Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 12, 2017
The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27, Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
The Practice of Waiting

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In spite of near constant distraction available to us through our phones and various i-devices, waiting remains not only an ordinary part of our life, but an important one as well.  While our phones distract us from the fact of waiting, we are doing it all the time – we wait for lights while driving, we still have waiting rooms at the dentist’s and doctor’s office for a reason, we wait in lines for movies, and football games, and groceries, and we still head to the airport a little early – either for the flight we are taking or the friend who is arriving.  We wait at the bedside of love ones when sick, we wait for business to come our way, and we wait for lab results from that recent visit to the doctor (where we waited to be seen).  We even wait in conversation – first as we allow a friend to finish a thought or expression and then as we allow that same thought to form in and engage our mind.

Even in the midst of this service you will wait – already you are waiting for the sermon to be over, then you will wait as the altar is prepared and the offering is received, then you will wait your turn in line to receive communion, and then again as you depart, you will wait to greet me or one another.

In spite of all the technological developments that we’ve seen over the last fifty to one hundred years, we haven’t eliminated – nor will we ever eliminate – waiting.  It’s part of human life and society; as long as two people share a roof or work side-by-side, someone will wait.

And as he so often does, Jesus takes the most ordinary experiences of human life and uses them to illustrate something essential about character of discipleship, that is, “following Jesus.” 

And waiting is one of those characteristics. 

In our hyper active world, waiting may seems counter-intuitive to discipleship, and yet, since the early church, waiting has played an essential role in the formation of the disciple.  Trained as we are today to be active – even our language is supposed to be active, not passive! – and productive in all things and at all times, the idea of waiting in faith will seem hard to many.

Yet, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a group of bridesmaids who wait for the groom.  They didn’t expect to wait, but the groom was delayed for whatever reason, and so they had to wait well into the night for his arrival.

Through this simple scene, our attention is drawn to an important aspect of Christian discipleship:  we are called to wait as well.  Like those ten women, we wait for another, for Jesus, to come into our lives, to break (to draw on another metaphor used by Jesus) into our ordinary lives. 

Like those women of old, we might wonder, “is he really coming today?”, but in the end we wait, with expectancy and hope even, that he will come, that he will be seen today.

Now, the act of waiting itself tells us something – what is to come is important, it is worth waiting for!  Matthew compares it to a bridesmaids waiting for the groom – but we might just as well see a mother waiting by the door for the return of her son or daughter.

The story before us goes a bit further than simply waiting, however.  In this case, the waiting also requires preparation.  While all of the bridesmaids were expectant, only five were prepared. 

Rowan Williams, in his recent book, Being Disciples, compares this aspect of discipleship, the part of holy waiting, to an “experience birdwatcher” who sits “still, poised, alert” and “knows that this is the kind of place where something extraordinary suddenly bursts into view.”  The experienced birdwatcher knows that this is just the sort of spot where the kingfisher is apt to fly, and so she goes to that spot and watches, silently for a glimpse, or maybe just a hear, of the beauty and goodness she expected to encounter.

Like the experienced birdwatcher, part of our preparation as disciples entails knowing where and what to look for, and then going to those places where God and humanity meet, so that we might glimpse a sight of the beauty and goodness that is God active in our world.

And, like that birdwatcher, we need a bit of preparation and practice in order to see what is there.  For starters, we will need to know what to look for – not only the telltale markings that make one kingfisher distinct from another, but also the sights and sounds that mean one is near.  We also need to know where to look – where to go to give the best chance for a sighting. 

It’s no different with Jesus.  In spite of being right here, as close to each of us as our very breath, we are bound to miss God’s holy presence if we look in the wrong places and for the wrong things.  So, like Williams’ birdwatcher, we prepare ourselves to see and the hear Jesus.  We study what he has said in the past and where he has been present before, in order that we might seem his activity and presence today, in our lives and in our community. 

So, what are the marking and where are the places to see God.  Well, the trite answer is all around – just as the birdwatcher among us will know that, if you wait long enough, you might just spot a bird soaring through these rafters.  But that does us little good. 

A more helpful answer may be this – God is found wherever mercy and forgiveness and sacrificial love are found.  Notice, I didn’t just say “love.”  The Gospels remind us that even our enemies love their friends.  Love and kindness to our friends and family are not, in fact, the best places to see God at work.  As we’ve heard over and over through the gospel message these past several weeks, look instead for mercy and forgiveness and sacrificial love.  Did you hear of the victim in Sutherland Springs who has already offered forgiveness to the shooter?  That was is Jesus.  Did you see that track athlete who stopped in his race, in spite of being in the lead, to pick up his opponent to, literally, carry him to the finish?  If you did, you saw Jesus.  Did your spouse embrace you at the end of a hard day, in spite of some early unkind words and hostility that sent his or her way?  In that moment, she was Christ to you, receiving you with mercy and forgiveness again.

Friends, we are disciples, and as disciples, we wait.  We wait expectantly on the Lord who comes to us each hour of each day.  But we must prepare ourselves to see him, we must know what to look for and where to look, lest we miss his glorious appearing.