The Rev. Clare Fischer-Davies
St. Martin’s Church
September 12, 2010
Proper 19 C
I have been thinking this week about the patience of God. Patience is not a virtue that we talk about very often – it’s the antithesis of the “can do”, problem-solving spirit that seems to in be in the very DNA of American culture. We tend to believe that if we bring the right attention and the right resources to any problem, it will quickly resolve so that we can move on to the next problem needing our attention. But sometimes problems are huge and complex and intractable – we are, as a nation, quickly losing patience with some of the dilemmas in front of us. We want economic security restored right now. We want new jobs right now. We want to blame problems on anyone who doesn’t look like us or think like us, because that gives us a quick and easy solution. We are not – historically or in our present situation – a very patient people.
But God is patient – and patient on a scale that our minds simply cannot comprehend. I took a trip out west about ten years ago, and saw exposed the incredible geologic record of hundreds of millions of years that normally is under our feet and out of sight. We all know that the Appalachians are old and the Himalayans are young, but I didn’t know till that trip that the Appalachians are young in the big picture, rising themselves from the bones of long-forgotten mountain ranges that rose and crumbled before them.
The dinosaurs have been gone for about 65 million years, and I think they ruled the earth for about twice that long before they vanished. The first multi-celled things that could be called animals appeared 500 million years ago. Human life is just a tiny blip in that scale of deep time. God knows how to be patient.
But God’s patience isn’t usually the first divine attribute we think about. We talk about God’s activity in the world – creating and redeeming us, healing, restoring, making all things new; we rarely talk about God being patient. But all three lessons point to the patience of God – Moses talks God out of destroying the children of Israel after they make a golden calf to worship. (and I might point out that the Israelites make the golden calf because they themselves are impatient – Moses has been up on the mountain with God too long – let’s quit wasting time and make ourselves a new god).
In the letter to Timothy, Paul writes about how God in Christ Jesus showed him the utmost patience. He was once an enemy of Christ and a persecutor of Christ’s disciples, but God was patient – knowing that ultimately, Paul would prove to be one of the very greatest and most faithful witnesses to the gospel.
And then there’s the patience that leads a shepherd to search out the one 1/100th of his flock that has strayed. And the patience that leads a women to systematically search her house, turning everything upside down to look for one small coin. They are willing to keep at this search until they find what they have lost – even though others might think that patient searching a waste of time, even dangerous.
What on earth is going to happen to that flock while the shepherd searches for the one straying sheep? It’s not very sensible is it, to risk 99 for the sake of one, that may or may not be found? And what other important tasks is that woman neglecting in order to hunt for her elusive coin? She’ll have a bigger mess than ever to clean up – the baby is screaming for attention – the goat needs to be milked and she hasn’t even thought about what’s for dinner.
But God is patient – and these two little parables are showing us that God is willing and able to be patient even when human judgment says that patience is silly and a waste of time.
“This man welcomes sinner and eats with them,” the Pharisees sneer about Jesus. Until this week, I’d never thought about Jesus being patient when he eats and drinks with sinners – but of course, he’s the shepherd searching for the sheep and the woman searching for her coin. I imagine that the tax collectors and prostitutes aren’t exactly overjoyed when Jesus keeps showing up to eat with them – “Who asked that holy guy? We don’t want him hanging around us. It’ll just be more blah, blah, blah about God’s love and all that nonsense. He really brings a party down. He should stay with his own kind.”
God is patient. That’s not what we traditionally think about on this Homecoming Sunday when we celebrate how much wonderful stuff we have going on this year at St. Martin’s. This Sunday is about how many ways there are to love and serve God, to be part of this congregation, to get to know other members better, to feel like here is a place where you can be known and understood and loved. It’s all about doing this Sunday – being active and involved.
But still, God is patient. I expect that, at our September meeting, the Vestry will make a decision to go forward with a search for a part-time assistant. The Wardens have been consulting with former Wardens this summer and the consensus of those many gathered years of experience and wisdom is that a second priest – either full or part time is essential to St. Martin’s and to my health and well-being.
I don’t disagree. I think I would like to frame our search for another priest, not as a problem to be solved as quickly as possible, but as an opportunity to be embraced and explored. I’d be happy if we would be a little more like the shepherd and the woman searching for her coin, and a little less like the Israelites making a golden calf because they panic when Moses has been away too long. Patience tends to lead to better decisions. And I say that as one who has never been known for her patience. Just ask my children.
God is patient. God has been patient with the whole creation – at work on a time scale that the human mind will never comprehend. God is patient – working with the most unlikely people, like Paul of Tarsus, because God knows that in Paul is amazing potential for discipleship. God is patient – searching us out when we wander away, turning things upside down to find us, gathering us up in God’s tender arms to carry us home, and rejoicing that what has been lost has been found.
Welcome home to St. Martin’s. May we be patient – with ourselves, with one another and patient to see God’s will and work for us be revealed.