Posts Tagged ‘waiting’

Risen and ascended.

May 1, 2016

We’re an Easter people – you’ve heard me say that before.

The resurrection is our meeting place

and our identity is found in Christ’s dying and rising.

But the Easter season is coming to an end – and there’s a change in the air.

Jesus has been hinting to his disciples for weeks –

even before they gathered for their last meal –

that everything would soon be turned on end.

The meek would inherit the earth – the poor would seem rich

and yes, the dead would stand among them.

That was the Easter promise – the mighty miracle.

So what could be more astonishing…?

Risen, yes – and ascended!

Taken from their sight – gone in a wisp of cloud and a blaze of glory.

Their new-found courage can hardly stand it,

as they are left staring skyward,

and wondering what it all means…

Their time with their Risen master must have been pure joy;

for the one they thought was lost had returned.

They may have been tempted to think

that this was the point Jesus had come to prove;

that having overcome death, the lessons were finished,

and now the kingdom life could begin.

The kingdom life, however, is just beginning,

and the learning will continue…

for you see – Jesus cannot stay.

The point that God has made

through the life and death and resurrection of Christ

is simply this: God is both willing and able

to live, suffer and die as we do…

and as a result, we are invited

to experience life in all its fullness;

life as God intended.

God’s great lesson is wasted if Jesus remains – ageless, tireless –

an eternal traveller in life beyond death.

That resurrection glory would eventually seem ordinary.

“blessed are those who believe and yet do not see..”

Jesus has been honest with his friends and seeks our honest faith –

hinting even to Thomas that his triumphant return was only temporary;

and so stories and memories and the witness of the faithful

will have to carry the message as the kingdom comes.

We need Jesus at Easter – full of new life and God’s Glory.

We need to be reminded that our ancient enemy – death –

has no more power over us.

But believe it or not, we also need Jesus ascended:

removed from our sight, off into the great unknown

because that absence; the earthly absence of those whom we love

also holds fear for us, and that fear needs to be overcome.

Our promised eternity – our new life in Christ –

does not consist of an endless repetition of the same old thing:

our journey with Christ, beyond death, and in this life

continues full of surprises and new sensations,

moving from wonder to wonder,

delighting in the gracious presence of God

and so through Christ, God offers us a path to follow

beyond what we can see, and touch, and taste.

Our joy comes at the defeat of death – at the empty tomb –

in our Risen Saviour.

Our hope comes when we understand

that not even this life –

a short season lived in the brilliance of Jesus risen presence –

can contain the new life we now share in Christ.

And while we wait – staring into the sky in silent wonder –

we would do well to remember that there is work to be done.

Our lessons as God’s people continue,

and we welcome the opportunity

to live out our wonder, our joy and our hope –

gifts that are ours to share.

Our apprenticeship in Jesus approach to life,

in God’s way of truth, continues.

We are distracted in our waiting;

by the needs of our neighbours,

by the condition of Creation,

by the cry for justice and the pursuit of peace,

but these distractions are signposts –

evidence that we are entering ‘God’s territory’.

“This Jesus, who has been taken from you”,

promise those mysterious strangers,

“ will return in the same way…”

in the meantime, there is work to do –

a story to share – a gift of power to receive.

And so we wait, knowing that even those first frightened disciples

found purpose in their waiting.

Like them, we  reluctantly turn our eyes back to earth,

bringing our attention back to this life

that, thanks be to God, will never be the same again.

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The waiting game – Matthew 25: 1-13

November 9, 2014

The women in this parable are waiting – and we know what that can be like. Waiting is never a comfortable time, and we seem to always be waiting for something; news, opportunity; relief; redemption. The church has been waiting for Jesus to return for 2000 years. The people of God have been waiting for God to intervene in their various circumstances since forever! And the kingdom of heaven is like…10 women waiting. What a surprise!

This particular parable comes in the middle of some pretty hard news; Matthew’s gospel is preparing readers for the end – not of Jesus earthly ministry; that’s old news by the time Matthew puts pen to paper – no, the end Matthew anticipates is the end of the old order; the end of the world as he knew it. That would also mean the beginning of the promised reign of God, so you better know whose side you were on – this prompts parables about faithful and unfaithful slaves / bridesmaids who are not fully prepared / and the parable of the talents (that’s next week..) The point? well, it seems that there is some question about the timing of all this ‘Kingdom coming’ stuff, so you just better be ready…so back to our bridesmaids.

