2 Epiphany, Year A
2 Epiphany, Year A
Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Patience and waiting… We’re all likely familiar with the old ditty: “Patience is a virtue,/Possess it if you can./Found seldom in a woman,/Never in a man.” Or the prayer: “LORD, grant me patience, but please hurry!” Or maybe you’ve heard about the following woman:
Who prayed for patience only to have her prayer answered by being provided with an ill-tempered cook. We cannot have patience except in the exercise of it; and, therefore, to pray for patience is to ask, in effect, that your life may be for a little while rather specially irritating! 1
James S. Hewett tells the following story:
In a far country lived a ban of minstrels who traveled from town to town presenting music to make a living. They had not been doing well. Times were hard; there was little money for common folk to come to hear the minstrels, even though their fee was small. Attendance had been falling off, so early one evening the group met to discuss their plight. “I see no reason for opening tonight,” one said. “To make things even worse than they may have been, it is starting to snow. Who will venture out on a night like this?” “I agree,” another disheartened singer said. “Last night we performed for just a handful. Fewer will come tonight. Why not give back their meagre fees and cancel the concert? No one can expect us to go on when just a few are in the audience.” “How can anyone do his best for so few?” a third inquired. Then he turned to another sitting beside him. “What do you think?” The man appealed to was older than the others. He looked straight at his troupe. “I know you are discouraged. I am too. But we have a responsibility to those who might come. We will go on. And we will do the best job of which we are capable. It is not the fault of those who come that others do not. They should not be punished with less than the best we can give.” Heartened by his words, the minstrels went ahead with their show. They never performed better. When the show was over and the small audience gone, the old man called his troupe to him. In his hand was a note, handed to him by one of the audience just before the doors closed behind him. “Listen to this, my friends!” Something electrifying in his tone of voice made them turn to him in anticipation. Slowly the old man read: “Thank you for a beautiful performance.” It was signed very simply—“Your King.” 2
This story, in one way, is a parable of our relationship with God. We represent the minstrels in the story, and the King represents God. Like the minstrels, we too occasionally fall on hard times. During such hard times of trial and suffering; we often feel disheartened or depressed, like the minstrels in the story. We may question whether or not things will ever improve for us. We may feel that even God has abandoned us, and be tempted to lose our hope. At times doubts and fears take over, and we may wonder whether we’re able to patiently wait upon the LORD any longer.
I know this has certainly happened to me. I remember, after graduating from seminary, and still waiting, not so patiently for my first call. I know at the time, looking back, that my doubts and fears so took over, that I began to serious wonder if I’d ever receive a call. When I shared this with the President of our seminary, the Rev. Dr. William Hordern, he answered me with confidence and encouragement by saying: “All things come to those who wait!” I took heart in his words, and subsequently ended up waiting for one year before receiving my first call. But, nonetheless, God was with me in my patient and not-so-patient waiting. And God eventually worked things out for me, but it was in God’s good time, not mine!
The world in which we find ourselves is a fast-paced, “instant world.” We want everything immediately, if not sooner. Waiting patiently is not a virtue in our society—instant results are expected and demanded. If we have to wait or are expected to be patient, we are regarded as being too passive or too inefficient or too unproductive. Yet, we know from history that waiting patiently for the LORD is indeed a virtue and a gift, as well as a blessing in the end. Witness, for example, many of the heroes of the Bible. Abraham and Sarah had all but given up on bearing their own child, in fulfillment of God’s covenant with them. Then, in old age, God throws his grace-filled curve ball at them, and, wonder-of-wonders, in God’s good time they conceive and give birth to a son Isaac. When one reads the life of Moses, one discovers that there was much waiting patiently for the LORD before Moses was able to fulfill his role as Israel’s leader out of Egyptian slavery. Then, there was the waiting patiently for the LORD of the Israelites, as they suffered and were tested in the wilderness, before the LORD allowed them to enter the Promised Land.
In Psalm 40 today, we learn of how the LORD also required King David to wait patiently. Obviously David was facing serious sufferings, dangers and difficulties. He describes himself as waiting patiently for the LORD while he was in “the desolate pit, and the miry bog.” Of course, this is not to be understood literally, but figuratively. David was likely facing either political or military threats and dangers; or physical health problems and illness; or perhaps he was overcome with spiritual angst and agony due to his guilt and sins. Whatever David’s “desolate pit and miry bog” were, we do know all that we need to know—namely, that God heard David’s cry for help, healing, protection and deliverance. God answered David and blessed David after he waited patiently for the LORD. Indeed, so richly did God bless David and his kingship; that he goes down in the annals of salvation history as being honoured as Israel’s “ideal king.”
I’m sure it was very difficult for David at times to wait patiently for the LORD—just as it is for us too. He, like us, questioned and doubted and allowed fears to take over while facing hard times. Yet, in spite of all that, he endured his sufferings and times of trial—living beyond them. Living to fulfill his call to be a faithful king and serve God by serving his people.
He too, through his waiting patiently for the LORD discovered that God has a time and a place for everything and everyone. By waiting patiently for the LORD, we are prepared, formed and shaped into the people that God has called us to be—to become better servants of God by learning how to be better servants of one another.
Some of you may have read about the famous conductor, Carla Maria Giulini. It was not until he was in his seventies, after he waited patiently for more than 20 years; that he believed he was prepared to tackle the music of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. He said, “I have to understand a score, believe in it and love its every note. If those three conditions have not been fulfilled, then I cannot conduct the work.” Truly, the best things in life are always well worth waiting patiently for! 3
So it is for us too; when we wait patiently; when we endure our hard times; when we face our questions, doubts and fears and allow God lead us through them; when we learn from such times of suffering; we are indeed drawn closer to the life, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus. For as was the case with Jesus, David, and a host of others—God will indeed bless our waiting patiently in order that we may, in grateful response, become a blessing to others.
1 Cited from: Canon A.E. Baker, William Temple And His Message (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1946), pp. 191-92.
2 Cited from: James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), pp. 168-69.