“The One Thing Weariness Can’t Touch”
Sermon Series: “Virtues that Keep Us Stable”
Of all the guidelines we’ve been living under over these last three months as we’ve been doing our best to navigate this COVID-19 crisis, the one that I’ve found to be the most difficult to practice is making sure that I don’t touch any surfaces unnecessarily. In my mind, there’s a reason that God gave us two hands. He did so in order that we could touch stuff and surfaces and people. But now we are being told that none of that is in our best interest and we should do all we can to refrain from touching anything we don’t have to touch.
I was reminded recently as to how I’m evidently not alone in my weariness with this particular practice. My friends at First Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as they were putting together a video to inform people on their plan for resuming their gathered worship, borrowed the popular M.C. Hammer song from the 90’s, “U Can’t Touch This,” as the backdrop for their instructions to their congregation. I thought it was quite clever.
The point is that we’ve all grown quite weary of living by these new protocols, so much so that we have to find ways to spoof them, lest in the process of practicing them we lose every ounce of our patience.
This morning we come to consider the importance of patience as one of the virtues that can keep us stable in a season of instability. As I think about that virtue, I see patience as a lot like the pennies that children put in their piggybanks growing up. I remember doing that; don’t you? And what I remember most about the pennies and the piggybanks is that while I always enjoyed storing up all of those pennies, I never relished the thought of ever having to use any of them. I think you can see the application. When we consider the question, “Do you have patience?” Our answer is, “Absolutely. I have patience; I have plenty of patience. I just don’t ever want to be in a position where I have to use any of it!”
If that’s where you’re coming from this morning, but you are finding yourself in a season where you’re having to go to the “patience piggybank” and break it open in order to spend it, and you’re weary from having to do so, how might you find a way to fill back up your patience piggybank and in the process be renewed and reenergized for this exhausting time that we’re having to go through? That’s actually a question that Paul had to answer for himself as he offered guidance to the churches in the region of Galatia who in their spiritual impatience were getting ahead of God and His one protocol of faith in Jesus for a safe and fulfilling life.
Here is the backdrop for Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The church’s witness had become threatened by insiders who contended that faith in Jesus wasn’t enough to guarantee their salvation; they had to add to their faith the practice of the Mosaic Law, which believers in Galatia had found terribly burdensome, to the point that they had become weary from having to endure all of those “protocols.” So, Paul wrote this letter to assure them that it is faith alone in Jesus that puts us in right standing with God and that if anyone tells you otherwise, you shouldn’t listen to them. It isn’t faith in Jesus “plus” something else. It is faith in Jesus alone that assures us of God’s acceptance, God’s forgiveness, and God’s salvation.
And yet Paul did not want to be accused of dismissing the importance of expressing our faith in practical, tangible, touchable ways. There has to be a balance between faith and good deeds; and for Paul that balance is struck by our recognition that we don’t do good deeds in order to be put right with God. We do them instead because our faith has already put us right with God. Do you see the difference?
And so in this passage, Paul urges the church not to lose their patience, not to become weary with doing good, with living productively, since doing good is something that goes back to the book of Genesis where God was about precisely that kind of work in bringing creation into existence. And as we join God in that work of making this world more of what God originally intended it to be, we become renewed and we become reenergized – we become “filled up” – in a fashion that never gets old.
Part of our problem is that we don’t tend to view patience in this light. Ask most people to define patience, and they’ll come up with something that portrays patience as a sort of passive thing. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Patience is not something that is at odds with progress. It is instead the frame of mind that is necessary to stay in line with the leading of the Holy Spirit so that we persistently give ourselves in ways that advance the cause of Christ in our world even when it seems that nothing good is coming from it.
I’m reminded of something that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his famed Letters and Papers from Prison. Bonhoeffer, as you probably know, was a twentieth-century martyr, who lost his life in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, but not before leaving his mark on the world, a mark that exists even to this day. As he reflected on his predicament in prison, he came to the realization, much as did the Apostle Paul in many of his prison epistles, that “everything has its time.” “Everything has its time,” Bonhoeffer wrote, “and the main thing is that we keep step with God, and do not keep pressing on a few steps ahead – nor do (we) keep dawdling a step (or two) behind. It’s presumptuous (of us) to want to have everything at once…(because) everything has its time.”
In a day when we are always one click away from securing our heart’s desire, can you practice that degree of patience in your faith so that you find the joy and contentment, or as Paul calls it, “the harvest” of not allowing your weariness to get the best of you? Can you trust in God’s “proper time” so that you persistently give yourself to the work that Jesus has given you to do, one moment to the next, as an expression of your faith in him? If you can, then people around you will see it, because of how in our impatient culture there is such a lack of it, and they will in all likelihood want to join you because of how you have seemed to have discovered the key to such a rich and meaningful life, a life that no amount of money can buy.
Peter Marty is a Lutheran pastor in Chicago and the publisher for The Christian Century magazine. In one of his columns he wrote about how sometimes life in a big city like Chicago can feel so inhuman, in large measure because of the constant sense of hurry that life in the big city seems to breed. He writes about how on the streets of Chicago the taxis vie for pole position at the stoplights and then cut one another off when the light turns green to beat the other taxis to a potential fare. But then sometimes, he writes, the city feels so full of grace that it makes him weep.
He tells of how he often rides the bus from the church where he works on North Michigan Avenue, the major thoroughfare in Chicago, to the offices of the Century on South Michigan. He says the bus takes twice as long as a cab, but it costs a lot less and it almost always yields something interesting.
For example, there was one day he got on the bus and started to read. At the next stop, however, he noticed an elderly white woman and he noticed how as she boarded the bus, she wasn’t sure how to use her transit card. She first put it upside down. Then she put it in backwards. And while the other passengers started to become increasingly distressed by the delay, the driver, a most pleasant black woman, patiently explained to the elderly white woman how to use the card. “Here, honey, let me do it for you,” she said, as she leaned out of her seat, one hand still on the wheel. The woman finally walked toward a seat, but then she turned back. “Excuse me,” she said. “Are you sure it only took one fare from my card? I heard it beep twice.” “No, honey,” the driver answered, it only took one fare. It always beeps twice.” “How do you know?” the woman demanded. “Here, let me show you. Come on up here and look at the indicator. There it is, your one fare.” By this time, Marty writes, the stoplight had cycled from red to green twice. Finally, they were underway.
At the stop after that a man in a motorized chair pulled the cord. He was frail, and you could see the tubes from the oxygen tank that was helping him breathe. “I’m on my way to the VA hospital and I’m going to need some help,” he announced. Again, the driver responded graciously. She helped him negotiate his motorized chair to the door, told him how to position it for the mechanical lift, asked him to adjust the position an inch or two, and then activated the lift. The process took a long time. You could sense the tension and the impatience on the bus. The stoplight cycled a few more times and motorists began honking their car horns. And all the while the driver was unfazed and was, for Marty, a note of grace on that busy urban thoroughfare.
As he got off the bus, he thanked her for her patience. And her response? “Just doing my job. You have a blessed day now, honey.”
“Just doing my job.” So, how are you doing your job, the job that Jesus has given you to do? If you are doing it with any measure of patience, then weariness will never be able to touch what Jesus has called you to be about. You will never become weary by doing his good; and at the proper time, his time, you will indeed reap a harvest. You will reap a harvest if you persist in your patience and you do not, for the life of you, give up.