Nov. 11 Waiting? *Ruth 1:1-18, 3:1-5, 4:13-17* Luke 12:29-49*Psalm 42
Now that we are no longer on daylight savings time, it is light out when I leave the bus barn and go to pick up my first kids in the morning for school. It makes things a lot easier. At this point in the school year, we have settled into our routine, and it often feels like I am driving in my sleep. On the last day of driving my school bus during daylight savings time, it was rainy and so dark that the street lights didn’t seem to penetrate the gloominess. As I approached my first kid, things went like they always do. He lives in an apartment, and comes down to the street and waits for me on the curb. My second pickup was also seemingly the same. I stopped in front of his house, and could see him and his mom at a distance, standing together on the front porch as she zipped up his coat and helped him put on his backpack. He then ran out to the bus as always, a skinny tow-headed kid with lots of energy.
So far, everything was going according to plan. However, it didn’t take long to realize that something was wrong. A couple of blocks from his house, he asked me if I was “the new guy.” I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I told him “no, I have been driving you all year.” I generally just get up and go to work, and don’t have any coffee until after my morning route is done, otherwise I would have realized what he was talking about sooner. Instead, we just drove on to my next kid, who lives in a big apartment complex that we drive into. “Is this my school?” kid #2 asked, “It doesn’t look like Salish Pond.” I responded, “No, we are going to Troutdale Elementary.” After picking up kid #3, I remembered that kid #2 has a twin brother, who goes to a different school, supposedly because they don’t get along. I realized finally that Mom had sent out the wrong twin! It turns out that my twin was going to the doctor. This twin must not have other kids on his bus, for he became the life of the party after we figured out who he was, and he greatly enjoyed being the center of attention. By the time we got to school, after picking up two more kids, our extra passenger was all riled up, and stuck his head out the window to yell who he was to the two ladies who greet us at school, both of whom thought he was the usual twin, one lady being a certain Mrs. King, who was not amused by his unruly behavior. After the other kids got off of the bus, we headed for his school, a little late but now fully awake.
Can anyone relate to this story? It reminds me of the two disciples who didn’t recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus. When we are used to a certain routine, when things are too familiar, we don’t always notice when something different happens. Bad things happen and we aren’t paying attention, realizing it when only it’s too late. We stop looking for new things when things stay the same for a while. Compared to much of our world these days, our church may not seem to change as quickly. Over time, things slowly change until we get to the point where we suddenly ask how we ever got to be this way. Further change will come, and we must be ready for it.
We are up to Strategy #4 in the book Growing Young, which is: “Fuel a Warm Community: Warm is the New Cool.” This is the one area we don’t really need much work on, for it is already one of our greatest strengths. This church in so many ways is the kind of church I dream of, where everyone is welcomed and treated as family. We come together to share our lives, sharing our stories, celebrating our victories and praying for those who are going through difficulties. Words that describe a warm church are: welcoming, accepting, belonging, authentic, hospitable, caring, good coffee and tasty cookies. The last two items are my contributions to the list. Warmth goes deeper than programs and structures – it’s the lifeblood of our church family.
A warm church invites visitors to come back for more. It is a place where everyone can feel accepted, and encourages authentic, caring relationships. The church is one of the few places where intergenerational relationships are possible outside of our families and schools. Close relationships at church corresponds with a greater maturity of faith. Warmth creates stability, patience and faithfulness to a community, making the church stronger and creating deeper roots to grow from. As we wait for new folks to join us, this is one strategy we can enjoy ourselves now. We create the environment we want to share, and so we will be prepared when visitors come, and we can effortlessly make them feel welcomed and at home.
As a pastor, I have been called to provide a safe place for all people to be transformed by God’s grace. All people, even the ones we don’t particularly like or feel comfortable around. All people, even if that means ruffling the feathers of those who may think differently about certain things. If we are uncomfortable, that’s not necessarily a bad thing: most likely it means that we need to open our hearts more. It means we have to change, not them. If we want to grow, we can’t pick and choose who we want to join us: we have to accept whomever God sends our way. God has called us to share the Good News of Jesus with all people. He doesn’t tell us to go to some and ignore others. All people were made in God’s image, all people deserve to know the love of Jesus in their hearts. Being faithful to God means taking risks and getting our hands dirty, caring for those we might otherwise prefer to ignore. We are called to make a difference in our world, and that won’t be easy. We too must do our part in preparing the way for Jesus to break into our world.
