“When God holds back”
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19
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Don’t you wonder if God ever gets sick and tired
of all that’s going on in this world?
Whether God might be fed up with corruption on Wall Street,
narcissism and deception in the White House,
mean-spirited and hostile discourse everywhere we look,
an economic system tilted against the poor,
social structures that perpetuate inequity and racism,
and on top of it all, a global pandemic
made worse by a self-serving public
led by self-serving politicians.
You think God might be losing patience with humanity?
Makes me think about Genesis,
and how God felt about the people before the Great Flood.
In a moment of exasperation, God said, in Genesis 6, verse 3:
“My Spirit will not contend with humans forever.”
And three verses later, God lost it all together:
It says, “The Lord regretted
that he had made human beings on the earth,
and his heart was deeply troubled.”
It’s a good thing rainbows still show up now and then.
Because Genesis tells us the rainbow is there for God’s benefit.
It’s there to remind God,
never to destroy the earth again.
So when God is troubled, thank goodness for rainbows—
a little spiritual safety net for us.
We can always point to them, and look up to heaven, and say,
“Hey, God, check it out!
What does that remind you of?
Remember that time?”
I know, I’m playing a little lightly with a complicated topic—
the patience of God.
We know God is a righteous judge.
We also know God is patient.
How we put those two together is the question at hand this morning.
Jesus tried to address that very question in Matthew 13,
and he did it . . . predictably . . . with a story.
A wheat farmer planted his field with good seed,
and at night his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat.
Later, when both the wheat and weeds were growing together,
the servants came to report on this situation,
and asked if they should pull up the weeds.
The farmer said, “No, if you do that, you’ll pull up the wheat, too.
Let them grow together, and we’ll sort them out in the end.”
A story of God’s patience in the Kingdom of God.
And a story of God’s judgment.
The ultimate fate of the weeds was still clear.
They would be thrown on the brush heap to be burned.
The wheat would be harvested for food.
But, in the meantime, God will be patient. Very patient.
A year ago, at MC USA convention in Kansas City,
Tom Yoder Neufeld did extensive Bible teaching for delegates,
over several days.
One day he expounded on the “patience of God,”
and made the point that patience is not “letting things be.”
It is “enduring with hope.”
Patience hurts, he said. Patience hurts.
It is pain.
He said, and I quote, “You can’t exercise patience without suffering.”
That makes sense, since the word suffer itself can mean patience.
To suffer someone, is to put up with, to bear with,
to show patience with someone.
For how long, we might wonder?
Tom asked, “How far does patience stretch?
Well, how strong is love?”
The love of God for us
is expressed in patience with us, in suffering us.
And it is the basis for our suffering each other,
our bearing with, being patient with, each other.
Patience is central to Christian faith.
It’s not an add-on feature, not an option.
It is the definition of walking by faith.
It is the frame of mind that Christ has with us,
and therefore, if we are to have the mind of Christ,
we will do likewise.
Be patient, even when it bring us pain to do so.
If our aim is reconciliation, growth, change, and repentance.
We cannot do other than be patient—
Like another one of Jesus’ stories, “the Prodigal Son,”
where the father never stopped checking the horizon,
always waiting, suffering, longing to see his son return.
Today our lectionary gave an optional reading from the Apocrypha.
We don’t give the Apocrypha quite the same authority for faith,
as the rest of our scriptures,
but there is a lot of wisdom there, that we shouldn’t ignore.
One of those sources of wisdom
is the book Wisdom of Solomon.
We read today from chapter 12.
Let me re-read a few lines.
“For there no god besides you, whose care is for all people,
Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness,
and with great forbearance you govern us;
for you have power to act whenever you choose.
Through such works you have taught your people
that the righteous must be kind.”
See, in our humanness, we are prone to self-righteousness.
We are quick to judge and condemn others in their failings.
I’m sure we can all identify times—even more so now—
when we tend this direction.
So much is going on in our world that does need to be confronted.
Whether in the realm of politics, or of the pandemic,
or of systemic racism.
there are some who disregard and endanger the well-being of others,
by not taking this pandemic seriously,
refusing to wear masks because it is their right to refuse.
Well, it is a fine line that separates those persons,
from those of us who are so incensed at them,
that we not-so-secretly hope they catch the virus themselves.
If our heart is inclined toward the well-being of all people,
then it needs to be inclined toward all people,
including our adversaries.
Sometimes our patience will be painful.
But now, listen, patience does not mean just “letting it go.”
It does not mean silence in the face of injustice.
Ignoring something is not the same as being patient.
“Agreeing to disagree” is just fine when the stakes are not high,
like preference on drapes or football teams or music.
But on matters that matter, like faith and ethics and justice,
then patience with honesty may be called for.
We may need to wait, possibly a very long time,
for hard conversations to bear fruit.
And the waiting can be painful.
In the area of racial injustice and inequity—
it’s nothing to be proud of—
that we are just now starting to admit
how deeply embedded racism is in our social fabric.
This is the fabric we take for granted, and that we, the majority,
wrap around ourselves and benefit from.
And we just assume this fabric is for everyone,
that it keeps everyone warm.
But some can barely stick their toes underneath it,
and still tremble from the cold.
These are hard and long conversations,
and those who have been waiting for them to happen,
have suffered a lot of pain in the waiting.
This week we lost two civil rights icons and moral beacons,
when Rep. John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian died at 80 and 95,
on the same day, in Atlanta.
In the 60s, when they both marched and shouted and were arrested
for demanding freedom now, and not later—
that was not impatience.
That was stating a moral imperative.
Their patience was proven
when they did not walk away from us in disgust,
but persisted in the call, stayed in the fight,
stayed in relationship,
and worked for a better future.
The day they died, they were still waiting for what they longed for.
And it’s up to us who’ve been going along our merry way,
to now stop and turn and face them,
and to face our living neighbors today,
especially those who are still waiting in pain,
and say, “I’m sorry you had to wait.
I’m sorry for the pain we caused you.
Thank you for waiting for us.
We’re with you now.
We’ll try to keep up.
We’ve got to get better at saying that to each other,
on race issues and on all kinds of important things,
if we want to learn from the parable of Jesus.
Because in this parable, we aren’t always the wheat.
We might well be the weeds that God, and others,
have had to exercise patience with.
We might be the ones God is just letting grow, and waiting on,
so as not to destroy the good also growing alongside us.
Our just and patient God is ready for us . . .
whenever we . . . are ready.
Jesus is calling . . .
calling us to repent,
to turn toward the good,
to come home.
—Phil Kniss, July 19, 2020
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