September 27, 2020

 “Patience”

Psalm 40:1-3a; Romans 8:24-25; Romans 12:9-13

 

Today’s sermon topic is the last in our summer series on topics that came from the congregation - PATIENCE. How do we be patient, especially in the current world in which we live? Waiting for the pandemic to end so that we can have normal lives again; waiting for the smoke and fire season to end; waiting to help folks rebuild their lives after the devastating Almeda fire; waiting for some change to the problems of biased policing and people of color; waiting for a presidential election to happen and hoping democracy doesn’t implode in the process. There is so much to be waiting for. How can one be patient in the midst of such a world? How does one “capable of bearing affliction with calmness, capable of bearing with delay and waiting for the right moment?” (American Heritage Dictionary Definition)

 

I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant to preach on this topic. You see I’ve only really focused on the notion of having  patience in relation to faith ONCE before. Back in the mid-1980s, both Paula and I were on the summer staff at a Christian camp in Northern California known as Westminster Woods. Paula was a lead counselor and I was a camp coordinator. We both had a lot of fun working with those camps…most of the time. One week in particular had been a rough one for me as a camp coordinator. Kids had gotten into fights. Some staff members had gotten into arguments. A lot of kids became homesick. We had some difficulty getting food to campers, etc. Nerves were frayed and people got pretty impatient with one another. When that camp ended, we had about ½ a day to prepare for the next group of kids coming in. I gathered my team together, many of whom had worked the same camp with me the week prior, and suggested we focus on asking God to teach us to be patient, asking God to gift us with patience as the new camp was about to get rolling. We prayed to be bearers of patience with each other and to hold our staff and campers in God’s love.

 

The next camp was an answer to prayer, but not the answer I expected. God taught us to be patient through an even tougher week. The first night of that camp, I had the counselors and boys all gathered around a campfire standing, letting them share what they were thankful for. A  young camper next to me said, “O God, I thank you for…for… BLEECH!” … and then he threw up all over my legs, and yes, I was wearing shorts.

 

The rest of the week was kind of like that.  A sickness went through the camp, as both counselors and kids were dropping like flies. We ended up calling it “Plague Camp” privately amongst the staff. Through that great calamity and suffering, God taught me to be more patient, the hard way. I have not prayed for it or really delved into it theologically since then. So I approach this topic a bit fearfully, and am NOT asking God to teach me to be patient, but am just helping my congregation to understand patience…just to be clear.

 

As I began to contemplate this topic, I practiced patience this past Wednesday - Waiting for students from SOU to walk down to our campus on welcome to SOU/Southern Oregon Day. Due to COVID 19, there was no meet and greeting of students on campus. Instead, students were encouraged to go out on a scavenger hunt to find local churches and businesses. So, I moved my office outside, plugged my computer into an extension cord, brought out the church phone, put out the homemade cookies and jam which came from some of our church members, and waited. I sat outside for a little over 2 and 1/2hours, and have to confess it was kind of nice doing my office work outside. It was a lovely fall day with blue skies. Birds chirped about me and a nice cool breeze kept me comfortable as I made phone calls, answered emails, and worked on my sermon. But, alas, no students. One unhoused person stopped by and asked for one of the other gifts I had on the table-  rocks with little bits of scripture on them. He said one rock, in particular, spoke to him - “We walk by faith and not by sight.” I gladly gave it to him. However, no one came to visit the church from campus.

 

My wife has also been a practitioner of patience over the last month.  Our LG fridge/freezer went out on August 22,  the day before we came back from a weekend vacation. (By the way, it was a replacement for the LG fridge/ freezer that died after just 2 years of use). The compressor died and we lost all refrigeration. We have been using a small dorm fridge ever since, and Paula has been working with the people at LG to either get the fridge replaced or repaired. Paula has been calling them every few days for WEEKS, hoping for some resolution. This past week, she finally made it to the “replacement likely” department, only to receive an email a bit later that said LG was looking for a repair person in our area…after almost 5 WEEKS of trying to get them to do anything, we are still waiting for some form of resolution.

 

What do today’s passages tell us about patience? The psalm passage is attributed to David. It begins with David waiting patiently. He is in some form of great difficulty - sees himself in a desolate pit, a miry bog. But God put his feet up on a rock, made his footing secure, put a new song in his mouth. David placed his trust in God and God answered - boom! Just like that. In psalms like this, we may read these verses and think the waiting was brief and God’s rescue was instantaneous. More likely, David suffered for a prolonged period of time. After waiting, praying, hoping, and wondering, after David had been molded and shaped in the desolate pit, finally God answered and helped him. This psalm most likely was written in hindsight, well after the time of rescue and help. The most difficult part of patience is waiting, especially if the situation we are in feels like being stuck in a desolate pit.

