Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Sermon for This Morning

When I was 12 years old, I went to boarding school for the first time. My mother sewed all kinds of dress code approved clothes I packed my bags and we drove the two days on a miserable road my parents dropped me at school. I don’t remember much about that first term. Other than reading the book of Revelation for the first time, the only strikingly vivid memory was the day my parents were supposed to visit. As soon as class was over I ran and sat to wait for them on the huge cement sign bearing the name of the school. I sat there for the rest of the day. They were supposed to arrive at 3:30 in the afternoon. I sat and sat. And sat. Finally someone came to tell me that I had go to supper or I would be in trouble. And after supper came the inevitable unpleasant march to bed—devotions, snack, teeth brushing, all of it went by with a huge knot in my stomach. They Hadn’t Come. They were probably never going to come. That’s it, at the tender age of 12 I was alone in the world. But, most of you have met my parents so clearly the suspense I am trying to build is not completely possible. They arrived just as we were finally being sent off to bed. They had been delayed at the border. They had sat there nearly All day, miserable themselves, showing their papers to every official that decided to see them, they were exhausted and frustrated. This morning we’re taking up the next part of our verse from Ephesians that we have been studying these long weeks. You can turn there if you would like. Ephesians 4, Paul writes, ‘I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We have talked about unity, humility and pride, and gentleness. Today we’re going to look carefully at patience. Not surprisingly, when Matt asked me to preach on patience, I thought, I’m not patient, I don’t really want to be patient, what a horrible sermon topic. Possibly all of you are feeling similar emotions just now. We’re going to first look at God—because God himself is All Patient, he is the definition of patience. If we want to understand what it means to be patient, we have to look at God. Then, we will look at our lack of patience in the face of God’s patience. And finally, we will discover together how we might change, how we might more gain the mind of Christ, be more conformed into his image. So, God is patient. Peter, in his second letter, writes, “9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Many times I have read Genesis 1 and 2 and then chapter 3 and wondered, why didn’t, when Adam and Eve sinned, why didn’t he just wipe them out and start over, or give up the whole project. Because its not like, after he, God, had gone to such a great deal of trouble to create a perfectly beautiful world, to put two people in this creation to care for it and do his will, when they deliberately rebelliously defied him and ate of the tree whereof he had commanded them not to eat, its not like he didn’t know how bad it could get. Or didn’t know what was coming. The easy way out would have been to chuck the entire project and visit death upon them literally, not only spiritually. And yet, and yet, the bible goes on for another 65 books. God is patient, abounding in steadfast love. He waits and waits and waits for us. The very moment that Adam turned his back on God, God turned himself towards Adam and began at the very least a 4000 year walk toward a new Adam, toward Jesus and his work on the cross. Not only so, if you look particularly at the face of Jesus, the words he spoke, the things he did particularly in the week leading up to his death on the cross, and indeed the incredible suffering of the cross itself, you find the perfect model of long suffering patience. He bore, to quote the dictionary, the provocation, annoyance, misfortune and pain without complaint, loss of temper or irritation. Not only so, he did it with love. God so loved the world that he not only took the time to create, he took the time to redeem and restore. Therefore, and we come to Point Two, we must be patient. We must bear with one another in love. And yet we don’t. I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’ve wanted to do many things and been increasingly unable to. You’d think, after four times of being pregnant, it would be no surprise to me that by week 30, I can’t just spring lightly from my chair, run the vacuum around the house, carry several boxes to the basement, and then get a quick and healthy super for all my kids. You’d think I would know that 30 weeks of pregnancy doesn’t allow for that kind of agility, and that I would plan accordingly. Instead, I forget my frailty, I don’t allow for it, and then I become frustrated and angry when I don’t get everything done on my list. I am not patient with myself. Nor am I patient with other people. Just like I cannot meet my own expectations and plans for myself, nobody else meets my expectations and plans either.
And so I am not in control, things do not work out as I intend, and I spend all day sitting on a sign waiting for what I think should happen, or waiting for someone to live up to some idea I have. This is not Godly. Jesus spent some time on exactly this kind of behavior in Matthew chapter 18. A king was going through his accounts, discovered that one of his servants owed him a vast deal of money, more money than could be paid in a life time. There’s no way this guy was going to be able to pay a fraction of it. And so, when the servant was called before the king, he begged for mercy, for patience. And the king did, he had mercy. The debt, in the story, stands for our sin before God. There’s no way we can atone for our own sin. The immensity of it, before God’s perfection, is so great. The mercy that the king has, in the story, is Jesus and his work on the cross. So, the servant went out of the presence of the king, having just been forgiven, but before gratitude could settle in, the servant saw a guy who owed him five bucks, if that. He grabbed him by the collar and said, you better pay me now or I’ll have you sent to prison. But the guy didn’t have it. He was poor. He had to buy milk and bread for his family. The servant wouldn’t have mercy and sent the poor man to prison. The king heard about it and was rightfully enraged. You were forgiven your life, and you couldn’t forgive? I had patience with you, and you couldn’t have patience? From God’s perspective, it doesn’t matter the irritations and disappointments of our day to day life, we have been given life. We have been forgiven, and not just on a whim, God took time, he had a plan, he sent his Son, and we can’t exercise a little grace with each other? We can’t swallow a little bit of irritation because someone didn’t live up to our plans and expectations? God has given us everything, he’s given us himself. We can, more than that, we must be patient, we must be gracious, we must bear with each other and forgive one another. But how? And this is our third point. Well, first, you have to have a relationship with Jesus. You have to have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. But then, knowing that it is God who does this work in you, you can cooperate with the Holy Spirit in working to change the habits of your life. If you can turn, just for a minute to Psalm 17:15, the Psalmist writes, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” And also Psalm 62: For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. Changing your habit of mind and heart away from impatience and frustration with yourself and other people to patience and bearing with another in love is a two step process. The first step is to mediate in prayer on the Scriptures. I’ve just given you two verses to start with. As your feet touch the floor in the morning, after you’ve read the paper and had a cup of coffee, I’m going to assume that you’ve already disciplined yourself to read the Bible and pray. The next step, for me, is to use scripture itself again to pray through your day and what you expect. Get out a piece of paper, write at the top, ‘For God alone my soul in silence waits’ and ‘I shall be satisfied with your likeness’ and then write out what you intend to do that day. Every few minutes, stop and look at your verses. The second step is to wait on the Lord. Rather than rushing in, pause, wait. When that knot of anxiety, of worry, of irritation, of things not working out the way we want them too—when that wells up in the throat and you feel a yell right behind it, or a quick snappy remark that will make you feel better but will decimate your brother or sister in Christ, or an air of superiority that lets your brother or sister know that they have blown it and crossed your line, or a sharp response to your child who, frankly, can’t be expected to accommodate your crazy schedule—practice taking your eyes off yourself, and being satisfied with God. Of praying, of imploring God for help to act patiently, though you do not feel it. Of training yourself to look to God and be loved by him enough so that you can bear with, you can forgive the person you really do love, though not even a tiny smidgeon of how much God loves you. I’m going to stop there.
The Lord be with you…….


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
R said...

Good sermon! Thanks for posting.


Geri said...

Ouch, Anne. This one hurt. It is as if you were talking straight to me, and I am over a thousand miles away. Good job.