Thursday, February 02, 2006

How Long? (A Sermon on Luke 2: 22-40)

Happy New Year! Advent is over, Christmas has come, the babe has been born and the world saved! The waiting is over! Or is it? We humans aren’t good at waiting, not at all. We wait for physical healing, for a better job or better boss, for reconciliation with family, for a hoped-for pregnancy, for enough money to pay all the bills on time. Or we wait for racial harmony, justice for all, marriage equality, an end to war and poverty.

And we get so tired. We get impatient, we get worried, we get scared, so scared. Like Sarah and Abraham, we try to make the miracles happen ourselves. Like Jeremiah, we lament. Like all too many people in this world, both throughout history and in our own time, we lose faith.

We don’t like working on God’s time, waiting on God’s time. It’s too frustrating, takes too long, might never really happen at all. We may even think it might as well not happen unless it happens in our time frame. We assume that God hasn’t heard our prayers. Or, we think God heard our prayers and just isn’t answering. Perhaps we fear that the answer is a resounding NO! God may start to look like a real jerk, if we even still believe that God exists. After all, what good, loving Creator would allow such suffering in the world?

Maybe we begin to feel alone, forgotten, forsaken. Or we walk through gray days forgetting, ourselves, forgetting that God really does exist. It’s so easy to dismiss the reality of God. After all, when things look bleak and there are no more burning bushes or wheels within wheels, how do we hold onto faith?

Yet, somehow, people since the beginning of time have been doing just that! While there was a certain amount of grumbling in the desert, God’s people survived 40 years in the wilderness without just totally giving up on God or entry into the Promised Land. Sarah did eventually bear Isaac. Simeon and Anna did eventually meet the long-awaited Messiah, after waiting long, long lifetimes.

All those examples seem so long ago, though, from January 1, 2006. 2006! IS God still with us here in the 21st century? My personal area of extreme impatience with God arises regarding the issues of marriage equality and mainline church ordination standards. I get so frustrated with God around these issues. I want to be able to legally marry J. It makes no sense to me that I cannot yet do this. I want to be able to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church, where I have spent my whole life. It makes no sense to me that divorced straight people can be ordained, but a gay person in a committed relationship cannot.

Yet, even in my frustration, I have to maintain faith that God knows what the bigger plan is. If I knew, I would be God & that I am surely not! Even in my blindness, I can see some benefits of these ardent desires not yet being fulfilled, though. Had I been allowed to legally marry a spouse of either gender back in 1998, I would have had ugly legal dealings on top of an ugly break-up in 2001. If the Presbyterian Church allowed ordination of gay people, I would not have discovered this church, which both J and I find nourishing and full of Christ-like love.

Others have gone through serious struggles of faith and made it to the mountain-top, even to the Promised Land. Consider the early church, when Christianity was an offense punishable by a very nasty death. The early Christians, by stubbornly refusing to recognize the emperor as having a higher authority than their God, were a huge threat to the Roman Empire. This threat led the Romans to slaughter large numbers of Christians in very nasty ways. When they were being thrown to the lions or led to the beheading spot, the early Christians must have wondered if God had abandoned them. Yet many of them actually looked to their deaths with joyful anticipation, knowing that they were fulfilling God’s plan for them and expecting that one day, God’s reign on earth would come. The early Christians waited and they worked. I imagine that, although things did not look particularly hopeful, they did hope that someday Christianity would be legalized. Their faith was not misplaced. Christianity is now not only legal in most places, but is the religion with the largest number of adherents in the entire world. Of course, there are opportunities for Christianity as it is practiced today to come a great deal closer to the teachings of Jesus, but being able to talk about Jesus without being arrested is a start.

Take women’s suffrage. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott really had no reason to believe that the men in power would ever be forced to capitulate on a woman’s right to vote. There had to have been moments, days, weeks of great despair. The suffragists waited and they worked. Today, I am free to vote, thanks to their faith that it would someday happen. While I would love to have a little more choice in who to vote for, being able to vote is a start.

Think about U.S. slavery, which was defended with Bible verses and seemed nearly impossible, I’m sure, to topple to those working for emancipation. I can imagine that Harriet Tubman, on those very long journeys to Canada and back to slave territory, felt very alone and sometimes close to giving up. I don’t think that Sojourner Truth lived her entire life with no doubt whatsoever that slavery would eventually end. But, she kept working for its end in the face of grim odds. The abolitionists waited and they worked. While there are different forms of slavery in place in today’s world, the enslavement of generations of black people has ended. Freedom is a start.

Nearer to our own time, racism in this country was institutionalized and backed by law until the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The brave souls, the famous like Medgar Evers and Malcolm X along with those the history books will never mention, who took on societal and governmental racism seemed to have bitten off more than they could chew. There must have been days when Martin Luther King Jr. felt as though his actions would never really accomplish anything. Yet the civil rights activists waited and they worked and African-Americans gained legal rights and protection. While there is, of course, a great deal of work left to be done in order to accomplish true racial equality, the end of legalized racism is a start.

In South Africa’s apartheid government, people like Steve Biko lost their lives and people like Nelson Mandela spent years in prison. But, those working to end apartheid waited and they worked, keeping faith and hope alive somehow. Last year was the 10th anniversary of freedom & reconciliation in South Africa. Of course, the new South Africa is not a Utopian society and there are still plenty of bugs to be worked out. But, the dissolving of the apartheid system is a very good start.

I continue to live with faith and hope that legal equality for the LGBT community will be added to the list of hoped-for victories accomplished. I continue to live with faith and hope that economic injustices will be righted. I continue to live with faith and hope that one day, we will be worthy caretakers of this good earth God created for us and for the animals. I continue to live with faith and hope that war will truly cease and that we will really live together like siblings, treating everyone we meet with the love and grace that God continually shows to us.

I continue to live with an Advent mindset regarding God’s kingdom, too. The birth of Jesus wasn’t the end of the story. The death and resurrection of Jesus weren’t the end of the story. Do not be afraid. The end of the story is still coming and it will be magnificent beyond what our tiny human minds can comprehend. It will not necessarily happen in our time. It will require great patience and great faith on our parts not to give up on God when God seems pokey to us.

In the meantime, we must, like Simeon, trust that God is taking care of things. Simeon waited until he was a very old man before he saw the Messiah, yet he did not lose faith. We must, like Anna, keep busy in the work to which God leads us. We all have a role in preparing the way for God’s kingdom here on earth, no matter how small and unimportant we may think ours is. Anna worked at serving God until she was 84 years old before seeing the waited-for child. We must wait and we must work. How long are you willing to wait?


Wendy said...

What a great sermon! I loved reading it. I have started to talk about my own spiritual journey in my new blog...please keep writing. I am still so new in my renewed faith and I want to learn!

Daria de la Luna said...

I need to pop over to your new blog...things have been so hectic that I haven't had a chance to read any of it yet. Isn't learning fun???