Archives For May 2006

Psalm 130; James 5:7-11
Olivet Covenant Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, PA
© Andy Campbell, 05/14/2006

You’re at the supermarket. You are just running in to grab some bread and milk on your way home from work. Storm clouds are gathering outside and you don’t have an umbrella. It’s not raining… yet. You quickly find the things you need and head to the checkout. You scan the lanes and find that the express lane only has one person in it. At about the same time another person begins heading towards that lane. You pick up your pace to a quick walk and slip in just ahead of that person.

The cashier looks nervous. Her hands tremble as she checks out the items of the customer in front of you. You notice that it is taking an extraordinarily long time, considering this is the express lane. So, you do a quick count of the person’s groceries in line in front of you. Hey! They have 20 items, which is clearly more than the 15 item limit in this lane. But, you think, she’s almost done checking her out.

Then the cashier starts passing the same item over the scanner multiple times. It won’t register. She flips the switch on her lane light and now it turns from solid to blinking, signaling that she needs help. Another clerk comes over and then, lazily, walks to do a price check on the item. You notice that the first raindrops are starting to hit the windows at the front of the store.

Finally, after what seems like hours, the cashier totals up the bill. To your frustration the person in front of you decides to pay with a check. The cashier is new on the job and hasn’t had to process a check before, so she again flips the switch on her light. This time the assistant manager comes over and walks her through the process.

Finally, it’s your turn. You hand your loaf of bread and gallon of milk to the cashier, they ring up without incident, and you pull cash out to pay. But the receipt won’t print. Her register tape has run out. She begins to change it, you take a look at the steadily increasing rain outside. You tell her not to worry about it and you head on your way. You sprint to your car, fumble for you keys, open the door and get in. You breath a big sigh. Your heart is racing. You glance at the clock. What should’ve taken you 3 minutes has take more than 15. And now you’ll hit the already snarled traffic, which will be worse because of the rain.

How does that story make you feel? Irritated? Frustrated? Angry?

Since today is Mother’s Day, I thought it would be quite appropriate to share with you my mother’s favorite two words: Be Patient. Now that I have children of my own, I find myself becoming quite fond of this little two-word phrase. And it’s not just my children that need to heed that command; many times it would do me good to be patient. Especially when driving in the car in Philly. There is probably no good reason for me to lay on the horn as soon as the light changes from red to green.

I am sure that you’ve taken notice of the blistering pace to which we are accustomed to the world running. It seems as if the pace has quickened significantly just in the past couple decades. Cable and Telephone companies air ads touting the speed of the internet connections they offer, “up to 8 megabytes per second”. About 15 years ago internet service provider Prodigy® increased their transfer speeds from 4800 baud to 9600 baud. I thought that was fast! In comparison, today’s cable internet transfers data almost 7000 times faster.

A wealth of information is only seconds away. Other areas of life have sped up as well. It seems there is no limit to the different types of microwavable foods in the freezer section of the grocery store. There’s even a show on TV called 30-Minute Meals. The premise is that no one has time to spend in the kitchen, so here are some meals that you can fix in a half hour or under.

All of this instant gratification has made us very impatient people. It also has contributed to the rising amount of consumer debt in this country. Why wait and save the money to purchase that new TV or that new car, when you can buy it on credit, have it today, and pay it off over the next few years? Never mind that you’ll be paying hundreds, even thousands of dollars extra for that “privilege”. We don’t know how to wait.

So what is our reaction to God when He doesn’t respond to us immediately? We get frustrated with God, even angry with Him. Or perhaps we think that God has turned a deaf ear to us, forgotten us altogether. Some may even take it as proof that there is no God, for a loving God would surely act immediately, right? All that forced waiting just leads to anxiety. The trouble is that we’re in a hurry and God isn’t. Take heart, because you are not the only one who has experienced these feelings.

In our first Scripture reading, the psalmist finds himself in a situation where he wants God to act, and to act now. He cries “out of the depths”, entrenched in a bad situation. He begs for the Lord to open up His ears and hear his prayers. I’m sure you’ve prayed that prayer yourself before.

Next, he acknowledges his own sinfulness and God’s goodness and mercy. He realizes that even in the bad situation he’s in, it could be so much worse. Maybe you’ve prayed that part too. I know that in some times of desperation I have cried out to God, only to be reminded of my own sinfulness, which makes me pray even harder.

But then the psalmist prays something that I don’t know that I’ve ever prayed. He tells God that he will wait on God for his answer. In the meantime, he’ll look to the Word for hope. Have you ever prayed that prayer? Have you ever told God that you’ll wait on Him? Maybe a few of you have, but I’ll wager that the majority of you are in the same boat as me.

There are plenty of situations that would require patience on our part. The psalmist is describing a situation of pain, he needs out of something but God isn’t acting yet. Plenty of sermons have been written on the most famous person in pain, Job. But this isn’t one of those sermons. There are other situations in which we need to exercise patience. The grouping I want to focus is Promise.

