Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Re-Learning to Wait

It’s hard not to preach on the Transfiguration when it comesup in the lectionary, which is pretty often. It’s all the power and wonder and amazement packed into a succinct little story. It’s divinity and humanity all together in one. It’s Law and Prophets and Jesus and the Father. It’s Peter looking pretty foolish. It’s an impossible secret that’s worth keeping if you can. But I think the better lesson to preach is the reading from Exodus and here’s why.

Waiting is hard, and it’s getting harder. When was the last time you sat and did nothing but wait? I don’t mean play with your smart phone while you’re waiting. I mean sit and wait and nothing else. A doctor’s office with no magazines. A restaurant table with no crackers or bread. A barbershop with no television. Just you and the wait.

These days, answers come quickly. There are some people in my parish who send me an e-mail and, if it takes me longer than an hour to reply, they either call or stop by to make sure I received their e-mail. The next time you’re at a red light, see how long it takes before the car behind you honks after it turns green. The next time you call a customer service line, time yourself to test how long you’re willing to sit on hold before you start complaining about the quality of service. We just don’t wait anymore.

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there.” So he did. And, after he climbed up on the mountain, the Lord’s glory settled on the mountain in the form of a cloud, and Moses just waited. He sat there for six days just waiting. On the seventh day, God finally got around to Moses, and he called to him out of the cloud.

The rest of the story—a devouring fire and tablets of stone and forty days and forty nights—is pretty interesting, but I don’t want to lose sight of what really matters: waiting on the Lord. Moses waited on the Lord and was content to wait and wait and wait. That’s not very productive. If I spent a week just waiting on something—even God—I’d be in trouble…with my wife, with my kids, with my vestry, with my staff. Waiting isn’t valued in our society any more. Life is too busy. We’re all too important. We don’t have time to wait.

Lent is a time of waiting. (Yes, I know that’s what Advent is for, but let me get away with this. I’m on a roll.) We set aside forty days for listening to the Lord. We give things up and take things on, and the real value of this is so that we make space in our lives for God to enter in. “Darn!” we say to ourselves, “I really wanted that piece of chocolate.” And, in that moment, we remember why we’ve given it up and what we’re waiting for (Easter) and there’s (hopefully) spiritual value in the experience. Lent is countercultural. It says we’ll live on less. It says we’ll take our mortality and sinfulness seriously. It says we’ll depend on God and not on ourselves for our salvation.

So, preachers, think about focusing on Exodus. Don’t get suckered in by the fancy laser light show on the Transfiguration mount. Instead, wait quietly and patiently for the Lord alongside Moses in Exodus. Stress to your congregations that there’s value in waiting. Fight the uphill battle of those who’d rather play with their smart phones that sit in silence for 2 minutes. Their spiritual lives depend on it. And so do the spiritual lives of preachers like me.

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