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Survive, Endure, Be Grateful
October 09, 2022*
By Pastor John Partridge
Jeremiah 29:1-7 Luke 17:11-19 2 Timothy 2:8-15
Many of us, and quite likely most of us, have been through some tough times. As we noted in the last week or two, suffering is common to the human condition. Some of us started finding our way through tough times while we were still in childhood, and all of us passed through some stuff before we were far into adulthood. Cassandra Clare, in her book “City of Heavenly Fire” said, “Temper us in fire, and we grow stronger. When we suffer, we survive.” But sometimes the fire through which we passed was almost overwhelming. It was about those times that ancient Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca said, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”
But once we were on the far side of our difficulties and struggles, many of us have found that we learned something. We came away from our trials stronger, and perhaps wiser, than before. And sometimes we discovered that our suffering left other things behind within us. Ben Okri wrote that “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.” But in the middle of our suffering, we could not think about what we might learn, or gain, from it. Nick Hornby, in “How to Be Good” wrote, “You don’t ask people with knives in their stomachs what would make them happy; happiness is no longer the point. It’s all about survival; it’s all about whether you pull the knife out and bleed to death or keep it in…”
And as the prophet Jeremiah writes to the survivors of the siege of Jerusalem, a people who witnessed so much bloodshed, suffered from so much loss, were witness to the destruction of everything that they knew, and who were now in captivity in Babylon, he writes to people who feel as if they have a knife in their stomachs. Many of them are in such agony and turmoil that they are considering whether they should just stop eating until they die. And to them, Jeremiah shares a word from God. (Jeremiah 29:1-7)
29:1 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachinand the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Jeremiah’s message to the Hebrew people in Babylon was not the news that they wanted to hear, and it was not the news that their false prophets were sharing with them. God’s message to his people was, ‘You are not going home. Plan on being a Babylon for a lifetime.” Through Jeremiah, God had told the people that they would be in captivity for 70 years. But at the time that Jeremiah writes this letter to the surviving elders among the exiles, they are mourning the loss of their temple, their nation, and their way of life, but they are still hoping that God will miraculously rescue them just as the false prophets were proclaiming. But God’s message to his people is they should make plans for a life in Babylon and even pray for Babylon and her rulers because their prosperity was now tied to the prosperity of their conquerors. It wasn’t what they wanted, but now, adapting to their new reality was how they would survive.
But even knowing that they would survive, and having hope that one day, even though far in the future, that they would return to Israel, surviving until then meant finding a way to endure whatever captivity held for them in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead of them. And that kind of endurance is what Paul talks about in his second letter to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:8-15 when he says…
8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
11 Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him.
If we disown him, he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.
14 Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
Paul tells Timothy that he endures chains and imprisonment so that others might hear the good news of Jesus Christ and the gospel message. Paul was able to survive and endure because he found purpose in his mission and purpose in his imprisonment. Even in prison, Paul found a way to minister to the people around him, to offer grace to those who worked in the prison, to preach to the lawyers, judges and anyone who would listen, and to write letters of encouragement to Timothy and to the churches where he had ministered. Although Paul was chained and imprisoned, he knew that the word of God had the freedom and the power to change lives, and to rescue the people with whom he had contact.
And then we remember Jesus’ healing of the ten men who were suffering and enduring the pain and the isolation of leprosy in Luke 17:11-19 and learn another important lesson about survival and endurance.
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
We should notice that these lepers had survived and endured any way that they could. They were outcasts from their society, and they were feared and chased away everywhere that they went. But with through the kindness of family members, the charity of strangers, and by caring for one another, and working together, they had found ways to live. Hearing the stories about Jesus’ miraculous healing power, they found him and cried to him for help and for mercy. And, without touching them, or breaking any rules regarding lepers or cleanliness, Jesus sends them to the priests for the legally required examination to certify their cleanliness and healing. They believe, they obey, they are healed as they go, they are declared clean by the priest, and receive the blessing and restoration of God and the freedom for which they had so desperately hoped.
Because they were healed, we know that all ten had found faith in Jesus Christ. But, caught up in the excitement of their healing, perhaps because they so desperately wanted to go and see their families and tell everyone that they knew the story of their own personal miraculous healing, nine out of ten forgot something important. Only one, and then only the one that we should least expect, the Samaritan, the foreigner, the enemy, it is only he that returns to Jesus to say thank you. Even Jesus, filled with grace and mercy asks, “Where are the other nine?”
How often does that describe us? How often do we pray for healing, or for rescue, or for strength to survive and to endure? And, when we have received the things for which we had so hopefully and fervently prayed, how often are we so excited to get on with our lives, to get back to normal, to return to the things and the people that we loved, that we forget to return to God…
…and say, “Thank you?”
We pray that we may never face the kinds of trials, pain, sorrow, and suffering that were faced by the people of Israel in Babylon, or those endured by Paul in prison, but until they carry us out of the room feet first, we will certainly face trials through which we will suffer and endure. I am certain that we will pray and ask God for strength, patience, courage, healing, intervention, mercy, grace, and whatever else that we think that we need to survive and to endure.
And that’s a good thing.
God wants us to have faith in him. God wants us to cry out to him. God wants us to talk to him and to ask him for the things that we need.
But afterwards… after we have survived… after we have endured… let us never forget…gratitude.
All of us have stories about answered prayers. We have witnessed life giving rescue, healing, and received hope. We have been given strength to endure, been given children, money, health, jobs, promotions, protection from storms, fires, earthquakes, bullies, bosses, drunk drivers on the highway, and all sorts of other things. I am confident that if we shared our stories of answered prayer, we would be here for hours.
But when we have received the answers to our prayers, let us never forget…
… to be grateful.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.