The audio of today’s sermon begins with sharing by Tim MacDonald, our Music Team leader, and it concludes with Roger’s opening comments for the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Advent 1 2019
Week One Finding Hope
Psalm 37:3-11, 16-17
When I was younger and a single parent, I put myself into a rut that was self-defeating – but only years later did I understand that.
After work, I would spend the evening with Ian – and then, if I happened not to be in a dating relationship, I’d hit the singles scene until I found someone to be mine.
Something in me was so afraid of being unattached that I’d throw all my focus into dating.
The predictable result was that I rushed into relationships that were shallow, hurtful and short-lived – but I kept scurrying around the same block, unable to take a “time out” to reflect on how I was sabotaging myself.
I was impatient for love, but ultimately my impatience resulted in years of empty relationships.
Maybe there’s something in your own life where your impatience to arrive, your impatience to have something, or your impatience to get over something is costing you the very thing you desire.
Had I been a Christian back then, Advent could have been a great gift to me, because Advent offers a “time out” from any of our compulsive cycles.
Advent is a season the church sets aside for us to prepare ourselves for the gift God will be sending – the birth of our one and only Savior.
Advent invites us to cultivate the spiritual practice of patience, to open ourselves to God’s presence and plans.
The world is impatient – we want what we want when we want it.
One spring afternoon I was driving along a twisting two-lane road through the mountains.
I was going at a good pace, but the car behind me wanted to go faster and with no way to pass me he kept edging closer – as if to push me to go faster.
After a couple of miles, I saw a turn-out, which I took so he could go by.
It got him off my tail, but it also gave me a spectacular view of the mountains and the stream below that I had totally missed because of my navigating the road and the impatient driver.
That’s Advent – we pull aside and discover the beauty of today and the promise of tomorrow.
We may not even realize the costs of our impatience.
Salt Lake City spent $1.6-billion to reconstruct a section I-15.
$1.6-billion could have bought a lot of education or medical services – but instead, it was approved to widen a road so that the average commute speed could increase by one mile per hour.
Impatience was elevated to new levels by a Tokyo restaurant that has a menu with no prices on it.
Instead of charging by item, it bills patrons by the number of minutes they occupy their table.
Advent is an invitation for each of us to step back to consider what God may be trying to give birth to in our life.
We may need to start by getting in synch with God’s time frame.
God is more concerned with building my character than providing immediate comfort, and part of building character can be waiting.
I was thinking about what the short-term situation looked like to Moses.
He received a seemingly impossible mission directly from God:
Without an army, return to Egypt where you are wanted for murder, and persuade Pharaoh to let all his free labor go.
Oh, and then convince them to follow you across the desert.
God had to perform a few parlor tricks to convince Moses this was for real – for example, he turned Moses’ staff into a snake – but eventually, Moses got himself psyched-up to stand before Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go.”
My guess is that he thought that would be the end of it: it took a lot of guts, but he’d worked through his fear and been obedient to God – that would be that.
Now it would just be a matter of rounding up the people and taking a week’s hike to the Promise Land.
But as it turns out, this was the beginning of the story, and no one had bothered to tell Moses the plotline.
We’ve all experienced this:
For example, we decide to make a career change – but twenty job interviews later we feel rejected, anxious and impatient.
When we commit to change and growth, God takes it seriously and is willing to invest the time to make it happen.
But our time perspective is immediate, while God’s is the long term.
Moses works up his courage, takes his stand in front of Pharaoh, who just shrugs him off saying,
Exodus 5:4 …why are you taking the people away from their labor? Get back to your work!
This must have looked like a failure, like a disaster, like the end to Moses.
He didn’t know that he’d have to make twelve visits to Pharaoh, that God would rescue him from Egyptian chariots, that God would lead him through 40-years of desert hardship.
He may have been berating himself, “You know things never work out for me. I’m a loser.”
God wasn’t concerned about Moses’ crisis of the moment, but about His life-long plan, and about the kind of character Moses would develop by going through these challenging events.
God’s plan is bigger than your problem – and it is by trusting God’s perspective that we cultivate hope.
Psalm 37 was composed during the reign of King David around 1000 BCE,
but echoes a wisdom tradition rooted in the Mesopotamian Empire as much as 1500 years earlier.
Written as an acrostic – each verse beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet – it addresses the age-old question of why the wicked seem to succeed amidst a world of suffering.
Taking some verses out of context, this psalm is sometimes reduced to a moralism that evil is punished and good rewarded.
But it is more than that.
It reaches out to people when keeping their faith is difficult.
Maybe struggling people are envious and resentful of those whose lives seem easy.
Maybe people are impatient with their life and are becoming bitter.
The psalm says if you dwell on such provocations, your life will be consumed by anger.
Psalm 37 says your choice is between the pressures of the present and seeing the blessings you now have and the promises of the future.
Psalm 37:7-8 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.
The heart of the wicked – a term used elsewhere in this psalm – is due to their turning from God.
Righteousness is trusting in God as the Source of joy and peace.
This is highlighted in verse 8: Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.
The risk we run is that in our moments of frustration – when everything seems to be going wrong – or when it feels like you’ve worked and prayed and waited forever for something you need – the risk is that we will turn to the comfort of sin:
We start drinking.
We nitpick an argument with our wife.
We drive through McDonald’s and order three Quarter Pounders and a chocolate shake.
We throw ourselves a good old-fashioned pity party.
We turn from God as our Source to short-term fixes, and that usually manages to compound our problem.
When you are tempted, remember Moses having to climb those long steps to Pharaoh’s throne room twelve difficult times, and each step of the way thinking, “This is it. I’m never going to pull this off. I’m never going to amount to anything.”
Gary Thomas is an internationally recognized lecturer and author of Sacred Marriage and Authentic Faith.
A few years ago, he gave a commencement address where, I am sure, he was expected to utter the same platitudes as the countless commencement speakers before him.
Instead, he did something that brought dozens of parents to him afterward to say, “Now that was exactly what they needed to hear.”
What did he say?
He rummaged through his files until he found a folder packed with rejection letters.
All told, there were 150 rejection letters – each saying in some way or another that the professionals of the world didn’t think his writing measured up.
And as he spoke to the graduates about patience and faith in the face of setbacks – Gary and his wife Lisa slowly unrolled the 150-plus letters that they had stapled together.
That roll stretched 142 feet.
Through all that time, all those rejections, all the times Gary felt like giving up, God was building Gary’s character, preparing him for a bigger ministry than he had ever expected.
Psalm 37 makes this point in verse 11: But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.
This word “meek” means one who has submitted.
It is used in horse circles to describe a tamed horse that used to wildly kick and buck.
Meek is not timidity.
Meek is strength under control.
When Jesus said in Matthew 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth he had this sense in mind.
Referring back to my story, as long as I couldn’t face being unattached, then I lived like an untamed bronco trying to force intimacy by charging into any relationship.
So, this is the first Sunday of Advent.
Maybe you can use this week to reflect on some part of your life where you are impatient … maybe trying to force something to happen.
And then give yourself the space to consider what God may be trying to do over the long run.
You can find hope by stepping back, taking stock of your life and trusting that God is preparing you for something that maybe you are not yet able to receive.