Sunday, December 28, 2008

You Can't Hurry Love

[This sermon was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

Luke 2:22-40
We spent part of Christmas day with my extended family. A highlight of our time together came when our niece, Katelyn, and our son, Philip, pulled out their laptops and played music for us. You might not have wanted to have seen us jamming to Phil Collins’ cover of the old Supremes song, You Can’t Hurry Love!

You remember it. I love the part that says:
You can’t hurry love
No, you just have to wait
You got to trust, give it time
No matter how long it takes
I don’t know about you, but those words ring true. Not only when it comes to love, but with so many other things in life, waiting is something we do a lot.

We wait at the grocery store, in the doctor’s office, and at restaurants. Kids are tortured with waiting for Christmas. Engaged couples wait for their wedding days. Expectant parents are forced to wait for the arrival of their little ones. We wait to hear whether we’ve been hired, laid off, promoted, demoted, or ignored in our work lives. We wait for colleges to tell us whether we’ve been accepted. We wait for test results from doctors. We do a lot of waiting.

And if waiting causes us to be impatient, well, the song reminds us that there are some things, like love, that can’t be hurried. Sometimes, you just have to wait.

Simeon and Anna, two elderly people who appear in today’s Gospel lesson, knew all about waiting. Simeon, we’re told, had been “looking forward to the consolation of Israel” for years.

In his times of prayer, God had promised Simeon that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah.

Anna, a woman widowed after seven years of marriage, was, by the time we read about her in Luke’s Gospel, eighty-four years old. In Jewish thinking, she’d lived through twelve Sabbath years, looking for the consolation of Jerusalem, the holy city.

During the course of their long lives, Anna and Simeon had seen others give up on God and God’s promises of a Messiah, an Anointed King who would reconcile God and sinners and rule with justice. Some had defected from the faith, worshiping other gods or philosophies or ways of life. Others decided they needed to force God’s hand; they thought that armed rebellion against their Roman conquerors was the way of achieving God’s promises. But not Simeon and Anna. They waited for God.

What are you waiting for today? A clean bill of health? Buying or selling a house? A job? Whatever you and I may be waiting for, we can learn how to wait from the examples of Anna and Simeon.

First, we can learn from Simeon. Simeon waited by relying on God’s Holy Spirit.

There are some Christians today who trivialize the Spirit, turning Him into a cosmic rabbit’s foot. I attended a Sunday School class years ago. A woman there said that because God knew what a hassle it would have been for her to call a repairperson, she’d prayed in the Spirit and God had healed her refrigerator. That struck another class member, a particularly faithful woman who had endured one tragedy after another, yet held on tightly to Christ, as silly. God is interested in every aspect of our lives, of course. But we trivialize the Spirit when we turn Him into a good luck charm who, we think, insulates us from the common trifles of everyday life.

There are other Christians who make an even bigger mistake than trivializing the Holy Spirit, though. They believe that God the Holy Spirit has gone out of business. Such folks have never met Bob. Bob, not his real name, was a member of one of the congregations I served as pastor before coming to Saint Matthew. Long story short, Bob had shown up at our church one day, not knowing exactly why. His attendance was erratic at first, then became more regular. People sensed that there was something wrong in Bob's life, though they couldn’t put their finger on what. We found out later that many of us, for reasons we couldn’t explain, felt compelled to pray for Bob. I got a desperate call from a relative of Bob’s one night. He was holed up in his house with a gun, threatening to kill himself. I called the local law enforcement folks and arranged to meet them at Bob’s house. I was terrified about going to see Bob. But when I arrived, all those prayers—no doubt prompted by the Holy Spirit—had clearly invited the Holy Spirit into the situation. Bob readily agreed to go to a local hospital. Layers of issues were uncovered in his life. We kept praying. It took months of intense work on Bob’s part. But he experienced healing.

Whatever you’re waiting for, you can rely on God. Each day, I ask God to fill me anew with His Holy Spirit, allowing me to see what I need to see, do what I need to do, and say what I need to say. All of my mess-ups and sins in this life have resulted from my not praying that prayer or some version of it, from relying more on myself than on God.

The things that you and I are called to do each day--as friends, parents, grandparents, workers, students, classmates—those things are too important for us to depend only on ourselves. One of my favorite passages from Proverbs in the Old Testament says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” Simeon lived this and in the course of a lifetime dependence on God learned to await and see the fulfillment of a promise that he would see the Messiah. We wait by relying on the Holy Spirit.

We also wait by doing the things that believers in God have done for centuries, the things that Anna did. She worshiped, prayed, and fasted. In other words, she kept her eyes on God by engaging in the commonplace Christian disciplines. Because she did this, she was ready to see what others couldn’t see in the small baby brought to the temple by an impoverished couple from the insignificant village of Nazareth. In the baby Jesus, she saw the consolation of Jerusalem. Her disciplined waiting was rewarded!

Like Anna and Simeon, you and I wait for the blessings of God through lives spent in active reliance on God’s Spirit and in an attentive, daily relationship with God exemplified by regular worship, Bible reading, prayer, and service and giving in Christ’s Name.

By the time Jesus was born, many of His fellow Jews had decided that the promise of a Messiah was so much religious hot air, dismissing belief in God or the Messiah in much the same way many people do today. But in our second lesson, Paul says, those folks were misinformed. They didn’t appreciate that we need to wait for God’s decisions about the right time. “In the fullness of time,” Paul says, “Jesus was born.” You can’t hurry love, especially God’s love. God acts. But God acts only when the time is right.

This is key: When we wait on God and wait with God, we learn what it means to totally depend on God and we see God do good things, sometimes even in the midst of bad things.

Shortly before his death, Father Henri Nouwen, the one-time scholar who spent most of his last years serving the severely mentally and physically handicapped and later, persons dying from AIDs, wrote a book called Sabbatical Journeys. There, he tells about some friends of his who were trapeze artists. They were called The Flying Roudellas. They told Nouwen that there’s a special relationship between the flyer and the catcher on the trapeze. The flyer is the one who lets go and the catcher is the one who catches.

When the flyer swings above the crowd, the moment comes when he or she must let go. The flyer arcs into the air. The flyer’s job at this point is to remain as still as possible and wait for the strong hands of the catcher to grab hold. One of the flying Roudellas told Nouwen, “The flyer must never try to catch the catcher.” The flyer must wait in absolute trust. The catcher will catch him, but he must wait.*

No one would say that while the trapeze flyers wait, they’re doing nothing. Waiting can be hard, excruciating work, in life as well as on the trapeze. But whatever blessings or good things you await in this life or the next, learn the lesson of Anna and Simeon: Keep your life focused on God and rely on God’s Spirit. Learn to depend on God completely. God won’t disappoint you.

*Thanks to this source.

1 comment:

Matt Brown said...

Thanks for this. It comes at an opportune moment in my life.