The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 6/1/97
Text: II Cor. 4:5-12
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"Never give up. Never give up. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP!" Of course, you know who gave that advice...Winston Churchill. It was Churchill's dogged determination during World War II that saved his nation from Nazi destruction.

...We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God's good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old."(1)

As we know, the New World DID come into the fray and, now, more than a half century later, we still speak English, not German. Churchill deserves a great deal of the credit for that.

Near the end of his life, Sir Winston was asked to speak to the graduating class of England's most prestigious university. The hall was packed. Young students perched on their chairs, eager to catch every word from the statesman. Finally, Churchill approached the podium. What seemed like minutes passed as the crowd waited in silence for their hero to speak. He stared up at the eager faces and said these words: "NEVER...GIVE...UP!" Another minute passed in silence. Finally, Churchill said to the students, "NEVER...GIVE...UP!" And then to everyone's amazement, he walked off the stage. The crowd was stunned. Then, as they recognized the significance of his words, a tremendous ovation erupted. The crowd went wild!

Never give up! Good advice. Advice that we need to hear again and again these days. The world seems topsy-turvy and spinning along out of control. Long-held values are called into question and even ridiculed. The job we had worked at for years and counted on to take us to retirement is suddenly "down-sized" out of existence. The social safety nets are being sacrificed on the altar of a balanced budget. A boss cannot say to his secretary, "You look extra nice today," without being in danger of a sexual harassment accusation.

Charlie Brown and Linus are standing looking over a fence with their weary faces resting on their hands. They are filled with sadness. Linus depressingly says to Charlie Brown, "Sometimes I feel that life has just passed me by. Do you ever feel that way, Charlie Brown?"

In his normal melancholy mood Charlie replies, "No, I feel like it has knocked my down and walked all over me."(2)

Last week, Christie handed me this item from the newspaper: Ann Landers' column headlined, "What happened to old-fashioned love?(3)" Listen.

Dear Ann Landers: You recently printed a sweet "how-we-met" story. The woman said at the end of World War II, she sat behind a soldier in church. He knew all the lyrics to the songs so she figured he couldn't be all bad. Later, she learned he was a doctor. Three months later, she slipped on an icy walk and injured her arm. That same doctor insisted she stay in the infirmary, and he visited her twice a day. When she was discharged, he asked her to the movies to celebrate. They subsequently married in the same chapel where they had met.

Here's how that same story would go if it happened in 1997: "Dear Ann: Last week, I attended church services and noticed that the soldier sitting behind me knew all the words to every song. I figured anyone who knew those lyrics was probably a member of the religious right. I bumped into him a month later. After cussing him out and telling him to watch where he was going, I learned he was a doctor. Three months later, I slipped on an icy walk and injured my arm. After suing the property owner for all I could get, this same doctor treated me and insisted that I stay in the infirmary. He then made twice-daily visits to see how I was doing, which made me suspicious. I complained to his supervisor and filed a sexual harassment suit. I was discharged in January, and the doctor asked if I would like to see a movie to celebrate. I told the police he was a stalker and applied for a restraining order. When the doctor asked me to marry him in the same chapel where we first met, I called the FBI. They searched his apartment to make sure there were no shrines built to me and no bodies hidden under the floorboards. I married the guy anyway because, after all, doctors earn six-figure incomes." -- Tuned in and Turned on in La Jolla, Calif.

Indeed. Nothing is nailed down anymore. Nothing to depend on. It would be awfully easy to just give up.

It is the same in the church. People work HARD to offer opportunities for meaningful worship and work, for study and service, to provide an atmosphere in which spiritual growth can take place as relationships between earth and heaven are made more vital and vibrant. But instead of being greeted with gratitude for their efforts, Sunday School teachers encounter empty classrooms because parents did not happen to choose to bring their children today. Youth leaders, who face the challenges of attracting anyone at all in a generation where the kids are working, have extra-curricular school responsibilities, and have their own cars, rather than being thanked for their efforts, instead hear how much better things USED to be when so-and-so was running the program thirty years ago. Pastors who do their level best to prepare meaningful sermons and Bible studies see slowly shrinking congregations, wonder what can be done to reverse the trend, and then patiently listen as folks reminisce about the "good old days" when we had to put chairs in the aisles to accommodate everyone.

