Patience and I are not friends. She comes prancing along too often in my life, demanding a place and always getting her way, forcing me to abide and succumb to the harsh reality that I am not the one in charge. Not too long ago, she met me on an airplane. Delta was giving away free in-flight wireless internet – a treat I quickly gobbled up as soon as we reached the cruising altitude. I opened my computer and sent Blair a hurried email that read something like this – "Quick, I’m on a flight and we have wireless! Log in so we can video chat!" Accustomed to my impatient ways, Blair did as I asked and soon, there we were, face to face, screen to screen, I in the air, he on earth. Our chat lasted for about 20 seconds until the connection started to slow and soon, there was a delay and Blair sounded like a robot and my screen flitted off and on. I typed furiously, "What is this? What is going on? Argh – this is ridiculous. Why won’t this work?" To which Blair responded, paraphrasing his favorite comedian, "You are on a plane traveling hundreds of miles an hour through the atmosphere and I am on earth, standing in one place and we are talking through two screens, worlds apart. I repeat – you are using the internet on a plane. A plane! A feat of invention in and of itself! And then, there’s the internet! And you’re on a laptop – a mini-computer! And we can see each other through tiny cameras. This isn’t ridiculous – this is awesome." I’m glad the internet was so spotty that he couldn’t hear my response. I closed my computer and pouted the rest of the flight. Patience always gets her way.
Will you pray with me? God of Life, we come to You thirsty, longing for the patience to seek endless streams of Your presence. Open our hearts to receive the living water and may it quench our thirsts and wash us anew for Your service. Amen.
He held onto a memory. Imagine him as so: once, however many moons ago, there was a moment in time when all seemed to melt away and all that existed was the man and his God. It was the peak of all mountaintop experiences. It produced an insurmountable joy. It was the best.
As was custom, he gathered with his community of faith – a cobbled group of people with varying degrees of responsibility and intention, questions and hopes, but still, his closest friends. They met outside the temple and arranged themselves in a processional, banners held high, bands of gilded cloth adorning their shoulders. The man took the front, as he was finally ready so to do after years of standing in the back, patiently hoping his turn would come. "This," he thought, "this will be the moment when my joy in the Lord will be realized." The congregation breathed in deeply, waiting for their cue and the man turned, smiled, and hoisted his voice on high, calling them all to songs of thanksgiving.
They entered the House of God shouting gladly and keeping festival like none other before. The man looked around at these, his family of faith, and could not help but cry tears of joy as he stood at the inner sanctuary. It was the holiest of holiest moments, the crux of all he had worked for and all he had waited. There, he met the Living God. The man thirsted no longer for he had met the Lord and was quenched. "My joy is in the Lord! Alleluia, Amen!" he shouted, his song heard clear above the rest.
Or so he thought.
For the man left the temple telling all of what he experienced – the goodness of God, the steadfast love that abounds and the Rock that holds one steady. But, time settled in and the man went back to his daily routine to find that his thirst for God, rather annoyingly, came back. He was frantic, trying to recall the joyful droplet of God’s presence he had experienced. At home and on the street, friends could sense he was losing his grip. They taunted him – Where is your God? – while he feebly attempted to respond. The man grew impatient with himself, blinded by the memory of that one moment in time when he met God in the temple. The man grew impatient with God – Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully? His soul thirsted for God, for the living God and all the man found to feast upon were his tears. Nothing he tried, nothing he conjured in his heart, nothing he remembered would suffice – God could not be found. Or rather, God could not be found as found before. So he wrote a song, impatiently, dramatically demanding an answer – As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
Might our souls long for God, too? Or rather, might our souls long for an expectation of God? "God is in worship," we say. God is in the laughter of children or the lilies of the field, or the fellowship at the table – "Don’t you see it?" people taunt and sometimes, when we ourselves are doubtful, we grow weary. Impatiently, we might cry, "God, why aren’t You showing up?! Get down here, God! Work Your stuff! Show me what You’ve got! Everyone seems to find You but I can’t. Where are You? Why have You forgotten me?" These are real cries, real fears, real pangs of forced patience. What the psalmist sang and what we repeat are laments of a people who yearn for visible signs of a seemingly invisible God. But how can we find God when we’re stuck inside a box? How can we quench our thirst when we try to block the already flowing streams?
