Those of you who attempt to grow gardens know that it takes infinite patience and infinite hope to be a gardener. It takes infinite patience because it can be a great deal of work and a lot of expense and much waiting to get any kind of results.
Incidentally, I dispute the notion that you can save money by growing your own vegetables. If you add together the cost of the seedlings and the price of the fertilizer and the investment in stakes and trellises and the money the water company wants .. if you add that all together I suspect your tomatoes cost you about $2.00 each. Not exactly competitive with Safeway.
Well, it takes infinite patience and it takes infinite hope. Gardeners, no matter how many times defeated by the weather, the blight, and the hungry birds, will keep on gardening. As a rule, gardeners are a hopeful group of folks. But sometimes they yield to their disappointment.
I read once of a man who had tried everything. He had attempted to grow vegetables in his yard, but they had come up puny, hard, inedible things. He had gone from vegetables to fruit trees, but they had sat there season after season with nothing but a few pitiful buds to show for his efforts. He had given up on the fruit and planted grass, but the trees shaded the grass too much, and it would not grow. He even tried hardy ground cover, and even the ground cover turned yellow and died. And so in a fit of disappointment, he did the only sure thing. He called in the concrete mixer and had them pour green concrete over the whole yard!
Summer is the season of disappointment. Summer is the season of high hopes followed by devastating disappointments. Author John Steinbeck may have spoken of the winter of our discontent, but this morning we are going to hear the prophet Micah speaking about the summer of our disappointment. He will speak of ’a time when the summer fruit has been gathered and is no more, when the vines have been harvested, and there is nothing left to eat. Micah will speak to us of feeling disappointed. But he will have much more than gardens and fruit in which to be
A word of background: Micah is one of that great series of prophets who flourished in both Israel and Judah in the eighth century before Christ. Micah is feeling frustrated. He has tried his best to speak to the people of Judah about justice and about covenant faithfulness, but it feels to him as though no lesson has been learned, no word has been taken seriously.
You see, the historical context is that Israel, the northern Kingdom, has already fallen, long since placed under Assyrian domination. And the southern kingdom, Judah, where Micah lives, has just narrowly escaped destruction, again at the hands of the Assyrians. It has been an absolutely devastating few years. You would think that it would call the nation to a time of self-examination. . You would think that it would be a time of re-evaluation and renewal. Micah had hoped that his preaching would make that happen. He had expended a great deal of energy. His had been the springtime of the heart, when all things are possible.
But now Micah has moved past the springtime of possibility and he sees the summer of reality. He has been disillusioned about the springtime of the heart and has moved into the summer of disappointment. The people have learned exactly nothing. What he had worked for is just not going to happen. Micah says it’s like growing summer fruit ... you grow it, but once it’s gone, it’s gone. There is nothing left. It’s bitterly disappointing.
Notice that the essence of Micah’s disappointment is that his work, his effort has gone for naught. Like a gardener who works and weeds, in hot weather and in wet, to get a little produce, only to find that the yields are very small … just like that gardener, Micah feels disappointed. The work he has been doing seems not to have paid off at all.
"Woe is me! For I have become like one who, after the summer fruit has been gathered, after the vintage has been gleaned, finds no cluster to eat: there is no first-ripe fig for which I hunger."
Can you hear Micah’s heart in this? Micah has worked so hard, and for what? Nobody seems to have learned a thing. And it hurts. .
You see, the summer of disappointment begins when you think that your work is not appreciated. The summer of disappointment begins when we wake up and admit that all that we are doing, all the dreams we are dreaming, all the investments of time and energy ... it will not amount to a hill of beans. It is being ignored and rejected.
That’s a summer disappointment. That is a rude awakening.
Many of us know what that’s like. You work at teaching children all year long, and think you are getting somewhere. But when the summer is over and they come back to school you find they have forgotten almost everything you thought they had learned.. Summer disappointment.
You struggle to build a financial base for yourself and your household. You try to be careful and cautious with how you use your resources. Then comes some disastrous illness, some major repair, and the whole nest egg is wiped out. Disappointment.
We know what it is to be disappointed, just as Micah did. But is it possible that disappointment begins in our own hearts? Disappointment begins in our own hearts. It is not so much what other people do or do not do. It is our own expectations of ourselves. Disappointment drags us down not so much because other people do not perform as we would like them to, but because we hold out unrealistic expectations for ourselves. We set ourselves up for disappointment. We program ourselves for failure.
Do you hear yourself in Micah? Do you echo the prophet’s self-pity? "Woe is me, for I have become like one who, after the summer fruit has been gathered, after the vintage has been gleaned, finds no cluster to eat; there is no first-ripe fig for which I hunger.” Poor Micah! Poor us! What is the issue? Disappointment is an issue in our own hearts, born out of our unrealistic expectations.
But now notice just how corrosive disappointment becomes. Notice how, once we give in to self-pity, it can go deeper and deeper and can poison the well of all of our relationships. When we give in to being disappointed with ourselves, it soon spreads to blight all of our relationships.
Micah has felt disappointment because his work yielded very little, and there is nothing for him to feast on now. There is nothing much to which he can point as a measure of his success.
So Micah, in his bitterness, begins to complain about everybody, just everybody. Watch how it gets worse and worse, deeper and deeper.
