Sunday, February 21, 2016


Genesis 15:1-16
Philippians 3:17-4:
Luke 13:31-35

“All things come to those who wait – provided they know what they are waiting for.” Woodrow T. Wilson

While waiting for a particular event, what do we do while we wait?  Depending on the event, we may do any number of things to prepare.  If we are waiting on guests to come to our home, we will likely spruce up the place and make sure refreshments are prepared.  Same could be said for the Church – IF we actually expect guests to come after we’ve invited them.  When we are waiting for a class session to begin – whether it be high school, college, or Bible class – we ideally prepare ourselves for the class by reading the assignments for that session.

It is rare that we simply wait by doing nothing.  Yet if we do nothing, we are not being faithful to what is anticipated even when what is expected is only tomorrow, another day.  So when we don’t really anticipate anything special, we do nothing special.  Wait for nothing, do nothing.  This is no life for the people of The Covenant because “waiting” is not about what is to come; it is entirely about what is already upon us.

Abram was told by The Lord that his descendants would be as numerous as “the stars in the sky” (Genesis 15:5).  The Lord’s response to Abram’s willingness to believe in and trust The Lord’s assurance was to be “accounted as righteousness” (vs 6).  An interesting interpretation of this commonly known but largely misunderstood statement comes in the Common English Bible in which this statement is rendered as “The Lord recognized Abram’s high moral character” -  what the editors of CEB believe to be a faithful rendering of what the passage actually means.

Now we may be inclined to define morality as refraining from doing bad things, but genuine morality – especially as a part of our character – is as much about what we do as what we do not do.

What is awkward about CEB is that such words common to the Church but not well understood outside or even inside the Church – such as “righteousness” – are “explained” rather than simply changed. 

Another word I found from our readings is “wait”.  Although we think we have a good idea of what it means to “wait”, the CEB translates “wait” in NRSV (and NKJV) Psalm 27:14 as “hope”.  So rather than an almost inactive “wait for The Lord” as it is written in NRSV and others, the CEB states, “Hope in The Lord”.

Now before we think “wait” and “hope” are not quite the same concepts or that they both seem rather inactive, we should consider Jesus’ statement to His disciples in the Garden.  The NRSV states that Jesus encourages His disciples to “stay awake and pray” (Matthew 26:41).  The CEB renders this passage as, “Stay alert and pray”.   Incidentally the NKJV says, Watch and pray”. 

Where the seeming differences begin to coalesce is in Abram’s response to The Lord’s assurance of countless descendants – perhaps meaning a perpetual Covenant rather than only a lot of offspring.  Abram, however, will not live to see this Promise come to fruition – at least, not in this life.  At this point in Genesis – and at his advanced age – Abram is still “waiting” to see his own son, his own “seed”!

Yet his “high moral character” – not to be completely separated from his willingness to “believe” – must be understood not as a simple, almost benign willingness to “believe” a concept but, rather, as a determination to live in such a way that makes this Divine Promise a present (rather than only a future) reality … even if Abram cannot (and will not) see it with his own eyes.

What does this mean to us?  It suggests “waiting” and “believing” are not quite the same as “hoping” and “trusting” withhigh moral character”.  It suggests the people of The Lord cannot simply wait and see if something is going to happen; we must actively engage the world around us with “high moral characteras if something has already happened and is currently happening – but we must not confuse biblical “high moral character” defined by Divine Law with subjective cultural moral character subject to new definition each generation. 

Only a generation ago, for instance, it was considered rude to do anything that did not involve the person we were currently with.  Now it is considered standard protocol to interrupt a conversation if our cell phone blings, beeps, or rings – and put the person who is physically present on ignore while we deal with our beloved cell phones and a call that is obviously more important to us than the person we’re with!  Only The Lord knows what the etiquette rules will state twenty years from now!

Complacency is the greatest enemy the Church faces today, and part of the reason for this is that faith as we understand it depends largely on an idea of something that will happen in the distant future regardless of what we do today.  Consider this, for instance.  If Jesus were present in this worship service, would we do anything differently?  TRICK QUESTION … because The Lord IS here, right here, right now!  But we don’t really believe that because we do not think we see HIM – because we are not looking for Him, we are not “waiting” for Him.

Yet He is in our worship, for we worship in the Word.  He is in our pain.  He is in our confusion.  He is in our wounded spirits after someone has deliberately lashed out at us.  He is in our tithes and other offerings, and He also sees us withholding these offerings.  He is even in our doubts. 

He is standing beside us when we gossip and conspire to do something even knowing it will hurt someone, and He is grieving in our spitefulness and vindictiveness – those things we actually do.  The truth, however, is that we do not really believe this.  We believe, most likely, that we are “waiting” for a future reality rather than that we are living in a present reality that still involves The Lord.

If we really want to know what biblical “waiting” actually looks like, we need look no further than Scouting.  These young people and their leaders have their fun, of course, but their entire purpose for existence is marked by their achievements, almost all of which involve learning how to serve The Lord and the community.  We may think they are “doing” only for merit badges rather than “waiting”, but the biblical Truth is we cannot “wait” if we are not “doing” for The Lord, for His Church, and especially for those who are not currently a part of The Church.

My wife and I went to see the movie, “Risen”.  It is about Pontius Pilate initiating an investigation of the body of Jesus which turned up missing from the tomb.  Pilate was afraid of an uprising if the Jews ended up with a bona fide Messiah.  It was a very good movie with a lot of twists and turns, but toward the end we find Peter trying to help a Roman military commander who was involved in the investigation to understand why the disciples were so happy and unafraid of Pilate’s threats if it turned out they stole the body and tried to claim He had risen.

Peter looked the Roman in the eyes (I’m trying very hard to avoid a spoiler alert!) and said, “How can I not tell others about this (the Resurrection)?”  And the biblical reality is that even while Peter and the others are “waiting” for The Lord’s return, they are “waiting” faithfully by living into the present reality of all they have been entrusted with.

The Church must teach about the return of Messiah, but we can only do this by faithfully teaching that “waiting” is biblically defined by what we do, how we live and conduct ourselves, in the present reality of the Risen Messiah – not by what we expect to happen in the future.  We “wait” faithfully and patiently for His return by living in Him presently.

He is coming, yet He is already here.  The Lord will deliver His people, and yet He already has delivered.  It is the reality of Moses being introduced to the One who revealed Himself as “I am that I am” – the Eternal One who is past, present, AND future.  Just as Eternal Father, Eternal Word, and Eternal Spirit are One, so is His presence our reality – past, present, and future.  Eternity does not begin when we die; Eternity already is. 

So let us learn and encourage one another to “wait” faithfully and live fully, and stop cheating ourselves, one another, and the Holy Church.  For the Promise already is.  Amen.  

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