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Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9

 6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”


Psalm 23

 1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. 3He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his name’s sake. 4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. 6Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


Second Reading: Philippians 4:4-13

 4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. 10I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.


Gospel: Matthew 22:1-14

 1Again Jesus spoke to {the chief priests and the Pharisees} in parables, saying, 2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’” 5But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14For many are called, but few are chosen.”


The Rewards of Waiting

On the last Sunday in November, Terry and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.  I know, it’s hard for anyone to believe she’s put up with me this long!  I ask her all the time, “why haven’t you gotten shut of me yet?”  Now for some here today, that doesn’t seem that big a deal since you’re celebrating 60, or more, years of marriage.  For others, this may seem to be a great milestone.  But for Terry and me, like many of you, we’re trying to figure out where the time went.  So we, in anticipation of this occasion, have decided to celebrate this milestone over the next year with plans for a spring beach vacation and again in the fall when we take a cruise with our girls, the sons-in-law, and the kids to Alaska.  We are, of course, excited!

As you can imagine, this takes a lot of planning and preparation, beach house rental, cruise and excursion reservations, plane tickets, hotel, rental car, transportation to and from the various places, etcetera, and the more we plan, the more excited we get.  Both Terry and I agree, half the fun of enjoying a big event is the planning and anticipation.  And this got me to thinking about how we don’t always wait patiently like we should.  Because we’ve been blessed with abundance, when we need something, we simply go and buy it.

This means that celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas, become more stressful for the wrong reasons.  For the most part, few of us are in need, so we, in most cases, don’t look forward to these occasions with anticipation like we used to.  Earlier this week I began to ponder this lack of anticipation, and the fact that this lack of patience also applies to the festivals of the church.  One of the reasons the great festivals of the church don’t seem to have the meaning that they ought to have, is that we don’t make the preparations for them that we should.

In our high-speed lives, we sort of drift into the various high festivals of the church year without giving them much thought or preparation.  The season or day approaches and we garner whatever meaning we can in the moment.  So, Advent comes, and Advent goes.  Christmas comes, and Christmas goes.  Lent comes, and Lent goes.  Easter comes, and Easter goes.  Pentecost comes, and as we suddenly realize today, 20 weeks into Pentecost, this season too is slipping away.  And the meaning that these great events of Christian history should have for us, eludes us, because we haven’t made the preparations that we should.

Advent, at times, is seen as nothing more than a prelude to Christmas.  Oftentimes, many want to view Advent as an extended Christmas period, rather than a time of preparation.  The same is true for Lent and Holy Week; they’re seen as little more than a 7-week pause we must endure to get to Easter.  And Easter is only celebrated with excitement, because summer is right around the corner.  We must be honest; we don’t take the time anymore to prepare and anticipate the seasons and events, so we don’t enjoy the celebration nearly as much as we should.  But what we must always bear in mind is, that all these seasons and events are fundamental to our Christian beliefs.

Without these foundational events we would, as St. Paul wrote, “be pitied most above all” (1 Corinthians 15:19).   Another problem we have in these great Christian faith festivals, is that we celebrate some of them too soon.  For example, in 7 short weeks we will begin celebrating the Advent season.  We know we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas ‘til December 25th.  Yet, with the stores already putting out Christmas decorations and advertisers already talking about Black Friday, so it’s hard not to jump ahead.  We must remember that Advent is a season of preparation; a season of waiting; a season of getting ready for celebrating the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In fact, at the heart of each of the church’s major festivals is the dynamic of preparation, of waiting, and that’s what I want to focus on today.  So for the next few moments, let’s put our first and second lessons together so that we can anchor ourselves in God’s word, and we can hopefully gain a better understanding of the importance of waiting.  There’s a sense in which the history of Israel really is a history of waiting.  Waiting primarily for the Messiah.  Listen again to the 9th verse of our Old Testament reading from Isaiah.  This is typical of the statements that are made throughout the Bible about who it is that the people are expecting.  “It will be said on that day, lo this is our God.  We have waited for him that he might save us.  This is the Lord.  We have waited for him.  Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9).

I could have selected any number of passages of scripture in order to describe this Messiah for whom Israel was waiting.  Certainly, one of the most poignant passages of waiting and preparation, is the 3rd through the 5th verses of our Old Testament lesson: “A voice cries.  In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.  Make straight in the dessert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up and every mountain and hill made low, the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”  The call of the prophet is one of active preparation, one of active anticipation.  It’s in this tradition of waiting that the story of Simeon is so powerful.

In Luke chapter 2 verses 25-35, we read about Simeon who was among what was called in Israel, the quiet of the land.  This was a group of people who had no dreams of violence and power as many people did.  They had no visions of armies and banners, but rather they believed in a life of constant prayer and waiting, a quiet watchful waiting until God should come.  So they spent their entire lives quietly and patiently waiting for the Lord, waiting for the Messiah to come and deliver.  So there he was, Simeon, in the Temple waiting, waiting for the Lord, waiting for God’s promise that he would not die until he sees God’s Messiah.  And that’s what the church seasons are all about.

We usually think of waiting as something passive; something that we must reluctantly endure.  But this morning, I want those images to be completely transformed in our minds, because I want us to see that waiting isn’t something passive, but as something very dynamic and very expectant.  When our waiting is dynamic and expectant there are rewards.  And that’s our theme today – The Rewards of Waiting.  The first reward of waiting is patience.  Patience.  Not that many of us have cultivated enough patience in our lives.  We’re more like the man praying to God, “Lord give me patience, but give it to me now!”  The truth is, our culture doesn’t lend itself to enriching this particular fruit of the Spirit.

