Summary: Curiosity and greed are part of our DNA, patience is not. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and must be cherished and fed in order to grow in our lives. We must be patient with others and with God just as God is patient with us.
[Sermon preached on 10 December 2017, 2nd Advent / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]
I remember how as a young child I became very impatient when Christmas was drawing near. Not so much because of Christmas, but because I also had my birthday. Like most kids, I also had many things on my wish list. My mother would go and buy the birthday presents well in advance. Sometimes, she would come home and quickly disappear into the master bedroom with a shopping bag. I knew what that meant.
So as soon as I got the chance, I would sneak into my parents’ bedroom, open the linen closet and look for anything that could be a potential birthday gift. When I found something, it was mostly wrapped in gift paper already. I would feel it carefully to get an idea of what it could be. Of course, my mother expected this. So she would often pack small gifts into big boxes to confuse me.
Every child is born with a tremendous sense of curiosity. Curiosity comes naturally. It is in our DNA. But patience isn’t. It doesn’t come naturally. It takes time and effort to become patient. And for some of us—me included—it is so contrary to our nature, that it seems we never learn.
Our society does not encourage patience. This is a “here–and–now” world. You notice it in the Christmas commercials. Virtually every large store offers irresistible deals: “Buy now—pay next year!” Instead of first saving the money to see whether we can really afford something, we are told to buy it right now. So just take it home with you, and you will get the bill sometimes next year. Can you imagine how many people are in big trouble when, after the Christmas season is over and almost forgotten, bills start coming in and it gradually dawns on them that they bought far more than they could ever afford?
Patience is a virtue that we all need very badly. We need it to learn to wait for the right time. If we don’t have patience, we are consumed by our curiosity and the uncertainty of what is to come—or whether it is going to come at all. We need patience to learn to limit our greed, our appetite, and our consumption.
But we also need patience in our relationships. Of course, if you are a parent of a young child, you know this better than I. Young children can really test our patience. They are driven by an enormous sense of curiosity. They have to find everything out for themselves. It just doesn’t help to tell them what they can or cannot do. They have to learn the hard way.
When they get older, they want to test the limits they experience—limits set by their parents or teachers, or by the law, or by their physical or mental capacity.
But let’s face it: We need patience just as much with other adults. When, in his letter, James calls us to be patient, he contrasts it with grumbling:
“Be patient! … Don’t grumble against one another.”
And Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, puts patience and forgiveness facing one another:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one.”
The word that James and Paul use for “patient” actually means “longsuffering” or “long-tempered”. In the Old Testament, the corresponding word means “having a long nose” or “taking a long breath”. It is like saying: “Take a deep breath first before you react—before you do are say something.”
For good and lasting relationships, we need patience. Whether it is with our children, our spouse, our brothers and sisters in church, our colleagues in the workplace, or our neighbors, we need patience in dealing with people who or different from us. The church as a community is called the body of Christ. It is made up of different parts, different members. Our difference is our strength. But only, if we are able to bear with one another, to cope with the differences in character, temperament and culture and the differences in gifts.
Let me give you a personal example. I hope you don’t feel hurt. It has been my dream that when we start our Sunday worship service at 2 pm sharp, everybody would be there. It has been my dream that our first song of worship would be so powerful that the walls of the church would shake. But after almost four years of dreaming and wishful thinking, I have come to understand one thing: the majority of our congregation will not be there at 2 pm when we start. It is cultural. It is because many of you were brought up in Africa with an entirely different concept of time. So I will simply have to live with that. And honestly speaking, even though I do understand the cultural difference, I still find it hard to accept this. I regularly run out of patience on Sunday afternoons, as some of you may have noticed. Sometimes I even feel ready to give up altogether. — Why come here at 2 pm when others don’t bother?