39C Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Waiting with God
Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Luke 12:32-40
“Be like those waiting for their master’s return.”
One of the realities of life is the experience of waiting; waiting for someone to show up, for something to happen, for things to change. Another fact of life is that most of us do not like to wait. We search out the shortest line in the supermarket. We become impatient, even angry, waiting for the doctor who is late or the waiter who is inattentive. And just look how we behave when the coke machine is slow to deliver, or the elevator is slow to begin moving. Lots of buttons get pushed – the machine’s and ours.
Sometimes it seems that life is nothing more than waiting. As children we wait for Christmas, summer vacation, and to grow up. As adults we wait for just the right job, that special someone who will make our life complete, a promotion at work, or retirement. Some people wait for the diagnosis, others for the cure. Some wait for the day the pain will stop and grief will end. Others wait for the answer to their prayers. Many of us wait for the day when we have enough time, enough money, enough freedom, and the day we will live happily ever after.
As a society we also find ourselves waiting for so many things. Today, we wait for an end to the war in Ukraine. Today, we wait for an end to the onslaught of new viral infections. Today, we wait for an end to mass murders and gun violence. Today, we wait for the emergence of compassionate response to immigrants and refugees. Today we wait for justice to be administered to the privileged powerful who orchestrated the January 6th insurrection. Today, we wait for some real action that will end the pollution and destruction of our environment. Today, we wait for an end to the unaffordability of life’s basic needs for the many. Today, we wait for the implosion of the many growing fascist cancers that plague the human family.
Sometimes it seems as if the world has waited from the beginning of creation for peace, and the end of war, hunger, and poverty. In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul captures this universal experience when he says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”.
At some level waiting takes place every day. And each us could name the things or people for which we wait. And sometimes we live with an overwhelming feeling of expectation, but no clear idea of what we are waiting for.
When we examine our waiting, we may realize that we often don’t wait in the psychological, emotional, or spiritual present. The great tragedy is that in doing so, we lose the present moment. We either position ourselves in the past or in the future. And I believe that this is one of the things that makes waiting so painful and difficult.
Waiting in the future, more often than not, brings fear and anxiety about will happen. We are haunted by tomorrow’s unknowns and our lack of control in their regard. Waiting in the past brings sadness, anger or guilt about things that have happened, or those things done or left undone.
As difficult as present circumstances may be, the present circumstances are the only place in which we can ever be fully alive. The present moment and immediate reality are the only place we can truly encounter and experience God.
When we move out of the present moment – either way, into the past or into the future – we postpone life, we put life on hold, we deny life. We deny the resurrection that God intends for us now as a foretaste of eternal life. We desecrate the sacrament of the present moment. We refuse the gift of God’s Kingdom in its immediacy.
Everyone, everywhere, in every age waits. Jesus does not eliminate waiting. If anything, He does just the opposite. He tells the crowd, “Be like those waiting for their master’s return.”
Today’s Gospel, however, is not simply about passing time. It is about presence and being present. Jesus regards waiting as an act of faithfulness. In the words of Saint Paul, “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.
So, we are very mistaken if we think today’s gospel is about an absent God, a God who left some time ago. We are equally mistaken if we think we are waiting for a God who lives out in the future.
Jesus is teaching us how and where to wait. He is always inviting us to be present to the One who is always present. He is inviting us to listen for the knock, to watch, and to be alert. He is inviting us to be present to the reality and experience of God in each other, in the world and in ourselves, and to take those actions on behalf of justice and mercy that bear witness to His presence. This is the God who is present in the ordinary circumstances of our lives, in the news that confronts us each day, and, yes, the God who is present in our waiting.
We might be tempted to ask, “So where is God in all our waiting?” But maybe the better question is, “Where are we?”
Once I asked a group of children, “Where did you see Jesus today?” A very surprised and excited child cried out, “You mean He was here today?!”
Jesus responds to our surprise and excitement, saying, “Yes, yes, yes. I was here. I am here. And I will always be here.”
And so, He says, “Be dressed for action. Something is going on right now. Right here. And I want you to be part of it. Come take your place, engage, and participate. For it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. This is for you.”
“Be alert,” He commands. But this isn’t a threat of punishment. It is an invitation to be blessed. “Blessed are those whom he finds alert.” Jesus is not just inviting us to be awake, to be ready, and to be watchful. He is calling us to be fully alive and to remain fully alive. He wants His passion, death, and resurrection to be our ordinary experience. Blessing and life are one and the same in God’s Kingdom. It is as if Jesus is saying to us, “Be alert, be blessed, and I will come and serve you. I will feed you the bread of life. I will serve the cup of salvation.”
All of this, Jesus says, happens at an unexpected hour. Like a thief in the night the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
So, when is the unexpected hour? When will all this happen? Well, my guess is that, for most of us, maybe for all of us, the most unexpected hour is today, right here, right now. The most unexpected hour is the hour spent in the hospital waiting room; the hour spent waiting for news of a loved one; the hour spent praying for a miracle; the hour in which we wait for clarity and a way forward; the hour waiting at the beside of a dying friend; the hour waiting for grief to end and life to return to normal; the hour in which it seems as if nothing is happening with regard to the big issues, life is not the way we want, and there appears to be nowhere to go.
“You mean He was here today?!” Yes, right here in the most unexpected hour of your life.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
August 7, 2022