Sunday, July 02, 2006

A Waiting Time--Sermon from 7/2/06

This has been one of those “process sermons,” in the midst of daily life, this sermon was written. And I must say how thankful I am for my trusty laptop computer, because this sermon was composed in bits and pieces in multiple places, in the parent’s lounge of Fort Wayne ballet, as I waited for my 13-year-old step-daughter to finish her ballet lessons, at the mechanic’s office as I waited for my car to be fixed, in the car as I waited for my husband to finish teaching his summer sociology class at IPFW, and even in a quiet corner of Lutheran Hospital as I waited for a meeting to begin. The irony that this was a sermon on waiting, while I was waiting in multiple venues, did not escape me. It was one of those familiar moments when a pastor realizes that she’s preaching on a topic she’s not so very good at doing, even while forced to do it.

I confess that I’m feeling a bit of pressure as I preach my first sermon as your interim pastor at Huntington Church of the Brethren. There’s always that sense that your first sermon in a new place had better be a good one, because it sets the tone for your future and if your congregants feel their eyes getting a little heavy in this sermon on this hot summer morning, than it’s all over for you on any other day…

I am glad to be here. I feel blessed to be called as your interim pastor. I am astounded at your grace in allowing the ex-wife of your former pastor to serve you. While my position here is temporary, and my hours here are limited, I deeply desire to know you and listen to your stories, as we place them in the context of the greater story in our call as those who do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. I thank you for allowing me to walk the journey with you for a few miles.

The person who wrote Psalm 130, over 2000 years ago, was one whose story many of us can recognize, for in many ways it is the story of each of us. It’s a relatively straightforward plea. The plea of one who calls out to God, who calls out for that sense of peace and healing presence that only communion with the creator can offer. There isn’t a lot of fancy exegetical work that we have to do to uncover the meaning here. In essence it is this: God help me. And further: I will wait for you.

Many of us associate waiting with the Advent season. We’re accustomed to the anticipation that builds with each passing week as we prepare for new life, as we prepare for the arrival of the Messiah. We know the outcome. We know that that for whom we wait will arrive, that the expected will come to pass. We know it’s simply a matter of patience. Just as I knew this week in my waiting that ultimately Tess would emerge from her ballet lessons, and that my car would eventually be repaired, and that Robert would eventually finish lecturing, and that my meeting would eventually begin.

But the waiting in Psalm 130 is a little different, for it is a waiting for which there is no immediate assurance, and it is a waiting which begins in a deep place. The psalmist cries from the depths, from the deepest place of himself or perhaps from the lowest point in his life.

The psalmist’s words are the words of the cancer patient who doesn’t know how soon their treatment will be effective. It is the call of the young woman who doesn’t know if she will ever become pregnant. It is the wondering of the unemployed father, who doesn’t know if a job will ever be available. It is the helpless prayer of the hungry refugee who wonders whether food will ever be brought to her tiny village. It is the yearning of the torture victim who asks whether justice will ever be done. Psalm 130 asks, “How do we wait, when we don’t know if we will even receive our desired outcome?”

I do not understand God’s timing. This week I have been consumed in my work as a hospice chaplain with the tragic case of a young woman, a young mother who is dying of cancer far too young, and in an agonizingly painful way. Every morning this week, I have begun my day driving out to the small farm south of Fort Wayne and sitting by Sandy’s bed. I hold her warm hand tenderly and I sing hymns softly in her ear and I assure her of God’s extravagant love. And one morning after I walked out of Sandy’s bedroom her husband stopped me and said with tears brimming in his eyes, “Why does this dying take so long? Why does she have to keep waiting in pain?” And I had no answer, for I understand waiting as little as the psalmist did. But I know that this young husband’s words echo the words of the psalmist who called from his depths.

I do not understand God’s timing. But, I have come to believe that this isn’t necessarily what this scripture is about. Perhaps it is not so much that we receive immediate answers, but that we trust that God is with us in the waiting.