This is a difficult image to begin with, for our culture doesn’t expect this sort of thing from bridesmaids. Typically, it is the bridesmaids that keep weddings from running on time! But times (and habits) were different then, and Jesus point was not about punctuality – it was about preparedness…among other things.

Over and over again, Matthew’s Jesus says things like ‘…but about the day or the hour, no one knows…only the Father…’ So the image of people waiting; lamps trimmed and oil at hand – this seems like a reasonable picture to paint…except that the groom is late – delayed – perhaps he is caught in traffic, or maybe he has had a change of heart; whatever might have happened, these otherwise sensible ladies are willing to wait him out. When the call comes, five have enough oil, and five are caught short, and the punishment for this minor transgression is…wait for it…COMPLETE REJECTION! is this really what the kingdom of heaven will be like?

Yes, says one school of thought. Heaven is a perfect place, and there is no room in it for error – especially our error. This sort of thinking is common enough, but it ignores the great gift of grace that God offered in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus; the church has always taught that the whole point of Jesus death was to offer a “remedy for our sin” as the old hymn says; the notion that somehow the gates of the kingdom would be slammed shut in the face of those who made this error in timing (in judgement?) doesn’t work for me.

This is what the kingdom of heaven will be like; but why are lamps necessary – isn’t this the light of the world that these women are waiting for? What good are oil lamps in the presence of God? It makes me wonder if these women represent the plans we make about the kingdom we expect – but when the door is opened, our expectations will be left behind, won’t they? We wait in what we hope is perfect readiness, for something that even our wildest imaginations can’t conceive – and then (as Paul says) “when completeness comes” 1 all our plans (and all incompleteness) are quickly forgotten.

This idea started to take shape for me as I listened to a classical pianist was describing his concert preparations – “If the music is hard, well, that’s my problem” he says – what the audience sees is effortless playing; only the ‘perfection’ of the music matters – and I wonder if we have adopted a “performance art” approach to our faith. We must do all the hard work in preparation for our “perfect performance” – if it is hard, that is our problem. But when the moment comes; when God calls us home, or the Son returns in glory or whatever else may happen to usher in the kingdom of God – is it our perfection in the faith that will make the difference? Isn’t this supposed to be about the perfection of God? The golden streets and the jeweled walls are not the result of our achievement, or our preparation; this is God’s party, after all – any of our efforts will be lost in the splendour of who God is and what God is doing. Right?

There is a lesson in this parable, and I don’t think it has anything to do with our patient perfection. This is about the cost – the perils – of waiting. When Matthew’s gospel was written and distributed, the faithful had already been waiting for a lifetime. Nearly 100 years had passed since Jesus time on earth, and still, no Kingdom – no glorious return – no reward for faithful preparedness; what could that mean? Matthew remembers Jesus telling stories about the kingdom, and offers them all – and each of them say the same thing; you must wait. The timing is not to be known – you will fall weary, you will be challenged, you will likely be surprised – but you must wait.

The message is the same for us. The waiting continues, and while we wait, we consider all that Jesus did and said and asked of us. We try our best to apply his teaching to the world we live in – yes, we hope that our actions might “usher in the kingdom”, but really we want to make the most of our waiting. So we live as Jesus called us to live.

We offer love even to those who hate us; we seek justice and do mercy and walk humbly toward the day of God – we wait, not as hearers of the word, but doers2 – and trust that the mercy of God that has been shown to us in the love of Jesus will not leave us standing in the dark when the time comes.

Waiting is hard – and so is a life of faith. And since the reward is in God’s hands, we can be sure that even our faltering, (and often insufficient) preparations will be enough. “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not your harm, to give you a future of hope.”3 We live on into that same future, assured by faith that our waiting is not in vain. Thanks be to God. Amen.

1 1 Cor 13: 10

2 See James 1:23

3Jeremiah 29:11

One necessary thing.

July 21, 2013

We have been convinced that all we need to be content is to be busy –

active living now means more than just a twenty minute work-out every other day.

