Proper 11 Year C July 22, 2001 & July 22, 2007 Abbey Church
We just heard three portions of scripture that discuss the importance of waiting. The story of Abraham and Sarah's visitors gives us the sense that the couple had been waiting a long time for a child, so much that they had given up hope. Then, these visitors tell them to wait some more, and "in due season" a child would be given them. That announcement must have been frustrating, and who could blame Sarah for laughing? She should be applauded for not throwing the visitors off the premises for being so cocky. Instead, she and Abraham waited. It is a good thing they did, because "in due season" they did have a child. Paul's letter to the Christians in Colossae also talks about waiting. He is encouraging his readers to continue growing in Christ. He reminds them of where they started out, and of their eventual goal, and of the fact that the goal does not come automatically, but will take a lot of work. They started out being estranged from God, their goal is fullness in Christ, and the work involves being steadfast in faith, without shifting from hope in other words, waiting. The steadfast kind of waiting that Paul talks about is not a passive thing. It takes work to wait in faith. It takes work to mature in Christ. Sometimes, it takes work just to have any faith that we will ever become more Christlike.
The gospel story about Mary and Martha is about two kinds of waiting both of them good. We are not sure what kind of tasks were distracting Martha, but it is a good guess that she was busy waiting on Jesus by cleaning house and cooking food, while Mary was waiting on Jesus by simply being with him. Both of those types of waiting are good, but there are times when one is more appropriate than the other. Mary just happened to choose the right thing at the right time. It takes effort to know what type of waiting is the right thing to do: should we get up and do something, or should we let things be and enjoy them as they are, spending time resting in God's lap? We need both of those things to be complete, and the people around us certainly need us to stop our frenzy and settle down sometimes, as much as they need us to get up and put in some work at other times.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of discerning what type our waiting should be is the fact that the proper response does not always coincide with our mental or physical states. Sometimes, we need to get up and do our chores when we are tired. Sometimes, we need to sit still and pray when our minds are racing. It doesn't seem fair, but that's just the way it is. We simply need to honestly assess the situation and choose the appropriate response, whether or not it matches our state at the time. Some people do this by having a rule where they purposely set apart certain times of the day when they will be about their daily chores, and other times of the day when they will be still with God, and they stick to that plan. That is the kind of thing we do at the monastery. It is not always easy, but when freely chosen and followed with integrity, it is a path that has helped many on their road to maturity in Christ.
Maybe the reason that learning to wait patiently (especially when we don't want to) is such a factor in our growth is because it teaches us that not even our time is under our control. When we stop trying to control it, then we can rely on God to use our time much more wisely than we ever could. Of course, giving up control is not the same thing as neglecting our stewardship we need to manage our time wisely. The whole concept of giving up trying to control things and learning instead to be good stewards of them is an ongoing, important part of growing into our vocations as the body of Christ. None of us knows when we will reach our goal of maturity in Christ. We just have to wait. Perhaps we can not get there, since God is infinite, and therefore we can never reach the point where growth is not needed. On the other hand, since God is infinite, perhaps the fact that we are slowly on the way to maturity means that we have already reached the goal. We have a long way to go, but every time we take a step, we have arrived at both the center and the circumference of God. We must never despair on the way, and we must never be distracted by our many tasks. We can be sure things will happen, but we can't be sure what those things will be or when they will occur. They will happen in due season. We must simply work and wait. AMEN