Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
August 28, 2016
“Patience and Persistence in the Pursuit of Wellbeing and Justice”
Psalm 40: 1, 7-15 – Common English Bible
From the rising of the sun to where it sets,
God, the Lord God, speaks,
calling out to the earth.
7 “Listen, my people, I will now speak;
Israel, I will now testify against you.
I am God—your God!
8 I’m not punishing you for your sacrifices
or for your entirely burned offerings,
which are always before me.
9 I won’t accept bulls from your house
or goats from your corrals
10 because every forest animal already belongs to me,
as do the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every mountain bird;
even the insects in the fields are mine.
12 Even if I were hungry, I wouldn’t tell you
because the whole world and everything in it already belong to me.
13 Do I eat bulls’ meat?
Do I drink goats’ blood?
14 Offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving!
Fulfill the promises you made to the Most High!
15 Cry out to me whenever you are in trouble;
I will deliver you, then you will honor me.”
 Long ago in Ethiopia, a woman married a widower who had a son. She was thrilled because she had always longed to have a child. But the child refused her affection. “You’re not my real mother,” he would say. He turned away from her every attempt to offer kindness. He refused to eat what she cooked. He tore his clothes so she would have to mend them, just to aggravate her.
The woman despaired of what to do so she decided to seek the help of an old hermit who lived on the mountain. “Make me a potion so that my stepson will love me,” she begged.
“Sure, of course,” he said. “Just bring me the ingredients.” He listed what he needed and concluded by saying, “And here is the most important and most difficult ingredient of all. You must bring me the whisker of a living lion.”
The woman gulped at the thought of that, terrified, but she was determined not to give up. That night, as her family slept, she crept out of the village to the edge of the desert carrying a bowl of meat. She knew there was a big lion who lived near some rocks a distance away. She walked by the light of the moon as far as she dared. When she heard his roar, she dropped the bowl and ran home.
The next night, again she sneaked from the house with a bowl of meat. She walked even further toward the rocks until she could see the form of the lion in the distance. She set the bowl down and ran home.
Every night she drew a little closer than the night before; each time setting the bowl down and running back home. Every night the lion ate what she left behind.
Finally, one night after many weeks, she placed the bowl on the ground and stepped back but did not run away. She watched the lion come slowly forward and eat from the bowl. The next night she set the bowl down but did not move away. The lion came forward slowly and began to eat. She reached out and stroked his fur. He purred like a cat, albeit a 500 pound one. “Thank you, dear friend,” she said as she kept stroking him. And then carefully, she snipped a whisker from his chin. She moved away slowly and then ran all the way to the hermit’s hut.
“Here!” she exclaimed. “Here’s the whisker of a living lion.” She beamed with pride. The hermit took the whisker and examined it carefully. And then through it in the fire.
“What have you done,” she cried. “That whisker was for the love potion. You don’t know what I’ve gone through to get it and come back alive! It took me months.”
He asked “Can the love and trust of a child be harder to obtain than that of a wild beast?”
The woman returned home, and slowly, with love and patience, won the trust and love of her stepson.
Mindee and I discussed what made this story resonate for her. We agreed: Whether it’s in Ethiopia long ago or Colorado today, people want quick solutions and instant gratification. The story, instead, encourages patience. It ends by saying, “slowly, with love and patience, she won the love and trust of her stepson.”
But certainly along with patience, the story counsels persistence.
When I’m working on a sermon it’s often like conducting an investigation, pursuing leads that may or may not go somewhere helpful, interesting or relevant. Google is my investigative friend. I thought, “I wonder what I’ll find if I google patience and persistence.” What I found was interesting, though whether it’s helpful or relevant always remains an open question.
I found at the top of my search an article called “The 4 P’s of Entrepreneurship: Patience, Persistence, Perseverance, and Passion.” I like the addition of passion. In fact, the woman in the story definitely had passion – her desire to have a relationship with her stepson. Why else would you dare to approach a lion?
