Do Not Give Up

July 7, 2019/ Fourth Sunday after Pentecost /Richard E. Holmer

First Lesson: Isaiah 66:1-14/ Second Reading: Galatians 6:7-16/ Gospel:  Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Do Not Give Up

Fifty years ago Kent Keith was a college student at Harvard.  Those were turbulent times in our nation, and a lot of young people were eager to see some changes made.  They wanted to promote peace and civil rights for all – and to help those living in poverty.  Kent Keith was asked to write a handbook for student leaders – a resource to provide vision and structure and guidance for those who were trying to make a difference.

Years later, Keith described what he hoped to accomplish through the handbook:  “I saw a lot of idealistic young people go out into the world to do what they thought was right and good and true – only to come back a short time later discouraged or embittered or they failed to get the results they had hoped for.  I told them that if they were going to change the world, they had to really love people – and if they did, love would sustain them.  I also told them that they couldn’t be in it for fame or glory.  I said that if they did what was right and good and true, they would find meaning and satisfaction – and meaning and satisfaction would be enough.  If they had the meaning, (and the love) they didn’t need the glory.”

A key piece that Keith wrote for the student handbook is a set of guidelines that he called The Paradoxical Commandments:  (you may have heard them)

People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centered.

Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.

Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.

Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.

Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.

Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs.

Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.

Build anyway.

People really need help, but may attack you if you do help them.

Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.

Give the world the best you have anyway.

A number of years later, an author who was writing a book about Mother Teresa, visited her at her clinic in Calcutta.  While there, she noticed hanging on the wall a plaque that contained a list very similar to Keith’s 10 Paradoxical Commandments – almost identical to his original set.  The author assumed that Mother Teresa had written them – and when she included them in her book, they gained worldwide notoriety.

Although she did not write the Paradoxical Commandments, Mother Teresa certainly lived by them.  She may have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but fame was not her motivation  She went to Calcutta to serve the poorest of the poor because she felt called to do so by Jesus Christ.  Along the way she was criticized by some.  And after her death, her diary revealed that she struggled with doubt and despair.  Yet despite resistance and difficulties and doubts, she persevered in her ministry to the destitute and the dying.  She did not give up.  She chose to do good anyway.

She certainly exemplified the spirit we hear Paul describe in our reading from Galatians:

“Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ”

“Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.”

Perhaps most importantly:

“Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”

Have you ever experienced the kind of fatigue Paul is talking about – a weariness in doing what is good and right and true?  I certainly have.  It’s not so much a physical fatigue as it is a spiritual and emotional weariness.  There are moments when the “batteries of compassion” run low – and there is little energy for trying to do good in the world.  Sometimes you can’t help wondering:  Does what I’m doing really matter?  Does it make any lasting difference?  And of course there is always the temptation to think:  Enough about others – what about me?  There are days when our lot in life seems like that of Sisyphus of legend – who was doomed to spend eternity rolling a big stone up a hill- only to have it roll down to the bottom so he had to start all over again.  For all our efforts to have a positive impact, it can seem like the world doesn’t really change very much.  A person could wonder:  what’s the point of all this volunteering and serving?  The number of people with problems always outnumber the people who are willing to help.  Even Jesus said:  “The poor you will always have with you.”

You might get tired of making a sincere effort to listen and trying to understand people with whom you disagree – especially when they have no interest in understanding you.  Jesus told us to love our enemies – but that can feel like a path to burnout.  Even coming to worship can become tiresome.  Why keep showing up to confess the same sins we confessed last week?  Does anybody ever change for the better?  And so it goes:  weariness of heart and soul.

The Paradoxical Commandments urge us to do what’s good and right and true – even when it seems illogical, even when the outcome is uncertain, even when we experience resistance and criticism and fatigue:

Love them anyway!Do good anyway!Help people anyway!Give the world the best you have anyway!

How is this possible?  What’s our motivation?  Paul reminds us to keep God in the equation.  Remembering God provides two kinds of motivation:  one that’s practical and one that’s profoundly spiritual.

Paul assures us that our efforts truly do have consequences: “God is not mocked for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh (that is to purely selfish desire), you will reap corruption from the flesh, but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.”  Paul knows we are saved by faith, not by works – yet our works still matter.  Faith compels us to act in love.  And Paul assures that “we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”  It is in our own eternal interest to never give up – to keep loving and doing good, anyway.And there is a deeper and more sustaining motivation. Paul reminds us that, in the end, it’s not about what you and I are doing – it’s about what God is doing in this world. He says:  “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  Christ’s death and resurrection has changed the game.

We live, day by day, in the confidence that Christ has overcome the world – that the Love of God prevails.  They killed Jesus and buried him in a tomb – and he came to life and kept loving the world anyway!  For this reason, let us not grow weary in doing what is good and right and true.

Around the world today there are over 70 million refugees  - persons displaced from their homes by war, violence, injustice and disasters.  Many of them don’t even have a roof over their heads.  Our Sewing Group made about 20 quilts which Lutheran World Relief will deliver to refugee families.  Twenty quilts may seem like not much compared to 70 million refugees.  But I guarantee you that each family who received a quilt felt blessed to have it.  It made a difference in their lives.

Friends, I remind you that we are not called to an easy life, but to a worthy faithful life – and ultimately to eternal life.  God will sustain us in our weariness, and renew in us the joy of serving.  So we do not give up!