Summary: Lent, 1987: We are impatient for God to do something, but do not notice that already He is bringing aspects of the Kingdom, slowly but surely. Have faith and wait to see what He is certain to do.
When I was a boy of about eight or ten years old, I undertook a brief experiment in gardening. I was told that a particular piece of ground in our back yard was mine to use, and I was given some packages of seeds and a few instructions and set to work.
Well, that morning I cleared that plot of weeds and I dug it up. I punched little holes in the earth and carefully poked the seeds in place. I covered the seeds with the earth, poured water over the whole thing, and then sat down to watch. Well? Well? No plants? I did everything I was supposed to do; so where are the plants?
I was told that I would have to wait, that I had done about all I could do for now, but I would just have to wait. And so I waited – until the next morning. And went out. And still no plants: nothing, not a thing. Why not? I was told that I would have to wait some more, quite a lot more.
The third morning, out again, and still nothing visible. So I dug up a couple of seeds to see what was happening. Maybe they couldn't get up through the clods; maybe they were growing down instead of up – I mean, when you look at a seed, they don't print "This End Up" anywhere on them. I found some of my three-day old seeds, but didn't see anything happening. By now I was convinced that this enterprise was doomed to failure, that I had a brown thumb instead of a green one, and besides, by now it was boring, boring, boring. So I quit.
A few days later I happened by my little garden and found there was something I hadn't seen before: little yellowish green shoots here and there. Where did they come from? I hadn't seen anything coming up, hadn't heard any earthquakes, but there they were. Evidences of life. Wow, I was a gardener after all.
And so I sat down to watch these critters grow. Let's watch nature at work. And so I sat, and I sat, and I sat, and saw nothing. Just little yellowish green shoots. Was that it? This is gardening? This is a crop? Forget it … boring, boring, boring.
But I do not need to tell you what happened. Slowly, imperceptibly, over the next days and weeks, those little shoots did grow and did multiply. I never actually saw them do it but somehow they did. And after a while this boy's garden got to the place where his mother said, “You'd better clear that thing out – looks like a jungle.
And yet I never actually saw it grow. No matter how long I sat and stared at it, I did not see a plant inch up, I did not observe a blossom unfolding, I did not with my eyes notice it when a stalk developed a new branch. So slowly, so slowly; and yet, as I learned, so surely.
The apostle James must have observed the same sort of thing. At least the folks for whom he wrote his letter must have seen it, and understood it, because James noted that the farmer has to wait for the precious fruit of the earth, that he has to be patient and wait over it until it receives the early rain and the latter rain, until it matures. And, says James, just as the farmer does all that he can do, and then is called upon simply to be patient, to wait, so you, Christian, are called upon to be patient, to wait, for what? For the coming of the Lord. And his cry to us is, "Establish your hearts, be patient, establish your hearts, be steadfast", for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Those early Christians, not many years after a first-hand experience of the risen and ascended Christ, were anxious that the work of God be completed. They had seen that God had now planted the seed and watered and nourished it, that what God was about in the grand sweep of human history was in fact being accomplished. And so like the boy and his garden, they were now sitting back and saying, Well? Well? Where is it? Where is the Christ who is to come again? Where is the wrap up? We're ready, Lord, go ahead, finish.
To them James says, It's coming, it's coming. Be patient. It's coming, the Lord is on his way. Trust me. Be patient. Be like the farmer who plants his crop and waters it, but then can do no more, and slowly, imperceptibly it comes, surely it comes. You can scarcely see it, but it comes. And though the coming of Christ may be slow, surely he comes. Though his return is not apparent on your timetable, surely he comes. Be patient, establish your hearts, for he comes. His coming is, in fact, at hand.