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Hanging On
August 22, 1976

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

JOHN 6:60-69

We have just sung the sanforized hymn “O, for a faith that will not shrink”, something we all need, as did the crowds who thronged about Jesus on that day. John records, as read in the New Testament lesson, “And after this, many of his disciples turned back, and would not walk with him anymore.” This was the beginning of the end—the phenomenon of disillusionment and defection of the multitude, of the crowds. At first they flocked about him, they thronged to hear him. Huge crowds were enthusiastic about his ministry. Remember the little guy named Zacchaeus who had to climb a tree. He couldn't even get a glimpse of Jesus because of the huge crowds. At another time, in a house where Jesus was sitting, there was such a huge crowd they had to carry the invalid up on the roof and lower him through the skylight because they couldn't make their way through all the people. 

In the incident that precedes this verse 5,000 people were fed by Jesus. 5,000 gathered to hear him. 5,000 were fed and huge crowds followed Jesus wanting to make him king. Jesus gave some hard words and the culmination, the result was that many turned their backs and would not walk with him anymore. Why? Why did they get disillusioned? Why did they defect? Probably the biggest reason is the shadow of the cross that was at the end of the road for Jesus. The shadow of the cross was now coming upon the crowd, they began to see opposition gathering. They began to see trouble. They began to see that it would involve suffering and hardship, that trials would come, and they left. 

Also, they probably left and became disillusioned because Jesus kept challenging them. He kept putting demands upon them and this was not quite what they had bargained for. They wanted Jesus to save them. They wanted Jesus to save their nation. They wanted Jesus to redeem them. They wanted Jesus to overthrow the Roman oppressors. They wanted Jesus to give them a good, happy life. And when Jesus turned it back on them and began challenging them, this was not what they had bargained for. William Barclay has written, “Fundamentally, their point of view was that they had come to Jesus to get something out of him. When it came to suffering something for him and to giving something to him, they quit. When following was romance and glamor, they would follow him. When it was a hard way and a tough job, they left him.” Disillusionment and defection. 

Why do you follow Jesus? Is it for blessings? Peace? Happiness? Good health? Wealth, why? And when the tables are turned, and he asks something of you, when he turns and challenges you, then there's disillusionment and defection. Disillusionment is a very common part of life. We face it on every hand. 

Let's apply this to marriage. We're all concerned about the high divorce rate in our nation. In marriages where there's romance, where there's glamor, when everything's beautiful, it's fine. But when the rough times come, the troubles, the squabbles, the differences, many people quit. Instead of hanging on, I quit. I don't love him anymore. I don't love her anymore. Love is irrelevant. Love comes and goes. 

But the marriage commitment means that we endure. We hang in there even when there's hatred, even when there's hostility, even when there's anger, even when there are differences. We endure, we hang in there so that the next level can be reached in the relationship, and love in that relationship becomes more profound, beautiful, and meaningful. It’s a love that includes suffering, a love that includes pain for real love must include suffering. But when the suffering comes, many people quit instead of hanging on and enduring so the next level in the relationship, the next dimension may be reached, where they find out what real love is, and not the glamour, the romance and the feelings that they think is love. 

But on the other hand, many marriages that have lasted 20 years are divorcing. For 20 years they've hung on. They’ve endured for 20 some years, but they still end up in divorce. Hanging on has to include more than just persisting and enduring. Hanging on must include awareness. People who have been married for 20 years and for 20 years have been shoveling things under the rug, ignoring the differences, pretending there's no conflicts, getting busy with the children, busy with a job, busy with the church, busy with the community, busy, busy, busy, so they don't have to deal with what's going on in their house. 

Hanging on must include opening up those sores, letting light shine on them. Hanging on must include fighting and confronting. Hanging on must include dealing with the conflicts in the marriage. When disillusionment enters, hang on. 

But there's something even prior to every marital relationship, prior to all relationships in life. It is our own self. Disillusionment and despair enters our own personal journey when we give up. There’s a tragic story of a painter who was painting the Last Supper. He spent years because he wanted it just right. He spent years looking for the models of each of the disciples to really find one that would that would give him the qualities that he wanted to find in each disciple. He had the painting all done except for Judas. It took him a long time to find Judas. Finally, one day he found such a man that gave him some of the images that he wanted to capture in his painting of Judas. Can you imagine what kind of qualities a person would exhibit to qualify for Judas? Despair, anguish, confusion, probably some anger. He found such a man and as he painted him, the man said, “You've painted me before.” “I painted you before?” “Yes, I was your model for Jesus!” 

