Patience seems to be a four-letter word today. We don’t like to wait and when we have to, we often don’t do so patiently. These days I find myself using my cell phone to help me deal with short-term waiting like at a doctor’s office or in line at the store (not in the car!). But long-term waiting – days, month, even years – that’s tougher! Fortunately my busy life as bishop keeps me from noticing my impatience because there is always something else to do. But unfortunately, this busy-ness doesn’t give me the opportunity to practice waiting.
Of course, waiting is more difficult when we’re anxious or afraid. And we are afraid…of others, of the future, of our inner feelings and thoughts. This fear causes us to want to escape, to flee from our waiting. And when we can’t flee, we fight. Or freeze into numbness. Yes, our fear makes waiting even harder.
Yet this seems to be a theme of Advent: to wait in the midst of fear. Wait in the midst of anxiety. Wait for Jesus to come again. Oh, and by the way, Jesus’ coming will change everything…yes, everything! What’s more frightening than that!
In the midst of all this waiting and fear, followers of Christ are called to have faith. And we’re called to live in hope. But what does it mean to wait in faith-filled hope, even as we fear?
Well, for one thing, waiting in faith-filled hope means waiting with a sense of promise. It means using all our senses – physical, emotional, and spiritual senses -- to enter into the promise that God gives us in Jesus Christ. That promise is like a seed planted in each one of us in our baptism, a seed that is nurtured in us by the Spirit, the Holy Gardener. We just have to put ourselves in places where we can best be watered, pruned, and breathed on by God’s love, all while avoiding the weeds and removing the stones that would prevent that promise from taking root and growing in us. In the end, waiting in faith-filled hope isn’t about looking at a promise from the outside. It means living inside God’s promise of new life and letting that promise live inside us.
Second, waiting in faith-filled hope is active. Waiting is not a passive, hopeless, empty state of numbness that is caused by events out of our control. Followers of Christ never “just wait.” We wait actively in a sure hope that the promised seed has been planted and that God’s promise is happening to us and around us even if we can’t see it. We wait knowing that we get to participate in God’s promise for the world in glad rejoicing by standing up, raising our heads, reaching out our arms, and serving in love. Waiting in faithful hope, then, means being the conduit through which the Spirit plants and nurtures the seeds of Christ’s promise in everyone around us.
Also, faith-filled waiting in hope means being patient. Patience is courage. It’s daring to stay where we are and live out our situation to its fullest in the trust that something hidden will become manifest to us. Patience means doing our best to live God’s activity in the present, nurturing every moment as the earth nurtures a growing seed, as a mother nurtures a child growing inside her.
Fourth, actively waiting in faith-filled hope is open-ended. It’s being open to God’s work that is being done in our lives. “Let go and let God,” the saying goes. This is a radical attitude toward life in our “I’m in charge” world, trusting in hope that God is doing something that is far beyond our imagination or control. Waiting in faithful hope is trusting completely that God is growing us into who God calls us to be according to God’s love rather than our fear.
Finally, how do we actively wait in this faith-filled hope of Christ’s promise? Well, we do it together, in love. We wait not alone but as a community of faith, the body of Christ in this place and time. As followers of Christ, we enable and empower each other to wait, creating space for others to wait, affirming for each other that there is indeed something awesome that we all are waiting for. This community is the Church, the body of Christ through which we have faith in God’s promise together, supporting, nurturing, celebrating and affirming what God is doing for our community in Jesus again and again.
Ultimately, waiting in faith-filled hope is not about fear; it’s about following Jesus together as we trust that Christ’s promise is indeed becoming real for you, in you and through you in Jesus’ name.
Blessed waiting to you all!
“It’s just hopeless!” It’s easy to think this these days. Our political system is a mess. Economic inequality is everywhere. The mental and physical health of the people we love is suffering. Small farms and ranches are going under through no fault of their own. Violence continues in our schools and society. There seems to be nothing in this world we can put our hope in for a better life.
Hope is one of those words we often use to describe things that hope doesn’t really mean, at least not from a Christian perspective. Hope is not pie-in-the-sky thinking. Nor is it wishing for something we want. Nor is it about someone or something fulfilling our expectations or satisfying our sense of entitlement. No, hope that rests in our faith in Christ is something much different.
When we wish or expect or imagine our ideal worlds, these come from our wishes, our desires, our expectations, what we want to happen. In other words, wishing and expecting are all about us.
But hope that rests in faith in Christ is all about God. Hope focuses on God’s promises, not on our own wants or demands. Hope never expects “my will be done,” only that “thy will be done.” Hope is open-ended, not certain about the who’s, when’s, where’s, or how’s of the fulfillment of God’s promise, only certain about the what and the why of God’s promised salvation in Christ. Hope waits with patience rather than rushing around in a frustrated worry that we’re not getting what we want quickly enough. Hope trusts that what God has promised in the past WILL indeed happen in the future and may even be happening now. Hope is living in the faith that God’s promise will be fulfilled and that it will happen because God loves us so much.
