Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sermon for the Third Week in Advent

Grace and peace to you from him who was, and who is, and who is to come. Amen

Lord, give me patience, and I want it NOW!
There are few among us that can say that we are patient.
And those that can say we are patient may need to work on our humility.

Part of the problem may well be
that we have so few opportunities to practice patience nowadays.
I remember our Friday night ritual as a family about once every two weeks.
After school, we would come home, and wait for my dad to come home from work.
Then we would go as a family out to the shopping mall.
The first place we would go was the bank.
My father would patiently wait in line
to get his paycheck cashed,
and get the money out that he needed for the next couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, my brother and I would patiently sit and wait.
No texting for me, no iPod for me, no Candy Crush saga for me;
no hand-held movie machine for me.
Just a stack of several-months-old copies of TIME magazine
waiting for my next arrival.
Being the odd child I was, I liked reading TIME magazine.

After what seemed an eternity,
my dad would be finished,
and we would go out to eat somewhere.
Every time I take the kids on an errand
and they complain,
I trot out the old ‘going to the bank on Friday night’ story.
Because, you see, there was no such thing as an ATM or direct deposit,
the bank wasn’t open on Saturday or Sunday,
and you couldn’t deposit your money by taking a picture of a check
and sending it over the Internet to your bank.
I’m told you can do that nowadays.
My phone doesn’t do that.
So we have less opportunity today to exercise patience.

Our second reading begins an exhortation:
Be patient!
But the apostle James is not talking
about the patience we need in everyday life,
waiting in line, waiting in traffic, waiting for Christmas morning to come,
or at least for Christmas to be over.
Neither is he really talking about the patience a farmer needs,
working through the year in order to receive the yield of the crop at harvest time.
Rather, he is talking about the patience we need to exercise
while God is working his purpose out.
‘Be patient until the coming of the Lord.’

 Now if we are encouraged to be patient about something,
it goes without saying that in some way we ought to be impatient about it.
James writes these lines
not in order to commend patience as some kind of virtue,
but in order to acknowledge the impatient desire his hearers have
for God to bring all things to their heavenly goal.
This is what we say in times of great stress, tragedy, or sorrow,
for example when one day before the nation remembers
the death of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut,
another shooting happens in a Colorado school
only miles from where the movie theatre massacre happened last year
and also close by the location of perhaps the quintessential school shooting,
which happened all the way back in the year 2000
at Columbine High School.
We pray, ‘Lord, have mercy!’
God, intervene! O Lord, come!
Let all of this come to an end!
Out of our anger, frustration, fear, disappointment and sorrow,
we grumble. We find a scapegoat.
We blame other people, we blame society,
and some people blame God.

At the beginning of the liturgy we prayed for the goals we cannot reach.
We can fly machines to the moon and to Mars,
we can destroy the world at the touch of a button,
but there are some things that only God can do.
We pray for the peace that only God can give;
for our salvation from sin, death and evil;
for the peace of the world, the healing of the Church,
the unity of all peoples.
Lord, have mercy!
These are the things we desire,
and if we do not desire them in our heart,
if we are always simply focused on the next distraction, the next election,
the next momentary satisfaction,
then we have reason to reexamine ourselves and our faith.

Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord,
says James.
God has not yet worked his entire purpose out.
But he is working.
His working is hidden,
like a seed working up toward the earth,
like an earth that needs to be softened by the early and late rains.
And so we are patient while God works.

James warns us that while God is working,
the temptation is for us to look around
and grumble about the others,
those who perhaps are getting in the way of God working,
or at least getting in the way of our having a peaceful life.
Instead, the apostle recommends looking at the life of the prophets;
those who waited in their time for God to work,
and who proclaimed his mercy and love as he was working.
Who knows.
Perhaps we are part of God’s working out of his purpose.
That would seem to be a right understanding of why we are here on this earth,
why we are part of the church:
to be used by God in the healing of the world.

Be patient, brothers and sisters.
And yet when you are impatient,
you at least are in good company.
John the Baptist,
the one who proclaims the coming of the Lord,
the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River,
has been put in jail.
He sees nothing but defeat,
and Jesus is out there in Galilee doing who knows what.
In impatience,
John sends messengers to Jesus,
saying, perhaps not without some exasperation,
‘Are you the one who is to come,
or are we to wait for another?’

This cry echoes in our heart as well.
Two thousand years after that first Christmas,
and we are yet waiting for the peace announced by the angels
to be made clear in the world, in our lives.
So with John we need to hear the words of Jesus as well.
This is what is happening in Jesus:
‘The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear, the dead are raised’
and, miracle of miracles:
‘the poor have good news brought to them.’

Think about it.
When he healed people,
Jesus was doing things that other prophets and faith healers
were doing at the time.
He was not unusual in this regard.
What the gospels seem to focus on is the meaning behind the miracles:
the fact that Jesus did them accompanying his teaching
was to give weight to the teaching.
Over millennia, prophets, healers, and scientists
have indeed done all the miracles that Jesus was said to have done.
But only God brings good news to the poor,
those who are forgotten by the people of the earth.
Only God forgives sins,
Only God can promise life in the face of death.
God is still working his purpose out.
Jesus is present in our world by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Be patient, therefore, brothers and sisters,
until the perfection of God’s plan,
until the ripening of the harvest.
Pray, ‘Lord, have mercy.’
Long for the kingdom of God
and see it in the small things:
how it forgives sin, heals wounds of body, mind, and spirit,
and redeems people from evil, suffering, and despair.
Work and do your part as God calls you.
And at the coming of the Lord,
you need not worry if you are least or last,
for even the least and last will receive the reward
of those who have waited upon God and his love.