Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer

Revd. Heather
Sunday, August 30, 2020 - 9:30am

Habits. We all have them. Growing up we always ate fish on a Friday, and a Roast Dinner on a Sunday. Habits can be the time we get up in the morning, what we watch regularly on TV, or switching on the radio as we enter the kitchen. Habits can be the service we come to at church, the pew we sit in, or in my little one’s case – the delight of sharing the peace. Habits are things that we do often, repeatedly. Habits become engrained. 

But of course habits are not only the things that we do, but also our attitudes. I remember during lockdown there was chat at lunchtime every week day on our family WhatsApp group about Bargain Hunt. An indicator of so much leisure time! There were days when it felt like it was really rubbing it in as I was working from home with the children not in nursery. It was easy at first, I’m sorry to say for an attitude of jealousy to creep in – if only I could have 45 minutes to myself to watch TV! But that wasn’t an attitude I wanted to hold on to, to allow to become engrained. The other way of looking at it was to be pleased for them - they are enjoying an experience together via technology in the midst of their suddenly long and empty, and potentially anxiety inducing, days of furlough.   

Our reading today from St Paul’s letter to the Romans picks up from where we left off last week.  Having heard about the different gifts we all have last week that help us be the body of Christ in this place, this week, we hear about the common attitudes we should all seek to embody, regardless of our giftings. Paul goes to some lengths today, listing the marks of a Christian life – the ways in which we should seek to live. Paul mentions over twenty, and you may like to spend time reflecting on them this week. Some of the ways Paul encourages us to live sound rather straightforward: ‘love one another with mutual affection.’ That’s something most people would find it easy to get on board with, Christian or not. Yet the list that Paul presents us with suddenly gets a little more challenging, things that may need some work to become engrained as habits. I won’t go through all of them or we’ll still be here past lunchtime, but there are three that I’d like to consider: 

‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.’ Rejoice in hope… is that something we find easy? When life is going well, sure. But what about on the more difficult days? Is it habitual for us to look for the signs of hope, to rejoice in the glimmers of light in the darkness? Some years ago, when life was rather bleak – a broken relationship and living in a squalid house, I went to stay with some friends for a few days to get away from it all. As we were sat together, one pointed to the sky – look a rainbow! It was as though temporarily I was lifted up and reminded of beauty and hope. Do we have a habit of looking for hope, that is able to carry us when times are hard? Are we able to lift our eyes to see beyond the situation we currently find ourselves in? After all, hope is at the heart of our faith as Christians. Jesus’ death and resurrection, brings with it the hope that light can overcome even the darkest moments. The Jesuits have a prayer, known as the examen that encourages them to look back over the day and see the moments of consolation (of joy, of light, of hope) as well as the moments of desolation (of pain, of darkness). When might we pause in our day to reflect on hope? Rejoice in hope. 

Be patient in suffering. None of us actively seek out suffering, yet over time suffering finds its way to each one of us. It may be thought grief, illness, loss of job, loss of freedoms, or another cause. And if you’re like me, patience may not always come easily. It’s a virtue that needs cultivating: of being able to wait with God in the darkness, perhaps crying out with the Psalmist, where are you O Lord in my time of trouble. Yet also trusting with the Psalmist that God will hear, that God will answer our prayer. We have all needed patience in these past 5 months since lockdown began, as our lives have been disrupted and we long for the return of what we know so well – to be able to return to our familiar habits, and that return may be more gradual that when like. What has helped us to hold fast in God, to persevere? I remember when I was ill with M.E. a cartoon I saw said ‘every day is a day closer to recovery.’ For me those are words I hold onto in any situation that requires patience. Every day is a day closer to the situation improving. Be patient in suffering. 

And persevere in Prayer. Prayer, after all is one of the defining marks of the Christian life. It is a space in which we can come before God, bringing our hopes and our sufferings, and so many other emotions. Yet it is something that Paul encourages us to persevere in, acknowledging that like any relationship, our prayerful relationship with God takes time and effort. Once again it is something that needs cultivating as a habit. Do we make prayer a habit? Something that is as routine as cleaning our teeth, or watching our favourite TV show? For once something becomes a habit, it becomes more natural, easier to find the space and time for. One of the encouraging things these past few months has been the growing number of people joining us for daily prayer online each morning. Prayer habits can be formed in different ways, it may be about finding a certain time each day to pray. Yet it can also be that we have something that triggers a prayer to rise within us – in my last parish was situated an ambulance station, and walking in the parish with a Christian one day an ambulance came past (as they frequently did) and he told me that every time he saw an ambulance he would pray for the emergency services, and the people they were on their way to help. How can we strengthen our habits of prayer? 

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer. 

My prayer today is that over the coming months we may all continue to strengthen those habits that help us to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer. Amen.