On this evening of the first Tuesday of Advent we begin a four-part sermon series entitled “Practicing Patience”.  We invite you to join us following the service for soup and conversation with the preacher. The topic I’ve been asked to comment on this evening is “waiting”.  I need to begin with disclosure and a disclaimer: I am not a patient person by nature and I most certainly do not like to wait. So you must all wonder if I actually know what I’m talking about. But since I’ve been asked to address the topics of patience and waiting, I shall now fulfill my obligation by talking; and you, a captive audience, must sit and wait patiently for me to finish—which I will do eventually—although you know “neither the day nor the hour”!

The early Christians seem to have believed that the end times and the second coming of Christ were just about to happen—maybe even later today or tomorrow or not much later. So the New Testament has very few references to future generations—no admonitions to “tell this to your children and your children’s children”. There would very soon be a new heaven and a new earth, so don’t get too attached to this one. The great and terrible and wonderful day of the Lord was just about to happen—Jesus would come again very soon.

For a more helpful perspective on waiting we look to the Hebrew Scriptures. Some of the best known Psalms are about waiting, waiting for the Lord, waiting for the Lord to act. Israel knew it was in it for the long haul—Abraham was promised descendants as numerous as the particles of dust on the earth. The statutes and ordinances of the Torah are for all generations to come. And the Psalmist sings, “My soul shall live for the Lord; my descendants shall serve him; they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever. They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done.” [Ps. 22: 29-30]

There is almost none of this sort of thing in the New Testament. A rare exception is in Mary’s Magnificat: “all generations shall call me blessed” she says, echoing the Psalms [Luke 1:48].  Maybe she knew something the rest of the early church didn’t know…

So here we are many generations later. And we’re still waiting.  Israel still waits for the Messiah.  Christians wait for the Messiah’s second coming. And we all wait for the great and glorious and terrible and wonderful Day of the Lord, the consummation, the fulfillment, the Kingdom of God—whatever it is that is God’s vision for this world. And we suspect that the new heaven and the new earth, the Kingdom of God in its fullness, just might be way out there in time.  God, after all, thinks in big terms, long term, numbers with lots and lots and lots of zeroes.

Here we are many generations later and quite possibly many more to come—and still waiting.  How are we to wait?  Shall we simply sit here and wait?  We could.  Some do. But while we’re waiting we might notice that we can do stuff. We can make things happen. We have agency, we can be movers and shakers. Rather than be bored to tears waiting or greatly annoyed by the delay, we can get up and do stuff.  While our souls “wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning” [Ps. 130] we can be creative, we can be agents of change.

None of us knows exactly what God has in mind for the new heaven and new earth.  But I suspect we all have intuitions, even visions of what this new world shall be like—the Hebrew prophets sketch this out a bit: the peaceable kingdom, justice, well-being and provision for all. For those of us who are impatient, we want all this now—we do not want to wait.  We could sit and pout. Or, while we are all waiting for the mighty acts of God, we could do stuff.

While we are waiting we can actually bring into being what we are waiting for, what we envision for the future. God works through human agency to bring about the future. The future Kingdom breaks into the present through our actions, through our work to bring about justice and peace and well-being for all people. So Christian waiting does not need to be passive; Christian waiting can be active, creative–animated by Christ’s love; guided by Christ’s creative wisdom and Spirit.

What about patience?  Can active and creative waiting also be patient?  I believe so; but it requires some humility. And a healthy dose of agnosticism: we simply don’t know what God has in mind for the future.  We don’t see the grand design of the master weaver.

We may feel called to be agents of change, participating in God’s creative work to bring about the new life of the Kingdom. We may accomplish big things, we may do important work.  But we actually don’t know if, in the scheme of things, these things are important. Or we may feel called to do things that seem small and insignificant.  We don’t actually know if, in the scheme of things, they are small and insignificant. I suspect that the seemingly small, ordinary kindnesses of our lives are magnified greatly in God’s design. We remember the story of the widow’s mite and the stories of the loaves and fishes. What seems like little to us may amount to a great deal in God’s economy. We do what we can, what we feel called to do, large or small—but the rest is in God’s hands.

I think my message this evening is fairly straight-forward: Waiting can be active and creative.  Patient waiting adds the element of humility: in humility we leave the significance and outcome of what we do up to God.  Our restlessness and impatience may very well be promptings of the Spirit to do something—but how this something fits into the larger design is not for us to know, at least not yet.