That’s right, God oftentimes requires patience on our part while He fulfills the promises He’s made to us. Sure, there is the general sense in which all Christians are asked to be prepared, but patient for the Second Coming of Christ. But it is even more personal than that. Have you ever received a clear message from God that He has something good in store for you, but nothing has happened yet?

A good example from the Bible is the story of Abraham. When he’s 75 God calls him to uproot himself and go to wherever God takes him. God promises Abraham that in return his descendants would number more than the stars in the sky. So Abraham goes. However it is 25 years until God begins to fulfill that promise with the birth of Abraham’s son, Isaac.

In the book of Luke, we find another man who was asked to exercise patience. Simeon, who is only referred to in this passage, had received word from God that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Lord’s Christ. Why? We have no idea. However, when he sees the infant Jesus, he asks God to let him die because now the promise has been fulfilled, he has seen the Messiah through which God will deliver all of humankind.

In both of those examples, it may have seemed in the time between the promise and it’s fulfillment that God had forgotten what He promised. Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands and had a child by Hagar, thinking that perhaps God meant for them to be a little more industrious in fulfilling His promise. And for Simeon, though we’re told very little about him, he must have been quite old at this point, because he was ready to die.

God wasn’t twiddling his thumbs during the interim time. In fact, He was quite active during that time. God was preparing the people, the places and the circumstances for the fulfillment of the promises.

With Abraham, God used the 25 years of in-between time to cultivate a relationship of trust and faith in Abraham. Abraham saw first hand that God was a powerful God, a God of mercy, a God of justice. This is what gave Abraham the incredible amount of faith that it took for him to take Isaac up onto the mountain to offer him as a sacrifice to God, trusting the whole time that whatever the outcome, God was in control and His will was best.

But Abraham wasn’t the only person God was preparing during that time. God was also working in the supporting cast, in people such as Lot, Hagar, and Abimelech. All of these people played an important role in setting the stage for the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.

When Abraham left Ur, he was not particularly rich. However, over those 25 years, he was given livestock, money, and land. He was blessed with an inheritance for his descendants before they were ever born. And part of that inheritance was the promise that God gave Abraham. It was passed on, with the land and riches, to Isaac and then to Jacob.

With Simeon, we don’t know when God made His promise to him. However, it is clear from Old Testament prophecy regarding the coming of the Messiah that there was going to be a confluence of events that would be more than coincidence. First, God was setting the right people in place. He was in the midst of the relationship between Mary and Joseph, so that the Messiah would come from the line of David, as promised.

Not only that, but God even raised up a pretty vain Roman Governor who wanted to know exactly how many people he was ruling over. So, he called a census which required everyone to go back to their hometowns. Joseph’s hometown was Bethlehem, so they headed there, even though Mary was due any day.

A couple months before, God gave a sign to some wise men in the far east who made a habit out of reading the stars. They recognized the importance of the sign, because of the wisdom that God granted them, and set out on their journey westward well before Mary and Joseph were headed to Bethlehem.

And sometime during all this, Simeon was told to wait around until the day when the Messiah was brought to the temple to be dedicated. God told him that Simeon would know him when he saw him. And when he did, God used this stranger to again confirm to Mary and Joseph that what the angel had told them was true, that this child was to be God’s instrument of deliverance for Israel and the gentiles.

He was working in ways Abraham, Sarah, Mary, Joseph, and Simeon couldn’t see, and that took time. That is what James is referring to in our second Scripture reading. He uses the analogy of a farmer and his plants. Once the planting is done, the farmer has to wait as the plants grow and mature until it is time to harvest them. James then encourages us to use the same kind of abiding patience. And that’s not always easy.

So what do we do during that time? Well, sometimes God doesn’t give us explicit instructions on how to spend the in-between time. Sometimes our lesson in patience is just that. God asks us to wait. We need to remember the promise God has made to us, and then trust that in good time it will come to fruition. We go about our daily lives, letting God guide and direct our steps, just like the farmer keeps on working while his crops are growing. And we don’t worry about when or how the promise will be kept, we just trust that it will. This kind of abandonment to God is freeing and can be restful for the soul.

Impatience can lead us to make rash decisions. Patience cultivates peace. Only God can give us the kind of patience we need to see His promises fulfilled. Chuck Swindoll once said, “Patience is a bitter plant that produces sweet fruit.” A final note about the psalm we read earlier. That psalm was written during the time when Israel was being held captive by the Babylonians. The writer was estranged from his homeland, with no real sign of freedom in sight.

But he knows that God has promised to deliver Israel from the hands of her oppressors. So he articulates to God, on behalf of Israel, his willingness to be patient and wait for God to fulfill His promise to His chosen people. That promise was fulfilled. The Israelites eventually did get back to their home. And later down the road, Jesus fulfilled the hope expressed in the psalm.

I know that you’ve heard that you should never ask God to give you patience, because He will, through trials. However, I think we should ask God for patience. Let’s do so now.

Lord, please forgive us for our impatience. Forgive us for obsessively looking at our watches, for being more concerned with what’s next than what You’re doing right now. God, thank you for being so patient with us. Bring to our minds your merciful patience when we feel like we can’t wait. Show us what it means to wait on You and to hope in Your Word. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.