Archive for August 8th, 2010

Waiting on God–Luke 12: 32-40

Worship felt good today.  Thanks to everyone who was able to come and participate.  Worship wouldn’t feel as good without you.  What follows is the sermon from the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

“Waiting on God”

Luke 12: 32-40

Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott

August 8th, 2010

Be ready.  Be dressed for action.  Have your lamps lit.  Be alert. For centuries our written Word has told us that we need to be vigilant, watchful people as we wait on God to give us the kingdom. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done we pray as we wait, and wait, and wait some more.  We have been waiting for centuries.  And waiting is, simply put, just no fun…no fun at all.

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of waiting.  I get tired while waiting.  I cannot wait forever.  It’s impossible.  One cannot sit on the edge of their seat, waiting and watchful and alert, without at some point falling on the floor from exhaustion.  So at some point something’s got to give.  At some point something’s got to give, and in my mind that something needs to be God.  Okay, God.  Where are you?  Where is your Kingdom?  Where are those days when you will wipe every tear from our eyes?  Where are those days when you will bring an end to all our warring madness and your peace will reign?  Where is your Son promised to come?  Where is my hope now that you have tuned my eye to the horizon?  I can’t wait forever, God.  No one can wait forever.

Being in a state of waiting is terrible and even torturous at times.  While you wait your mind can drive you nuts as you imagine what might be around the corner, as you imagine how your life might unfold, but also as you know that the circumstances of your life are completely out of your control.  And so you just wait.  And that waiting makes you feel useless.  In fact, according to the ever wise Dr. Seuss there is no more useless a place than the Waiting Place.

In his book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” Dr. Seuss writes, “A most useless place [is] The Waiting Place…for people who are just waiting.  Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow.  Everyone is just waiting.  Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.  Everyone is just waiting.”[1] Yes, the waiting place is a useless place in which none of us wants to find ourselves.

So, what’s the point?  Why do we wait if waiting is so useless?  Why don’t we just quit waiting?  What are we waiting for anyways?  Well, Jesus reminds us today that we are waiting for something much more important than the bus to come, or the plane to go, or the phone to ring.  We’re even waiting for something more important than the Better Break or the Second Chance.  Jesus reminds us today that we are waiting on God’s Kingdom, our unfailing treasure, and an event as worthy of celebration as the wedding banquet.  We are waiting on that which is good and that which is of God.  We are waiting on the Kingdom, which is God’s good pleasure to give us.  God knows we’re going to love it, so God is looking forward to giving it.  But when it will arrive is a mystery; a mystery that we simply cannot solve.  And so we wait.

But for those who worry that their future does not look promising, God’s promises of a good kingdom to come ring hollow.  Old Testament professor J.G. Janzen writes of a day in his life that he will never forget.  “It’s Thursday morning, November 9, 2006,” Janzen writes.  “It’s ten after nine.  I’m at my desk, working through Ecclesiastes for a book I am to write.  The verse I’m working on goes like this: ‘Better a handful with quietness than two fistfuls with toil and a chasing after wind.’  In the middle of this verse the phone rings.  ‘This is Dr. S., [says the person on the phone]. Your biopsy has turned out positive, and it’s bizarre.’  It’s a rare, aggressive cancer of the prostate.  I’m to come in for a CT scan.”

“Suddenly everything has changed” Janzen continues.  “In a split second I have become one of ‘them’—a cancer patient.  Suddenly I find myself encapsulated in the present moment.  Suddenly I find that my past—last year, last week, yesterday, an hour ago—is a country I used to live in.  And I am unable to imagine the future.  There is just the present moment.”[2]

For those who are living with bad news today, for those who are dying of loneliness now, for those who can’t see any good coming on the horizon, there is no future, only the present moment.  There is only the present moment, which is an all-consuming moment because it is so full of pain and heartache. So oftentimes for those whose future feels so bleak God’s promise of a beautiful kingdom to come just isn’t good enough.  God’s good news isn’t really good unless it delivers today in the here and now.

But we can’t disregard the Gospel’s appeal for us to look forward in hope, to wait on the Kingdom in hope, because such futuristic, apocalyptic appeals are actually more about how we live today, how we live in the here in now, than about anything that’s going to happen in the future.  By reminding us to watch and wait for the kingdom to come, Jesus is offering us hope for the present moment because he reminds us that the Waiting Place isn’t as useless a place as it might feel.  Jesus reminds us that how we spend our time while we wait matters. It matters for us.  It matters for others.  It matters for God.

Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. By this image Jesus reminds us that we are to spend our days like the faithful servant waiting for his master to come home.  The faithful servant does not spend his time sitting by the window, watching and waiting, being and feeling useless.  Instead, the faithful servant is dressed for action and has his lamp lit.  The faithful servant is busy preparing the house for his master.  The faithful servant is making good use of his ‘waiting’ time.

Sell your possessions, and give alms.  Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven. As God’s faithful servants we are not to spend our ‘waiting’ days being and feeling useless.  Instead we are to be preparing the house for our master.  We are to be making each moment meaningful.  We are to be honoring our humanity and the humanity of others by reaching out in care, and concern, and compassion.  We are to be living this waiting time, not wasting it.

As J.G. Janzen struggled to comprehend the news of his cancer diagnosis, as he struggled to endure the waiting such a diagnosis inevitably brings, he wondered to himself how he should approach the surgery and whatever might follow.  Then he recalled hearing an interview on National Public Radio with a man who was an Arab storyteller and teacher.  This man was telling the story of a young Arab woman in his class who spoke of her experience living in a war-torn country.  The title of her story was, “How I Lived the War.”  When Janzen heard this on the radio, his first impulse was to correct the woman by saying that she must have meant, “How I Survived the War” or “How I Endured the War.”  But then, in a great moment of clarity, he realized that the woman’s title held great truth.  Because the war for her was not some extraneous event impinging on her life, but rather it was a war that was now shaping the life she was given to live.  “How I Lived the War.”[3] After this moment of clarity, Janzen realized that this was how he wanted to approach his cancer.  He wanted to live his cancer.  He wanted to make meaningful each moment of his waiting.  He wanted to honor the humanity of those around him and allow them to honor his.  So he lived his cancer by going to his treatments and engaging all the young, medical professionals in conversation.  He lived his cancer by allowing his friends and family to care for him, and by allowing them into his world of hope and fear, of joy and pain.  He lived his cancer by writing of his experience in honest, genuine words.  He lived his cancer.  He lived his waiting time.  He worked to prepare the house for his master.

By living in such a way, by living knowing that each moment is meaningful and valuable, by living striving to prepare the house for our master, our waiting place isn’t a useless place, but a place full of promise, and hope, and possibility.  Our waiting place is a place where people are brought together and where Good News is served up like a feast.  Our waiting place is a place where love and faithfulness will meet; a place where righteousness and peace will kiss each other.[4] Our waiting place is a place where the rough places will be made smooth, and where, by faith, mountains can be moved.  By living knowing that each moment is meaningful and valuable, by living striving to prepare the house for our master, our waiting place isn’t a useless place, but a kingdom place, where one day God will unexpectedly knock, and we will suddenly realize that God– our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, our Great Hope and our Promise of good things to come—we will suddenly realize that our God has already come.

Now to the God of this promised Kingdom, be all honor and glory, thanksgiving and power, now and forevermore.  Amen.

[1] Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”, (Random House, New York, NY).

[2] J.G. Janzen, “Here I am: How shall I live my cancer?”, The Christian Century, August 10th, 2010, pgs. 28-32.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Psalm 85

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