FIRST LESSON: Responsive Reading from Proverbs
EPISTLE LESSON II Timothy 4:1-8
SERMON: “Growing the Gifts of the Spirit - Patience”
From the time we were infants, wailing for our mothers to come and attend to our need -- whether it was for food, or comfort or a dry diaper, until the last days of our lives, when we come to the point when we are just waiting, perhaps even anxious for God to receive us into heaven, from our first days until our last days, again and again we need the gift of patience.
When I was a little girl -- about third grade I think -- my mother had sewn an outfit for me that I really liked -- a skirt and top (This was back in the days when girls had to wear skirts or dresses to school). After quite a few wearings and washing's the hem came loose on the skirt, so I put it in Mom’s mending pile, and well -- what happened after that made me really identify with a story in this month’s Reader’s digest about a boy named John who had outgrown some relatively new underwear, so he threw the unwanted items in the wastebasket. His mother found them and put them back in his bureau drawer. So John put the clothing in the family’s bag of items to donate to charity. But again his mother retrieved it, and again John found it stacked neatly in his drawer. But John finally solved the problem. He put the items in his mother’s mending basket and never saw them again! I never got to wear that skirt again either.
Any of us who have waited for something to get done from the mending basket, know something about how important patience is.
If you've ever sat in the doctor’s office you know that some doctors’ offices seem to move slower than turtles. There’s a story about two big turtles and one little turtle who decided to have a picnic on the river bank. They packed a lunch basket with sandwiches and headed for the river. When they arrived, it began to rain, and the two big turtles ordered the little turtle to return home for an umbrella. The little turtle agreed, on the condition that the others should not begin eating the sandwiches until he returned. Then the little turtle left and the big turtles began to wait patiently for his return. A day passed, then a week, then a month, then a year! Still there was no sign of the little one. So one of the big turtles said to the other, “He’s not coming back. I think we should start eating without him.” Whereupon, the little turtle stuck his head out from a nearby rock and said, “If you do, I won’t go any further!” We have all had to wait for other people, and sometimes we feel like we’re waiting on a really slow turtle.
Discover Card has recently aired some commercials to inform customers that when they call, they will get an actual person – without having to go through a lot of button-pressing. That’s a real selling point for many of us! I can remember times when I have had to call the Board of Pensions about insurance coverage. 1-800-773-7752 “Thank you for calling the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) . . . If you know the extension of your party, you may dial it now. All callers desiring assistance, please stay on the line for the next available representative. (music) Thank you for your patience. Please continue to hold and a representative will serve you as quickly as possible. (more music) Thank you for your patience. Please continue to hold and a representative will serve you as quickly as possible. (more music). . . . I once got that recording seven times before a human being answered my call. Normally I wouldn't bother to count, but having started study for this sermon on patience, I did count. And I timed how long I had to listen to music between each recorded message -- 45 seconds. That means I waited more than five minutes to talk with a real person. I think that’s why they invented cordless phones, because we hate to be tied down to a phone for five or more minutes waiting for someone to talk to us. And yet, what is five minutes compared to waiting for weeks, months or even years for some things to happen?
Dateline NBC did a piece a few years back in which they posed a question to viewers: “How long do you think people will wait for an elevator without becoming visibly agitated at a delay. 15 seconds? 30 seconds? 40 seconds? a minute? How long do you think? The answer right after these important messages.”
We are an impatient people - instant coffee, fast food, microwave ovens, channel surfing with our remote controls. Now and then I think my computer is really slow, but compared to the manual typewriter I learned to type on - my old -- 2 year old -- laptop is fast. How many of you have heard someone say, “I can’t wait for . . .” (you fill in the blank: I can’t wait for Christmas; I can’t wait for my birthday; I can’t wait for school to get out. When the kids were little and they would say “I can’t wait for . . . “ we used to answer, “Guess what!” And they would with eager anticipation say, “What?!” And we would calmly answer, “You’re going to have to.”
