Waiting . . .
A Sermon for Twelfth Pentecost
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Sarai and Abram have been waiting . . . for a long time . . . for a divine promise . . . for God to give them descendants, as many as the stars in the sky, as many as the grains of sand in the desert. And in the Old Testament lesson for today, they are still waiting, not one star, not one grain of sand . . . Nothing. Abram and Sarai were not medical professionals, but they both knew that as each year passed, the prospect of pregnancy and birth became less and less viable or even likely. So, with Sarai's biological clock ticking and Abram's anxiety rising, he brings the issue before God's attention, "O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"
This seems, to me, a reasonable question to ask God. God did make a promise to Abram, and thus far the promise has not been fulfilled. God may be able to enjoy the eternal immensity of all time, but for us mere humans, waiting can be a torturous experience. In fact, time seems to slow down and emotional stress levels peak when we are waiting for something. I want you to think a bit about your own life, what have you waited for? Perhaps you are waiting for something today?
Maybe you have been in Abram and Sarai's shoes and you waited a long time, hoping to start a family.
Maybe you have had to wait for test results or a diagnosis of symptoms?
Maybe you have waited through weeks of rehab to see the strength return to your body?
Maybe you have waited in hospice care for death to come and claim your beloved?
Maybe you have had to wait for a loved one to return from deployment?
Maybe you have waited for a diploma, a job offer, a phone call after the first date?
Maybe you have been waiting for a rector?
Whatever you have been waiting for — I believe it makes all the difference how we experience the time of waiting. Do we wait with faith and grow closer to God, or do we wander away in our impatience? Do we trust in God's goodness, or do we get angry and depressed?
All in all, humanity is a rather impatient bunch and we don't wait very well. Just look at how we behave in a traffic jam, or a long line in the grocery store. We get cranky, we get upset, we get stressed out, and we begin to inflict our unpleasant and impatient feelings upon others.
"Why can't those idiots just drive? What is the hold up, I don't even see an accident! I'll bet someone is on their phone!" And then we lay on the horn as if that will move things along.
"Ugh . . . I always pick the wrong grocery line. The checker is so slow — she must be new, she doesn't know any of the vegetable codes. This lady is loading groceries onto the belt at a snail's pace. Oh no- he did not just pick up an item without a price tag!" The flashing light goes on, a manager is called over, and our blood pressure becomes dangerously high.
Sometimes, when we have been waiting a really long time for something, we begin to despair that it will ever come to pass. After days turn into years filled with the emotional intensity of waiting, we no longer have the energy to wait in hope. Instead depression settles in and while we wait for something that seems to never come, we forget how to live. We forget the promise and gift of each new day. Our waiting becomes our only focus and our disappointment a constant companion. This is a dark place to end up- full of bitterness, resentment, and low self-esteem.
If you remember the story of Abram and Sarai, they eventually get tired of waiting on God and begin to take control of the situation themselves. Sarah decides that since she is unable to get pregnant, her slave Hagar will be a surrogate mother and this will fulfill the terrible childless void in their lives. Well, this does not turn out so well and Sarah ends up resenting Hagar and despising Ishmael and Abraham's household is at war. When we try to force the results by our own hand — we often end up with consequences we never intended.
Jesus' disciples are also getting restless in the gospel reading we heard this morning. They have been waiting for God's Messiah, the Christ, to come and save them from all the atrocities of Roman occupation and establish the rule of God's covenant and reign upon the earth. All of this waiting has left many depressed and full of apathy, others are angry and resentful- ready to riot, and others are looking to take things into their own hands and create security through the accumulation of wealth at the expense of others.
Jesus is faced with a crowd of people who have wandered away from their faith because the waiting has become unbearable. So Jesus tells them something contrary to all of their experience: the reign of God is already here,
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
God is giving you the kingdom right now — not because you have earned it or deserve it — but because it makes God happy to share God's power with you. The only obstacle to us receiving the gift of the kingdom is that we are often confused about what we are waiting for. Many of the disciples are looking for thrones and soldiers, gold and castles with strong gates as evidence of God's kingdom come on earth. If this is what they are waiting for, they will be waiting forever — because this is not the kingdom of God.
In fact, the evidence of God's kingdom is all around them, but they cannot see it. God's reign is foolishness to the wise and wisdom to the fool. God's castle is a fortress built of love and compassion that keeps no one out, and instead invites everyone in. The currency of God's reign is never hoarded up in banks and ledgers, but rather given away. The richest citizen is the one who has given away the most and lifted up the lives of many. The soldiers of God are not ready to kill, but they are ready to die. They wear no armor, they wield no sword, instead they walk onto the battle field with arms wide open ready to embrace the enemy and win the battle by transforming them into friends. And as for thrones, well, we know how Jesus was lifted up and reigned over the earth even as his life ebbed away on the cross. Sometimes, the very thing we have been waiting for, the gift that God is so pleased to give us is already in our hands. We just don't recognize it, yet. And God, God waits patiently for us to get new eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to understand that the reign of God has already come near to us.
I don't know about you, but I feel like I have been waiting a long time for this Sunday. It's been nine months since I wrote my cover letter asking to be considered in your search process. Perhaps, this has been a gestation period and we are giving birth to a new future at All Saints'? Your search committee and vestry have been amazing partners in this period of waiting. There were times during the search process when I would ask God,
"Am I really called to a new church?
Is All Saints' the right place for my gifts and ministry formation?
Is the Holy Spirit going to make it clear what I am supposed to do next?"
Maybe some of you struggled with the waiting? Did you wish the search committee could have worked faster? Or maybe you would have liked to be on the committee and thus felt more in control of the process from the inside? Perhaps, you were waiting for someone else — a little more masculine, a little older, more "rectorish"? Surprise! Look what God delivered to your doorstep.
Now, the waiting is over and I pray that the journey to get to this day has shaped you as much as it has transformed me. God prepares us through our waiting when we stay present and focused. We develop a deep faith when we cannot control what happens next. We build strong relationships of trust when we must rely on our neighbors. We become citizens of God's reign when we give God our treasure so God can also capture our hearts.
Now, the waiting is over and behold the reign of God has come near to us while we waited.
The gift is in now our hands, how will we receive it?
All Saints' future is being born in the midst of us, and behold the Gospel mission of this parish can be like the stars in the night sky and the grains of sand in the desert.
I don't know what this baby is going to grow into, but I invite you to have faith with me and together, let's discover the future that we have been waiting for.
—The Rev. Adrien Dawson
August 7, 2016