First he claims that the "faithful have disappeared from the land, and there is no one left who is upright." That reminds me of the kind of thing I used to hear some students say when I was doing campus ministry ... ’I’m the only Christian in my dorm.’ ’So-and-so is the only Christian on the faculty. So Micah claims that the faithful have disappeared from the land, and also Micah is disappointed in the government ... "the official and the judge ask for a bribe, and the powerful dictate what they desire."
Then he is disappointed in his close friends, "Put no trust in a friend, have no confidence in a loved one." Micah reminds me of the old story about the Quaker who said to his friend, "The whole world is wrong except for me and thee, and sometimes I wonder about thee."
Finally, worst of all, he succumbs to disappointment in and suspicion of his own family. "Guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your embrace, for the son treats the father with contempt, and the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; your enemies are members of your own household".
Have you ever felt that way? Folks, that’s the white heat summer of disappointment taken to its zenith. That is the searing, burning edge of disappointment at its very worst. And I would say to you, when you no longer believe in anybody, watch out. When you begin to give up hope in even your own family, and those who mean the most to you ... when you begin to revel in disappointment over everybody, you have given into to despair at a very profound level. And you are not well.
I’ve had occasion lately to work with a number of you around family life issues. I’ve listened to some bitterness and some anger, some frustration and some disappointment. In all honesty, if, you are one of the fortunate few who have experienced no disturbance in your marriage, if you have not had conflict with your children, if there are no issues in your family life, then you are the exception rather than the rule. We might as well all just look at each other this morning and recognize that for many of us the springtime of possibility is giving way to the summer of disappointment.
But let me tell you what else I’ve found out in trying to counsel you about your marriages and your families. I’ve found that you do love each other, despite everything. I’ve found that even in the face of struggle and argument and hostility and strife, there is still an intact core of love and care. As long as you have that, there is still hope. I plead with you, do not let that little scrap of love go. Do not let that go.
For you see, if you give way as far as the prophet Micah did, seeing even the members of his household, his wife, his children ... seeing them as enemies … if you give way that far, then there is scarcely any way back out. There is nothing left but cynicism and bitterness. There is nothing left but isolation.
When my children were growing up and were singing in the youth choir at our church, there was a song they used to sing. It was called "One Tin Soldier". The chorus of "One Tin Soldier" is meant to be taken with a sarcastic twist. It says it all: "Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend. Do it in the name of heaven: you can justify it in the end. You won’t hear the trumpets blowing come that judgment day, on the bloody morning after one tin soldier rides away."
Just like Micah, anxious, desperate, "Put no trust in a friend, have no confidence in a loved one."
Oh, I say, if you give in totally to the summer of disappointment ... if you give in completely to that despair ... you will dry up. And there will be no end to your disappointments.
And that will not be the end of the disappointment. You may not say it in so many words, but your disappointment will go to an even deeper level. It will become disappointment with God. Even God Himself will not escape the withering scorn of your summer disappointment, once you give in to the downward spiral of accusation and disillusionment.
You began by accusing yourself of failure, because you set up unrealistic expectations in the first place. You went on from being disappointed in yourself to being disappointed in everybody else, including those who love you and whom you love. And the truth is, though you probably would never say it, you are also disappointed in God Himself.
Micah says … and it sounds good at first, but listen closely ... Micah says, "But. as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me."
Sounds good, huh?! Just what you’d expect from God’s prophet. A defiant note. God and I, we are a majority. Oh, but look deeper. Read more closely. Look at this God and I business. I, me, me, I. As for me ... I will look ... I will wait ... my salvation ... my God ... hear me.
What’s wrong here?
Micah is still preoccupied with himself. The prophet still feels anxious about himself. His attention is not really on God. His attention is on himself. Poor little me, Lord. Lord, pay attention to poor little Micah.
My friends, we grumble about our prayers not being answered. We complain that we are disappointed in God’s performance. But the problem is that we are totally self-centered. We are preoccupied with ourselves. The garden we are cultivating is not the garden of good work or the harvest of, love. The garden we are busily cultivating this summer is the garden of self-justification. And we end up profoundly disappointed in ourselves, in our friends and families, and even in our God, feeling that He has not done for us what we expected. And so our disappointment deepens more and more.
To echo, then, the apostle Paul, “Wretched one that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Hear the last word of Micah. Hear the prophet’s conclusion to the whole matter.
“I must bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he takes my side and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall see his vindication.”
“I must bear the judgment of the Lord, because I have sinned against him.”
The way out of disappointment is through repentance. Are you with me? The way out of disappointment is through repentance. “I must bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him.”
You see, the issue is not whether we are disappointed in God. The issue is whether He is disappointed in us!
The question is not what I can do to make myself happy and satisfied. The question is what I can do to center my life on God and His will. And that is repentance. That is turning it all around.
When I repent, I confess that I am not the center of the universe. When I repent, I discover that my need for success is not the bottom line. When I repent of my self-centeredness and turn my priorities to God and to His will, then everything else begins to fall into place. Our sickness is that we think we should succeed at every venture, and that our families should bow to our every wish, and that our God should answer our every prayer.
But when we repent, all that disappears. All that disappointment melts away. And we no longer blame ourselves, we no longer accuse our families, we no longer complain to our God. When we repent, we find true happiness in doing in God’s will, no matter who approves. It’s not by brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer. Not my mother, not my father, but me O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer. Not the system, not the church, not the government, not the family, not this, not that, but me, O Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.
The winter of our discontent gave birth to the springtime of possibilities. But when the summer of disappointment arrives, turn to God’s priorities, and the cooling breezes of His healing will not be far behind.