Pentecost 13, August 30, 2020
Text: Romans 12:9–21
Are you patient? As we are less than a minute into this sermon, are you hoping I will just say, “Jesus loves you. Amen.” That would be a sermon for really impatient people. You know what they say about patience, “patience is a virtue.” We find ourselves showing impatience in lots of places, yes? When we are standing in line at Crest or Walmart. When we are sitting in the car picking up kids in car line, back when we did that. Waiting for a table at a restaurant, back when we did that. Going through the line for security at the airport, back when we did that. There are a lot of people standing in line at the unemployment office. Have you noticed something here? We spend a lot of time waiting in line!
For this reason, Paul’s words are a blessing for us today. Paul reveals that patience is one of the Gifts we get from God. It isn’t something we have from birth, and it doesn’t come naturally to us. Patience is a gift, renewed by God. And that will be our theme today.
Now before I launch into the meat of the sermon, I do want to acknowledge that there is a lot Paul tells us in the epistle today, and by focusing just on the patience stuff, I am not covering some other really good stuff. But the way I figure it, with the pandemic going on and on, and with everything we are seeing with all the division in our country, I thought this would be a good time for another sermon on patience.
Ken Klass, retired speaker from the Lutheran Hour, told this story a few years ago about patience. Ken was driving around St. Louis, I think that’s where he was, when he found himself sitting behind a stalled car. There was the lady’s car, then another car, and then Ken. He could hear the battery was ok as she was trying to get her car started but nothing was happening. Ken had put his window down and thought he heard the lady’s starter turning, but he said it was hard to tell for sure because the driver of the car in between them was leaning on his horn.
Finally, the red-faced lady got out of her car, and walked back to the honker. Without the sound of the starter turning and the horn blaring, Ken could plainly hear the woman say to the horn honker, “I’m awfully sorry, but I don’t seem to be able to start my car. If you’ll go up there and start it for me, I’ll stay here and honk your horn.” Ken then wrote, “I was really glad that for once I hadn’t joined in on the horn honking.”
What about you? If you were there, would you have joined the car horn choir? That is a common way for us to show our impatience when we’re in traffic, but I think we can all agree that it doesn’t really accomplish anything. You know what they say about patience, “Patience Is just what you have when there are too many witnesses.”
In Romans, Paul tells us in great detail about the abundance of God’s Love, how God shows that love and the gifts He gives to show us that love. And that includes giving us patience. Paul knows that when we are dealing with tribulations, when things go bad, it is easy to be impatient. This is true in 2020, yes? Paul is speaking of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh fighting against us, seeking to take away the comfort of our salvation. Being a Christian is difficult. Sharing God’s Word to a world that doesn’t want to hear it is hard. Loving one’s enemies, holding on to what is good, showing mercy, fighting for justice, living in peace with others—these things are hard and, at times, we find ourselves losing our patience. You know what they say about patience, “They say patience is a skill that can be acquired. But how can I learn it faster?!?!”
Impatience shows itself in other areas. One that I am familiar with: a golfer on a driving range slices another ball and says, “I’m losing my patience.” Usually, a golfer will say something I can’t say here, or anywhere for that matter, that means “I’m losing my patience.” With that, he quits and walks away. When we lose patience, we can be on the edge of giving up. We may have tried too hard for too long, and we start to think that it doesn’t matter anymore, so we walk away. Patience is easy to lose. You know what they say about patience, “People who buy turf or sod for their yards don’t have the patience to grow their own…They want instant grassification.”
A challenge to patience is the temptation to give up. We are tempted to believe that nothing is worth this suffering, to feel that no one cares anyway and, therefore, to walk away. This temptation could have overtaken Jeremiah. Because of God’s Word, Jeremiah was a laughingstock (Jer 15:15). Jeremiah prophesied destruction, and exile for the Hebrews, but nothing seemed to happen. His loneliness (15:17) lead to complaint and accusation against God (15:18).
Yet while Jeremiah’s life was a mess, while most everyone was ridiculing him or attacking him, Jeremiah did not walk away. He went before God in prayer, and in mercy God answered. God responded to Jeremiah’s with a promise He would always be there with him and for him. (15:20).
Peter and the twelve were patiently waiting for Jesus to put on the king’s crown and lead the revolt against the Romans. But then one day Jesus said His being the Messiah meant He would hang on a cross, not lead a charge. Peter didn’t like that idea and tried to get Jesus to quit. Peter had run out of patience. You know what people say about patience, “Ignorance is bliss and patience is a virtue. If you’re dumb and don’t mind waiting around.”
Remember that Jet Blue flight attendant who, after his plane landed, blew the hatch, released the emergency slide, grabbed a couple of beers, and hit the ground running saying, “I quit!”? Or the telemarketer who ripped off his headset one day, screamed ‘I QUIT, THIS PLACE (STINKS)’ and stomped out. He got in his old Nissan mini truck, put it in gear, and attempted to drive over the landscaping between his parking spot and the driveway. He bottomed out trying to drive over a bush, got stuck, and ended up having to come back in and ask for help pushing his car off the landscaping from the coworkers from whom he’d just staged his great exit, his face a particularly remarkable shade of red. And I am guessing that all of us, at some time or another, have thought about quitting and doing the same thing.
Maybe you know someone who quit on God, quit on faith, quit on religion, because something or things in their life went wrong. I saw some folks on TV after 9/11, who said they quit on God because He allowed that to happen. There are a lot of folks looking at everything going on around us today who are saying the same thing. There are folks who will quit on God, who will blame God, when someone they love is taken from them or something bad happens. Or there are folks who will give up on prayer because they prayed for something and it did not occur in their timetable.
Instead, Paul reminds us of this: 9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. . . . 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. . . .
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. . . .
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. . . .
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Things to remember in this fantastic year we are having.)
When things are not going the way we want them to is exactly the time we should turn to God, and not quit on Him. God, in Jesus Christ, has come and endured our trials, suffering for our sin on the cross and opening the way of salvation to us when He rose again. God’s great Good News to us is that because of Jesus Christ, He is in a relationship with us, He listens to our cries and our anger when we are in the middle of suffering, and invites our prayers. In the middle of problems or bad times, we should not walk away, but trust in God’s mercy.
I know how easy it is to lose patience. Erica will tell you that is something I struggle with. You know what I say about patience, “I had my patience tested today. It came back negative.” But we are all reminded here today that God offers us a lot of gifts and assists us in a lot of ways, and one of those things is He can and will boost our patience level.
And I have proof. The sermon is over, and you are still here.
It is my prayer that God will give us all the patience we need, and more. And you know what? He will. He promised.
In Jesus’ Name.