November 29, 2020

Waiting

Preacher:

Isaiah 64:1-9
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, or in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mark 13:24-37
“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Waiting.
There is all kind of waiting in this world, and I you are like me, and I suppose a lot of you are, you don’t like waiting.
Maybe it is in part the culture we have grown accustomed to… a culture not of waiting… but of instant answers.
I can go on Amazon and order millions of things and have guaranteed delivery the next day.
During Covid we have found an app where you can order your groceries and somebody delivers them to you a couple of hours later.
We don’t have to wait and save any more. We just put in on the credit card.
We turn on the tv, or the computer and we have instant access to what is going on around the world.
And so, I don’t think we are great at waiting.
My wife complains about me driving that if I see a car ahead of me, I have to pass them… that I am always in a bit of hurry when I drive.
If I am stuck in a traffic jam, I am not content to wait, I’ll get off at the next exit and look for some circuitous route because I’d rather drive and waste gas for hour than wait for an hour.
But the reality of life is that there is all kinds of waiting. Happy waiting, Sad waiting, boring waiting, frustrating waiting, sometimes even productive waiting.
Waiting can be a strategy sometimes. To not make an instantaneous decision can sometimes be a good strategy. Wait and see. There may be a better choice if you wait.
Sometimes I have wanted something badly and I rushed out and bought and didn’t wait. But then it went on sale a month later and was much cheaper. I should have waited
What are significant times of waiting in your life?
I started school when I was four years old and I went to school for 22 years until I graduated from Knox College with my Masters of Divinity.
Formal Education is a long process of work and waiting. Education doesn’t stop when one finishes formal school but that time of school is often a long time when one thinks that school will never end. And there is an anticipation of the day that formal education will end.

Having a baby. Lots of families plan for a baby, and some pregnancies are unexpected and sometimes not wanted….
But that whole process leading up to the birth of a child is waiting time, an exciting time, a nerve-wracking time… a hoping time… a changing time emotionally, physically and spiritually…as one prepares, one anticipates, one deals with physical and emotional changes… and there are changes in the family too, and there are financial changes often as well.
Then there may be times of waiting when it comes to health issues. Waiting for diagnosis can be extremely anxiety provoking. Waiting to find out if the tumour is benign or cancerous.
Or having a bad diagnosis and waiting for a treatment plan or waiting for treatment.
Lots of people have surgeries that are not scheduled for months or even years, because while needed they are not so-called life threatening.
Waiting.
The other night I was watching the News and there was a piece on the news about the Oxford Dictionary who usually pick a word that is new and added to the dictionary as the word for that year. And this year they say there are just so many new words that they just cannot pick one. One of my favourite words for 2020 is “covidiots” referring to those who deny the truth of a global pandemic and recklessly put people at danger by not following any health guidelines.
Terms like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve” are now household terms. Everybody know what “Zoom” is now. Before 2020 I didn’t know what Zoom was.
But if there is a word that I would use for 2020, it just might be this: “Waiting.”
Ten years ago, there was a mining accident in Chile and 33 men were trapped twenty-three hundred feet underground. It made world news. It took 69 days before they were rescued.
It was two weeks of drilling before they even found out that there were men alive down there.
It was a long difficult process and a lot of waiting in difficult conditions, physically difficult, emotionally difficult and spiritually difficult.
Many thought it was a miracle when they were rescued.
And there was the Thailand soccer team aged 11 to 16 trapped in an underground cave system who were missing for 9 days before divers found them. It took another week or so to rescue them.
And so maybe the Pandemic feels like we have been trapped in something. And we are waiting for Salvation.
And maybe like Isaiah of old we have prayed to God or Jesus: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…”
Who knew that it would be this long, or that after this long, things would be worse?
Life has been disrupted in so many ways during the pandemic, differently for different people, but still, this has been a year of disruption.
We must not forget that for over a million families where there has been loss of life, the coronavirus will not end for them, and it has affected them for ever.
We think of those on the front lines of the pandemic who risk their lives every day they go to work…
…and how they have to sacrifice, some of them not even sleeping in the same house as their families in order that they don’t risk spreading the virus to their families.
Even those who work in grocery stores, schools, or other essential services are at greater risk.
How many of us have been unable to visit parents, or grandparents or children or grandchildren or siblings or best friends?
The financial and economic catastrophe is immeasurable as businesses have to close or nobody comes, or businesses have to pay rent even when they are closed. So many businesses have gone under, so many are threatened… so many people have been laid off or suffered income loss…
And worship life is not the same. Many of you who come to church, come for an experience of God, come for an experience of community, come for an experience of worship, which frankly is hard to find, and not the same online. Faith and faith communities for many people are a real source of strength in their lives. And it seems in a times when we need family and community more than ever, there are some real restrictions on humans getting together, and there is nothing that humans need more than closeness with other humans.
How long O Lord?
Advent is the season in the church year before Christmas. It particularly is a church thing. For society Christmas usually starts after American Thanksgiving. People start buying presents and singing Christmas carols and start the happy festive season of celebrating Christ’s birth, and even if Christ’s birth doesn’t even mean that much to them, most people still celebrate with presents and a tree and dinners and parties and family and good times.
But in the church, we are in Advent. It is a particular time of year when we are waiting.
We are not just waiting for Jesus to be born. We are not just waiting for Christmas day to arrive to celebrate with songs and food and parties and family and special worship service.
We are in a time of waiting for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
It is an acknowledgement of all the things in the world that are lacking and could be better.
It is acknowledgement not only that we are sinners, but that our collective sin hurts the world.
So it is a time of waiting, for the truth of love, the truth of kindness, the truth of peace, the truth of sharing to become an accepted truth in this world.
I, like you, have been praying big prayers to God. God would you come down and stop this stupid, harmful pandemic.
But I have been praying big prayers for a long time. God, would you stop wars and insurrections and violence.
God would you stop world hunger.
God would you see that everyone has free health care, free education, freedom from prejudice and injustice.
I believe that this is all part of what it means to pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it in heaven.
And so, in a very real sense we are waiting for this better world, some much more than others…
And advent which means “coming” is an acknowledgement for us Christians that it is Christ we need. We need his vision, his love, his acceptance, his living in us, his intimacy…to change us.
And so, sometimes we pray: God, where are you? Jesus, where are you? Spirit, where are you? O that you would come down and make the world right.
Fix the pandemic. Solve the problem of war. End hunger. Teach us to share, to love and to forgive.
There are times for some that God seems hidden or distant or far away. That is especially true for those who grieve, or those who experience loss. When you lose a loved one inevitably one’s first thought is the same thing that Jesus said on the cross: “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