For we are a thirsty people. We long for streams of flowing water and we don’t really know how we’re going to find them, or when, or how much it might cost of our time, talents, and tithing. Perhaps we can rejoice in this: there are new fountains flowing up ahead. Seasons of stewardship beckon us to imagine these new unstoppable fountains of God’s presence. We’re beckoned to imagine along with God new ways that the Spirit might move, might shape, might change the way we live as a church. We’re challenged to step away from what was before. We can begin yet again, fresh, clean, washed with a sense of God in our midst. If this disturbs you a bit or makes you wiggle in your seat, that’s OK. It is unsettling. It is uncertain. We don’t know what the future will hold for us, for the church except this: God will do a good and new thing with us if we are patient for the promise to come.
Thomas Edison, the man who invented the light bulb, the motion picture camera, the electric car battery, and the phonograph, knew a thing or two about patience. Legend has it that he made 1000 light bulbs before making one that worked. I reckon that if he were on the plane with me, he would not have simply closed the computer and pouted that things weren’t going his way. He would have tinkered with it, asked questions, broke open the box I’d crammed with simple expectations. He would have followed his own adage: "Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits."
Stewardship is not an inactive, passive season of filling out a pledge card, a time and talent sheet, of looking at the family budget and deciding how much to tithe. Instead, Stewardship is a season of active patience. It is a season where we imagine, with God, how we can live into our future together. It is a season where we hustle each step of the way, patient that God will provide whatever may come.
Once, however many moons ago, a teacher stood in a classroom facing a student not much shorter than herself. This student went by the name of Joey. Joey was impatient to the highest degree, pushing others out of his way to get to the front of the line, throwing books down on the ground if he couldn’t sound out a word, crumpling up math papers if he made a mistake. When Joey got bored with a lesson, he took his desk and rammed it into his teacher’s side, hoping she’d move on to the next point at his incessant cue. The constantly-bruised teacher patiently tried everything – visiting his home, talking with his mother every day, creating rewards systems just for Joey. But all attempts failed.
Thank God, however, that the teacher found hope in a much more patient child, Kiki. Kiki never raised her voice nor made a fuss. Instead, she sat silent most of the time, waiting to be called upon or waiting to be helped. Perhaps it was because Kiki stored up her impatience for moments in time when she had to be. Kiki had sickle cell anemia which thwarted her insides so much so that about once a week, she would have an accident because her body couldn’t be patient enough to get to the bathroom.
On this particular day, Joey and the teacher were at a breaking point. It was towards the end of the year and well-intentioned patience had cost the teacher every ounce of extra energy. After sitting with Joey through several observations, interventions, closed sessions, counseling appointments, psychological exams, and mounds of mandatory study lunches, he remained true to form – impatient as the first day of the year.
It all began with a bang, literally, as Joey sat pounding his head over and over again on his desk until the teacher put her hand in between the two. Her hand was crushed but she kept teaching, gritting her teeth and holding in all in. Then at reading time, Joey sat in the back of the classroom screaming, "This is stupid! I hate you. I hate everyone. I want to go home!" while the rest of the students plugged their ears, unable to hear Joey and unable to hear the story. The teacher smiled, and spoke louder, praising the patient children in front of her. Lunch happened and it was much of the same, other teachers looking on with taunting eyes.
The class returned to their room, carrying the burden of frustration. Taking their seats for a lesson on shapes, the teacher ignored the hand of Kiki, timidly waving at her. "I’ve had it. I’m not giving in to any more of this," the teacher repeated in her head. Joey’s pencil tapped loudly next to her, creating a beat for the teacher’s song of despair until all the sudden it stopped and Joey got up. Keeping her vow of silence, the teacher ignored Joey as he walked to the back of the classroom to get a roll of paper towels. As he walked back to his desk, he stopped one short and waited for Kiki to get up. She walked backwards towards the classroom door as Joey rolled up his sleeves, cleaned up her chair, and threw away the paper towels. He washed his hands, sat back down and returned to tapping his pencil incessantly. But now, the teacher’s song of sorrow had turned into a song of long sought after joy.
Patience always gets her way, doesn’t she? Alleluia, Amen!