 

Paul speaks of patience as well in Romans, asking the church in Rome to have hope and to wait for it with patience. Consider that this letter came to this band of new Christians at a most difficult time right around 56 A.D. Nero was the ruler of Rome and no fan of this new Christian religion. Followers of Christ were considered unpatriotic- refusing to worship the emperor and instead worshiping God through Christ. In just a few years, Nero would begin a bloody persecution against these Christians. These followers of Christ walked a precarious line between Roman authority and Jewish rejection of their message. Some Jewish families were literally splitting apart over this new religion. Christians too were in a bit of a desolate pit. Paul’s message to them? Have hope and patience. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

 

Further on in Romans, he encourages them to continue to live faithful lives as they wait in patience for help from God. He tells them, “9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” In the midst of their struggle, in the midst of the desolate pit, Paul encourages them to hope, to live their lives in faith, to trust God, and to be patient while they wait - Sometimes easier said than done.

 

In times when answers to prayer seem confusing or frustrating; when God seems silent; When answers take years to manifest; when an answer is not what we wanted to hear; when it is hard to be patient in the midst of waiting - It is in times such as these that through our persistence in prayer we are being molded and shaped into a vessel that will be able to hold and understand the answer when it comes. God loves us, has our best interest at heart, always, even in the desolate pit. An anonymous Christian once said, “When we pray, God hears more than we say, answers more than we ask, gives more than we imagine, in God’s own time and in God’s own way.”

 

As I look back upon my own life, I have had prolonged periods of waiting - waiting for God to help, to act. In such times - waiting to become parents again after losing our first child while going through seminary classes;  waiting to move from the pain of loss to understanding and hope; waiting to find a call in the church after graduating from seminary; waiting for the adoption of both of our children to go through;  waiting for both of my parents to die while caring for them; waiting for this call to Ashland while going through a time of strife in the congregation I was serving;  I have done as Paul suggested - in those times of uncertainty, of waiting, of needing to be patient, I have practiced my faith. Prayer, in particular, is such an important part of trying to be patient in the midst of those times of struggle. Showing others love and affection, working to help others, living my faith has enabled me in those times of waiting to get through. And in such times, change has come. I have changed both inside and out, sometimes painfully. In those prolonged periods of waiting, of trying to be patient, God has brought about newness and growth - little incremental change, not all at once, but over time. The late Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

 

Consider Eugene Peterson’s translation of Paul’s section of Romans 8:24-25, beginning in verse 22. “22-25 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”

 

God changes us, enlarges us as we await our new birth. So, in the midst of the waiting, I encourage you to be patient, to look for a new perspective and growth that can come to you. Whether a kid is throwing up on your legs, or you are struggling through a pandemic, fire and smoke, racial strife or election; whether you are waiting in a desolate pit or traveling through the valley of the shadow, wait in hope and expectation. Wait with patience, for God is at work in you, and at work in this world as well. In closing, Shirley Patton and I will do a little vignette about patience,  waiting and change, written in part by me and in part by John Roedel, entitled, “Hey God?” Me: Hey God?
God: Hello...
Me: I'm falling apart. COVID, the fire, the smoke, the election. Can you put me back together?
God: I would rather not.
Me: Why? I need you to do something now. I am just done.
God: Because you aren't a puzzle. Have patience.
Me: What about all of the pieces of my life that are falling down onto the ground?
God: Let them stay there for a while. They fell off for a reason. Take some time and decide if you need any of those pieces back.
Me: You don't understand! I'm breaking down! I need help now!
God: No - you don't understand. You are breaking through. What you are feeling are, in part, growing pains. You are shedding the things and the people in your life that are holding you back. You aren't falling apart. You are falling into place. Growth takes time and isn’t easy. Take some deep breaths and allow those things you don't need anymore to fall off of you. As you go through this difficult time, quit holding onto the pieces that don't fit you anymore. Let them fall off. Let them go.
Me: Once I start doing that, what will be left of me?
God: Only the very best pieces of you.
Me: I'm scared of changing, and I don’t think I can wait.
God: I keep telling you - YOU AREN'T CHANGING!! YOU ARE BECOMING!
Me: Becoming who?
God: Becoming who I created you to be! A person of light and love and charity and hope and courage and joy and mercy and grace and compassion. I made you for more than the shallow pieces you have decided to adorn yourself with that you cling to with such greed and fear. Let those things fall off of you. I love you! Don't change! ... Become! Become! Become who I made you to be. I'm going to keep telling you this until you remember it.
Me: There goes another piece.
God: Yep. Let it be.
Me: So ... I'm not broken?
God: Of course Not! - but you are breaking like the dawn. Have patience. Things will not always be this way. You are becoming!!!

 

 

Benediction: Ephesians 4:1-3 Written by Paul, as he was in a prison cell, waiting.

I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

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