A sermon I preached at the retiral of the Rev Margaret Vosper from Clermiston Church of the Nazarene

Since I was asked at to preach today at this service to mark the conclusion of Margaret’s ministry at Clermiston I have been trying to think of some figure from the Bible that I could see parallels’ between their ministry and Margaret’s

I had thought of ROMANS 15 where Paul speaks about his desire to go to Spain

2 Kings 9:20 …. Jehu drove furiously

finally I settled on Jeremiah.

I settled on Jeremiah because of one word,
a word that you could almost miss,
its a word that is embedded in this verse in which Jeremiah gives a word of testimony about his ministry

“For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.” Jeremiah 25:3

With those words Jeremiah describes his ministry as a prophet to the people of God
He says, it’s been twenty three years …. “Persistently.”
Jeremiah says that for twenty three years
he met with God,
listened to God
and then shared God’s message with God’s people

If you know anything about Jeremiah you’ll know that it wasn’t twenty three years of unmitigated success,
anything but,
much of the time he was ridiculed, abused and imprisoned.

Yet, day after day,
week after week,
month after month,
year after year
and decade after decade
Jeremiah persistently did what God had called him to do.
He didn’t give up,
he didn’t move on
to a city where people were more responsive,
he didn’t modify his message,
he persistently carried on doing what God had called on him to do.

Eugene Peterson in a great little book about Jeremiah remarks, “The mark of certain kind of genius is the ability and energy to keep returning to the same task relentlessly, imaginatively, curiously, for a life time. To never give up and go on to something else; never get distracted and be diverted into something else”

Well today we are here to celebrate the fact
and give thanks for the fact
that Margaret Vosper’s ministry here,
just like Jeremiah’s has been marked by a certain kind of genius.

For these last close to 13 years Margaret has done what God has called her to do,
to use Eugene Peterson’s words
she returned to the same task

relentlessly, imaginatively, curiously. She has never given up and gone on to something else; never got distracted and been diverted into something else”

I have been thinking a lot about Jeremiah , Margaret Vosper and this idea of persistency the last couple of days.
It’s reminded me that what God calls us to do
often calls for something we don’t regard as very glamorous,
what I would call, holy tenacity.

As I said Eugene Peterson defines it as the ability to return to our God given calling “relentlessly, imaginatively, curiously” . To never give up and go on to something else; never get distracted and be diverted into something else”

Today that is what we are paying tribute to,
a woman of God who has had a ministry marked by persistence,
a holy tenacity,
to keep on doing what God has called her to do,
when many others would have given up.

I have to be honest and say holy tenacity doesn’t come easy to me,
I belong to the Pot Noodle generation,
we expect instant results.

The stories we tend to celebrate in church life are the leaders and churches who achieve success quickly,
500 new people in five years, impresses us.
It probably should too,
we should celebrate God’s blessings.

However, we seldom celebrate those who minister “twenty three years … persistently.” Who like Jeremiah approach what God has called them to do with a holy tenacity over an extended period, whatever the results

But today Margaret
this congregation
and our denomination
are both taking time to celebrate with you a ministry that has been “13 years, persistently”

Just like Jeremiah
day in day out
week in week out
month in and month and
year in and year out
You have
persistently met with God,
persistently listened to God
and persistently shared God’s message with God’s people here in Clermiston.

And that as we have said already is not only a tremendous example of holy tenacity
, it requires a
certain amount
of a special kind of genius.

What about the rest of us?

You know doing what God calls us to do persistently is not just something that Margaret was called to, we are all called to the self same thing

To be honest Jeremiah has administered a bit of metaphorical kick to my rear end.
He has reminded me that in my calling here in helping to establish Mosaic Edinburgh I need to have holy tenacity,
to keep coming back to God,
keep coming back to people and keep going.

I suspect that for all of us, whatever God calls us to do and to be,
there will be a need for this self same holy tenacity.

It takes holy tenacity to be a teacher,
to return to the classroom day after day when often there are more problems to be solved than successes to be celebrated.

It takes holy tenacity to be a parent at times,
to keep on loving and being firm when it would be easy just to be apathetic and give in.

It takes holy tenacity to build a business that reflects the values of the kingdom of God rather than one that simply generates cash.

It takes holy tenacity to represent God in an office year after year.
It takes holy tenacity, to embody God in a musical culture that all too often celebrates what God abhors

I wonder if God led you to read this because He wants to remind you of the need for Holy Tenacity in doing what he has called you to do?

We need to be clear that when we talk about “persistence

What we are talking about here is more than dogged determination and drudgery.

Eugene Peterson in that little book I spoke about earlier goes on to say, “ … don’t feel sorry for Jeremiah. He was not stuck in a rut, he was committed to a purpose. Jeremiah shows no evidence of bored drudgery. Everything we know of him shows that after 23 years his imagination is even more alive and his spirit even more resilient than it was in his youth. He wasn’t putting in his time. Every day was a new adventure of living the prophetic life. The days added up to a life of incredible tenacity, of amazing stamina”

Those words excited and inspire me,
that’s the kind of holy tenacity I want to develop
I want to be more alive,
more imaginative,
more resilient as I grow older and I serve longer in my calling.

Which made we wonder how Jeremiah was able to develop and sustain this holy tenacity?

A read through of the book of Jeremiah soon reveals the source of Jeremiah’s holy tenacity, just look at these verses.

Jeremiah 7:13 And now, because you have done all these things, declares the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer,

Jeremiah 7:25 From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day.

Jeremiah 29:19 because they did not pay attention to my words, declares the LORD, that I persistently sent to you by my servants the prophets, but you would not listen, declares the LORD.’

Jeremiah 11:7 For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice.

Jeremiah 32:33 They have turned to me their back and not their face. And though I have taught them persistently, they have not listened to receive instruction.

Jeremiah 35:14 The command that Jonadab the son of Rechab gave to his sons, to drink no wine, has been kept, and they drink none to this day, for they have obeyed their father’s command. I have spoken to you persistently, but you have not listened to me.

Jeremiah 35:15 I have sent to you all my servants the prophets, sending them persistently, saying, ‘Turn now every one of you from his evil way, and amend your deeds,

Jeremiah 44:4 Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!’

Eight times God says that he has persistently reached out to His people.

Do you see the implications of these verses for understanding Jeremiah’s holy tenacity?
Maybe it also gives us an insight into Margaret’s ministry too

Jeremiah developed and sustained his holy tenacity through being in relationship with a holy tenacious God, a
God who persistently,
and urgently reached out to His people and to the whole of humanity.

I think I am beginning to understand how holy tenacity is developed now.

Persistence in the Christian life,
in doing what we are called to do
is not an end in itself
rather it’s the overflow of our relationship with God.

Jeremiah had holy tenacity because he was so close to tenacious God that his life reflected God’s character.

I should have known that holy tenacity wouldn’t come easily or instantly.

Today, as we remember Jeremiah’s persistent, tenacious ministry
and pay tribute to Margaret’s

Let’s remember that just like Jeremiah, and Margaret Vosper
That and you and I too, will only develop this holy tenacity
which is so vital to our callings by spending time
with and listening to the God
who is tenacious in his love and mission to all of humanity and to us as individuals.

Jeremiah says that during the 23 years he ministered persistently, the word of the Lord came to him, in other words he persistently spent time in God’s presence, listening to God’s Word.

I can draw only one conclusion,
a life time of holy tenacity ministering for God
will take a life time of holy tenacity being with and listening to God.

So how are you doing with that?

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