Lent 2 – Patience – 5th March 2023

Lent 2 – Patience – 5th March 2023 – Rev Alison Way

Romans  4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17

God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, grow in us the fruit of your spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Amen

Today in our consideration of the fruit of the Spirit that St Paul describes in his letter to the Galatians, we are thinking about patience. Like many people patience is not my best gift. Likewise, patience is not a well prized attitude to life in our “I want it and I want it now” culture. We live with a lot of pressure about having things instantly. When it would often be better to be taking more time and putting in more effort to achieve something that would be much more rewarding and long lasting.

Henri Nouwen says – The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full, in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Inpatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go somewhere else. The moment is empty. Patient people, he concludes, dare to stay where they are.

Patient living means living actively in the present and waiting there. When I look back over my life I can think of a number of occasions when the going got difficult, when I needed to be patient and take time rather than thinking the grass was greener on the other side. This seemed to be particularly true when I didn’t want to be patient and wait. Yet things did work themselves through as the days passed and in a way beyond the limits of what I had thought was best at the time! I suspect we have all been there (and eventually been very grateful that we waited and were patient!)

In the Bible we encounter patience in two different sets of circumstances. Firstly, there are those related to perseverance, and keeping going towards a goal. Further on in Galatians it says – So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. And secondly in circumstances where we don’t know which way to turn and hit rock bottom. For example in the psalms of lament: Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him. (Psalm 37:7). Both of these circumstances mean we need to move forward to God’s timing and not our own. The Spirit’s fruit will help us with waiting where we need to and giving us the strength to keep going taking one step at a time.

In that reading from Romans, Paul is using the story of Abraham to say to the people of Rome that it is about your walk of faith and how you go about it that matters, rather than relying on who your ancestors happen to be or the law! What Paul is actually saying here is that as an example of faithful living – Abraham is the father of all of us.

Let’s remind ourselves a little of the story of Abraham and there is more than a little patience and perseverance on display within it. Abraham was the first great Patriarch of ancient Israel. Abraham took up the leadership of his family when he was 75 years old (when many of us would be looking to hand things over). At this point, Abraham started to follow what God wanted of him and to follow where God led him. As God gave Abraham this new name (he was originally Abram), God promised to make him and his descendants a great nation. and God would take them to a promised land.

Abraham literally means father of a multitude. Yet in reality, Abraham and his wife Sarah had no children at the time and were getting on in years. This choice to follow God Abraham made was by no means the easy option. It involved leaving his homelands and travelling long distances and settling where the locals were pretty hostile. It meant withstanding a time of great famine and having a very iffy time in Egypt – which included his wife Sarah (who Abraham had said was his sister) being taken from him to be the wife of the Egyptian ruler.

Time was marching on in Abraham’s story when God reaffirmed his promise to Abraham about being the father of a great nation if he was a faithful follower and emphasising the need for patience in his journey. Abraham was, I suspect unsurprisingly, growing increasingly anxious about his advancing age and the likelihood of him founding a great nation was diminishing by the day. Yet eventually nearly 25 years on Abraham and Sarah had their child Isaac. And a very patient wait ended. How good would we be at waiting 25 years for something?

In Old testament times, Abraham’s faithfulness and perseverance (which you could define as lived out patience) is presented as a model for human behaviour.  He is hospitable to strangers. He is a God-fearing man who was obedient to God’s laws and his will for his life. In later Biblical references, the God of Israel is frequently identified as the God of Abraham  and Israel is often called the people “of the God of Abraham”. Abraham is such an important figure in the history of God’s people that when they were in trouble, Israel appealed to God to remember the promises made to Abraham.

In the New Testament, as we heard this morning Abraham is presented as the supreme model of vital faith and patience as required for every Christian believer. Abraham’s example includes bravery, patience and dependence on God. Abraham wasn’t in the position to rationalise God’s plan for him and his family, or to wonder about the long-term future that he would not see. Abraham had to wait a long time for what God promised. Yet Abraham got on with the business of following God faithfully, no matter how unlikely all that God promised to him seemed.

So what can we learn from Abraham? Are we living up to what are our own God-given priorities? What is God asking of us? Or doing things more to our own designing? Are we willing and are we flexible about achieving what God wants of each of us here today? Even when we can’t see the full picture, and don’t have the map. Or when we think what God wants is impossible or it takes a very long time to come to pass (as it did for Abraham) – is there evidence of patience and perseverance in our lives?

How can we encourage ourselves to live with more patience and perseverance to the fore? It can be easy to get discouraged and give up when something seems a long way off. It is then helpful to recognise each step on a journey to something (rather than just the importance of the final destination). Not looking too far ahead, and looking at what we can do now and in the present can be helpful, and sharing the things that encourage us to keep going. 

On that topic we are in a period with much anxiety and gloominess around us. It is important to be encouraging, kind and patient with each other as well as with ourselves. Sharing the steps along the way and going at the pace that suits everyone is important (rather than wanting to rush ahead and leaving others behind in our uncomfortable wake!) Sharing many more encouragements rather than criticisms is a part of this too. The Spirit of patience will help us with our need to be thankful as well, if we pay attention to the journey and how we are walking together rather than just the final destination.

Abraham’s story has much to teach us and has a strong core of patient  faithfulness we can learn from, but I want to dwell in a very Lenten place to finish. With another aspect of his story I have always found hard to understand. This is the action when a bit later on Abraham follows the custom to sacrifice his precious son. Through God’s intervention, Abraham doesn’t go through with it. The purpose of this story is to point to his son Jesus and God’s sacrifice for us and just how profound that is. There are deep echoes, as Isaac carries the wood for the sacrifice, and we remember Jesus carrying his wooden cross. It all points to the deep cost of it in the heart of our loving God.

Develop in us more of the fruit of patience, as we give thanks for God sending his Son to earth to save us. Let us pray – Just as Abraham did, Lord, we come in faith to wait upon you. You are the light of our hearts. In you our hearts rejoice. We pray for the spiritual fruit of patience in our walk with you. We place our trust in your holy name now and forever. Amen.

Henri Nouwen – Waiting for God – In Watch for the Light – Plough Publishing house, The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible  © 1989, 1995. Prayer from rootsontheweb.com © reproduced with permission.

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