Somebody MUST be doing something wrong! According to a newly released Gallup Poll, Americans say they are just as religious today as they were in 1947, 50 years ago. Based on several surveys conducted in recent months, 96 percent of Americans today say they believe in God, 71 percent profess belief in an afterlife, 90 percent say they pray, and 41 percent say they attend religious services frequently ("almost every week" or "at least once a week"). "A comparison of the religious climate today with that of 50 years ago...does not support the contention of social observers who maintain that America is far less attached to religion than a half-century ago," says the report in the April edition of Gallup's Emerging Trends newsletter. Rather, the report continues, the new findings "support the contention that the last 50 years have been the most 'churched' half-century in U.S. history."(4) OK.

Then where are the people? Well, the sad reality is that folks have selective memory when it comes to responding to pollsters' questions concerning their religious attitudes and habits. To cite just one example, if the approximately 40% who say they were at worship last weekend actually WERE, churches and synagogues would have had about TWICE their actual attendance. The rule of thumb used to be that, on any average Sunday, attendance in a moderate size congregation would amount to about half of those on the active roll; the rule now is about one-third. Why the disparity in what people SAY they do and what they ACTUALLY do? Simple - we like to think well of ourselves, and we like to think we are doing what we know we should even when we do not do it.

Some folks were talking together. One of them said, "Our congregation is sometimes down to 30 or 40 on a Sunday."

One from another church said, "That's nothing, sometimes our group is down to 10 or 12 in the summer."

Not to be outdone, in a truly competitive spirit, another dear lady added, "It's so bad in our church on Sunday that when the minister says, 'Dearly beloved,' it makes me blush!"(5)

For what it is worth, that poll indicates that the church has a GREAT opportunity for ministry among these good religious people. In an interview on May 14, George Gallup Jr., executive director of the Princeton Religion Research Center, which publishes Emerging Trends, said his organization's past surveys have identified three "gaps" that point to a lack of religious depth. Americans, he said, do not generally live up to the ethical standards of their faith ("the ethics gap"), nor are they generally aware of their faith's basic teachings ("the knowledge gap"). The third gap, said Gallup, is "between believers and belonging," which contrasts the number of Americans who profess a belief in God with the number who frequently attend religious services.(6) The message to the church? DO NOT GIVE UP! We have work to do.

If we need any motivation, we have it in abundance in Paul's words in our lesson: "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord;" What we have to offer the world is the genuinely good news that God loves us, and the proof of that is in the life, death, and resurrection of this world's Savior, Jesus Christ. We welcome all who would become Jesus' disciples, who, by profession of faith, become a part of Christ's body, the church, and who acknowledge our responsibilities to share that good news by word and deed.

Sounds simple enough, but Paul lets us know that, in his life at least, it is not. What does he say his experience has been? Afflicted. Perplexed. Persecuted. Struck down. All of those. But he hangs in. "We are AFFLICTED in every way, but not crushed; PERPLEXED, but not driven to despair; PERSECUTED, but not forsaken; STRUCK DOWN, but not destroyed;" In other words, no call to GIVE UP!

Good old Paul. Sounds like the old farmer's ditty to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw:"

Oh, the mule's gone lame and the hens won't lay,
Corn's way down, wheat don't pay.
Hogs no better. Steer's too cheep,
Cows quit milking and the meat won't keep.
Oats all heated, spuds all froze,
Wheat crop's busted, wind still blows,
Looks some gloomy, I'll admit,
but Git up, Dobbin, we ain't down yet.(7)

Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never, never give up!

