The call to perseverance seems to go through all of Scripture, and in fact one of the collects we use in worship says this: “Preserve the works of your mercy that your church throughout the world may be steadfast.”
Left to my own devices, I might give up. I might not persevere. Persevering means life is difficult, and it takes some courage, fortitude and an ability to say, “I’m going to keep moving forward no matter what”—especially when you feel like all of life is coming against you. And we often feel like that, don’t we?
That’s not new. It’s part of what it means to be human. There’s always been that sense that sometimes life goes well and sometimes life’s really hard.
And so what do you do, especially when life is difficult? You ask God to “Preserve the works of your mercy.”
I want to break that down a little bit and talk about perseverance in the light of Scripture. First, it’s important for us to understand who we are—and I mean all of us. We’re all the objects of God’s mercy. Let’s look at two aspects of what that means.
Always a Debtor
What that means is, I’m always a debtor. I’m in need for God to come and help me out even though I don’t deserve it, even though—left to my own devices—I don’t qualify for it. If I think in any way that I qualify for the mercy of God, that sets up an incredibly difficult dynamic, and it shows up in the way we treat others.
You see, if I think I qualify, that means I’m probably better than you. Right? And you know where that takes me? To being critical. And that leads right to gossip, to people talking about each other behind their backs. As Louise Penney wrote in her recent novel, A Great Reckoning, “Rumors are hard to prove, but they are even harder to disprove.”
Character assassination is easy. All it takes is a suggestion, a well-placed word in another’s ear—murdering someone’s reputation.
When that happens, it’s inevitably because the tale-bearer has a false view of himself before God. Because if I understand that I’m the object of God’s mercy, that I don’t qualify in any way for the grace that has been given to me in Jesus Christ, then I realize I’m a debtor.
Before the cross of Christ, everybody gets leveled. There are no gradations.
Before the Cross, We Stand Equal
Does that make sense? In other words, there’s no such thing as “sort of bad” sins and “really wicked” sins. We think that way because that’s how our system of justice operates. But before the cross, we stand equal before each other.
When God promises that something new is going to happen in the Earth, and all will know the Lord, how is that possible? “For I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
That is, in fact, what makes this Christian community possible. Because God chooses—not because we deserve it, but because He loves us so dearly and so profoundly. To look at us and say, “I love you. You’re a mess. And I don’t want to leave you that way. Repent of your sins, and I will bring mercy, and I will bring forgiveness, and you will be right with God, and you will be carried on the very promises of God to the very place of heaven when you die.”
It’s the devil who reminds you of what you did yesterday for which you still feel condemned. If you’ve said, “God, please forgive me,” it’s washed away, it’s gone.
And all of that is God. It’s God’s action. You see, if it’s left up to me, I mess up. Which is why I need his help to persevere. But the beginning of godly perseverance is an understanding that I’m a debtor to God. I don’t deserve what I have. And all of my life is nothing more and nothing less than a complete reliance upon his mercy.
If I don’t understand that, I may use someone else’s sin-struggle as an opportunity to gossip, to criticize someone else. This is why the New Testament call to walking together in unity is so critically important. Because we all want our own way, and we can be ruthless in getting what we want.
So that’s why we begin by saying, “Preserve the works of your mercy.” We never leave that place. We’re always in that position of needing and asking for the mercy of God. His mercies are literally new every morning.
If I didn’t know that was true, I’d be in a heap of trouble. So would you. But when that begins to have its way in our hearts, and we understand that we are, in fact, the work of His mercy, that inspires us to know this God, who loves us with such a profound, everlasting love. He’s the only reason we can persevere.
But there’s more to His mercy—much more. Let’s discuss it next week.
How has God’s mercy helped you persevere when times got hard? Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
(This post is an adaption of Bishop Brewer’s sermon on October 16, 2016, at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Inverness, Florida.)
Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.