March 15, 2020
Limericks have gotten kind of a bad name. They can convey humor, often off color, but also real truths in 5 short lines. There is a pattern to a limerick. As I said, 5 lines with this pattern: Line 1: 7-10 syllables and this must rhyme with Line 2, also 7-10 syllables. Lines 3 and 4 have 5-7 syllables and rhyme with each other. Then Line 5 goes back to 7-10 syllables and rhymes with both lines 1 and 2.
An elderly man called Keith
mislaid his set of false teeth
they'd been laid on a chair,
he'd forgot they were there
Sat down and was bitten beneath.
I found that on the internet. My sermon will be sprinkled with limericks, a couple original to me. So here's my first one:
Our church family is Presbyterian,
Tunes- our pastor can carry none,
so his songs are a problem,
but his jokes are all awesome,
So his sermons are such very fun.
I headed this direction because a couple years ago, the publisher of The Christian Century, Peter Marty, wrote a few limericks for Lent. He both asked and answered the question about the propriety of using limericks in the body of a limerick:
Are limericks suited to Lent?
Yes indeed, in both form and intent;
They're a well-designed ploy
to bring insight and joy,
with a final uplifting event.
Boast in hope is listed first, but let's save that for last. Let's boast in God first. And it is not too hard to understand this idea. We read in other writings of Paul the fact that it is not our goodness or righteousness which makes us worthy; it is all of God. I think of Ephesians, “ 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” But we can, and we should boast in what God has done for us.
Now we come to the second boast: “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings....” Now who boasts in their suffering? Although I had lunch with Dottie last week and overheard the group of seniors at the other table discussing their ailments.
"My arms have got so weak I can hardly lift this cup of coffee," said one.
"Yes, I know," said another. "My cataracts are so bad; I can't even see my coffee."
"I couldn't even mark an 'X' at election time because my hands are so crippled," volunteered a third.
"What? Speak up! What? I can't hear you,” said one elderly lady.
"I can't turn my head because of the arthritis in my neck," said one of them, to which several nodded weakly in agreement.
"My blood pressure pills make me so dizzy!" exclaimed another.
"I forget where I am, and where I'm going," said another.
"Well, count your blessings," said one woman cheerfully. "Thank God we can all still drive."
Not what Paul had in mind here. But he does kind of speak of a journey. His journey starts with suffering. But as we read, the final destination is hope. “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Not all good things come easily or quickly. Suffering produces endurance. I looked up its definition, “the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.” There are plenty of things in life that are unpleasant, difficult, ugly or hurtful that may make us want to give way. The loss of a job, the loss of a spouse, a diagnosis of cancer or Alzheimer's, living with depression or kidney disease, unexpected expenses, children or grandchildren suffering, surgery gone wrong... all things we are facing right here today in our church family. No one asks for suffering, but Paul tells us we can boast of what we go through because of where it leads us; to endurance. In Corinthians Paul wrote this about that, “ God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” So turn to God in your suffering, claim this promise of Paul, seek God's way to endure hardship. Pray for the strength to endure.
Paul's next step on this journey—still not hope, but character. I also looked this up in the dictionary and there are quite a few meanings but the one that matches Paul's meaning best is this: “moral excellence and firmness.” The Greek word for character is dokimane which simply means proof. Character is living in such a way that you prove daily that what you say is what you do; your life is proof that what you believe is how you live. Instead of a bible verse, I wrote another limerick about character:
Our character is about being true,
true to what God calls us to do.
It's being honest and fair;
showing others of God's care--
but it doesn't grow without a tear or two.
Helen Keller is a name we all grew up knowing but I'm not sure today's generation knows who she is. She was a woman of high character, but it didn't come easy. She said this, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
It is normal to seek to live without going through the trials we read about. But generally speaking, there are no shortcuts to moral character. We will be tested and the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.
Paul wrote that hope is the final destination of these effects. “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” What is our hope? Why do we need hope? And what is that hope to be based upon? Paul has written of hope in his other letters. A couple verses I find helpful here,1 Timothy 4:10-11 “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” Our hope is set on the living God, the very one who saves us through the life and resurrection of Jesus. Why? “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:2-4) And even our gospel gives a glimpse of the hope we seek. Jesus promised the Samaritan woman the gift of salvation. His encouragement for her is to “replace every broken moment with the hope only Christ can give.”1 We hope because we proclaim the resurrection of Jesus, we hope because that victory over death brings with it the promise of an inheritance, an inheritance in heaven for you! And what do we base our hope on? As a lawyer would point out, asked and answered. Our hope is based on nothing less, than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
And even though I said the destination was hope, Paul doesn't end there; “hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” God's love is at the root of all our hope. And love is the basis upon which our hope, character, endurance must be based. And God's love sent Jesus to earth to demonstrate that love as well as becoming our advocate. Jesus walked this same world in which we walk. He experienced the same things we experience: loss of loved ones, the sufferings of the sick, lack of money and food, even the fear of suffering. But he lived in hope, trusting the God of love. Jesus is our example, our guide and our companion as we suffer; as we travel the road to hope.
And so how can we boast in anything but God's goodness? My last limerick:
Alex is Jeopardy's host of,
intelligence he has the most of
But we in the pews
As Christians we choose
God is the one that we boast of.
As we enter our third week of Lent, remember that this journey leads to the cross. But the journey doesn't end there; it ends in resurrection! Our Lenten journey doesn't end in sorrow and death. It ends with Easter. One last limerick, this one again from Peter Marty:
Here's the question that Easter time begs;
is it all about candy and eggs?
No the point to be praised,
is that Christ has been raised
and death taken down a few pegs.
And that's why we live in hope, Christ is raised from the dead, sin and death are taken down more than a few pegs, they are defeated for all time! That truth gives us hope in the struggles of life. May this God of hope walk with us along our Lenten path. May we know the hope that is ours as God's children. And may we live in the knowledge and assurance of God's love as we live faithfully our call as disciples, as servants, and peacemakers. Amen.
Hymn: Song of Hope 432 PH (twice)
1Tyesha S. Rice quoted in These Days March 11 2020