Really, hope is a way of life, not a feeling. In hope, we live in a joy that recognizes and empathizes with the sufferings of tragedies and unmet expectations, but still knows in a sure and certain faith that such suffering will not win out. In hope, we live out our faith-filled enthusiasm as a people whom God loves and who are called to love and serve all of our neighbors…in our activities, our commitments, and our priorities. Hope rings out in our loving and generous attitudes and in the compassion and kindness with which we treat one another. Hope is not passive; hope acts! But it always acts forward, toward the vision and mission that God calls us to live into the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, hope is a gift, a blessing of new life given to us by the Holy Spirit, Christ’s pure grace that is so interwoven with faith and love that they can’t be separated. As Paul famously wrote, “And now faith, hope and love abide together…” (1 Cor 13:13)
So, my friends in Christ, “it is NOT just hopeless” and there IS something and someone to hope in: Jesus Christ and the gift of his new life promised to you. Though we might suffer under the seemingly hopeless weight of a sin-filled world, we who live in faith know and live even now a different story, the story of a hope that does not disappoint.
During this Advent season, then, I invite you to open yourself to the Spirit’s hope through the love of God poured into your hearts, to boast in your hope of sharing the glory of God, and to follow the apostle Paul as he proclaims: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Rom 5:1-5)
Blessed Advent to you all!
And be thankful…whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:15,17
“And be thankful!” How easy it is to forget to be thankful even during the Thanksgiving season. We get worried about stuff in our lives, about all the things we don’t have, all the things that aren’t going the way we think they should, all the things we don’t have control of. Then we get anxious; we fear; we complain.
We live in a society that preaches that there’s never enough… never enough money, time, people, health, happiness, freedom, etc. “More, more, more” is the mantra that is constantly shoved into our ears and hearts, making it hard to be content with what we have much less thankful. We get so focused on the “not enough’s” that we become cynical and critical of others, complaining about all the things that we can’t control or think are going wrong. In our anxiety about not having enough, we start to fall into bad habits, listening to rumors, spreading misinformation, talking behind the backs of others, or just not caring.
In the midst of this muttering mantra of “more” comes the apostle Paul’s call to “be thankful...Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Christ.” Do everything in Christ, giving thanks to God! Life in Christ is a life of thankfulness, a life lived in the Spirit’s gratitude that remembers that “enough is plenty.” This constant thanksgiving can be hard to do. It takes a willing heart and the readiness to practice giving thanks even in difficult times.
What does living in the Spirit’s gratitude look like? Well, it pays attention to what it does have rather than getting sucked into the hole of scarcity. The Spirit’s gratitude sees problems not as roadblocks but as an opportunity to find another way of “doing everything in Christ’s name.” The Spirit’s gratitude gives thanks for the positives that can come even out of the toughest experiences. The Spirit’s gratitude sees everything as a possibility because nothing, even life out of death, is impossible with God. For in Christ, the glass is neither half-empty nor half-full; the glass is always overflowing with the abundant love of God and the power of new life that God shares with us every day.
To practice letting the Spirit’s gratitude into your life, try repeating again and again a simple prayer like “God make me thankful for enough.” Try tuning out the messages of “not enough” by turning off the TV or at least muting it during the advertisements. Try counting your blessings by writing down all the things, no matter how small or weird, that you are grateful for. And then whenever you hear yourself complaining, stop and name those things you are most thankful for to break the pattern of complaint. And definitely try forgiveness, both accepting it and giving it, for it is only in the new life given in God’s forgiveness that we can truly understand what it means to be grateful for the grace God has given.
Congregations can practice living in the Spirit of gratitude too. Instead of complaining about the changes happening, we can ask, “how can this help us know Jesus better?” Instead of beginning with the idea that time is scarce, we can begin by encouraging each other to see that, in thanksgiving to God, we will always have enough time to do what is important if we set priorities. Instead of thinking about what we don’t have or what someone else is doing that we don’t like, we can focus our faith on God and Christ’s love for us, from which nothing can separate us.
Being a thankful congregation in the Spirit’s gratitude means that we don’t spend our time worrying about the people who aren’t here or the things we don’t have. Instead, a grateful congregation is excited about who IS here and what we DO have. A thankful church takes an inventory of its many gifts and assets and then it asks, what can we do to serve God’s kingdom with the abundance we DO have? No church can be everything to everybody. But all churches have a myriad of spiritual gifts and an abundance of God’s love to fuel them if only they’re willing to let go of their worries about not having enough and live out their faith in gratitude.
So be thankful! And in every word and deed, give thanks to God for what God has done for you through his Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
In gratitude for you,