The years intervening were cruel years, hard years, years in which he gave up all his dreams, his enthusiasm, his goals were lost. The years were hard on him, cruel to him. And he now qualified for Judas. His life through the years grew smaller rather than bigger. What happens to a person who gives up to disillusionment instead of hanging on? Tragic is the person who gives up those high ideals, enthusiasm, and zest, to compromise the ideals, and settle for second best. When the rough times come, they're not willing to suffer, not willing to endure, not willing to fight it out and they give in. It's tragic when we let our dreams or ideals be compromised. 

In this day and age, isn't money, a major culprit? Materialism is our God. I was talking to a man who was worried about his son. He said, “I'm worried about my son. He had a job he liked, he was happy with it. He was fulfilled with it. But he gave it up for more money. He gave it up for more position, he gave it up for more salary, and now he's unhappy.” This has repeated over and over as people want more money, want the position, want the prestige. Money becomes our God, security becomes our God. Jesus hit the nail on the head, didn't he, when he said, “You follow me not because you're attracted to me, or devoted to me, or believe in my cause. You follow me because I can make bread, I can give you security. You follow me for what I can do for you.” Security becomes our God, security becomes our dream and our ambition. But life is more than working towards a comfortable retirement. I think one of our biggest troubles today in America is disillusionment. We are not demanding the best. We're settling for the second best. We're not demanding the best of our leaders of our government. We're not demanding the best of ourselves. We give in to the easy, comfortable way. 

I'm so glad those two conventions are over. Weren't they the most boring political conventions you’ve ever seen? They were listless, they were boring—both of them. They were not stirred by any great causes. They manufactured demonstrations, tooted their horns like little kids. The great issues of life passed them by like Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burned. We have boring conventions while our country falls down around us. Remember the conventions of 1968 and 72? They weren't boring. Much of the nation was really shocked by the violence of the youth, of the hippies then. We were dismayed by some of the tactics, some of the violence that erupted both by the demonstrators and by the police. Those were hard times. But even though they did it wrong, at least the youth then believed in something. They had a cause; they were trying to call America to its best. And now what are youth doing? Working for money. The major goal on the college campuses seems to be to find a comfortable position. Security. 

Mark goes to seminary now. He has graduated from college. He goes for three, at least three, years of seminary theological training under the auspices of the United Methodist Church. I remember when I went to seminary. That was back in the days of Benjamin Franklin. People told me, many people warned me, “Don't let seminary spoil you. Don't let seminary take away your faith. Don't let them get you”. And the phrase they used over and over was, “Don't lose your fire.” I didn't really understand what they're talking about until I got to seminary. Then I knew what they meant. As you work more and more in the church, you realize it's an institution like all other institutions. When you get inside of it, you see it's the same stuff operating in business, in the school systems. You're surrounded and tempted by people who have given up, people who have compromised their ideals, people who play politics and play funny little games so they can get the big churches, so they can be bishop, so they can have power. They are laboring for the food which perishes. 

And then those that are really sad are those who have been hurt—ministers who've had churches with vicious congregations that chewed them up and spit them out. Many have given up, quit, have not hung on. And if they stay in the ministry, they're mediocre, weak, miserable and sad. Of the five of us in seminary who were good, close friends, I'm the only one left in the parish ministry. One is in campus ministry and the other three are way out of the church—disillusionment and defection. 

I have three questions to ask. Would you answer these questions in your head and in your heart? Number one, what stirs you? What excites you? What great idea, what great cause grabs hold of you and excites you? What is there in this world that makes you angry, that makes you angry enough to want to change it? What stirs you? 

And secondly, what brings out your best? What makes you the best person you can be? The suffering, the challenging that pulls you out of mediocrity into nobility—what God put you here to do. What is that? 

And thirdly, what do you do? What can you do that will give you a high, good opinion of yourself?  Whatever it is, grab it. Take hold of it and hang on.

© 1976 Douglas I. Norris