An Ironic Sermon: Preaching on Patience

(OT—Isaiah 35:1-10; Epistle—James 5:7-10; Gospel—Matthew 11:2-11)

Christ Episcopal Church, Charlotte, NC.  December 12, 2010, 5pm Service

Prayer—In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.  The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.”

I could not help but be reminded of corn-canning when reading today’s Epistle in James.  You see, corn-canning is a very significant time for my dad’s side of the family.  Every year, the aunts, uncles, cousins, grandkids and great-grandkids gather at my grandparents’ farm to harvest and “can” the corn.  We pull it off the stalks, shuck it, silk it, cook it, cut it, and can it.  It’s the most efficient assembly line I’ve ever seen, and NO ONE is left out.  This usually happens one of the last weekends of July or the first weekend of August, but the exact time is never known until it arrives.

Timing was never an issue when my family lived in Lubbock, a mere hour-and-a-half drive from the farm in Hereford, Texas.  But once we moved to Virginia, planning around corn-canning was virtually impossible.  My dad was lucky enough to fly to Texas the exact weekend of corn-canning a few years ago—it was a fluke.  I tried to do the same this summer with no luck whatsoever.  Crops don’t have a set schedule, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t consult my schedule to see when corn-canning is convenient for me.  Just because I buy tickets to Texas the last weekend in July doesn’t mean the corn will be ready to harvest.

“You also must be patient.  Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

Keep in mind that this is the Epistle reading, not an Old Testament reading.  So when James says “the coming of the Lord is near,” he’s not talking about the Baby Jesus we tend to think of in this advent season.  Baby Jesus has been there, done that.  As our Gospel reading reminds us, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”  James is talking about advent, but more specifically about the second advent.  The Latin word adventus means coming.  We also refer to this second coming with the Greek term parousia, meaning arrival, coming or presence.  Why are we talking about the second coming of Christ during the season of advent?  We’re supposed to be preparing for His birth, for the humble beginnings of the Christian faith, not the “end times,” right?

Let’s go back to those corn crops in Hereford.  While corn-canning may only be one weekend a year, farming takes place all year round: Preparing the soil, planting the seeds, checking the irrigation, checking the Ph of the soil again, watching the plants mature, warding off pests—even letting the fields lie fallow may seem like nothing, but soil must rest to keep from being stripped of the nutrients needed to yield a harvest.  Waiting is an active thing.  We too must wait actively, so James tells us to strengthen our hearts.
During the advent season we celebrate now, leading up to the Birth of Jesus, we remember and we celebrate the coming of Christ.  The Kingdom of the Lord is here!  And we see evidence of the Kingdom in our lives every day if we are awake and aware and ready for the Kingdom.  We talk about a parousia, a second coming, because the Kingdom of the Lord is still being fulfilled.  In time, the Kingdom will come in fullness—a heavenly corn-canning.  Until then, “be patient, beloved… strengthen your hearts.”  Wait actively.

In recognizing that waiting is no easy task, James warns us, “Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.  See the judge is standing at the doors!”  I have a confession to make.  I’ve been grumbling a lot lately.  It’s more than a little ironic that I’m preaching on patience.  Thank you, God, for this timely message!   But my grumbling doesn’t make anything happen any faster.  I’m still waiting to hear if the Bishop and the Commission on Ministry think I ought to continue onto school to be a priest.  I’m waiting to see if I’ll get into school, and where.  I’m waiting for that handsome man over there to ask my hand in marriage.  Does grumbling help?  No. In fact that handsome man reminds me it is the opposite of helpful.

So what does James suggest instead?  “As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

Because we only read two passages of Scripture in the 5pm service, I omitted today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah.  But listen now to what the prophet says—listen to one who spoke before Jesus set foot on this earth—listen to all that has since been fulfilled, and to what is being fulfilled today.  Listen so that you may be strengthened in heart, and wait actively.

Isaiah 35

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,*
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8 A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,*
but it shall be for God’s people;*
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
9 No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

(A heavenly corn-canning.)

Amen.

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