And strangely enough, during Advent as we are waiting for Jesus to show up and are praying for Jesus to come in great power and glory,the reality is that when Jesus shows up, he doesn’t arrive in great power and great glory, he arrives as a helpless baby born in poverty in a barn with some stinky animals.
One of the great mysteries for us to ponder during Advent is that when Jesus shows up, it often is in surprising and different ways.
I have learned over the years, that God doesn’t seem to arrive on the scene to fix world hunger, to fix our social problems, to end all wars, and to distribute the world’s wealth or goods justly and fairly.
In fact, with God at times great power and glory seems hidden and absent.
And that is something for us to ponder during Advent.
Paradoxically the message of Mark today is that when things are dark and dismal, when it seems like the sky is falling and the sun and moon might go with them, then Mark records the words of Jesus: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”
So, Harry, is Jesus coming or is Jesus not coming? Is Jesus coming in glory or he is not coming in glory.
Well the answer is very much like Jesus used to say about the parables” Whoever has ears to hear, then hear.”
Or maybe I could rewrite that about seeing Jesus: ‘Whoever has vision to see Jesus, then see Jesus.”
I don’t think the real problem is that Jesus is not here. I think we don’t know how to see Jesus sometimes because we don’t know what to look for.

There are, I think, three major ways to understand the presence and action of God in this world.
There are some who think there is no God, or that God doesn’t work in this world. Period. End of story.
There are those who think that God dwells in heaven and control everything in this world. That is the way many ancients thought, including some biblical writers. We Presbyterians have a heritage of that kind of thinking. God was in control and some thought that everything on earth was controlled by God’s action, indeed everything was predestined by God, including the destination of your immortal soul.
But I think there is a third way to understand God’s presence and action in the world. That God lives in humans. God is the spirit of love that lives in us.
Let me quote one of the great saints, Teresa of Avila:
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

In this time of the pandemic, when some of us have cried for God to come down and save us, maybe we have to look and see God already at work.
So many people who have worked for others. So many people who have been a good neighbour to those in need.
God is in the love that people have had for each other. God is in those who stock grocery shelves, and teach children, and give care at Nursing homes, and work in our hospitals healing the sick.
God is in those who work for justice and equity and share a vision of world of peace, love, harmony and equality.
And if you look, you see God everywhere in all kinds of people. And when you see someone care for another it is glorious.
This indeed is a time of waiting. We are not only waiting for things to improve in the pandemic, but for God’s kingdom of love to come…
But the thing to do as you wait, is to work. For every time we help another, every time we are like Christ to one another, every time we forgive one another, every time we make peace with one another, every time we help someone hurting, every time we share with those in need…
Every time we wear a mask to protect another, or social distance to save lives…
The kingdom of love comes…
And Jesus comes.
Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.