Other articles expanded on variations of the letter P, adding to patience and persistence the words perspiration and progression. Another said “Be positive, patient, and persistent.” All good ideas.
But Americans are not just impatient, we are constantly pressured to produce. Quick solutions and instant gratification are not just personality flaws. They are pressures we place on ourselves because they’ve been placed on us. The pressure even of perfection.
Businesses place pressure on employees to produce ever increasing results to boost their profits. Parental leave, vacations, and the care of family members are impediments to such results. Even, some would argue, a minimum wage. Rather, the demand on employees is to work longer hours, check emails at home, write reports at night, and use as few vacation days as possible (assuming you have any to begin with) – all done with fewer resources and stagnant pay. Otherwise you may be seen as expendable and, if you’re seeking a more balanced life, welcomed to look elsewhere.
Teachers, administrators, and school boards are pressured to produce better test results – resulting in students pressured by ever heavier loads of homework. With all that, who’s got time for daydreaming?
I read page one – the publisher’s page – of The Christian Century magazine on Friday morning, despite the mounting pressure to produce a sermon as quickly as I could. The first line of the first paragraph read “On an average day in America, ten churches permanently close their doors.” Gee, thanks, I thought. No pressure there! Don’t be too patient or you’ll be next. But, doesn’t the story we read also suggest that if you push too hard, you could be eaten by a lion.
Even retirement has become a race to see who can keep busier. Do any of you who have retired feel the freedom to be patient?
We have a problem. And perseverance, passion, perspiration, progression and positivity will not fix it when the underlying issue is rest. Who has time to rest? Not just those who are sleep-deprived, but all who’s soul is weary, who’s mind won’t cease from the scenarios of doom if we don’t work hard enough.
The Psalmist asks a good question in Psalm 50. What, to what, and for what, should we sacrifice? While the people busily offered burnt offerings and sacrifices, God said “I will not accept bulls from your house or goats from your corrals. Do I eat bulls’ meat? Do I drink goat’s blood? No, instead, offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving.”
What should we offer? What do we offer at the altar of, let’s say, success? What do we offer at the altar of quick solutions and instant gratification? We sacrifice sanity and wellbeing. We sacrifice peacefulness and health. We often sacrifice our families. When we bring our work home, we shut everything else out in order to be productive, including spouses, children, and permission to be a sloth once in a while. Here’s to a little more slothfulness in our lives!
The end of the section of the Psalm that Jess read says “Cry out to me whenever you are in trouble.” God said, “I will deliver you.” Which will require patience because God moves in God’s time, not ours. A day in God’s sight is a thousand years.
Patience, rest, sanity, wellbeing – a different set of standards with which to measure success in our lives. A set of hard choices.
Our new Conference Minister for the UCC in Colorado, Utah and southern Wyoming was once an executive on the rise at Mobil Oil. She quit one day when she realized her life was meant for more than that. She just didn’t know what. She didn’t have plans for anything else, just a realization that she had had enough. It wasn’t because she had a call to ministry. That was an unexpected result years later. Today, ironically, travelling a three state region to visit and help churches means she is home less often, but the measure of her sacrifice comes from thanksgiving to God and not profit for her company. That may be a message for someone else here today.
On the other hand, what kind of progress for social change has come from being more patient? Who among us is that privileged? Did women earn the right to vote from waiting? Did gays and lesbians win the right to marry from patience? Will Black Lives start to Matter because everyone has waited long enough for the realization to sink in? How long must refugees wait in overcrowded camps? When will we all have health care and the poor make a living wage?
One of the most compelling things Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said was “Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men [and women] willing to work to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
“Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability.” Waiting is the tactic of those who don’t want the kind of change that expands and includes but rather the continuation of that which divides and excludes.
Last month I suggested to our Coordinating Team that we engage the services of Rev. Tawana Davis and Rev. Dawn Riley Duval to work with our church to engage more deeply for the cause of racial justice. Asked when, I said, “We can make a case for it in our budget for 2017 and start in February.” Enmasse they said, it must be done now. “But we don’t have money in the budget.” They insisted we cannot afford to wait.
