Sermon from November 27, 2011

Waiting Well

1Corinthians 1:3-9

 

Are we there yet?  How much longer till we get there?  Are we almost there?  I can remember asking my parents that from the backseat of our car somewhere in New Jersey on an all day trip from Delaware to Vermont.  All I remember were repeated answers like a long, long time, and hundreds of miles.  I asked the questions over and over again and I think about the time my father’s impatience was about to erupt it began to dawn on me that maybe I just better be prepared to wait forever and make the best of it.  How good are you at waiting?

How good are you at waiting when the next transition in your life isn’t going the way you had hoped?

How good are you at waiting when you are in the checkout line at the store and the persons ahead of you aren’t following the 12-items or less rule and its taking forever and there is a new incompetent person at the register and you have to be somewhere 5 minutes ago and someone else is waiting for you and you know they are fuming and you’re starting to fume.  I don’t know about you but I have an uncanny ability to zone in like radar on whichever is the slowest line in any store in those rare times I actually go shopping.

How good are you at waiting when you want to see a light at the end of the tunnel but you’re wondering if there is even a light there?  The apostle Paul says we Christians are a waiting people.  We are those (v7) who wait eagerly for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  How this December and beyond may we wait well?

Well this morning I want to suggest we keep two things in mind from this passage in 1 Corinthians and then close with one last resort kind of option when you are trying to wait well.  I want to suggest keeping these things in mind whether you’re indeed in the checkout line at the store or any of those everyday situations that for you tends to trigger impatience, but also when you are in any major life stage where you find yourself dissatisfied and discontent with yourself or the world and you just don’t feel like you can wait any longer?  What do you do then?

Well, beginning with the premise that the best way to change the world is to allow God to change us from within – I invite you to think about this.  Learn to be dissatisfied with what is, but content with what will be.  Advent & Christmas are great times to learn to be dissatisfied with where we are but content with where the journey is taking us.  Learn that you can have a holy dissatisfaction with what is, but also a present contentment at the same time.  How do we do that?  How do we wait well?

1st thank God for the holy dissatisfaction.  The fact that you have any dissatisfaction at all points to the promises of God yet to come.  Verse 8 says he will confirm us to the end blameless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The promise there is that we will not only have an expunged record thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross but we will actually live like that.  Our record will be expunged and our behavior and attitude will match it.  We will want to be and actually will be blameless.  I don’t know about you, but I’m great in my intentions, but in my actual living, my actual daily choices I’m not there yet, I have not yet arrived.  There are still rough edges here with which I am dissatisfied.

Yet Jesus’ teaching backs this holy dissatisfaction up.  He said blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – not those who think they already have all there is to get.  He told the story of the self satisfied man who prayed Lord, thank you that I am better than all these other people, thank you that I have arrived; but he also said there was this other guy who prayed Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.  Jesus said which of those two guys to you think is justified, moving toward actual blamelessness, the self satisfied guy, or the dissatisfied guy who knows he’s a sinner and has a long, long way to go?  Thank God for your holy dissatisfaction.  It has its place.

You see the Corinthians were really proud of their spiritual gifts and attainments.  They felt like they had arrived, so they tended to be self satisfied in their own spirituality and thus discontent with everybody else’s.  They ended up demeaning and fighting and getting nasty with each other and Paul in this loving way is telling them look, you need to not be so self satisfied in your own showy spirituality and more content with where God is taking you.  You see, there is a tendency in us as Christians that needs to be corrected.  What we tend to do is to be self-satisfied with our own spiritual attainments – everybody else’s spiritual life is not as good as ours – and then we blame everybody else’s shortcomings for our own discontent and impatience.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be MORE dissatisfied with the way things are out there and in here (pointing within) – thus not complacent – but also MORE content with the grace he’s already given and where he’s taking us?   How do we wait well.  Thank God for your holy dissatisfaction then utilize the grace you already have with contentment.

Look again at verse 7.  You are not lacking in any gift, while you eagerly await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Utilize whatever grace you have.  God’s grace in this context takes two forms:  your specific spiritual gifts, but also the general goodwill, the favor, the faithfulness of God that rests upon and guards you.  Verse 9 is about God’s goodwill – God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Utilize the grace you have.  Use your spiritual gifts, yes, but also recognize and utilize the favor of God even in the midst of your dissatisfaction with yourself and the world around you.

Visualize the favor of God beaming down upon you and your situation.  Go back to your first love.  When I was in college and first began to study the Bible seriously and I began to learn of the complexity and immensity of God’s grace, this favor of God, I would picture this beam of light shining upon me straight from heaven even when I was just walking from place to place.  To this day, I’m learning all over again, that when I am at my most discontent, my most irritable, my most impatient, it’s especially then that I need to visualize that light of favor coming upon me – not because I’m better than anyone else, but because I’m not, and it’s as if God is saying Dave, I want everybody to experience this same grace, this same favor, this same light.  Get with it and be content in me.

How do we wait well?  Learn to be more dissatisfied with the way things are out there and in here, and more content with the grace you have on the journey.  Thank God for the dissatisfaction.  Utilize the grace you have.

But what if I’m in one of those situations and all that doesn’t work and I just can’t wait any more.  Well there is one more choice you have.  It’s a last resort choice, but there are times we all need to employ it.  Kathleen Norris wrote a book a few years ago called the grace of doing nothing.  Sometimes we are called to simply do nothing but receive the favor of God and stand or sit or lie – ready.

John Milton is a famous poet and divine from the 1600s perhaps best known for his voluminous, soaring work paradise lost.  But toward the end of his life, in one of those unforeseen, unwanted transitions he lost his sight, and instead of wallowing in his own misfortune, which is what he did at first, he got even more in touch with his own holy dissatisfaction and more content in the grace of God, and penned these lines:

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.

 

Sometimes all we can do is nothing but wait, waiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But even that can be done with favor and in faith.  If you find yourself in that position today I say to you, the favor of God is with you, you, with Milton, may wait well.

How do we wait well?  Thanks God for your holy dissatisfaction, and utilize the grace you have.  Learn dissatisfaction and contentment at the same time.  I also have one crazy suggestion.  Try this.  Write out the words to 1 Corinthians 1:7 and the last few lines from Milton’s “On His Blindness” on a 3×5 card and put it in your pocket or purse this December.  Carry it around with you.  And next time you are in the slowest checkout line in history or in any impatience producing situation, whip out the card and read it to yourself or better yet read it aloud.  See if it doesn’t affect both your and others’ attitudes and atmosphere of wherever you are.

Will our world be a better by Christmas day than it is now?  I don’t know for sure but what I do know is that one of the best things we can do for God to make it so is to learn to wait well.

The promise is this: YOU are not lacking in any gift as you wait this December for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you to end, blameless in the day of our Lord.

So may it be.  Wait well, folks, in the checkout line and beyond.  So may it be.

 

 

   Rev. David B. Humphrey

Asbury United Methodist Church, Smyrna, Delaware

November 27, 2011

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