"What Impatience Breeds"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 12, 2008
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-22; Exodus 32:1-9
Once I spent a couple of
hours with distraught parents whose daughter was completely out of
control in their eyes. She was fifteen and her raging hormones were
pulling her in every direction. She was sneaking out at night, hanging
out with boys that were somewhat older and was increasingly defiant with
most of her parent’s requests. She had little desire to develop the
skills of putting off the need for immediate gratification, being liked
by all the boys in her universe of friends and being obedient to those
who possessed far more wisdom than she.
Parents have a very difficult time watching a child engage in what to their eyes is self-destructive behavior. The response of some parents is to ground their daughter, punishing her with house-detention and have her every move monitored as though they could somehow confine her until she comes to her senses.
As so often happens, strong-willed teens can struggle free from any imposed restrictions and may angrily defy all attempts by others to control their lives. The parents in this case learned that the tighter they held on to her, the more distant and aloof she became from the values they knew would one day propel her toward enjoying a successful life.
It is challenging to hold on to patience when someone we love is in a life pattern that is beyond our ability to control. At the other end of the spectrum of life, it is equally challenging for some people to have patience with life when someone they love is in the final stages of a terminal illness or they have two members of the military come to their home with very sad news concerning a son or daughter who was deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Patience is a skill of spirit that we can use during the immediacy of the moment or for living peacefully during our entire life experience. We have to be grounded in the values of the world from whence we came, a world where all the material symbols we reference are absent. Jesus called this world of spirit the Kingdom of God.
In Tim Galway's book, The Inner Game of Tennis, he describes how our Creator understands and loves each of us through every stage of our evolution. He recreated this understanding by describing the growth patterns of a rose. These are his words:
When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as "rootless and stemless." We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed.
When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don't condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear.
We stand in wonder at the process taking place, and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is born until the time it dies. Within it, at all times, is contained its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.
The Exodus passage we are examining today described what happened to people when their patience was anchored only to what was happening in the material world. Moses had obeyed a command from God, “Come up the mountain to me and while you are here, I will give you two stone tablets which contain all the laws that I have written for the instruction of my people.” (Exodus 24:12) The Israelites knew this information but their patience became exhausted.
The first verse in our lesson sets the stage for what happens when people only have a short view of what it means to have patience. “When the people realized that Moses was taking forever in coming down off the mountain, they rallied around Aaron and said, ‘Do something! Make a god for us who will lead us. This man who got us out of Egypt – who knows what has happened to him?’” (Exodus 32:1 Peterson) The need to have immediate gratification of some desire, this impatience, is a temptation that is a challenge to resist even today.
Sensing the nervousness of his people, Aaron invited everyone to bring their gold to him. Being a goldsmith, Aaron fashioned a calf to represent God who had delivered them from Egypt. Aaron said, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to honor the Lord.” They brought some animals to sacrifice to God and others to provide meat for their fellowship meal. The feast, however, created an environment of over-indulgence that manifested in intoxication and sexual expression.
There are a lot of people who walk away from God and their church family when they feel betrayed and abandoned because of life’s unexpected reversals. Again, their patience is anchored in the symbols of this world, a world that is constantly changing, a world where absolutely nothing stays the same.
This week we Americans watched as six trillion dollars vanished from our nation’s investment markets. Every country in the world is experiencing this economic crisis that has assumed epic proportions. None of us has ever witnessed such a drama. The people who surrendered to their fears pulled their financial assets from their banks and investment vehicles exactly as people did in 1929. The value of everyone’s investment deteriorated in a matter of days. Panic selling created this response.
The people who know the irrationality of fear are those who continued investing during these fire sale prices of companies when many others were selling and fleeing to safety. The only safe place was a state of mind created by patience.
Patience is the skill that will carry us long into the future while shielding us from over reacting to the changes that come with our daily existence. Such a skill cannot be a charade or a mask. We either have patience when dealing with matters of deep personal importance or we do not.
The Hebrews grew apprehensive and demanded something, anything that would fill the void that was created by their years of wandering and the uncertainty of their future. They needed to be reassured that God was still with them. They wanted some symbol, some savior to comfort them, and they demanded that Aaron create an image that they could see, bow down to and to whom they could offer sacrifices.
Their impatience produced nothing of value. They anesthetized themselves with alcohol and attempted to escape their feelings of abandonment by indulging themselves in the pleasures of sexual expression. Humanity still experiences the same temptation to go countless directions other than holding on to the one that would comfort them in time – patience.
Our patience must be rooted in our confidence that God’s will is unfolding right on schedule. Keep in mind that this is God’s schedule, not ours. Who knows if these challenging economic times is God reminding humanity not to put our trust in the things that change? Who knows that these circumstances are teaching us that all people are connected and everyone is in this together? Patience is trusting God not our 401 (k) plans and our IRA accounts. Faith is moving forward confidently that God’s will is being done. How could anything God wills not be accomplished?
