Waiting….

[This is taken from a sermon delivered at Community of the Savior, Rochester NY, March 17, 2019, based on Psalm 27.]

 

I find not waiting for the Lord to be easy. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” That is how Psalm 27 ends. It sounds great; I have memorized these words. But I don’t much like waiting. When I am about to check out at Wegmans, I study the traffic patterns. I usually have maybe 5-15 items. I survey the 17 items or fewer line and the 7 items or fewer line. There are four people in the 17 items line and just one in the 7 items line. I look quickly in the basket. I have 8 items. Now I am facing a weighty ethical dilemma. Do I pretend I have 7 items instead of 8? Do I cover one item with another, so it looks like there are 7? Do the cashiers really count them? What if I get in the 7 item line with 8 items and a person gets in line right after me and counts my items on the conveyor belt? Will she call for the store manager? Archibald Hart, then a professor at Fuller Seminary, suggested that pastors learn to deal with their impatience to see God work quickly by getting in the longest line at the market and praying for all the people in a hurry to check out. I never mastered that spiritual discipline.

 

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

Maybe waiting for the Lord isn’t about whether I have 7 or 8 items in my basket. But maybe it is.

 

If I can avoid waiting, I do. There is a really annoying commercial on TV these days. I don’t look up when its on; I don’t even know the product it is trying to sell me. But it blares these words at me: I want it all and I want it now. I talk back to the TV. “I don’t want it all. But what I do want, I want now.”

 

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

 

Psalm 27 unfolds in three movements: the first is confidence in God, the second sees that confidence shaken, and finally that confidence renewed.

Confidence: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid”?
(v. 1)

Confidence shaken: “Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.” (v. 12)

Confidence renewed: “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (v. 13)

It culminates in this charge to us: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (v. 14)

 

Waiting is part of living. We have little choice about that. But we have choices about how we wait. Waiting can be passive or active. Is our waiting merely biding time passively or are we waiting in active, hope-filled ways? Biblical waiting is active, hope-filled waiting. It is not withdrawing from the messiness of life, but actively participating in the messiness of life with the sure and certain hope that God is faithful and God honors his promises. Listen to these two descriptions of biblical waiting:

  • “…but those who wait for the Lordshall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Is. 40:31) That doesn’t sound passive, but rather muscular.
  • “…but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:23-25) Active waiting can be gut-wrenching. Jesus knew that kind of waiting, as have saints through the centuries.

 

 

The Bible is a wait-y book. God’s people are waiting all the time. We see…

  • Abraham and Sarah waiting decades for the promised son;
  • The Israelites waiting in Egypt for deliverance for 400 years;
  • Judah waiting in captivity in Babylon for 70 years;
  • Paul waiting in prison, again and again (the New Testament would be shorter if he weren’t waiting so much in prison cells, writing his letters to churches);
  • Jesus waiting as he fasted in the wilderness. and Jesus waiting for the cross awaiting him in Jerusalem;
  • The Church waiting almost 2,000 years for Jesus to return in glory.

 

My childhood church was in the fundamentalist mold. We were always being told that Jesus was coming very soon and we better be ready. Our waiting was fearful and life-denying. Don’t be caught doing something as worldly as going to see a movie in a theatre. What if Jesus came at that moment and left me behind? It better be a good movie, I thought. Waiting wasn’t positive. It was meant to scare us into being good little Christians. It didn’t work. “The Sound of Music” came out and all the faithful snuck out to see it. I guess they figured Jesus would understand if he returned right after the opening credits.

 

Our posture for actively waiting for what is to come is active engagement with this messy world now. Our waiting is doing the work of Jesus in lifting the fallen, welcoming the stranger, the alien, healing the broken. It is that fast we read about on Ash Wednesday:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
  and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them,
 and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly….” (Isaiah 58:6-8)

 

The family of William Hoover Jones has been waiting for nearly 70 years. Jones enlisted as a young black man to serve in the Korean War, leaving his home in Rocky Mount, NC. Shortly after arriving in Korea, his family was informed that he was missing and presumed dead. Eventually, they set a military headstone for him over an empty grave near their home. Recently, forensic scientists working on remains returned to us by North Korea identified remains of Hoover Jones. Soon this will happen, as reported in Time, March 11, 2019:

“Before Hoover is lowered into the ground at Arlington National Cemetery, seven soldiers will fire three volleys for a 21-gun salute. A bugler will play taps. Six soldiers will remove the flag covering his casket and make 13 triangular folds. An officer will kneel before Hoover’s eldest sister Elizabeth and hand the flag to her. Two other folded flags will be handed to his other surviving sisters Thelma and Ida. They will be told, ‘This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation and the United States Army in appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.’ Their brother will finally be laid to rest. And for Hoover Jones and his family, at least, the Korean War will be over.” Their waiting has not been in vain.

 

On a recent Sunday, Rachel and I walked on holy ground. We visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery AL. That memorial names the over 4,000 African-Americans that were hanged, burned, or drowned by white Americans after the Civil War. Their families have been waiting for them to be remembered. Their waiting has not been in vain. We are going to remember the violence that was done to black Americans by white Americans and work for a better day. As we wait, we will work for that better day.

 

Our world was rocked again by an act of violence, this time in Christchurch, New Zealand, just a few days ago. This time it happened in two Islamic houses of worship. Last fall it was a synagogue in Pittsburgh. And not long ago it was a church in Charleston, South Carolina. I could add so many more to the list. There seems to be a growing fear of the other. The other may be of another national origin or another skin color. The other may be an immigrant, an alien, or a refugee. As I understand the Gospel, Jesus came for the other. The outsider. The Immigrant, the alien, the refugee. We are gathered in a house of worship right now. It is no safer than a movie theatre, a restaurant, a battlefield, or our homes. It is a dangerous world, with too much fear of the other. We ask again the most frequently asked question in the Bible: How long, O Lord? How long till you bring home all your promises? How long till the day of the Lord finally happens? How long till peace and justice reign instead of fear and hatred?

 

We are waiting for God to make everything new, to bring the new heaven and earth to reality. And we are waiting for Jesus to return in glory. Since we don’t know when he will return, how shall we wait? Will our waiting be passive and fearful or active and hope-filled? In our waiting, will we do the work to which God is calling us?

 

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

 

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