Sermon December 15, 2019

“Living in the Midst of the Wait: Finding Patience for the Wait”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
James 5:7-10
December 15, 2019

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.

James 5:7i

With what sort of patience does one wait for the Lord? I do not know at what door God will knock. I do not know when the Lord of heaven will come. I do not know the gender or nationality. Yet I am being called by James to be patient for the coming of the Lord.

I think Joseph and Mary knew something about having to be patient — not only for the day of Mary’s deliverance, but each day following Jesus’ birth. They would have to flee for their lives due to Herod’s treachery, they know the panic of losing their child in a crowd, when he had matured into a man they would fear for their son’s life and urge Him to come home. They must have known a great deal about patience. Oh, it is true they had to find the patience to wait for the day of delivery. But I am suggesting their wait did not end when Jesus was born. It began in earnest.

The patience wait of a parent begins the day of the child’s birth. Mine was tested one day. One of my sons had spent the night at a friend’s house — playing video games and watching TV — or so we thought. That night, the two boys found a fifth of Vodka. My son’s friend badgered my son to give him the keys to our car, an SUV. The boy went outside. Started the car. Went into the woods. Hit a rock. Bent the fender, smashed the facia, twisted the wheel, broke the axil. He did not have a driver’s license. I was livid. We had been lied to. The agenda had never been video games and TV. They had planned on getting drunk. I wanted my son to see what his actions had done so I took him down to see the car when it was on the lift. On the way home, we had a conversation. I told him that he never needed to worry about telling a lie. I told him he was accomplished at that task, that he did it well and was convincing. So never worry about being able to lie. That was not his problem. What I told him he needed to do was decide what kind of man he was going to be. I had to find the patients to wait and discover the fine man he has become. Every person in this room has to find the patience to wait — for a disease to pass, for reconciliation within the family, for the wayward to find their way home.

Patience is far easier when the stakes are low. I mailed some Christmas gifts two days ago. The post office gave me tracking numbers so I can go on the internet and find out where the packages are at any given time. But I’m not worried and I’m not impatient. They’ll be there by Christmas day. I don’t need to be patient. The stakes are low.

Far harder to be patient when a financial crisis needs to be averted, when life is out of whack, when suffering is at a loved one’s door. Then the need is urgent and patience can be hard to find. We all have known such moments. Haven’t we all been pushed to the edge?

How, then, can our faith help shape our patience? Let me suggest several ways. One of the first is to do as James suggested. “As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” It is difficult to link patience with Jeremiah. Remember him? He is the one who tells his nation that they are flirting with disaster, that their alliance with Egypt will only hasten their demise. The king ignores him. The other prophets of the nation tell the people that God is on their side. Jeremiah is thrown into a cistern and many hoped he would die. Indeed, the book of Lamentations has Jeremiah as its author. He is a man who will not be silenced, who is sure the nation is on course to know the fires of war. Patient? Not a word usually associated with Jeremiah. But James pointed directly to the prophets as guides for our patience. So, what is James indicating?

Patience and inaction do not go hand in hand. Patience is the way one approaches life’s difficulties, pain and trial. It requires faith that the God of heaven is not done yet, that even if the pain is not lifted, God can use it to noble ends. For all of those who have had to visit an Intensive Care Unit, for those who have suffered issues of abandonment, infidelity, had to live on life’s edge, patience is not a call to passivity but a means to endure your darkness. Remember, Jeremiah shows the ultimate in trust. He buys a field in Anathoth while the Babylonians lay siege to Jerusalem. He trusted that God was not done yet. And those of us who call the day of Jesus’ torture and death “Good Friday,” should of all people live with that same confidence. God is not done yet. Sunday, the day of resurrection, is coming.

The patience James is suggesting is one of confident hope. We wait for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom in a world that often scoffs at its principles for living. We are not being called to passivity but to hope. Here, then, are some other factors that can inform our patience.

  • Know that you don’t have a choice. You do not control the course of history. You may impact it, but the beginning and the end do not belong to us but to God. Patience is required because there is no alternative.
  • Patience is not passivity but centered hope. Know that all things work to the good, that God was in the past directing our course, that God is in the present walking with us through the night, that God owns the future and the final victory is God’s alone.
  • Patience is the doorway to now. The impatient cannot find satisfaction in life’s now. They do not yearn for a future hope but bemoan hope’s absence in the present.
  • Patience is a companion on life’s journey. Nothing that is of ultimate importance can be achieved instantaneously. The wait is part of finding fulfillment. It is life liven in faithful trust.

Finally, take with you these words from Frederick Buechner:

“So to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is not just a passive thing, a pious, prayerful, churchly thing. On the contrary, to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is above all else to act in Christ’s stead as fully as we know how. To wait for Christ is as best we can to be Christ to those who need us to be Christ to them most and to bring them the most we have of Christ’s healing and hope because unless we bring it, it may never be brought at all.”

With that as your patient guide, you may come to find that you have become the very thing you have been waiting for and your family and world will be blessed. Let us pray…

i Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.