Elizabeth L. Windsor, DMin. The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost September 20, 2020 Psalm 130 Isaiah 40: 6-8 Matthew 6: 25-34
We are a people in the midst of waiting – waiting for a Covid-19 vaccine, waiting for the fires in the West to burn out, waiting for the next hurricane to make landfall, waiting for the election, waiting for racial and environmental justice. And if that isn’t enough, our individual lives are hold too. We wait to hug our grandchildren, we wait for our kids to go back to school, we wait for Symphony Hall, theaters and the Church Sanctuary to open safely. We wait for “normal” to return.
The explosion of waiting not only happens around us, but in us. Our bodies – as well as our souls – feel the weight of the dread in which we live. The Washington Post reported last weekend that dentists are treating an astronomical increase in night time teeth grinding due to the stress, anxiety and depression we carry in our bodies. We are in good company – our biblical ancestors ground their teeth too. The phrase “and there will be weeping and great gnashing of teeth” appears five times in the New Testament alone.
As we wait and wait and wait some more, I find myself constantly remembering a truth my Dad has shared with me throughout my life: “You can hang by your fingernails for as long as you have to – as long as you know when you can let go. It becomes difficult only if you don’t know when you can let go” – pretty much sums up where we are, doesn’t it?
Waiting has us all hanging by our finger nails indefinitely. It is excruciating. I don’t know about you, but while I am hanging by my fingernails, I am also weeping and gnashing my teeth.
For many of us, waiting for this duration of time is unfamiliar. In a 1st world, 21st century nation, waiting is not something we are used to experiencing. After all, strawberries are available year round in our grocery stores, even though their growing season is over in the Northeast as summer ends. Amazon delivers most things we need and want the next day. We haven’t had to wait very often.
The spiritual and emotional pain of our waiting can make us feel unfamiliar to ourselves. It is disorienting and overwhelming. No wonder we gnash our teeth.
The Scripture passages that Rick just read tells us that we are like the grass that will wither away while God will endure, that worry will not add even an hour to our lives, that God knows what we need and cautions us “Today’s troubles are enough for the day” – yep, and then some. But somehow, these words aren’t sufficient no matter how much truth is in them. Do they teach us what we are to do in this prolonged experience of waiting that has been forced upon us?
This morning’s Psalm gives us a clue: “I wait for God, my soul waits, and in God’s word I hope.” Hope. The Biblical stories show us that “hope” is a verb, not a noun. The people of God had plenty of reasons to despair: Slavery in Egypt, wandering in the desert, exile in Babylon and a host of unanticipated disasters and tragedies along the way. There was never a moment when salvation was complete. Life was a constant struggle - or as my Dad puts it, There is no rest for the weary.”
In her book, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister writes, “There is a deep down bone weariness that comes with struggle. The sheer weight of going on knowing that nothing we can do will change things as they are, that there is no going back to what was, exhausts the timbre of the soul. We want to give up. We want to quit.” There were plenty of times in the biblical stories when quitting seemed to be the only choice – the baby boys of the Hebrews killed by the Egyptians, Moses smashing the tablets as a result of the people’s idolatry, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile from Temple, the crucifixion. And yet – Moses’ mother, sister and Pharaoh’s daughter conspire to save him and he lives. He goes back up Mt. Sinai and again brings back the tablets of the law. The exiles return to Jerusalem. The Temple is re-built. Jesus rises from the dead.
Hope requires the active choice to endure. Sister Joan points out that there are instructions for living hope in all of the biblical stories. “We see that our creating God goes on creating – whatever the apparent failures of the process- and asks the same of us. When we refuse to give up, either on ourselves or on the world around us, we become our own small sign that God is, that in the end right will prevail . . . Hope is not a denial of reality. But it’s also not some kind of spiritual elixir . . . Hope is a series of small actions that transform darkness into light. It is putting one foot in front of the other when we can find no reason to do so at all.”
It is hard to keep putting one foot in front of the other – especially while hanging on by our fingernails, weeping and gnashing our teeth. But that is what God asks us to do. Each bag of food we collect for the Centre Street food bank, each time we venture out in our masks and patiently wait in a line spread six feet apart, each on-line Zoom session we help another navigate, every time we laugh at a child’s joke, every budget we plan, every call to our elders, every plan we make to vote –each of these – and so many more- are small actions of hope that transform us and the world around us. Sister Joan ends her book with these words, “We think of hope as grounded in the future. That’s wrong . . .Hope is fulfilled in the future but it depends on our ability to remember that we, like [our ancestors in faith] have survived everything in life to this point . . .Why not this latest situation too? Then we hope because we have no reason not to hope. Hope is what sits by a window and waits for one more dawn, despite the fact that there isn’t an ounce of proof in tonight’s black, black sky that it can possibly come.” Let us continue our small actions of hope as we wait together for the dawn. Amen.