As we think about this church family, hopefully a smile will come to your face like it happens with me. We all pray that our church will grow, knowing that if it does, it will change with each new person, especially younger ones. New people will bring new ideas, and we have to be ready to be challenged and possibly be changed in the process. If we are to be accepting of others, that may mean supporting them in what matters to them, even if we don’t agree with them or their causes. We haven’t really talked about any current social issues, and I generally prefer to avoid them considering how politicized everything is right now, but we need to consider how taking a stand on certain issues might send a message to our neighbors, especially youngsters who are looking for a place where they can pursue their faith and the issues that are important to them. If we wish to grow and remain faithful to our calling, it will require us to build a strong sense of community, both within out church and amongst our neighbors. That most likely will mean engaging people who may challenge us and push us out of our comfort zone. That may prove to be difficult, but will lead us into new growth, if we are mature, with open hearts and open minds.
So with a good foundation of faith and healthy fellowship, we now wait to see where God takes us, and whom he will bring to us. But waiting doesn’t mean we sit around doing nothing, we actively wait, keeping busy and trying new ways to connect with people. The Season of Advent is upon us, and active waiting is what the season is all about. As we wait for Christmas Day, celebrating Jesus coming into our world so long ago, we also actively wait for his return. We await the day when he will make all things new, and for now, we make ourselves ready for his return, and we seek to proclaim the Gospel so we will bring as many people as we can into the family, joining with them on the path of faith into new life. We play our part in the unfolding of God’s plan for our world.
Ruth lived at a time when a woman’s place was well defined by her society. You either were married and lived with your husband, or you stayed with your birth family, or returned to it if you were widowed. Instead of choosing where to go, a woman generally followed the course set before her. She simply waited for that path to unfold, rather than making her own decisions. Choosing to stay with Naomi, a widow herself with a very uncertain future and little security, was very risky. Returning to her family with an extra mouth to feed probably would have put a strain on her family. We too face an uncertain future, but we choose to cling to one another and seek to build our own future rather than to sit by and watch our church fade away. For now, though, we have to wait and see what that future will be, praying that what we do will be fruitful, accepting the fact that our efforts may have unpredictable results, both good and bad.
What do you make of Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi? Is she following her heart? Is she weak, or strong? Rather than seeking security by returning to her own family, she clings to Naomi, and later follows her instructions, becoming an ancestor of Jesus. We too play this waiting game, not knowing sometimes if our efforts will show results in our lifetime, but still we seek to prepare the way for Jesus to come again. We don’t choose what is merely comfortably, we choose what we pray will change our world and build on the legacy of those who came before us here. Our Gospel lesson today reads:
And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well. "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luk 12:29-32 RSV)
We may be anxious for what lies ahead, but we put all things into God’s hands, knowing that he has great plans for us. But we don’t wait around for them, we keep busy, seeking to align what we do with the will of God. We will make mistakes, and miss opportunities for witnessing, but we must remain faithful: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luk 12:34 RSV) Our lesson continues:
Happy are those servants whom the master finds waiting up when he arrives. I assure you that, when he arrives, he will dress himself to serve, seat them at the table as honored guests, and wait on them. Happy are those whom he finds alert, even if he comes at midnight or just before dawn. (Luk 12:37-38 CEB)
Happy are the servants whom the master finds fulfilling their responsibilities when he comes. I assure you that the master will put them in charge of all his possessions. (Luk 12:43-44 CEB)
The future may be uncertain, but we can’t let that stop us from keeping busy. We watch and wait, but stay active. We keep inviting our neighbors to join us, we keep seeking to serve those who need our help. And we keep coming here each week to praise God and love each other with warm hearts, ever thankful for what God has provided us with, especially the responsibilities he has assigned to us. We don’t know how much time we have left, we must use our time wisely, and fill that time with love and service.