So next month we are embarking on a six month journey – Soul2Soul – through a mini-retreat and a series of workshops that create a space to address imbedded thoughts and beliefs and awareness of systems of privilege that can move us to combat racism, intentionally and effectively. Interestingly, when asked to describe what our experience together will be like, I was told, “The common thread will be spirituality, mindfulness, love beyond measure, peace in the midst of, transformation, and liberation.” That sounds remarkably like patience and persistence from one of the local founders of Black Lives Matter.
On the other hand, we can no longer afford patience with our Women’s Homelessness Initiative. It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done together as a church. But we have a big problem. We have tried to be patient and encourage people to be an overnight angel. The whole point of the program is to actually provide a safe place to sleep. But during August, Karen and Mark had to stay overnight every time. They were very kind to do that. But that was it. And so, if we can’t solve the problem of enough people to share the sacrifice of staying overnight, we will have to end our participation. We can no longer afford to wait patiently. Fortunately, when we put that message into the weekly email, three women stepped forward – while I was in the middle of writing this! Does God provide? Does God deliver? Yet, the challenge will be to continue to keep that pace in October and all the months beyond. I am hopeful. But we must persist in keeping this before us.
The Psalmist invites us to ask what, to what, and for what do we sacrifice? Sometimes it calls us to sacrifice for the sake of patience in search of wellbeing. Other times it calls us to sacrifice for the sake of persistence in search of justice, otherwise known as wellbeing for our neighbor – Jesus called that “loving our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.”
Ask yourself, what is your measure of success and is it worth the price – not just paid by you but by everyone else around whom you love and who loves you? And if it’s not worth the price, then what? God said, “Cry out to me whenever you are in trouble; I will deliver you.”
Mindee Forman’s Response
When David asked me to discuss a story, a different one originally spoke to me. I liked “Old Joe and the Carpenter,” which you heard if you were here last week. I was getting ready for bed after reading the stories, and a different one kept going through my head – “The Lion’s Whisker.”
This story speaks to me in a number of aspects of my life. My daughter is about to turn 9 and has been really pushing boundaries lately with her behavior. I want to explain things to her once and have them stick, not be patient and persistent and repetitive.
As another example, I got braces a while back after needing them for 20 years, and as soon as they went on, I wanted them off and wanted to be done. Life doesn’t work that way. Moving bones takes time, and therefore, patience. Not my strong point.
The same goes for fitness – OH for a magic pill to make me the size and muscle tone I want to be, but then, the market is flooded with such false “quick fixes,” and the only thing that works is being persistent and disciplined over a length of time.
I could keep going with examples from my life…I’m sure we all could.
The thing is, if I want something to change, if I REALLY want something to change, I have to put in the work. I have to put in the time. If you really want to excel at something, author Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. That’s more than a year if you work at it 24/7 with no breaks, but who can do that? If you put in two hours every day (which is still fantastic), it would take you almost 14 YEARS to put in 10,000 hours. That’s dedication. That’s persistence. That’s REALLY REALLY wanting something.
It comes down to figuring out my priorities. How badly do I want a good relationship with my children? Or my husband? Or my neighbors? Or God? How badly do I want to see things change in my city? At my kids’ school? In my country? In the world? Am I willing to put in the work? The time? The years? I need to examine all of those things in my life and make sure my actions match what my heart and head tell me is important. And as David said, I need to be patient, persistent, passionate, and positive to make the changes. It won’t happen overnight. It won’t. But if I start today, it will happen sooner than if I start tomorrow…
I challenge my kids to be their best selves. I need to follow that advice as well, and live my priorities.
 “The Lion’s Whisker” in Doorways to the Soul: 52 Wisdom Tales from Around the World, edited by Elisa Davy Pearmain, Pilgrim Press, 1998.
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Travelling around the world