of God, the place in which people will in due time know God and thus no longer need instruction (including those rebukes mentioned in 2 Timothy).
By Bob Cornwall
Bob Cornwall is Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Troy, MI and Editor ofSharing the Practice, the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy. Holder of a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, he loves to write, having authored several books, with a book on the Lord’s Prayer due out in November. Besides contributing to this blog, he writes nearly every day at his personal blogPonderings on a Faith Journey, as well as contributing regularly to the Christian Century blogTheolog.