A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, August 2, 2015
Jonah 1:17-2:10 CEB
Jonah’s testimony, “my endurance was weakening” (2:7 CEB), is a feeling many of us, no doubt, have been able to identify with every now and again. I chose the Jonah passage as today’s reading, and specifically the Common English Bible rendering of it, because I love the way that one particular verse is translated. And I love the human emotion that is depicted in it.
Now, I have given sermons on Jonah in the past, and the intent of today’s sermon is not to get into questions about the factuality of the story, the question about miracles, or the author’s overall purpose in writing the book of Jonah. I covered most of that in my sermon titled “Jonah: The Tale Behind the Fish,” which, by the way, is included in my sermon collection, Light from the Hill. But as the author of this little book paints the picture, the prophet Jonah—as he struggles within the fish’s belly—finds himself growing weaker, getting more and more discouraged, perhaps in danger of losing hope, and feeling his sense of endurance ebbing away. So what I would like to do is look at this part of the story metaphorically.
As already noted, many of us can relate and recall a time when we felt our endurance weakening, ebbing away. For some, it may mean thinking back in time for several years. For others, it may be not so long ago. Life, and the demands and pressures of life, can sometimes wear us down. The pressures of job or profession; the financial demands of our times, when it is hard to make ends meet, even with both partners working; chronic pain or prolonged treatments that suck the life right out of you; weeks or months of being the caregiver for a loved one. Unexpected troubles—for some, it seems, one after the other—tend to chip away at our resolve and endurance.
So like the character Jonah, we may sometimes feel that we have been cast into the deep; that we are fighting one boisterous wave after another; that we are drifting aimlessly and getting nowhere.
In the scriptures, by the way, the word translated “endurance” in more traditional versions like the King James Version can mean to be able, to hold up, to bear up, or to stand strong. Life situations can test our endurance, as we all know. So when we find our endurance weakening, what can we do? Well, not to be too simplistic, but maybe a few suggestions would be in order.
When life tests our endurance, we need to be sure we are taking proper care of ourselves. We need to eat right—eat enough and eat healthy foods, and not just fill ourselves with sugar or junk foods. We need to be sure to get enough exercise. I have found that a brisk nature walk always gives me a boost. We need to get the proper amount of rest and sleep as well. And we need to take time to play or express our creativity through some hobby we love.
Secondly, when we find our endurance weakening, we need to let ourselves lean on others who love and care for us and are more than ready to support us. As that old pop song of the ‘70s by Bill Withers aptly put it, “We all need somebody to lean on.” In fact, most of the words of the song are quite appropriate for today’s topic. You might go to the Internet and Google it.
Third, when we find our endurance tested, we may find that we have within ourselves unrealized strength and resources we didn’t even know we had. Maybe it is the way we are designed.
And when we find our endurance waning, we certainly don’t want to let go of the hope of a better day to come. Hope is the lifeblood—perhaps at times the life support—of the suffering and oppressed. Hope is like a tree’s root system that enables that tree to hold on and endure when being unmercifully tossed about by the wind. Hope is like the solidly-anchored pilings of a beach house that raise it up and hold it fast and enable it to endure during a hurricane. Yes, hope is like all of these things and more that helps us to hold on when we feel our endurance waning.
Last week I spoke of some of the spiritual lessons and inspiration I gained in Zion National Park. If I may, I would like to share another bit of inspiration I gained during our visit to Arches. Arches was our first destination, as we set out to experience Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks, as they are called. We longed to see and photograph for ourselves those iconic red sandstone arches that have graced untold calendars, greeting cards, coffee table books, and more. Our first hike was to the popular Windows Arches, a close cluster of three arches that are easy to get to and photograph. From the parking lot, the North Window and Turret Arches are easily seen. But you have to hike past the North Window and over a slight hill in order to see the South Window and realize that the two are part of the same structure. I learned from another photographer that if you stand in one particular spot on the south side of Turret Arch, you can capture all three arches in one photograph.
The North and Turret Arches are such that you can walk right up to them and peer through to the great expanses on the other side. You can also stand directly under the North Window and Turret Arches and stare up at the age-old natural structure, which I did, capturing a few photographs while focusing directly above.
As I stood under those massive sandstone arches, they spoke lessons to me, both spiritual and deep. One of those lessons had to do with endurance. Those iconic sandstone arches have endured for thousands, maybe even millions, of years, withstanding the forces of wind and rain, violent storms and lightning, and God alone knows what else. Those arches became a symbol and encouragement to me of endurance; and the ability of the human spirit to endure through the difficult storms of life. For when you stop to think about those arches, you realize they span several feet with nothing but air and empty space underneath them. They really are in quite a precarious situation. And yet, they endure through storms and time. They find strength and support in the two ends where they touch the ground, as well as in their unique design. So it can be with the human spirit.
And so, while sitting in the In Reach Committee meeting the week after we returned from Utah, I was inspired to take a couple of our Arches photographs and create note cards to share with our members who are going through difficult times as an encouragement to endurance. And we do have a number of members who have, and are, facing prolonged challenging circumstances. And who may feel their sense of endurance being tested. I, perhaps better than anyone else, know how many members we have who are enduring challenging situations.
So, when we, like the character Jonah, feel that our endurance is weakening, let us not give up so quickly. May we try to remember to take proper care of both our bodies and our spirits; let us lean on those around us who love and care for us; let us draw on those hidden resources that may surface only when called upon to do so; and may we never let go of hope that an end to our trouble may be in sight and a better day is coming. May we remember the arches that have stood through storms and time—encouragements to endurance. Amen.