The message for the church is surely this: despite all the things that might discourage us from our work, we cannot be turned aside. Our task is too important. And "earthen vessels" that we are, as the scripture says - plain old clay pots... nothing special - the treasure of the gospel that we contain CAN make an incredible difference in the world when we persevere.

Just a few weeks ago, members of our General Assembly Council Executive Committee returned from a visit to Korea, having had the opportunity to witness the product of 113 years of Presbyterian mission in that nation. Nowhere has the global mission enterprise of the Presbyterian Church (USA) borne more fruit than in Korea. It is evident in the thousands of Korean Christians who pour into churches six days a week at 5:30 AM for morning prayer, in the thousands more who fill sanctuaries five, six, seven times on Sundays, in congregations whose members number in the tens of thousands, and in universities and seminaries that proudly display pictures and monuments to their Presbyterian founders.

The history of our involvement in Korea dates back to 1884, when Dr. Horace Allen, a medical missionary, arrived in that country from the United States. The first Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Horace G. Underwood, came the following year. Today the Presbyterian Church of Korea is the fifth largest Presbyterian church in the world with more than two million members.

The Council trip included visits to

  • Saemoonan Presbyterian Church, the first Presbyterian church in Korea, started by Underwood in 1885 and officially organized in 1887.
  • Presbyterian College and Theological Seminary -- the largest Presbyterian seminary in the world with more than 2,500 students -- established in 1905 as an outgrowth of classes begun in 1901 by our Samuel Moffett.
  • Yonsei University, the oldest university in Korea, tracing its origin to 1885, when the first hospital to practice and teach Western medicine opened in Seoul under the direction of Horace Allen.
  • Chung Shin Girls' High School, started in 1887 by Annie J. Ellers, one of our medical missionaries.
  • Taejon Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a regional seminary that began as a four-year night school in the Taejon Central Presbyterian Church in 1954.
  • Hannam University, founded in 1956 by the PCUS.
  • The Korean Christian Museum at Soong Sil University. The university was founded in what is now North Korea in 1897 by William Baird of the PCUS.
  • The National Organization of the Korean Presbyterian Women, which was established in 1928, but traces its history to the first Presbyterian women's group organized in 1898.

The group also heard a number of people share their hopes for tongil, the Korean word for "unification." Hewon Han, our own Salem Presbytery Associate Executive, and son of the founder of the 50,000-member Youngnak Presbyterian Church in Seoul, said the churches in South Korea have set aside millions of dollars for building churches in North Korea once reunification occurs. More than one speaker noted the important role churches can play toward hastening that day by providing relief to North Koreans, whose country has suffered in recent years from food shortages and devastating economic conditions.(8) What a difference we have made!

Was Presbyterian mission in Korea difficult? Of course it was. Language. Culture. Hostility. But dedicated Christians kept at it, and they made a difference that today would be beyond their wildest imagining. Why did they succeed? They never gave up. Never gave up. Never, never, never, never gave up.

No question, giving up is often a most attractive option. But we cannot. We have too important a job to do. And remember Paul: "afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;" And then hear Sir Winston one more time: "Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never, never give up."


1. Speech following the retreat from Flanders before the House of Commons, June 4, 1940

2. Doug Behm, via Ecunet, "Illustrations for This Week," #346, 5/28/97

3. Greensboro News & Record, 5/24/97, D3

4. Religion News Service, "Gallup: U.S. Religious Attitudes Similar to Those of 1947," via PresbyNet, PCUSA NEWS #4173, 5/27/97

5. Doug Behm, via Ecunet, "Illustrations for This Week," #347, 5/28/97

6. Gallup, ibid.

7. Quoted by Donel McClellan, via Ecunet, "Sermonshop June 2, 1991," #6, 5/28/91 from a bulletin of the Farmer's Union Educational Service

8. Gary Luhr, "Council Members See Fruits of Missionary Labor in Korea," via PresbyNet, PCUSA NEWS, #4174 5/28/97

9. Psalm 139:1-2

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