February 12, 2017
The other day for our Bible Study Class I asked the participants to check in with one another sharing how they practice their patience. Almost without exception, members of the Bible Study confessed that they do not have much in the way of patience. A couple of members of the study said that when forced to be patient, that they try taking long slow breaths to calm themselves.
It is hard to be patient in this fast moving world. We are used to fast food where proprietors have studied ways to shave off even a minute or two from the drive through line. We have dishwashers that clear a mountain of dishes with minimal effort. We stream our TV on demand, with a huge catalogue of movies and shows, available when ever we want them on a myriad of devices. We can find any piece of information that we want to find within seconds. We can purchase anything utilizing the internet with just a few clicks of our mouse and have the items in our doorstep within a day or so. We find ourselves wanting to scream if our doctor is behind schedule or if the traffic is too congested.
Everything in our culture reflects the need and desire for convenience and instant gratification. If things don’t move at the speed that we think they ought to move, than we label nine-tenths of the people helping us as incompetent.
If we as God’s people have any hope at all of slowing down and savoring the richness of life and God’s abundant goodness, then we have to find a way to address the impatience that is deep in our hearts.
As a civilization, once we entered the Industrial Revolution, we began moving into the need for instant gratification. Factories made possible repeatability and speed. As various technologies developed, complex processes like making fabric became simpler. As the Industrial Revolution took off making stuff faster, it was also good at making very few people wealthy. It also escalated pollution and led to worker abuse. As manufacturing expanded, we developed an insatiable appetite for energy. Eventually we started leveling mountains to produce energy and we now find ourselves trying to figure out how to clean up nuclear waste.
As the industrial revolution gave way to the age of information technology and then the era of user created content, we thoughtlessly move at faster and faster speeds with no thought as to why we are keeping the pace we keep. What are we rushing for?
So what is patience? Patience is how compassion is embodied in our lives. I want to repeat that: Patience is how compassion is embodied in our lives. You see, compassion is a word derived from the Latin that means to “suffer with.” We currently live in a culture that denies suffering. We do not want to suffer. Never mind true suffering like our deep grief when someone that we loves dies, or when we lose our job, or when our child graduates, or we face surgery, or we have a knee a hip or a hand that hurts and doesn’t function the way that it is supposed to. That is some serious suffering. But we are unwilling to suffer an extra five minutes in the line for the drive through window. We don’t want to suffer making ourselves available for the Comcast guy from 9 – noon. Come on people! A three hour window? Really? We don’t want to suffer taking our shoes off at airport security. We don’t want to suffer, period and we don’t necessarily want to be around suffering people either. We have lost the capacity or the willingness to enter the pain of others. “Although I’m sure it has never been easy to be present with those who are suffering,” says theologian Phil Kenneson, “our culture’s three cardinal virtues: productivity, efficiency and speed, powerfully disincline us to place ourselves among those who weep. Few people seem genuinely willing to slow down and offer real presence to those who otherwise weep alone. As a result, so many of us suffer in deadly silence and isolation.”
How can we learn to be patient? How can we embody compassion? How can we expand our ability to “suffer with” one another? In the early church, and in other faith traditions, participants practice self-denial. Perhaps they fast a day a week, or a day a month. Some practice a lifestyle of simplicity. Others observe a regular prayer and meditation time, every day in a disciplined way. When we practice some of these disciplines as a people of faith, we are forced to slow down. We are forced to be in need. If we practice simplicity, for instance, we will have more resources to share with others and we can bear witness to God’s generosity. To learn to be patient, we have to practice. We must practice slowing down. We must practice some self deprivation. Here are some examples. My kids that live in Renton are patient in what I think of as dreadful traffic. What made them patient? A lot of sitting in traffic. They practice. Another example would be people who have been slowed by breaking a bone or having a surgery. You can’t race from place to place on crutches, or with your neck in a brace. By practicing, you learn to be patient.
We can learn patience by practicing with one another in this community of faith as well. Being together as church is a covenant that we make with one another when people are baptized or join our church. We promise to be there for them. We covenant together to love each other and sit with one another when we suffer. When we are frustrated or angry with one another, we learn how to care more deeply as we draw together and solve our complaints with each other. In time, we will grow deeper with one another. Tempting as it is, if we stay together when things are hard, and don’t run away from one another, then our patience and forbearance grows. The more we practice with one another, the more able we are to be compassionate and patient with those who have a completely different perspective from ours.
Patience is how compassion is embodied in our lives and patience leads to wholeness. Part of slowing down is attending to ourselves and noticing what is fragmented. I don’t know about you, but sometimes in the midst of rushing around I don’t realize that I am fragmented until I stumble over my own fragments on the floor. One way to know that you are probably fragmented is to assess your level of patience. Wholeness is not only about being whole as a person, but also about being whole as a community. Here at the United Churches we do a lot of great stuff. We have a lot of various passions and talents among us. Something that we keep trying to get better at is working together in a holistic way. Sometimes we get into these little silos, not only thinking that what we are doing in the life and community of the church is the most important thing, but also we communicate very little or not at all with each other.
In our reading from the gospel of John, Jesus is doing a very long (three chapters long) farewell speech. Jesus is on a path that will take him away from this community of beloved disciples. He’s worked very hard to prepare them for their own ministry. He has loved them and served them. He’s been a good teacher and he wants his students to fly. He wants them to know that they are not alone and that he is going to prepare a place for them. He is making the way, and they will all be together. In the part that we read today, the disciples are fearful of being left alone and they want to see God. Jesus assures them that they have seen God, because they have seen him – Jesus. It is almost as if he keeps repeating: I am in God, God is in me, you are in me. After all this time, don’t you see it? We are all on the journey together…the way, the truth and the life. We are all headed to the house with so many, many rooms that there is room enough for everyone. The way is also for everyone. God dwells in Christ, God dwells in us and verse 12 goes on to say that we will do even greater works than Jesus did. Jesus ended death and sin, by taking on the powers that keep us from wholeness. The gospel of John is filled with numerous pictures of wholeness, of abiding in God and God abiding in us. Jesus embodied ultimate compassion by suffering unto death. Through that act of suffering God transformed death and suffering.
This is not an exclusive message of Jesus to separate some from others as perhaps some of you learned when Jesus says “I am the way the truth and the life no one comes to the father except through me.” Jesus isn’t declaring himself as a magic gate that admits only a few. Instead Jesus declares that we are all on a road together and what we know about him tells us about who God is. Jesus: patient in suffering, working toward wholeness for all that he met. Jesus transforming the broken, healing the sick, restoring people to life. Jesus, breaking open the truth in the midst of a religion of falsehoods, a religion that oppressed. Jesus, who shared life deeply with his immediate followers reminding them again: you know me, I know you. You know me. I know you.
God is making everything whole. God is reconciling in all things. God has called us to be reconcilers, to be patient, to embody compassion to others. Our temptation toward speed, toward individualism and “McDonaldization” have distracted us from this calling. It’s time for us to slow down and to pay attention and to practice patience toward wholeness.