Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

11/17/13 Sermon - Ed Wynne

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

Isaiah 65:17-25
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19
 

This Gospel Lesson sounds strange, and even foreboding, to our modern ears and hearts.  We tend to be wary of those who see signs and portents around every corner and within every world event.  But, what Jesus was talking about here is the coming of God's kingdom on earth-- and that is not a fact of history; it is a call to hope!  And there is one ingredient without which hope cannot live, and that is patience!  Listen  to these words of the Apostle Paul written to the Church at Rome: "Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience"(8:25).

Do we recall the little verse giving rise to our sermon title?

Patience is a virtue;

 Possess it if you can;
Seldom held by woman,
Never possessed by man.

Mac McCleary has put it in a way immediately grasped by those of us who drive: "Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you and scorn in the one ahead."  It does not take great insight to discover that patience is a rather lost commodity in our society today.  One of the most difficult lessons our great nation learned a generation ago, as it struggled over Vietnam, was this:  we were faced with a problem that didn't surrender to United States calendars, to United States battle plans, to United States clocks, to United States schedules.  The American clock-watchers had finally collided, face to face, with the timeless culture of the Oriental; and that confrontation was terribly disillusioning for us, and still is.  For the first time, we were not able to set a date for a victory celebration in advance.  Our efforts to manipulate history have been like trying to push around a wet noodle.  And I suspect it has been a lesson we needed, even if one we have not always heeded.

We Americans are typically impatient.  We want perfection in a hurry.  We dream up an idea one day and we want to force it on the rest of the world the next.  We fought for freedom more than 200 years ago, but the fight for the freedom of the world has just begun.  Look at China, for instance, that ancient and mysterious and sometimes frightening nation.  We forget the people of China have been fighting for freedom for over 4,000 years.  The Oriental has learned how to wait.


But we are the impatient people.  We are the people who like minute steaks.  We like minute rice.  We want minute tapioca.  We want instant tea, instant coffee, instant oatmeal, and-- for those of the Southern persuasion-- even instant grits.  We want our literature digested and our novels abridged and condensed.  We are even too impatient to make love properly.  The most common complaint I hear or read from wives is their husbands don't take enough time.  Their impatience gives them the habits of rabbits.  Sixty-five years ago we were given the privilege of taking a snapshot and,  thanks to Dr. Edwin H. Land’s Polaroid Camera, seeing the picture in about 60 seconds.  But that wasn't fast enough!  Now our digital cameras, with their megapixels, give us instant photography stored on a chip holding hundreds of images, leaving the old 36-image roll of 35mm film in the dust.  Five years ago, the Polaroid Corporation folded up shop and laid off its 640 workers. And Kodak is a ghost of its former self. It's no wonder our horizons are shortened, our spirits are discouraged.  We are short-sighted.  We need to take a long look-- to hear again those words of the ancient writer of Deuteronomy: "The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms"(33:27).  And when we do that, we find God paints on a very large canvass; and it takes a long, long, long time; and what we need is patience and faith.

BUT HOW IMPATIENT WE ARE WITH OURSELVES!  In the first flush of youth, what high aspirations we all had for ourselves.  We pictured ourselves as Joans of Arc or Sir Galahads in shining armor, riding out to set right the things that were upside down in this old world.  But we didn't quite make it, did we?  We had to settle for a desk in an office, a machine in a factory, a counter in a store, a rostrum in a classroom, a sink full of dirty dishes, or a hamper full of dirty clothes.  And so the years go by, and we find ourselves less and less able to cope with the problems of life.  It seems we've run out of cope.  Our memory isn't what it used to be.  Our sight is failing us, and our hearing isn't quite as sharp; and so we become impatient with ourselves.  Our health isn't what it once was.  We don't have the strength we used to have, nor the endurance.  We're inclined to be sick more often.  We don't have the emotional buoyancy and bounce.  We're inclined to be less optimistic than we once were.  We're inclined to weep more and laugh less.  We don't have the strength of faith and of character.  We are beset by so many fears and we fall prey to so many sins.  We're impatient with ourselves, and we cry out with Paul: "O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?"(Rom 7:24).


WE ARE CERTAINLY ALSO IMPATIENT WITH EACH OTHER.  Someone has computed the shortest increment of time known to humanity as that period between when the traffic light turns green and the person behind us beeps his horn.  How do we feel about the clerk who doesn't hop to wait on us the moment we set foot in the store?  We want instant service.  Do we remember the oil company a while back offering us a reward if their service station attendants didn't get to our car 10 seconds after we arrived?  Watch how gently we replace the telephone receiver after getting a busy signal for the third time.  Have we ever watched the rush hour crowds at the Port Authority Bus Terminal or in the subways in New York City?  I've always had the vicious desire, somehow, to stand in the midst of that mob and start reciting the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. . . Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. . .," and so on.  How's that for becoming a voice crying in the wilderness?

We are so impatient with each other's failings.  Why don't people do things the way we think they ought to do them?  Why are people so stupid?

AND IN THE END, OF COURSE, WE ARE IMPATIENT WITH GOD.  To all the trouble of the world, we are inclined to ask, "Why doesn't God do something?"  God hasn't played squarely with us.  God's kingdom should have come, and things certainly should have been straightened out by now.  We give God 30 days to produce, or we may not take up God's option.  We are like the little boy who prayed twice for a new bicycle, and on the second prayer he said, "God, I've spoken to you about this before."  We cry out with the Psalmist, "How long, O Lord, how long?"

Why all of this impatience in our world?  Well, we're confused, misguided, and we're afraid.  We don't begin to see things in the scope of the eternal, the eternal God.  When will we understand God is not impressed with our clocks and calendars?  When will we understand  with God, as the Psalmist reminds us, "A thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night"(90:4).  What is happening to us is just as Jesus said it would happen as we read it from Luke's Gospel today: ". . . on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. . .”(21:25-26).


I must admit I become a bit irritated at some Christian preachers who, from their pulpits and over the airwaves, purport to have special information about the imminent second coming of Christ.  This is supposed, I guess, to scare people into accepting Christ as Lord and Savior.  But tell me, have they ever known of a time in history when all of the prophecies concerning the coming of Christ were not fulfilled?  As Jesus said in our passage from Luke, they would all be fulfilled while the people to whom he spoke were still alive; and they were.  These preachers, of all people, should realize Paul was quite sure, in the beginning of his ministry, Christ would return in his lifetime.  In fact, he was very insistent about it.  Later, he changed his tune, as he began to understand Almighty God wasn't operating according to Paul's timetable.  One thing the Scriptures make abundantly clear is no one-- no one-- will know the day or the hour of the second coming of Christ.

If we are impatient with God, if we are inclined to believe in God and yet we don't like God's timetable, let us remember again these words of Paul: "Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."  Hope-- that's the key word here.  Without that, there is no relevance in the Christian faith.  If things seem to move in irritating slowness, if people just won't get going and God just won't get going, let's remember  God doesn't deal in years-- God deals in eternity.  There are some times in life when God asks only silence and patience.  For without patience there is no hope, and without hope we are lost indeed.