The focus of these activities and the resting place for all this information is ourselves;

In order to justify ourselves – to claim ‘fulfillment’ –

we are relentless in our pursuit of things to do, people to see, places to go.

We carry with us (or have in our homes)

devices that give us access to events on the other side of the world –

we can watch wars as they start;

we are transported to the scene of the crime, to the sight of many a disaster, as they unfold –

and after an initial feeling of sympathy, we move on;

what we really want to know is: “how does this matter to ME?”

 

Our interaction with the world is necessary, and important;

it is part of our call as followers of Jesus to be involved in the world around us –

but we are in danger of confusing “informed” with “involved”.

Information and activities fill our lives, but we are mostly untouched by these things.

 

I am speaking as if this was a new problem – it is not.

We have always held within us the tendency to distraction –

to be drawn away from truth by the facts of our daily lives.

We have this morning heard just two examples (among many) from the witness of Scripture,

that suggest this is an ancient dilemma.

In a household known to Jesus, there were two sisters.

Both steeped in the habits and traditions of their culture, and their religion.

A culture that prises hospitality and honour very highly –

and so, visitors must be treated in a certain way.

Martha has set herself to the task with a vengeance.

Their religion values hospitality too – but also recognizes

that there are times to be busy and times to be reverently still.

 

Mary chooses the latter.

 

There is company coming – important company.

There’s food to prepare, rituals to be observed – hospitality to be offered –

more than enough work for two sisters…

…and Mary has set herself at Jesus’ feet,

oblivious to the whirl of the world (and her sister) around her.

 

Mary gets credit for doing NOTHING, and our protestant minds have a hard time with that.

Martha objects – we object, secretly –

sure, it’s Jesus, and all, but lend a hand, for heaven’s sake!

And then Jesus increases our anxiety (and Martha’s)

by saying that there is really only one thing –

and that Mary has found it,

and it cannot be taken from her.

 

Perhaps the one, necessary thing – in a world of too many choices –

is the decision to set time aside for holy moments.

When the holy comes to call, it would be wise to pay attention.

To be still and know, as the Psalmist says –

but what if God is not in any of the usual places…

How do you know when you are in the presence of the most high?

 

Sometimes a man comes to your home, or three strangers appear at your tent,

and without warning,  it is THE LORD.

 

Jesus brought to this house a reputation as a teacher, healer and man of God.

There must have been some anticipation

as he made his way up the road, and through the yard.

Martha wanted to be ready – visitors (then, as now) are a big deal,

and it’s better if everything is ready…  and Mary is no help at all.

Yet it is Mary who gets the nod from Jesus, as the one who has her priorities straight.

There is one thing, Jesus says.

One thing, in which all other things find completion.

One thing which truly satisfies.

 

The greatest of mysteries meets us when strangers call at the wrong time

(as in Abraham’s story)

or when the demands of the day have defeated us

and we sit still and wonder – and suddenly, the ordinary is revealed as divine;

we discover the nearness of God.

 

It is not always obvious – this is what this morning’s lessons tell us –

The divine presence is not always accompanied by lights and angels.

God’s presence is not always obvious, even in worship!

The hymns are too old (or not old enough to have become favourites)

The Scriptures are confusing – the message is too long…

 

We come expecting something – our demand for information is insatiable –

our lifelong curiosity is not yet exhausted – but we are exhausted.

Our pursuit of information – our quest for new activity –

has worn us out, and made it difficult to be still.

 

Our hunger for instant satisfaction

has made us impatient where the Almighty is concerned

we are disappointed with God, truth be told –

and discouraged by our failure to find the one thing that we really need –

the only thing our information culture can’t provide

and then, when we have all but given up, God finds us.

 

God is not in the anticipation, God is in the visit.

God is not in the preparations, God is in the company.

God is not in the ritual, the music, the sermons and prayers,

God is in the midst of us, waiting to be noticed, honoured, thanked, or heard…

If only we would stop and notice.

 

The secret – the one necessary thing –

is not more activity or more information.

The secret does not rest in our ability to find,

but in our willingness to wait.

In that, we have access to the greatest gift of all –

we find ourselves face to face with God.