Patient waiting calls for humility and the willingness to admit how little we know about what God has in mind for the future.  Patient waiting calls for trust and hope. Yes, we may be movers and shakers.  But whether we move and shake a lot or shake and move but a little, we trust God to make what he will of our moving and shaking.

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  1. Fred Adams on December 18, 2015 at 13:17

    Br. Mark,
    So beautifully said. So well said. So many messages and times for me to stop and apply to my (and probably to all of our) various conditions–even during the morning noise of the kids getting up. Bless you Br. Mark, and all the brothers for these daily “words.”

  2. Ruth West on December 12, 2015 at 23:54

    This is a good sermon, Br. Curtis. My husband used to say, “Don’t pray for patience unless you can tolerate a little tribulation to go with it.” I know there is a scripture which says, “Tribulation worketh patience.” Would love to hear your explanation of that verse.

  3. Eunice Schatz on December 12, 2015 at 09:32

    This resonated with me along with something I read recently: we do not FIND our future; we MAKE it. This placed more importance for me on the now. . .that is creatively making the future.

  4. Michael on December 12, 2015 at 08:41

    Unfortunately, I often turn my frustration and impatience with waiting, what to do, when to do it, or will it be right on to myself and become disappointed and judgmental with my inactions. I’m trying to be more present and focused, but old habits die hard. Knowing others struggle with the same issues helps me to feel less isolated. Thanks for the reminder

  5. Marta e. on May 30, 2015 at 06:11

    Waiting with patience is hard. Deciding what to do is hard. I think, as you wrote above, that the answer is hearing God’s signals, but that requires waiting with patience, confidence, and a lot more patience, not acting hastily, not getting so frustrated that I do the “wrong” thing, again, and again. I”m working on more prayer, deeper prayer, more contemplation, not getting distracted, finding joy in the waiting for answers, more “lessons”, etc. Thank you for this wonderful meditation on “frustration” and how to turn it into joy.
    P.s. Maybe a “vacation” from the repetitions and seeking and waiting for God’s direction.

  6. John Backman on May 28, 2015 at 09:16

    Br. Mark, you have perfectly summarized the lesson I’ve been struggling to learn for several years. And this sentence–“Our restlessness and impatience may very well be promptings of the Spirit to do something”–really grabbed my attention. I am looking at a potential career change that has something of the divine nudge about it. Ever since it came up two weeks ago, I have been more bored and more restless than I have ever been in my life: this from someone who is rarely restless and almost never bored. I have wondered whether this is a sign of that nudge. Thank you for putting it into words.

  7. Rodney W. on May 28, 2015 at 08:46

    Early in my recovery from alcoholism I was sharing with an old timer all the things I wanted to do and accomplish in sobriety. He stared and smiled and said, “For me, sobriety is enough.” At the time I thought “How lame! What a slacker.” I eventually learned what he meant was much more than just “staying sober” but emotional sobriety, serenity, peace of mind, happiness, joy. These elusive things that always escaped me before no matter how much I “accomplished”. These things that can only come from God.

    • Susan on December 13, 2015 at 05:01

      Thank you, Rodney, for that excellent reminder to those of us in recovery. I especially need that reminder in the craziness of the Christmas “season,” also known as Advent 🙂 – a season in which it is easy to lose our way.

    • David Cranmer on December 22, 2015 at 21:47

      Rodney, these things have long eluded me, even after a friend explained to me the difference between “doing” and “being.” Only now am I beginning to learn the art of “being.” Perhaps in light of Br Mark’s homily, I should write “creative being.”

  8. Eben Carsey on September 27, 2014 at 15:21

    It is so good to hear again one of the voices, words, and wisdom of the Spirit that I heard earlier this month at Emery House, a voice that led us in prayers and reading of the psalms, that announced the menu at meals, a voice that pronounced the peace of Christ. Thank you.

  9. Clark on July 28, 2014 at 07:34

    Deep, deep into retirement years, gray, drawn and quartered by surgeries, I yearn to do… something, not for prominence or even notice, but just to enjoy and share… to laugh with God. Thank you for your encouragement. Clark

  10. Ron Keel on December 3, 2011 at 19:49

    Enjoyed your reflection on waiting and patience. Your writing is reflective of how I remember you speaking … when we were in small group at CREDO.
    Joy of the Season,
    Ron Keel +
    Still doing morning Yoga?

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