Han Solo started to celebrate a little early.
After escaping the Death Star, he felt pretty proud of himself. Sure, he lost the old man, but considering they just escaped from a fortress the size of a small moon (“That’s no moon…that’s a space station”), he thought he had done pretty well. They were even able to escape the clutches of the wing of TIE fighters that were sent after them. The old bucket of bolts held together, and the kid wasn’t half bad. He wasn’t Chewie, but he was definitely good in a fight. Feeling smug, Han says, “You know sometimes I amaze even myself.” But Princess Leia is about to throw a cold dose of reality on Han’s victory. “That doesn’t sound too hard. They let us go. It’s the only explanation for the ease of our escape…It’s not over yet.” Han immediately gets defensive. “It is for ME sister!” But eventually, Han comes to his senses and realizes he can’t leave his friends in a lurch. He has to see the job through, so he and Chewie take the Millennium Falcon back to the Death Star just in time to save his friend Luke from the clutches of Darth Vader. But what if Han decided to pack it in? What if he took the money and ran? What if he didn’t see it through?
There’s always an easy way out.
But will it lead you to the results you desire? For any venture to succeed, whether it’s defeating a galactic empire or learning how to properly cook a rack of ribs takes, among other things, perseverance. While talent, luck, and opportunity are definitely key components, it’s often perseverance that takes us over the edge. One of my favorite examples of this is the work ethic of Kobe Bryant. Kobe is one of the best players ever to have played in the NBA. We can argue at length about who’s at the top of that list – Michael Jordan, LeBron James, etc., but Kobe is always in the conversation. With 5 national championships, 18 All-Star appearances in his 20 year career, a league MVP and two-time finals MVP, his bona fides are impeccable. And if you ever saw Kobe play in person, you’d know it wasn’t just hype or luck. This guy had some serious talent. But it wasn’t talent alone that made Kobe a success. Lots of people have talent who never achieve this level of excellence. What made Kobe truly great beyond his talent and skill is his perseverance. He could easily have coasted to an easy payday with the talent he had, but that talent was honed and perfected by his perseverance which never waned even as his accolades grew. To illustrate, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh told a story about their experience with the Kobe work ethic. Bosh says, “We’re in Las Vegas and we all come down for team breakfast at the start of the whole training camp. And Kobe comes in with ice on his knees and with his trainers and stuff. He’s got sweat drenched through his workout gear. And I’m like, ‘It’s 8 o’clock in the morning, man. Where… is he coming from?'” Wade continues, “Everybody else just woke up…We’re all yawning, and he’s already three hours and a full workout into his day.”
Putting in the hard work is key to success.
Malcolm Gladwell called this the “10,000-Hour Rule.” He felt that one component that made people outliers other than talent and luck was developing perseverance; that greatness was most often achieved after doing something for at least 10,000 hours and he cited the Beatles and Bill Gates as examples. But we can take this example too literally. To be great at cooking doesn’t just mean randomly cooking food for 10,000 hours. At some point in our lives many of us will have done that without becoming the next Julia Child. It’s really about a dedication to your craft – whatever it is. To reach a level of excellence is more about dedication than time. It’s about a persistence to carry on, even in the face of defeat and even after achieving success.
Persistence is also a key component of our faith.
We are in a dark time right now. And I mean more than simply it being winter and rainy. Our communities, our nation, and even our world are split between those who embrace the truth of the pandemic and those who don’t. With over 5.4 million people dead and nearly 300 million people infected, it’s hard to understand why some people aren’t taking this more seriously, but with cases drastically on the rise, vaccinations become even more important than ever before. Yet, almost everyone I talk to knows someone in their circle of family and friends who refuse to get vaccinated or who won’t wear a mask in a public setting. What’s odd is that Paul seemed to predict just such a time as this.
3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. – (2 Timothy 4:3-8)
It’s like Paul KNEW!
He knew there’d be a time like this and he’s warning us from across the centuries. Sadly, it’s not Paul having some sort of crystal ball into the future, but instead his understanding of the human condition. The situation we find ourselves in now is not new. It’s one that is repeated over and over again. Which is sad, but true. When it comes to gender equality, there are still people who believe women were created to be subservient to men. When it comes to racial justice, there are still people who fail to understand systemic racism and how it affects us all in insidious ways. When it comes to gender and sexual identity, there are still many, many people who see it as a sin or as a crime or as an abomination against God to see ourselves in a different light. Sadly, how people are reacting to the pandemic isn’t new or different or unique, but part of the greater sickness of our world that fails to follow one simple rule – love one another.
For us to make it through this time together requires our persistence.
It’s tempting to let our guard down. It’s not uncommon to think we’re invulnerable, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that we are not. And it’s so easy for us to just get tired of being vigilant against this pandemic. But now is not the time. It’s been a long two years and while things are definitely getting better, people are still dying by the thousands every day from just the coronavirus by itself. Estimates show nearly 6,000 people are dying worldwide with nearly 2.3 million coming down with the virus every 24 hours – and tragically that number is likely to be vastly underreported. Still, the evidence is clear. Get vaccinated. Get boosted. And be persistent in being precautious. Recent data shows unvaccinated people are still 4 times more likely to be infected by the coronavirus even with the omicron variant. They are 10 times more likely to become hospitalized, 17 times higher to be in the ICU, and 18 times higher to die from it. Wearing a mask, while it can be uncomfortable is important, not only for protecting you, but for protecting those around you. With omicron affecting both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, we need to take these precautions. A bit of being uncomfortable is a small choice to make if it could help save people’s lives. It is just one way for us to love our neighbor.
We can get through this together.
We’ve already adapted in many ways to the pandemic. Virtual meetings, virtual workspaces, creating more space for one another, but as Princess Leia would say, “It’s not over yet.” Let’s continue to take those steps we need to take to help one another out. Let’s do our part to keep our corner of the world safe and by doing so hopefully we will encourage those around us to remain steadfast in what they are doing too. Love of neighbor continues to be the key to success and it’s our perseverance through these difficult times that we see that love come to fruition. This is a choice we make, each and every day to love one another. The freedom to choose is an essential component to our faith and one not to be taken lightly. So will we choose the easy way out? Will we be tempted like Han Solo to take the money and run? Or will we do the hard work needed to achieve our long-term goals? As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: “24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Stay strong. Stay vigilant. And may God bless you now and always.
 To learn about Kobe’s work ethic there are numerous reports of it. Here is just one from ESPN. https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/15179469/kobe-bryant-famous-pregame-shooting-routine