The late Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer, described his efforts to promote his new product: “So we went to Atari and said, ’Hey, we’ve got the amazing things, it’s even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pau our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, “no.” So when we went to Hewlett-Packard and they said, “Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.”
Just as certain was Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp, who, in 1977, said: “There is no reason for an individual to have a computer in their home.”
The New York Times may be flagship paper of the nation, but it’s not always on top of things as evidenced by this 1939 pronouncement: “The problem with television is that the people must sit and keep their eyes glued to a screen…the average American family hasn’t time for it.”
The great thinkers of the world, the inventors, innovators, the revolutionaries, the mystics, the dreamers have always met with rejection, failure and resistance. All these things that we know take for granted, that form the fabric of our modern life – the telephone, electricity, oil, movies, television, computers == even the fact that we are gathered and worshipping according to our conscience, all these concepts were met with resistance and skepticism when first brought forth. It can’t be done. It’s inconceivable. Yet here we are, benefiting from the dreams, courage and creativity of those who have gone before us.
Faced with such odds, these men and women didn’t give up. They believed in what they were going and were not deterred by rejection. They devoted their energies to supporting what they believed was right and true. They were committed.
Commitment and perseverance are keys to success. Not just secular success, but to our spiritual development. As we have discussed all this month, we can have mercy, faith and gratitude, but without commitment our efforts are haphazard, erratic, we end up with mixed results. We have a choice: faced with delay, failure, or resistance, do we cave in or do we redouble our efforts, dig in and stay committed? It makes the difference between a stagnant church and one that strives. It is the difference between a life led by the rule of playing it safe versus a life driven by vision and purpose.
Commitment is a dirty work with some churches. People can’t commit the way they used to. In bygone days, a Church like Union would be packed to overflowing on Sunday. Sunday was sacred: no soccer games, extracurricular activities or shopping malls to compete with the holy hour. That’s all gone. Do we lament this, judge people for making other choices than showing up for worship, figure out who’s the last guy out to turn off the lights -- or -- do we turn to the visionaries who ask us, who said we had to worship at 10 or 11 on Sundays? Where is that written in stone? Who said we had to follow this order of worship, use only certain kinds of music? Who said the pews had to be set this way, facing the chancel? Who said the preacher, choir and organist had to be set apart from the people? Will lightening strike if we did things differently? What about social media? What about home groups? Groups that meet in coffee hours, diners, parks or bars? We are faced with this question: are we committed to externals and form: worshipping at 11:00am – or are we committed to Jesus Christ, who went where the people were? Is our commitment to our comfort, our habits, or to an evolving 21st century Church so we can authentically minister to God’s people?
Our texts today illustrate commitment in the face of change and obstacles. The prophet Jeremiah acknowledges that God made a covenant with the people of Israel, a covenant in tablet if we recall, revealed after they left the land of Egypt. A covenant that included the Ten Commandments and additional rules for community life as the people of Israel prepared to settle the land of Canaan. Nine centuries later, Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant, a covenant not written on stone, but written on the people’s hearts. “They shall know me, from the least to the greatest” the Lord declares, “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” God was making a change. The old ways weren’t working. Did God meet resistance? Nay-sayers? People who clung to their old habits? Of course! But that did not stop God. God stayed committed to his people – to us –and Jesus came. Did Jesus meet with resistance? With people who subverted his message, who sought to destroy him rather than follow him? Yes. But that didn’t stop Jesus. Jesus stayed the course. He remained committed to mercy, gratitude and faith in the vision of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus tells us a story about perseverance and commitment – to not lose heart. Jesus talks about a widow and an unjust judge, a judge who had no scruples and cared only for himself. Widows were the most vulnerable people in Jesus’ day. To make matters worse: women’s behavior in general was extremely limited in ancient times, much like it is in very traditional societies today. Unmarried women were not allowed to leave the home of their father. Married women were not allowed to leave the home of their husband. They were normally restricted to roles of little or no authority. They could not testify in court. They could not appear in public venues. They were not allowed to talk to strangers. They had to be doubly veiled when they left their homes. So, as a woman with no man to speak for her, she would have been walled behind her veil and widow’s weeds.
Since women married in their early teens, widows were numerous and not necessarily old. Widows were often treated almost as property. They were left with no means of support unless they had a male, adult child. If her husband left an estate, she would be at the mercy of the person who took care of the estate often inviting abuse. Widows were the poorest of the poor. Widows were often sold as slaves for debts. The widow simply put, had no rights.
Remarkably, Jesus tells a story that would be unheard of – fantastic even – for his day. A widow who dared to have a voice? Who dared make a claim? This widow had no male intermediary to state her case to the judge. She stated her own case. She dared go out into the public area. For as many times as she was put off, she pushed back. She refused to be put down. She didn’t stop. She was relentless. She refused to be kicked to the curb. She fought and fought and fought for what she believed in, until finally she wore out this unscrupulous judge. He ruled in her favor just to get rid of her. Who ever heard of such a thing?
Jesus tells us this remarkable story to get us to stop and think: if this lowly widow – not a Steve Jobs, or like Television inventors A.A. Campbell-Swinton and Boris Rosing – could remain committed to her cause and win, despite all that was stacked against her – how much will we, children of the Most High God, be heard? Are we as persistent as her? Are we committed justice and willing to fit for it? Are we committed, like Jesus was, to awakening in people the spiritual laws God has place in their –our – very hearts? In an age when commitment doesn’t hold the value it once did, when it’s easier to give up, hold in, it’s time we reclaim the habits of devotion, to undergo hardship, to hold fast – because sharing God’s love and justice is worth our time. It’s worth our talents. It’s worth giving it all.
Theodore Roosevelt advises us with this insight: “” There is a great danger in our time of succumbing to mediocrity not through incompetence or a lack of integrity but simply from a lack of genuine commitment. To live without such commitment is to live in that “gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” Luke’s widow, who faced more obstacles than we can ever know, is a model of the spiritual habit of commitment. To take our faith, take our gratitude, take our mercy and express it in this world of ours. So what if people laugh. So what if people ridicule. So what if people argue. So what if people take advantage. Because what matters is stand for something good, and true, and eternal – like that widow did -- like Jeremiah did – like Jesus did. It only works if we chose to commit. Because what we commit to is bigger than ourselves. It is beyond our individual, even our collective efforts to bring about. Our commitment is needed – and it makes the difference between a mediocre life – and a life of vision and purpose.
Perhaps commitment is best understand as the martyr Archbishop Oscar Romero once put it in prayer: “It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.” And that takes commitment.
That’s the essence of commitment. We make a commitment; and our commitment makes us -- the church, this congregation, become the living vision of God. It is right there, written on our hearts. God’s law of love. Isn’t that worth fighting for? Is that worth staying the course? In doing so, from least to the greatest, we will know the Lord. Amen.