I believe the crux of this psalm, the real meat of it hinges more on the sixth verse of the psalm, a verse so important that the writer echoes it a second time. “My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.”

And perhaps this is what needs to sink into the very marrow of our bones. The waiting can be a dark place, but it is only in the darkness that we can truly prepare for the light. Perhaps our call is to embrace the darkness for exactly what it is that we may know more fully the light whenever and however it arrives.

We know that seeds need the dark, cool, damp to gestate. We know that babies need the warm, dark to grow in their mother’s bodies. We know that our bodies need the dark night to rest. Our waiting, while dark, can still be a time of growth, even if it feels lonely and isolated. And breathing softly in the dark shadows, is the breath of the holy spirit, who never abandons us, but sits quietly with us in the stillness.

The writer Anne Lamott, in her book Traveling Mercies, tells the story of discovering faith. She had led a wild life—was a self-proclaimed alcoholic and frequent user of drugs. She was pregnant with the baby of her married lover. She had alienated many of her friends, and even her family was turning away from her. On top of all of this, her best friend was dying of cancer, and Lamott felt more alone than she ever felt in her life. One night, realizing the depths of her despair, Lamott lay on her bed and inventoried her sorry life and she was devastated by what she found. I share with you her words immediately after recognizing the depths to which she had fallen:
After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me,
hunkered down in the corner…The feeling was so strong that I actually
turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there—
of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew
beyond any doubt that it was Jesus…I felt him just sitting there on
his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with
patience and love.”
Anne Lamott’s story, that of knowing a presence in the dark, of recognizing the one who waits to offer us patience and love, is the reminder of the psalm, a reminder that we can be found even in our waiting.

The mystic Sue Monk Kidd has written, “Waiting is a passionate and contemplative crucible in which new life and spiritual wholeness can be birthed.” These words ring truth to me, as I consider what Psalm 130 is all about. Waiting as passionate and contemplative crucible.

My prayer for each of us, and for this congregation as a whole, is that we may embrace this gestational time. That we might know that in the darkness new life is being created, even if we have no idea what form that new life may take. That we may echo the words of the psalmist and proclaim our faith as we watch for the morning, and that we may quietly sense the movement of the one who waits patiently with us in the depths of our own night.

In the name of this breathing stillness which we name as the living Christ, may it be so.



Mom said...

How did this sermon go with your new congregation?

Pink Shoes said...

Thanks for sharing your sermon -- what a gift!

Susan said...

Thank you sharing your words at this new beginning for you and for your congregation.

Being Made said...

Preached to me! Thanks for sharing!

Contemplative Chaplain said...

Oh, y'all are so kind. It was a good Sunday. They are a small bunch, and so, so, kind. I had the sense I could get up and recite an infomercial and they would have been happy. I am blessed.

Mary Beth said...

this is wonderful! so glad you shared it!

Anonymous said...

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I am a musician, and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All music on my site is free for download. Anyway, don't want to be a pest, I just thought that I'd share.

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Margot Van Sluytman said...

Beautiful. I have just finished writing a book of poetry called: Contemplative Waiting: Write Into the Heart of Your Spiritual Journey, and simply did a Google search with the words 'contemplative waiting', and found this gem of your words. When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd, is astounding; your sharing speaks to your giftof using words to open up and open out, to permit trust in the waiting. Congratulations.
Margot Van Sluytman

Dave said...

Thank you for your interesting blog. I fall under the category of the young Father who is currently unemployed. I live in London in the UK and the last six months have been a long, but rewarding lesson in waiting. I've been touched by Vanstone's The Stature of Waiting as well as a series of talks by Henri Nouwen on the SPirituality of Waiting. I've even attempted to write some of the lessons I've been learning here:

So, thank you for sharing. I realise you wrote this several years ago but a google search caught your blog and I enjoyed it immensely. It's given me some good leads on further reading too! Blessings in your ministry,