WAITING AND HASTENING
Wait for the Lord
Prepare the way of the Lord
My brother-in-law and I agree that waiting for our wives is something we agreed to do in our marriage vows, when we said "for better or worse." I do not know how many hours of our lives have been spent in waiting for them to get ready to go out or waiting for them to finish shopping. Yes, waiting for wives is just how it is and prospective husbands had better get used to the idea. But we also spend much of the rest of our lives waiting. Waiting in queues and lines, waiting for doctors and dentists, waiting for visitors, waiting for holidays, waiting to hear the bell ring for chapel. Some years ago Isobel wrote this poem:
I operate, from deep within,
On the premise that each minute counts,
It should be productive,
Idleness is not allowed,
Never waste time,
So what to do with waiting?
And so much of life is waiting,
At the airport, at the doctor,
For assistance on the phone,
For friends who are always late,
For a message from a loved one.
Is there a secret, a magic formula,
To transform the irritation,
The anxiety, the frustration,
Into time of worth and value?
If so, please let me know.
I don't have an answer to Isobel's question, perhaps a question we all ask, but I suspect that when God designed us he decided that waiting should be part of the human condition, and that it would be good for us. To be human is to wait, to be a husband is to wait, and then the Bible even tells us that we have to wait for the Lord. Maybe God operates on African time, not according to Swiss Rolex watches. Like any master craftsman, God takes time to produce his masterpieces. Patience is the name of the game as all craftsmen and women know.
Now I can almost hear our good friend Theo Krynauw, the mastermind of Sparklekids, crying out. Surely we cannot wait any longer. We have to get on with it! We can't sit around waiting for the kingdom of God, we have to act, help the poor and needy. What the church needs is not bums on seats, but feet on the ground doing what is required of us. The patience of the poor is running out. They have been waiting on the Lord and on us for far too long. The time for action is now. The kingdom may eventually come, but we don't have time on our hands to idle away waiting. Just get on with it! Is not today the day of salvation? Is not the "now" the time for action?
So are waiting for God patiently, and acting now, urgently and passionately, opposites? Is African time good and Swiss time bad, or Swiss time good and African time bad? Does God only want us to wait for the kingdom to come, or does God want us to act now in ways that will hasten its coming? ? Is this not much the same as we talked about last Thursday: contemplation and action? We need to be silent and we need to struggle; we need to pray and we need to do justice; we need to take time off and we need to start working, we need to be both Mary and Martha. This is the rhythm of Christian living and discipleship. Patiently waiting and passionately striving. The two need each other, belong to each other, can't function without each other.
One of my favourite passages in Bonhoeffer's writings is where he talks about the relationship between the ultimate and the penultimate. Let me explain what he says. There is a great deal in Jesus' teaching about waiting patiently for the coming of God's kingdom, which only God can bring about, and only God knows when and how it will happen. That is part of the mystery of God's kingdom -- it is not ours to control, manipulate or bring into being. We have to wait for its coming with patience. It is the ultimate, beyond our control. The kingdom will come in God's good time and way, not ours. But at the same time, Jesus tells us to take care of the poor, seek his justice, and generally get on with doing those things that need to be done. And in doing this we are witnesses to the coming kingdom.
The people asked John the Baptist if he was the one who was to come. He told them that he was not. But he was one preparing the way, and thus making possible his coming.Like John the Baptist we are preparing the way for the coming of the king. This is all in the penultimate, it is here and now, it has to do with our actions, our doing. But it is connected to the ultimate, to that which is coming and for which we wait patiently. To act now for the sake of the kingdom is to hasten its coming.
Waiting and hastening, praying and doing what needs to be done, patience and impatience, the ultimate beyond our control, and the penultimate that has to do with the choices we make and the actions we perform here and now. And because these witness to what is coming, to God's peace and justice, we prepare the way for the coming of God's kingdom. That is why nothing we do that expresses the good news of Jesus, not one act of love and compassion, not one visit to a friend in hospital, not one protest against injustice, not one letter in support of a worthy cause, not one act of generosity, not one AHA moment or support for Sparklekids ... not one is lost, not one is of no value. For they all hasten the coming of God's kingdom simply because God is at work in and through us weaving our acts into his design for the future.
Let me leave you with these words by Karl Barth, one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century:
We are content to await God's time, yet filled with the impatience of God himself that his kingdom should come. (Action in Waiting, amended, p.12-13)
John de Gruchy
Volmoed, 25 June 2015