Tag Archives: patience

Urgent Patience.

I suppose many of us wander between enthusiasms. Earlier this year climate crisis was in the news and attracting our attention (quite rightly!). Then the Covid pandemic edged it out of our attention, and now the possibilities of a vaccine feature alongside the varying estimates of what Christmas will be like.

The thought of Christmas might remind us that we aren’t yet ready. Present planning, card sending, and arranging family meetings are one thing, being ready for the coming of Jesus another. This pre-Christmas season of Advent is not just about preparing a celebration of Jesus’ birth, but of reminding ourselves of the promise that he will return, bringing an end to the world we know, with judgement, accountability, and the full arrival of the Kingdom he began on earth.

As we read 2 Peter 3:8-15, we are reminded not to get impatient. If some Christians in Peter’s time expected Jesus return rapidly, they needed to remember that the delay allowed time for repentance to some who needed it – and God was wanting to see them saved. We face the same temptation – “Will anything ever change? Don’t I just need to fit in with the way things are in the world around?”, with a firm answer that it is not the people around us who set our ambitions and standards, but God. The whole idea of Jesus return, and our readiness to give an account of our lives, and our use of all God’s gifts, is important and has an urgency – we are not promised any further warnings!

The urgency is real – this needs to be a priority now, not “when I get around to it” or “when life is less busy”. At the same time, we need patience. God does not have to explain the timing to us. If Jesus’ return happens after the end our our life, we have no complaint. Quite the opposite, we will have had more time to practise, more time to see the benefits and blessings of a life lived as a disciple, learning the ways of love and faithfulness. More time to advertise and recommend them. There is no place for panic, or frantic confusion. What we need is, yes, urgent patience. Urgent – being ready must be a priority, and move to the top of the “to do” list, but patience, to take time to learn, to repent, and to go on repenting and reforming all the areas the Holy Spirit highlights for our prayerful attention.

Patience

There are some things you can’t buy – and patience is one. James in his letter commends it to Christians (James 5:7-10), but you might wonder why we read that now. While Advent is about getting ready, it reminds us of what we have not yet got – and thus the need for patience. It fits very well with the hopeful words of Isaiah 35, the good times had not yet arrived. Life for that community, as well as the one James addresses, may have been hard, so patience is needed.

Patience is a gift (it is included in the fruit of Spirit: Galatians 5:22), the opposite of anger or short-temperedness. But, apart from saying we need it and its nice if you’ve got it, what can we do about it? James talks about farmers, and perhaps we should take the hint to look forward. His reason is that Jesus return will sort everything (and everybody) out. We talk about the Kingdom, begun among us but not yet complete.

Put it another way: it is tempting to want the last word, but less so when we realise God will have it – on everything. Or perhaps we need to go back to parables like the Wheat and the Weeds / Tares (Matthew 13:24-30), to realise the danger of wanting everything sorted out too soon, before the time is right. So we commend patience, reinforced with the reminder that it is not for us to get everything in order, but for God to do so at the right time.

But how does that fit with the urgency of John the Baptist? Are we urging patience while his call is to decisive action? Certainly John had an urgency as he told people to engage with God – but James is talking to Christians who have done that, and need to persist. We can see in John the Baptist (and especially in prison) some of the pain behind his question – “Are you the one?”. He, like many prophets before him, would die before his words were proved. But he was right – history, and the perspective of heaven, would justify what he had said.

So it is important for the Christian community to whom James writes that they should be patient. He does not mean their faith is any less vital, or that taking opportunities to share it is anything but urgent and important, but behind that is the awareness that God will sort things out when he comes, and that can be left to him. It is important for us, too. Our situation and difficulties are not the same – though grumbling seems to survive across the centuries. We are also trying to be part of our wider community, but with a different lifestyle, and set of values. Our Christian way may not be used, accepted or understood by the majority, and we need patience to follow it steadily and successfully.

Tolerance and Discrimination

Strange how public morality goes; you can apparently choose your faith, lifestyle and sexuality freely, but you must be tolerant.  In much the same way, you can belong to any group or subculture, but must not discriminate.  The rightness of tolerance and the wrongness of discrimination are seldom argued, just demanded.  At the same time, the popular press make the practical limits of toleration clear – rich fraudsters, terrorists and paedophiles are beyond the pale.  And we all know how to discriminate between a good workman and a “cowboy”, or a real friend and a gossip.

So, will you be shocked if you look in the Bible for these words?  Tolerance is not found in traditional translations (only, of God, in Romans 2:4 Good News Bible), discrimination not at all.  Why?  I suggest that, while there are some similar ideas, the concepts are not quite right for Christians.  Why not?  This weeks gospel parable (Matthew 13:24-43, leaving out vv31-35) may help.

The story of the wheat and weeds is about tolerance and discrimination – of a sort.  Wheat was, and is, an important food.  The weeds in this story are not a nuisance or something that spoils the picture, but darnel, a plant that looks very similar to wheat, but is host to a dangerous, poisonous fungus.  Jesus is suggesting that in human life, and that includes Church congregations, good and bad people are mixed.  We should not try to sort them out, because of damaging the wheat, because we can’t reliably tell the difference, (and because people, unlike plants, can repent.)  That’s not to say “anything goes”, in Church, or in society!  We need to help people sort themselves out – but we shall never gather a perfect group.  There will always be those in process – and those who resist God, but pretend.  There is a place, if not for tolerance, at least for patience and love, and for letting God do the final sorting out.  (We lack the qualification!).

At the same time, there is talk of a division at harvest time.  The harvesters will be under orders how to discriminate into just two categories.  No discrimination?  Well, you can’t tell wheat from darnel until the ear appears just before harvest (wheat turns golden brown and bends over, darnel seed darkens and stays upright), so no premature judgements.  But if “no discrimination” means “nobody can tell me I’m doing wrong” that doesn’t include God!

The idea of being tolerant and not discriminating is one of those half-Christian confusions which can obscure the faith of Jesus.  We don’t want to be intolerant and discriminatory – nothing Christian in that!  Letting him tell the story, and listening carefully, should save us getting it wrong.