"Never Give Up"
by Bass Mitchell

Do you ever just want to give up? Throw up your arms? Surrender? Quit? Call it a day? Call it a life?

I don't know about you, but that's a constant temptation for me, especially when things get a little tough. What's that old saying...when the going gets tough, the tough get going? Yeah, tough times really tempt me to get going... in another direction or to the sideline to sit them out.

There was a popular tv show on years ago that my family always watched - Hee Haw. In each show one segment had the saddest looking bunch of folks you've ever seen singing this song:

Gloom, despair, and agony on me,
Deep dark depression, excessive misery;
if it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all.
Gloom, despair, and agony on me.

Well, who hasn't sung that tune from time to time, or been tempted to make it our theme song?

The hero in today's story from Jesus could have rightly sung that song. She could have given up long ago. She was a widow. The very word "widow" in Greek is "chera" and it means "forsaken," "empty." Whenever the Bible wishes to name the most helpless persons in a society, orphans and widows top the list. They had few rights. There was no Social Security, no welfare or Medicare. They were often exploited and abused. A more powerless person could not have been found. Yet, Jesus makes her the hero of the story (his heroes are always surprising, aren't they?) Yes, she's a hero, a model of persistence, patience, of never giving up. Ever!

There is a great message here in her, in this story. I need it. Maybe you do too.

DON'T GIVE UP ON YOURSELF.

This woman didn't. She had ever reason to do so. Everything was against her. She had nothing. What little she had had been taken from her. She couldn't afford a high priced, powerful lawyer to represent her. Even the legal system itself was stacked against her. No power, No status. A nobody to most everybody. But not to herself! She refused to sit down and sing that old Hee Haw tune. She would not take on the role of victim, of woe is me.

To the contrary, she had a sense of dignity, of worth. Her voice was tiny, but she raised it anyway. Her power was small, but she used what she had. Maybe everyone else had given up on her, if they noticed her at all, but she had not given up. Never! Ever!

It really hurts when we get the message from others that we are nobodys, that we don't matter, that we are losers. That's a terrible burden to bear. But we can bear that as long as we do not say to ourselves, "They're right. I am a loser. Give up." Yet that's how many people do see themselves or are made to see themselves.

They've lost so many times, failed at one thing after another, been knocked down just once too often and just don't want to get up again.

Norman Vincent Peale traveling in Hong Kong, passed a tattoo shop. On the shop window were various examples - a flag, dagger, slogans. One caught his eye: "Born to Lose." He was curious and went inside to ask about it. "Do people really ask for that tattoo?" he asked. "Yes," the man replied. "Why would anyone want to be branded with that?" Peale asked. The old man shrugged and said, "Before tattoo on chest, tattoo already on mind."

We all fail sometimes. We all lose sometimes. We can fall flat on our faces and sometimes because someone else tripped us. Life is not fair sometimes. But we do not have to stay down. We do not have to give up. God does not give up on us. Others may. God never does. And frankly, that's what keeps me going more often than not - knowing that the great and good Creator of all loves me, values me, never gives up on me. Let that be tattooed on your mind and heart, my friends.

There's a second message in the widow's story:

DON'T GIVE UP ON OTHERS.

This widow did not give up on her self. Neither would she give up on that judge, as unfeeling and corrupt as he was. She was not going to stop pestering him until he did the right thing by her. She believed he would, if only to get rid of her.

It's easy to give up on ourselves. Maybe it's easier even to give up on others, to cast them into the loser's slot, the widows, the nobody's who will never amount to anything. Or maybe it's someone close to us, maybe even in our own family, who has caused us so much grief and pain, though we have tried and tried with them. The very great temptation is to wash our hands, Pilate-like, to rid ourselves, our thoughts of them. Give up on them.

Maybe I do not know very much about being a Christian, but one thing I think I really understand: that nobody's a loser, that nobody's a nobody in the eyes of God. Every person is made in God's image and is of infinite worth, even the most lowly, even the outcasts, the hated of any society.

Many of the persons Jesus called to follow him were such persons: fisherman, tax collectors, sinners. And these were the very people he spent most of his time ministering to... lepers, lame, demon-possessed, those nobodies that society had cast out, given up on, who had given up on themselves. But not Jesus! And even when his followers gave up on him, deserting him, he never gave up on them. He kept on loving them, believing in them, welcoming them back.

It's not easy. People let you down, don't they? People close to you. They hurt you. They don't do right by you. They do things you just don't understand. But so do you. So do I. We don't want anyone giving up on us, do we? Let's not give up on anyone else, either. Never stop loving. Never give up. Indeed, when others are hardest to love, when they try our patience the most, then is precisely when they need the love the most.

And there's a final reminder in the widow's story:

DON'T GIVE UP ON GOD.

This widow did not give up on herself, she did not give up on that judge, and she does not give up on God. Maybe that's why she didn't give up on herself or that judge. She had reason to. She had obviously suffered a great deal of injustice (through the corrupt legal system), but also by losing her husband. She could have easily laid all of that at God's feet, blaming and cursing God for her lot in life. (Some in those days believed that if a husband died it was because he sinned or his wife sinned, so this was the punishment. Imagine living with the grief and with such views from your community?) But not this woman. She did not see it this way. She had faith that God cared for her and knew her plight, and that some time, some how God would come through for her. She would not give up on God.

You know, I wonder if Jesus himself was not tempted to give up on God sometimes? Can you imagine being betrayed, arrested, beaten, judged, condemned, crucified? I would be saying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," too? Yet, even in that cry he calls in faith upon God! And in the garden when he submitted to drinking that bitter cup, he entrusted his life into God's hands. Jesus believed that somehow even his death could be used by God to accomplish God's purpose. He would not give up on God, even on a cross. Now that's faith, my friends.

Maybe some of us are at the point in which we are thinking about giving up on God. Maybe some of us already have. Maybe our prayers have seemingly gone unanswered for too long now...

Perhaps the tough times just seem to keep getting tougher, and God doesn't seem to know or care... Maybe life's threatening to crucify us too... We are tempted to take the advice of Job's wife, "Curse God and die!"

Can you hear that widow saying, "Don't give up on God!"? When life is unfair, keep on trusting. Though you hear or see no result, keep on praying.

God does hear. God does know. God will act in a time and way that's best for us.

For God is nothing like that corrupt judge. Even that rascal could be convinced to do the right thing. How much more, Jesus is saying, will God do justly by us? For God wishes to help us.

The widow's determined persistence is an act of faith. She, like God, does not give up

The words of Winston Churchill, ( a man who knew the powerful temptation to give up and give in under the most trying of times) come to mind. Churchill once said at a commencement speech: "Do not give up. Do not ever give up. Never give up!"

And I can hear that widow saying, "Amen! Amen!" May we also share that faith and add our own "amen." Amen.