Back to the parents who came to see me about their 15-year old daughter. As painful as it was, they ceased trying to control their daughter. They allowed her to struggle through her attempts to define herself. They realized that they could not fix her. They realized that the only thing they could do was love her just as she was.
They began learning that patience was a life long skill that required their letting go of what they wanted for the sake of allowing their daughter to find her own way. Yes, their daughter was self-absorbed. Yes, she was defiant. Yes, she did everything you might imagine without regard to consequences. She distanced herself from her parents after she left home.
The two of us have remained friends through the years ever since she was in my youth group years ago. She has visited St. Matthew’s from time to time when she is in town. You may want to know: Did she ever grow up emotionally? Did she ever outgrow her thirst for rebellious behavior?
If we consider her economic status as being important, last year she earned slightly under $300,000. Her territory is the State of Alaska where she lives. She has been able to use everything she has learned as stepping stones to better serve herself and others in the medical community. She reconciled with her parents years ago and expressed profound gratitude to them for their enduring love and patience. She was like the rose that Tim Galway described in his book, “She seemed to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment she was perfectly all right as she was.”
As we reflect on our lives, who else is like this? Believe it or not, it is God. God exhibits infinite patience with each of us. Love comes as automatic as the cycles of the seasons. God knows that we are equipped with everything we need to succeed in life. God also knows that we have the freedom to run down every blind alley, if that is our wish, until we learn that what we are searching for cannot be found in any of them. God also provided us with the abilities to discern what causes pain and what causes joy. Through those experiences we eventually learn that God has been providing guidance during every phase of life. Yet, God allows us to find our own way knowing that our lives are something we fashion in whatever form we choose.
Years ago, I was chair of the Board of Directors of Prince George’s County Hotline. Because of that role, I often met with other leaders of kindred helping agencies. I came into contact with a woman named Judith who was the Director of the Rape Crisis Center at Prince George’s General Hospital. She was a warm, empathetic advocate for women who have endured this experience. After one of our meetings, she invited me to lunch and she told me her story.
She had been raped by three men at the age of 17. She carried those terrifying moments for years. God was no where in her life. “What kind of God” she thought, “would refuse to become involved?” One day a Roman Catholic priest led her to find a different place to stand to view her experience.He told her that not only had the men assaulted her that day, but she was still allowing them to hold her mind and spirit prisoner with bitterness and hatred. Then he said, “Sometimes the only people who can help other victims of rape are those who have been there themselves and have emerged realizing that sometimes bad things happen to good people.” The light from his insight flashed across her mind and she let go, pursued several advanced academic degrees and was the choice of the hospital to be the next Director of the Rape Crisis Center. She was a perfect fit.
We cannot change any experience that is beyond our control. What we have the power to change is who we are in the midst of that moment. Patience helps us bring to this world a gift that can override the power of fear, preserve our peace and move mountains – those illusionary barriers to our loving. Impatience breeds everything that we do not want. Patience is a quiet presence that reinforces our confidence that life is unfolding perfectly just like the rose.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for allowing us to play a role that helps shape and mold the lives of others. As a community of faith, we never know who we touch with our smiles, whose conflicts we help resolve and whose loneliness is dissolved because of our friendship. Your spirit heals in ways we may never know. Thank you for the ability to think of others. Thank you for our capacity to sense the needs behind the masks worn by those around us. Thank you for inspiring us to fill empty cups, to nurture newcomers into our lives and to extend your presence by simply showing up as a friend. May the energy created by our community of faith inspire others to say, “Yes” to your Son’s calling them to “follow me.” We pray these thoughts through the spirit that Jesus said was in all of us. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Always faithful God, when we walk into our sanctuary and find our seat, an opportunity becomes available to engage in quiet, peaceful, reflective thinking following another challenging week. There is so much about each of our lives that can pull us toward unhappiness. So many things disappoint and frighten us, from the news of the day to the faults we identify in the people that surround us. We often do not pause and reflect on the countless aspects of life that have the power to make us sing. All of us need moments like this when we can cleanse our minds with thoughts that help us count our blessings.
Thank you for the message of love that Jesus refined for all of us. Thank you for the gathered community which feeds and nurtures us, that provides us guidance through study, opportunities to serve others and moments to evaluate where we are in our faith journey.
We have watched the simplicity in the way you love. We struggle in some of our relationships, and you surround everyone with opportunities to refine their identities. We acquire as many creature comforts as we can afford, and you send the sunshine and the rain on those planning war and the physicians seeking to preserve life, the wealthy tycoons and the ones who search for food in a restaurant dumpster. We do not understand how life works, but we do know that where we find ourselves provides the garden in which we can grow, bloom and sow our seeds in the path of those who follow us. With thankful hearts we pray these thoughts through the loving spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .