by Jason Chesnut
Forgive me, but I have to use a dirty word this morning: wait. It feels like a dirty word in our society, doesn’t it? Wait. It often comes dripping in condescension: “you are just gonna have to wait.” It denotes weakness, apathy, passivity. Our society doesn’t wait. It wants things now. Just ask President Obama, who, after a year in office, is being attacked by many for asking us to wait. Telling us in his first State of the Union address that we need to wait.
Advertising agencies make a good deal of money promising just the opposite – that we need not wait at all. Anything and everything we want is right here at our fingertips. We are sort of programmed not to wait. As if there is something inherently lacking in the act of waiting. Do it yourself, we are told. Don’t wait – make it happen.
However, we, here, in this place, are sort of in the waiting business. I mean, we’re in seminary. It’s kind of in the job description. We wait all the time. Some of us wait for internship placements, others for news about Clinical Pastoral Education sites. Some of us wait for first calls…and are still waiting. In the reality of our economic times, some wait to see if there will be a job for them next semester. We wait to hear about our partner McCormick, about the JKM library, about the future of seminary education in our country. We are a people who wait.
Not only that, many of us are waiting to go into places where we will, you know, wait. At bedsides in the ICU, listening to news of a loved one; with others who come to us with their doubts, fears, and anxieties; we’ll wait in the midst of communities of faith, praying for healing and reconciliation with ourselves, our neighbors, and our world.
We are a people who wait. We’re not talking about a passive, apathetic waiting – it’s not patient. Paul calls it eager longing, waiting for something to come that he calls redemption. It is a radical waiting – waiting with gusto. Something happens by our very act of waiting.
I can hear the community in Rome skeptically asking Paul: How is this possible? Maybe it’s because we do not wait alone. Paul is speaking to a community about this. Followers of Jesus in Rome, waiting amidst death and the fear of death by the empire. People of God waiting for hope, for something to hold on to.
But they are not alone. Paul says that the entire creation is waiting with them, groaning inwardly for something better, something holy. In that one phrase, Paul seems to be recalling the entire salvation history of the people of God. It’s not just us who are waiting, he says: it’s been going on for a long, long time. Our waiting is a part of who we are.
From the beginning, when the waters moved over the deep, the creation has been waiting. Waiting for God to create, waiting for God to call the newly-created good – very good. In the earliest rumblings of life on this planet, it has waited, taking a fantastic amount of time to be fashioned into the exquisite world teeming with life that we call Earth, spinning away in the cosmic dark, a blip on the outskirts of a massive galaxy in an even greater universe, beyond all comprehension.
And it’s on this earth that we find a cosmic story of our own, a story of waiting with creation. From Eve to Sarah, Abraham to Jacob, Jonah to the belly of a fish, Isaiah to Deborah to Jeremiah to Mary, we have waited with gusto for hope to take shape. In this waiting, things happened. God brought the people out of slavery and took care of them in the wilderness. God watched over Ruth and stood beside Esther. God sent ravens to feed Elijah; God brought the widow’s son back to life.
Y’all know this – I’m preaching to the choir. We’re in seminary, after all. We know the salvation history in our bones. We hear it every week as we go to the table. And even now, as followers of Jesus, we wait for him to come again, for the world to be made anew. This is simply part of being Christians – to wait. But we do not wait alone. We have the creation, our partners in crime, that waits with us.
And still the advertising gospel chimes in: Don’t wait: make it happen. So, which is it? Do we wait, or do we make something happen? Listen up, church, for a good Lutheran response is coming your way: it’s both/and. We are called to wait, and to act. This is an active waiting.
I can hear the skeptics at LSTC…er, I mean Rome…throwing out the question again: How is this possible?
Maybe it’s because the creation is not the only one who waits with us. So does God.
God waits with us, in the dark places of our soul, those times when we wonder if it will ever get better. God waits with us when we are sure that we wait alone. God waits with us, when we are convinced that God is anywhere but with us.
God waits with the homeless veterans who silently shuffle back and forth on our freeway off-ramps, asking for something, anything from the cars that pass by; God waits with the poor who will be the first affected by our global climate crisis – the ones who will really feel the labor pains of creation; God waits and groans with all of us.
And yet, our waiting is not passive – it’s an “in-your-face” waiting. An active participation in what God has called us to do. Process theologians speak of us as co-creators with God – language that echoes Paul’s words to the community in Rome.
God doesn’t only wait with us. God waits for us. God waits for us, because we have been called to be the body of Christ. God waits for us, challenging us to see the world around us. God waits for us, waiting to see what we will do.
There is a New Yorker cartoon in which two people are having a deep discussion. “I’ve been wanting to ask God,” says one, “where he was during the tsumani in Asia, during Katrina in New Orleans, during the earthquake in Haiti.” “Well, why don’t you?” her friend asks. “Because,” she replies, “I’m afraid God might ask me the same question.”
We are not the only ones who are waiting – God is waiting with us and for us, waiting to see how we will live out our baptismal identity.
On the steps of the State capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke about this active waiting after marching from Selma in March of 1965. He powerfully and unequivocally named the hope in the midst of waiting to the crowd gathered: I know you’re asking today, “How long will it take?” he said. “How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it?” How long? he asked. Not long, was the forceful, faithful reply.
How is this possible? Because, King said, the moral arc of the universe is long, but it always bends towards justice.
God is waiting with us; God is also waiting for us. Waiting for us to see the devastation in our creation – and to see its redemption at the same time. Waiting for us to see justice crucified in the cries of our creation. Waiting for us to know that while we wait for justice, we do not wait long.
And we don’t do it alone. And we don’t do it without hope. This is what makes our waiting active – we wait with gusto. We wait without fear. We wait with a God who has gone all the way to a cross and back to remind us of our own divine image. A God who has saved God’s people throughout history, and comes again and again in our waiting now. As we wait, things happen.
A God who waits for us, calling us to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world, a world which groans for something holy, something better. Its cries are our cries. Its hope is our hope. We all wait, together.
I think theologian Martin Marty puts it best: “We are being waited on by God, who never tires, who is near, who is here.”
I’m gonna use that dirty word again. We are a people who wait. But we are not alone.
Thanks be to God for that.