Many of us are like that American tourist in Paris; he went into the Louvre in Paris and found the first curator he could find and shouted, Quick!  Quick!  Lead me to the Mona Lisa, I must see the Mona Lisa before I leave Paris, and I’m double-parked outside.  We don’t want to wait for anything, and that’s one of our major problems.  We’ve grown accustomed to express ways, fast food, and overnight delivery.  And if we’re brave enough to admit it, most of our children have been given way too much too soon, and that’s the reason they’re so bored; that’s the reason most of us are so bored.  We must acknowledge that waiting and patience are inseparable.  But patient waiting is too often misunderstood.

For most of us, we wait with anxious dread, and that’s a mistake.  There’s something we’re waiting for, but, but we have reservations as to whether it’s going to actually become a reality or not.  This isn’t Christian waiting and patience.  One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 40.  Listen to the first four verses: “I waited patiently.”  Get that?  “I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear who wait, and put their trust in the Lord.  Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust” (vs. 1-4).

When we make the Lord our trust, our patient waiting is without reservation.  We have nothing to fear in patiently waiting on the Lord because we can rely on God’s promise that He does hear our pleas, and He will answer.  Our problem is we forget God’s promise and we, in turn, become impatient, and that impatience turns to anxious resignation.  When this happens, we want to act, and in our acting, we can stall or prevent God’s plan.  I often see this when churches are in the call process.

It’s been some time since this congregation has gone through the call process.  But for those who can remember, you can recall all the hurry up and then wait parts of the procedure.  A representative from the denomination comes to talk with you.  They then schedule a future meeting to complete a workshop.  After the workshop is complete the call committee meets and works to complete a Congregational Profile.

Once that’s approved, it’s then submitted, and you wait once again for the Director of the Call process to send profiles.  You get profiles and more meetings are called to review those profiles and then interviews are set up.  Then you wait some more for responses and possibly even more interviews.  I think you get the picture.  The problem I see is when call committees and congregation get in a hurry and refuse to wait patiently on God to speak.  When impatience wins, oftentimes the called pastor isn’t a good fit and in less than 2 years, the congregation starts the whole process over again.  Possibly the hardest part of my job as Dean is getting the congregation to slow down and wait on God to act.  Remember Jesus Himself promised that He would never leave us, nor would He ever forsake us.  What’s that wise saying? “all good things come to those who wait.”

One of the most exciting stories in the Old Testament is in the book of Daniel.  It’s the story of the three Hebrew children; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Chapter 3.  You know the story.  The three Hebrew men had become rather prominent in the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, which made their Babylonian counterparts jealous.  The Bible tells us that they were not only faithful to the Jewish laws and traditions, they remained faithful to God even in captivity.  King Nebuchadnezzar had a golden statue of the symbol of the Babylonians made and commanded that everyone bow down to the statue, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused.

When King Nebuchadnezzar heard that these three Hebrews were refusing to bow down to the golden image that he had established, he called them in and said to them, if you continue to refuse to worship my gods and bow down to this golden image, I will throw you into the fiery furnace where you will be destroyed, “and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?” (vs. 15).  Now I don’t know which one of the three was the spokesperson for the group, Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego; but whoever it was came through with sound clarity, “Our God will deliver us, oh king.”

Starting in verse 16 we read, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to [the king], “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  No hesitation or resignation here.  Our God will deliver, but even if He chooses not to, we still will not be unfaithful to God.  That’s the waiting patience that God gives those who trust in Him.  There’s a second reward of waiting patiently, and that’s the reward of perspective.

Not only are we given patience, we’re also given perspective.  Again, there are ways to wait.  One way to wait is with a kind of blank stare, not knowing what to expect.  Another way to wait is expectantly, having heard the promise of the Lord, waiting expectantly for the Lord to do what He’s told us He’s going to do.  And when we wait in that fashion, we’re given a kind of perspective that comes with trusting in the Lord.  Now it’s easier to illustrate than it is to explain, so let me give you another example.

There are so many stories in the Bible of the results of waiting patiently on God, and also of what happens when we refuse to wait on God and take things into our own hands.  Of those many stories, the story of Abraham is one of the best.  At age 75, God comes to Abram and promises that if he will trust in God, God will bless him with descendants without number.  Abram trusts God and leaves his family and goes to the land God wants show him.  However, along the way Abram becomes impatient, and at the bidding of Sari, takes Hagar as his wife.  You recall the result.  Ishmael was born and trouble ensued.  Soon Abram was forced to send her and Ishmael away.  The problem is that decision to not wait on God is still causing problems for the Jewish people today.

The descendants of Ishmael are the modern-day Arab people, some of whom are currently attacking Israel.  Most of the time when we fail to wait on God we suffer in the short term.  However, failing to patiently wait can have far reaching effects well into the future.  It would take a total of 25 years for the promised son to be born to Abraham and Sarah.  It would take another 470 years before the Children of Israel would enter in and occupy the Promised Land.  God’s timing is not our timing, but God’s timing is always perfect.  Paul knew this and he is another example of a faithful disciple who waited.

Most of us can recall the trials of Paul and of his patience and perseverance.  In 2nd Corinthians 11, St. Paul summarized all he went through while serving God.  Starting in verse 23 we read, “Are they servants of Christ?  I am more.  I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move.  I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (vs. 23-27).  But Paul also knew the importance of waiting on God.

In our Epistle reading for today, St. Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Then down in verse 11 we read, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:4, 6-8, 11-13).

Abraham learned, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego trusted, and St. Paul endured all knowing that God’s way is the best way.   These examples of faithful followers teach us that when we wait patiently on the Lord, not only will God answer, but until He does, He will give us the strength, the patience, and the perspective we need while we patiently wait on the Lord.


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