Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

 “Until Christ Comes…Wait”

Sunday, November 25, 2007

 

 

Isaiah 40: 28-31


Dean Snyder

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

Advent, which begins next Sunday, is the season of waiting. In terms of the biblical drama, it is a reminder of the generations of the faithful who waited for a messiah to be born and who died never having seen the fulfillment of the promise they believed in.

 

But waiting is much more than a season of the Christian year. In fact, each of the seasons of the Christian year actually focuses on aspects of life that are part of our experience of life all year long and all life long. The seasons of the Christian year are times we focus on fundamental aspects of universal human experience. We lift them up for a time to pay attention to them, but the reality of them is with us year long and life long.

 

So during the Advent season we focus our attention on waiting, but waiting is not just an Advent experience. It is a part of life many of us find difficult.

 

The most clear-cut experiences of waiting may be at the beginning and the end of life. There is no way to hurry a pregnancy…and we would not want to. The new life that is coming into being inside a mother’s womb needs time to grow slowly and to take shape and form. Parents-to-be can eat right and exercise and anticipate but, really, there is not much else to do but to wait. We would not want to not wait.

 

And any of us who have sat next to the bed of a loved one who is approaching the end of life knows that this too is a matter of waiting. You can be with someone in the last hours of their life; you can make them as comfortable as possible; you can try to communicate your love; but really there is not much else to do but to wait.

 

Even in those aspects of life over which we like to think we have greater control, there is an element of waiting.

 

Graduating from school involves a lot of study, work, writing, achieving, but there is an element of graduating that is just waiting for graduation day to come. You can complete the work, but you still need to wait.

 

You can do your job well in anticipation of the next thing you anticipate doing; you can work hard and excel; you can position yourself but there is still an aspect of waiting until the next opportunity or challenge appears.

 

When illness comes, you can go to the doctor, take medicine, change your life to become healthier, but you still need to wait for health to come.

 

You can work for justice in the world; you can organize and press day and night for some element of injustice to be corrected; you can give it everything you have, but you will still need to wait for justice to come.

 

There are some situations in life when it seems as though the only thing we can do is wait…we have little or no control over what will happen. But even in those situations of life where we like to think that we are in control, we are never fully in control and there is a part of even these aspects of life that require us to wait.

 

This is especially true in matters of the heart…there is no healing, no trust, no forgiveness, no hope, no love that doesn’t require waiting. No healing, no trust, no forgiveness, no hope, no love that doesn’t require us to wait for it.

 

I suppose some of us are better at waiting than others. Some of us are not so good at waiting.

 

This is the time of the year when clergy are asked by our bishop to do our annual evaluations. One of the tools the bishop has suggested we use as part of our self-evaluation is the book Now…Discover Your Strengths put out by the Gallup people.[i] There is an inventory you take and it suggests your greatest strengths.

 

I took it again this year and one of the strengths it identifies for me is called “activator.” The two sentence description for this so-called strength is:  People strong in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action.  They are often impatient.”

 

A lot of us who are get-things-done, action-and-results-oriented, a lot of us who find our way to Washington, DC are not very good at waiting.

 

I’ll never forget the story the Washington Post wrote about the former pastor of National Presbyterian Church Craig Barnes several years after he had become the church’s pastor.[ii] He talked about the experience of being a get-things-done, action-and-results-oriented person coming to be the pastor of a congregation of get-things-done, action-and-results-oriented people. He said that he realized one day that he was equipped with just the right neurosis to pastor a church in Washington, DC, a city that lives by the myth that anyone can come from anywhere and work hard here and manage to make a difference…from the successful politician to the intern running a copy machine. [iii]

 

Shortly before he became the pastor of National Pres, Barnes was diagnosed with an illness that sapped his strength. He couldn’t drive ministry the way he used to. He had to learn how to do ministry in a new way. He had to learn that he was not fully in control of his ministry, his success, or of God. I think he had to learn how to wait for others and how to wait for God.

 

Many of us, I suspect, need to learn how to wait.

 

Waiting is hard. Waiting makes us feel weak and impotent. It is a harsh reminder of our limitedness. It is a reminder of our need for others. It is a reminder of our need for God.

 

 

Impatience is an expression of our longing for wholeness and justice to come, but it can also be an expression of faithlessness and, frankly, arrogance. It is as though the universe has to move according to our schedule and expectations. It is as though healing and justice and good were dependent upon us rather than woven into the fabric of God’s creation. It is as though we did not trust God.

 

Waiting is a part of faith, which is finally trust. Perhaps the reason so many of us find waiting so difficult is because we really aren’t very trusting…not trusting of others, not trusting of the world, not trusting of God, not even really trusting of ourselves.

 

The prophet Isaiah says that waiting can be a source of strength.

 

He writes: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40: 31)

 

Is it possible that the reason we are often so weak and ineffectual is because we are operating at the furthest edges of our own capabilities and beyond rather than waiting for the movement of the Spirit of God in our world and in our lives.  

 

I was eating with family members at a restaurant this week, a new restaurant recently opening by a family of immigrants to the U.S. who are, I can tell, eager to succeed. We were having a late lunch and the restaurant was almost empty with the wait staff standing around. Our waiter was too attentive. I’d eaten half my lunch and sat my fork down to concentrate on the conversation we were having and he immediately walked over and asked if he could take my plate. I told him I wasn’t finished yet. A few minutes later the same thing happened. “May I take your plate?” he asked again. “Not until I’ve eaten the food off it,” I answered.

 

I wonder if we are sometimes like this with God: so eager, so driven, so wanting to succeed, wanting to do well…that we unnecessarily wear ourselves out and thoughtlessly irritate God in the process.

 

Being attuned to God, moving in tune with divine rhythms, paying attention and waiting, this renews our strength so when the moment is right we can mount up with wings like eagles and we can persevere for the long haul and run and not be weary.

    

 

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