“Perseverance is the hidden virtue that moves us forward to enable us to do what is hard. Perseverance keeps us going when we are stumbling in the dark,” said the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde at the 9:15 a.m. Friday, July 1, morning worship service in the Amphitheater.
Her sermon title was “The Hidden Virtue of Perseverance,” and the Scripture reading was Luke 18:1-8.
Budde cited Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as secretary of state from 1997 to 2001: a person who persevered. Albright said she was well into adulthood before she could become what she became, but she hurried to catch up.
Albright was a wife, mother, volunteer and already spoke Czech, German and English when she decided to study Russian. She said her life was like doing a jigsaw puzzle with pieces from several puzzles at the same time with no picture to guide her. Albright acknowledged that lives are untidy and uneven, and it took her 25 years of work to become an overnight success.
“Much of the work of perseverance is hidden,” Budde said. “We have to make mistakes and pick ourselves up after the mistakes and move on.”
“I believe we can recognize truth when we see it, just not at first and not without ever relenting in our efforts to learn more,” Albright wrote in her memoir, Prague Winter. “This is because the goal we seek, and the good we hope for, comes not as some final reward but as the hidden companion to our quest. It is not what we find, but the reason we cannot stop looking and striving, that tells us why we are here.”
Budde acknowledged that for some people perseverance comes naturally, but not for her. She had modest aptitude in many things but did not know how to practice and fail, learn and start again.
“I did not do well in high school and panicked when I got to college. I worked long hours with little to show for it,” Budde said. “In seminary, someone finally taught me the rudiments of writing that my children learned by eighth grade.”
When Budde became the rector of a small, struggling church in Minneapolis, she found the church of her dreams, but it quickly became “the struggle of every waking hour.” There were no dramatic moments, but slow steady work.
“I worked to build trust, keep the roof from leaking and try to find something inspirational to say each Sunday. I made mistakes and learned again and again. I did what I did not want to do,” she said. “I learned that there is a body of materials to master, but equally important is heart.”
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus told a parable about an unjust judge and widow who hounded that judge for justice.
“These people were not saintly or particularly admirable,” Budde said. “They represent grit and dogged effort. They encourage us so we don’t lose our hearts. Life is hard; there are disappointments, but perseverance helps keep our heart energy.”
Praying a lot or trying to pray really hard is not enough. Prayer requires learning the basics so that it stretches the heart and the heart’s capacity grows.
Peter Gomes, former Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard University, preached a sermon about Ernest Gordon, whose memoir of being a prisoner of war, To End All Wars, became the movie “Bridge on the River Kwai.”
Gordon said that after first being captured, the prisoners were diligent in reading the Bible and singing hymns. But as they became disillusioned and realized that they couldn’t expect God to save them, they stopped those practices. But Gordon sensed a new spirit in the camp when he witnessed people who were making sacrifices in their lives for others.
“Faith is not what they believed in but what they did for others when it seemed like there was nothing to do,” Budde said.
She asked: Does God need us to persevere? “To pray for healing takes a long time. Peace comes at a high cost, and justice is hard-won. It takes generations.”
Budde referred to the Serenity Prayer, written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the most influential theologians in the mid-20th century. The first part of the prayer says “God, grant me the Serenity / To accept the things I cannot change / Courage to change the things I can, / And Wisdom to know the difference.”
Elisabeth Sifton, Niebuhr’s daughter, wrote a memoir about the Serenity Prayer titled The Serenity Prayer: Faith in Times of Peace and War. Sifton described her father and his contemporaries as people with high spirits and dedicated hearts, who worked hard and were so loving, but who knew that what needed to be accomplished could not be done within a human lifetime.
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope,” Niebuhr wrote in his book The Irony of American History. “Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”
Jesus, Budde said, did not just come to die. He came to teach, heal, and touch people he was not supposed to touch, anger the authorities, and love his enemies to the point of death.
“Our call to take up our cross daily is part of a larger arc of the grace of God at work,” Budde said. “Our stories may be about the dramatic points, but our lives are really about the small moments. It is the small decisions when we are slogging through that are the perseverance that keeps us going.”
She closed her sermon with a story about a young girl who received a present from her grandfather: a paper cup with some dirt in it. The grandfather told her to give the cup a little bit of water every day. Some days she would remember, and some days she would forget. Occasionally, she had already gone to bed when she would remember to water the cup and would get out of bed to go and water it. She thought about giving the cup back to her grandfather.
Three weeks later, she looked in the cup and saw two green leaves; a plant had grown. She showed it to her grandfather, who said, “Life is everywhere and blessings are hidden in unlikely places.” The girl asked, “And all it needed was water?” The grandfather replied, “No, your faithfulness.”
The Rev. George Wirth, retired senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, presided. Gretchen Castle, a fifth-generation Chautauquan and Friend of the Week (chaplain) at the Quaker House, read the Scripture. Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and holder of the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organ, played “Air” from Suite No. 1, by Florence Price. The Motet Choir sang “Seek Ye First,” text from Matthew 6:31-33 and Psalm 23:6, with music by Marques L.A. Garrett under the direction of Stafford. For the postlude, Stafford played “Toccata,” from Charles-Marie Widor’s Symphony for Organ No. 5. Support for this week’s services was provided by the Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund. To obtain copies of the liturgies used in morning worship, contact the Department of Religion at firstname.lastname@example.org.