Waiting – July 19, 2020
Psalm 13, Matthew 27:57-66
July 19, 2020
“Patience is a virtue.” That’s something my mom used to say. We kids didn’t know what it meant. We didn’t know what a “virtue” even was! But we used to hear it.
Later on, I learned that patience was one of the “Fruits of the Spirit.” Do you remember Galatians 5? “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…” Then I learned that Jesus said, “You know a tree by the fruit it bears” So, it follows that people will know we are God’s people, when we have those fruits in our lives – including Patience.
So, how are you doing with that? I’ve been thinking about patience this week. It’s especially important in this time of quarantine. This is a time when we really need patience, isn’t it? We’re waiting for a lot of things these days! We’re waiting for the pandemic to end. We’re waiting for a time when we can do the things we used to do. Mostly we’re waiting for things to “get back to normal” – whatever that’s going to look like! And we need patience!
The disciples were waiting. In our ongoing look at Holy Week, we’re in that time between Good Friday, and Easter morning. And I often wonder what the disciples were thinking in those days. As I said before, their overall feeling was one of devastation. They had lost everything. Now they were in hiding, until whatever came next. Mainly they were waiting until “the heat died down,” when people were no longer “after them.” But did they even have a thought about what was about to happen? We think they must have – because we know the story. But I doubt they did. I think, like us, they were just waiting for life to “get back to normal,” too! And I wonder how that waiting felt for them.
As I think about this, it seems to me that “waiting” might not be the same as “patience.” Sometimes waiting can be a very hard thing. And sometimes we’re not very good at it! Think about the difference between “waiting,” and “waiting patiently.” There’s a difference there, isn’t there? Just waiting is a matter of “biding the time,” as they say. It’s “counting the days, minutes, hours.” On the other hand, patience, is a state of mind. And it’s something that we have to work on! The “natural state” of us humans, is not patience! Sometimes, when we’re forced to wait for something, we have to stop and take a deep breath and relax our mind and seek peace in our waiting. That’s patience, isn’t it?” It’s having that “peace in waiting?”
I was out to see my kids last week. You were there with me! We were outside on the porch with the trees and the birds. Well, getting out there to Kansas City and coming home, I had a layover in Chicago – both ways. And as my travel plans worked out, they were some of the longest layovers I’ve ever had! It was three hours one way, and four hours the other way! But, even in that waiting, I knew there was a flight time coming! It would have been different if the flights were delayed. And I’ve had that happen. Maybe you have, too. One hour becomes two hours, and you don’t know when the next update will be, or how much longer the wait will become!
That’s the hardest kind of waiting for me. It’s not just waiting. It’s waiting and not knowing how long I’ll be waiting! You can tell me something will be an hour, (or three or four!) and I’m cool. I can do things. I can plan around the time. But if you say it’ll be “Soon,” that’s a different story! Because now I’m thinking “How long is soon?” For some people, “soon” is 15 minutes? For some, it’s two hours! And the hardest part is when I don’t know how long it is! That’s where I have the hardest time with patience. Are you with me on that?
As I said, Patience is something we have to work on. It doesn’t happen all by itself. And I think patience is something that’s lost on our world in that way! People don’t seem to care about learning patience any more. We live in a fast-paced society, with high speed everything, and instant answers. (And we live in a culture where people say they can’t help what they say, what they think, what they do!”)
Tell me when this started happening. This didn’t happen before when I lived in Bucks County – or anywhere else, for that matter. I’m sitting at a red light, the light turns green, I have a manual transmission, so I step on my clutch, I shift into first gear, and before I can move forward, the person behind me honks their horn. When did that start happening? People seem so impatient! When I have to go through a yellow light, and maybe it’s a bit “questionable,” I always look in my mirror. Because I’m curious to see how many cars followed me through that light, when it’s completely red! Our world is in a big hurry!
I’m thinking about all that this week, because the disciples were in a waiting mode those three days between Good Friday and Easter. And again, it wasn’t just waiting. And it wasn’t even just waiting without knowing how long they were waiting – even though Jesus told them a number of times that it would be the third day! But it wasn’t just that. For them, it was waiting and not even knowing what they were waiting for! That’s like being in a state of “limbo!” All they knew was that their world had come crashing down. They were waiting for the hurt and devastation to dissipate. They were waiting for life to get “back to normal” – like us. And I think like them, we’re not sure exactly what we’re waiting for these days, either.
It would all change for them soon! And we’ll talk about that next week! Jesus would return, and then the next thing was that he was taken up into heaven before them! We’ll be talking about that “Ascension” in a few weeks. And after that event, another time of waiting began. But this time, they at least knew what they were waiting for. Because the angel at the Ascension said that Jesus would come back again!
However, in the days of the early church, Christians started to realize that maybe that didn’t mean Jesus was coming back “right away.” And after a while, the “delay” of his return became a real thing in the early days of the church. “What do we do?” “How do we live?” They weren’t sure. For a time, some people felt they didn’t have to live normal lives, they didn’t have to be “contributing members of society,” because it was all going to end soon anyway. But as time went on, and it didn’t end, they had to re-think a lot of things! So, this did become a matter of “waiting without knowing how long.” And in a sense, we’re still in that mode. We don’t know how long we are waiting for the return of Christ.
I think we’re in a similar time of waiting, during this pandemic. We’re a lot like those disciples, hiding behind closed doors, waiting for life to get back to normal. We want life to be back to normal. But now, four months into this, we still don’t know how long.
I think of those words, “How Long?” We sometimes hear them in the Psalms, “How long, O Lord?” I googled those words and it took me to Psalm 13. And this seemed so fitting!
“How long, O Lord? Wilt thou forget me forever?
How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
And have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
“How long, O Lord?” Those are words of anguish and lament, and frustration over not knowing “how long!” And don’t we feel that in this time of quarantine. Don’t those words reflect our frustration, our anxiety over waiting. The Psalmist is pouring out his heart before the Lord. But it doesn’t end there! He ends with words that speak of trusting in God! And I want you to hear this at the end of that Psalm.
“But I have trusted in thy steadfast love, O Lord.
My heard shall rejoice in thy salvation
I will sing to the Lord,
Because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
There’s the patience! And that’s such a good thing for us as God’s people. No matter what we’re going through, no matter how much anxiety we feel in a time of waiting like this, we can trust in God’s steadfast love. We can recognize that he has “dealt bountifully” with us. I think that’s a good thing to think about during these times.
The other thing we might consider these days is the Old Testament idea of “Waiting on the Lord.” That comes up a lot in the Old Testament. Waiting, not asking, not even talking, just waiting. In Psalm 27 it says, “Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage. Yea, wait for the Lord!” And maybe you remember these familiar words from the end of Isaiah 40. “They 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.”
That was an important thing for God’s people. And I wonder if the disciples thought about those words. “Wait for the Lord.” They were awaiting the greatest of events! But they really didn’t know it. They didn’t know what was going to happen, even though Jesus told them! Their state of devastation was too great. “Because, let’s face it, death is permanent! Right? Jesus is gone for good, isn’t he?”
And they didn’t know how long their current state would last. “How long, O Lord? How long shall I be in hiding? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” How long will we be in this current time?
I pray for us to remember, in all of that, the “steadfast love of God.” I pray for us that “peace in waiting.” I pray for us to be aware of the presence of God, and to know of his strength. I pray that we remember, like the Psalmist, that God has “dealt bountifully” with us!
Mom was right. Patience is a virtue!
Eternal God, help us indeed, to feel your strength, to know of your spirit in our midst. May we truly wait on you, and know your presence in our lives. For we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.