The Grace of Perseverance
Dear Friend in Christ,
It drives my parents crazy.
Underneath the edge of the roof in their back patio, these tenacious sparrows build and re-build goopy little nests made of sticks and mud. It’s an ongoing war: the sparrows construct nests, my parents exasperatingly knock ‘em down. On and on it goes.
Not long ago I sat in the patio and looked up at the ledge, which my Dad had recently purged of a sparrow’s nest. I felt a pang of sympathy for the sparrow who built the nest, now a memory. That little feat of engineering, precision, and energy, a home for eggs and sparrow chicks…obliterated. Sorry, sparrows. Sigh.
Then a sparrow swooped in. He flew to the ledge of the white-washed overhang and stuck some mud there and flew away. I was stunned. The little bird showed no sign of bitterness. He was totally consumed by his task, starting a whole new nest, sure to be destroyed, even hours after completion. Yet he seemed perfectly happy with his labor. I sat in amazement and watched him for the next hour, as he zipped back and forth to the spot, oblivious to the impending disaster and disappointment of it all. He’d get a little mud. He’d get a little stick. Back and forth, building a new nest.
What do we do when everything falls apart? The readings this Sunday are all about that. Jesus shocks his disciples by predicting an unimaginably horrific moment of destruction in the end of the Jerusalem Temple, followed by the most violent collapse of everything they depend on: social stability (insurrections), national strength (wars), health (plagues), food (famines), family (betrayals), even the ground they walk on (earthquakes), and finally physical life itself (executions). What to do? Perseverance. Don’t be afraid. Keep going.
Get a little mud. Get a little stick.
The point is, now in the light of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, we know more clearly what Jesus is telling us: the power of God works even when—no, especially when—things seem to fall apart. Even though evil seems to win through violence, God is more powerfully at work in non-violent love. Our task is faith (“don’t be terrified!”) and love (“By your perseverance, you will save your lives.”)
Saint Paul says the same thing when he says to the Thessalonians who see the world around them collapsing and the end near, “Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food.” In other words, God is still God, even when things fall apart. He is still the Creator, always at work—and we work at his good pleasure. Panic is a sign of an unhealthy, distrusting soul. The “work” we all have is the work of the kingdom: doing tiny daily tasks of mercy, forgiveness, and generosity even when it seems hopeless.
So what do we do when things fall apart? Get a little mud, get a little stick. All our little nests get knocked down eventually, but God delights in and works through our tiny gestures of goodness. Because we who believe in the resurrection of Christ from the dead also know that the whole house—the whole universe—belongs to him. The resurrection means He hasn’t given up on us. So why should we? We’ve got nests to build today. So let’s get to work.
Truly in Christ,
Fr. John Muir