The fruit of the Spirit is patience. How long will most people wait for an elevator before becoming visibly agitated? 40 seconds. That’s all. And I waited 45 seconds seven times for a representative to come on the phone line.
How do we learn to be more patient? First of all, by getting things in perspective. What is waiting for 40 seconds for an elevator when compared to climbing ten, twenty, thirty flights of stairs? How do we wait over five minutes to talk to a real person at some company with whom we do business? One way is to plan for it – focus on something else while you wait, even if it’s just reading an e-mail or surfing the web, do some paperwork, read a book or magazine, or write a note. A five minute wait is really nothing in the great cosmic chain of events. Am I always patient? No. But keeping things in perspective and focusing on something else do help.
There are lots of things in life we have to wait for, and so we pray “Lord, give me patience, ––– and I need it now!”
Sometimes it’s not so much a matter of time, as that we are called upon to be patient with the things other people say and do, like the teacher who had just finished putting the last pair of boots on her first-graders -- thirty-two pairs in all. The last little girl said, “You know what, teacher? These aren't my boots.” The teacher removed them from the girl’s feet. Only then did the little girl continue, “They are my sister’s, and she let me wear them.” The teacher quietly put them back on her pupil. Now that calls for patience!
Patience isn't about waiting. It is how we act while we are waiting. How can we learn to act patiently with the annoying things our children, spouse, parents, friends, co-workers and other people do? It takes practice.
As a young Frenchman pushed his infant son’s carriage down the street, the baby began to howl with rage. He checked, the diaper was dry, no pins sticking the baby, who had just been fed. Nothing seemed to help, but the child continued to scream. “Please, Bernard, control yourself . . . Easy there, Bernard, keep calm!” the father kept repeating quietly.
“Congratulations, Monsieur,” said a woman who had been watching. “You know just how to speak to infants -- calmly and gently, and with great patience.” Then she said, “So the little fellow is named Bernard?”
“No, madame,” corrected the father. “His name is André. I’m Bernard.”
Self-talk is one way we cultivate patience. “Easy Bernard!”
Think about it. Raise your hand if you talk to yourself. Just about everyone. A couple of you are sitting out there going, “Do I talk to myself? I don’t think I talk to myself. Nah, I don’t talk to myself.” The truth is we all talk to ourselves, and what we say when we are waiting makes all the difference.
“How can that idiot go 54 miles an hour in a 55 zone? Doesn't he know I’m in a hurry?” And then we talk to the other driver, as if he or she could hear us: “Move it or park it!”
Or we could say:
I’d like to go a little faster, but in the great cosmic chain of events this won’t make much difference. Even if I could pass, I wouldn't get to my appointment but a minute or so quicker. Relax! It’s not worth getting excited about.
Patience is often required in much more difficult situations than dealing with a fussy child or a slow driver. Patience is something that frequently grows in our most difficult situations. Waiting for a diagnosis, or for a treatment to work. Waiting for a job to be offered, or a legal situation to be settled. Waiting for healing of grief after a tragic loss. So often we do not feel patient while these things are going on, but afterwards we know that our ability to endure trials has grown.
I’m not always patient. Many of you are probably more patient than I. Who is our perfect example when it comes to patience? God. In the words of our first hymn for this morning, “When I think that God, His Son not sparing, sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in; That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin; then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee How great Thou art, how great Thou art!” That’s what’s important in the great cosmic chain of events!
God sent his only Son, that through his earthly life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection, all the world might be saved. And for two thousand years God has patiently waited for us all to receive Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord of our lives. God does not push us. God does not honk at us, yell at us, or hang up on us. God does not threaten or abandon us. Our loving God sits with us in the waiting room, walks with us through our difficult times. And our indefatigable, unfailing God still waits patiently for us to accept the good news of resurrection, grace and unconditional love, and waits for us to reach out, to teach it to others with care and love. God patiently waits for us to finish the race, to keep the faith, and promises to welcome and receive all who love the Lord.