Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Living with patience"

Message preached December 12, 2004
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon James 5:7-11

Order of Worship

            In preparing this message, I considered reading aloud, as part of worship, James 5:7-11 in Spanish as practice for my upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic. Then I thought better of it. After all, how would most of you, who donít know this language, benefit from such a reading? The truth is, though, I chickened out. As Iíve already shared, the language barrier between us and the folks in our sister church in San Juan de la Managua, is the thing that has me most nervous about this visit. This week, I used the Spanish text of this passage of scripture as my base, doing a very rough, word-for-word translation of it - dictionary in hand, with a later phone call to Izzy Rosas to check my work. I feel like a child playing with fire.

            Learning a language isnít something you do overnight, you know. It took most, if not all of us years to figure out our own native tongue - how to speak English. The best way of latching onto a language is to be immersed in it, and from the moment we were born, thatís how it happened with each of us. Of course, we were learning other things along the way - the most rudimentary, but very important, stuff... Learning takes time and practice, a basic truth to which we might respond with one of the earliest syllables we each learned to speak: "duh!"

            It takes time, and the best way to learn is to be fully absorbed in the day-by-day process, living in the middle of it all, so to speak. A basic requirement is something called "patience." Now, one thing I learned as I compared the English and Spanish translations of this passage is that we talk about "patience" in slightly different ways. In nearly every English translation I consulted, this scripture begins with, or somehow includes this phrase: "be patient." This way of putting it is, as far as I can tell, how the text in Greek reads. "Patience" is something you are. To borrow from street slang, you "be patient."

            However, in Spanish (and this may be similar to other Latin based languages - Iím not a linguist, so Iím a bit rusty here) "patience" is something you possess. "Tengan paciencia," it reads. "Have patience." Thatís just how itís expressed in Spanish. Now, I donít wish to split hairs on what sounds like a very minute detail, but I wonder if noting this difference can help us grow when it comes to patience, something which is tested every day of our lives, and maybe especially at this time of year.

            Those of you who have been Christmas shopping know what I mean. Lines are longer, tempers are shorter. And you commuters, the weather as Fall shifts into Winter and ground and air temperatures may disagree, producing fog and other wonders of nature; you know about the need for patience. Otherwise road rage is the result. Furthermore, you of younger years, who canít wait for the holiday break, and the goodies that come with Christmas, you have to live with "patience," waiting (with all the patience you can muster) for the day to come.

            Is "patience" something we possess, or is it something we just are (or are not, if that be the case)? Do we "have patience," or do we "be patient?" Donít get me wrong, I donít want to get technical here. I actually think we can learn from both ways of talking about patience. Please "be patient" (or "have patience") with me as we explore what it means to live with patience, guided by brother James here.

            It may be helpful to put this scripture in context. Immediately before this discussion of patience, James has some harsh things to say to those who very comfortable with an abundance of possessions. Earthly treasures decay, he says. It doesnít last. Not only that, but being too connected to all your stuff "will eat your flesh like fire," thatís what he says (5:2). Ouch! The rich people James speaks of are those who mistreat those under them. The inadequate wages paid to these workers "cry out," and the Lord of hosts hears them. A day is coming, James says, when accounts will be settled, when wrongs will be made right, and the rich will "weep and wail," something they are anticipating even now as all their "stuff" increasingly wears them down.

            Now, before we quickly jump over this uncomfortable territory, placing ourselves in the category of those who are not "rich," we must pay the piper. Comparatively speaking, we are the rich folks in this world. I donít mean to throw a wet blanket over your Christmas shopping, but many of our "bargains" come at the expense of workers elsewhere who are not fairly paid. We benefit from the misery of others. I know, we could get into some good arguments over that, but the point is - we need to understand that some of our "weeping and wailing" over higher prices and longer lines is connected to our possessions possessing us, the richer folks in this world.

            "Be patient," or "have patience," James says. Only, in his letter heís talking more to those who have come up on the short end of the stick, who arenít the rich folks, who "cry out" for justice, wondering "how long?" Thatís an important distinction we need to make. When weíre talking about "having" patience, as our Hispanic brothers and sisters put it, itís not a matter of possessing one more "thing," adding it to our already overcrowded stockpile of stuff. I donít think thatís what the Spanish way of putting it means, but maybe itís good that our English rendition says it differently, for we need to hear it differently.

            James connects "being" or "having" patience to three illustrations. The first has to do with farming, the second with the Old Testament prophets, and the third with the well-known Bible character named Job. Letís start with him. You may recall that Job was tested by Satan with Godís permission. He may have once been on the richer end of things, but by the time Satan is finished his testing of Jobís faith, this fellow has lost everything. Every "thing" that may have had some meaning for him is gone.

            Now, reading this sad story - and it is a depressing book which asks why bad things happen without giving an obvious answer - from the Hebrew portion of our Bible, we may wonder how Job expressed his proverbial "patience" of which James writes. If anything, he is inpatient with the Lord, wanting God to answer his main question, "why did you allow this to happen?" Jobís friends, in fact, are a bit put off by Jobís impatience, warning him to shut up about it before the Almighty gets angry.

            We need to understand that James was dealing with the "legend" of Job more than he was referring to the Old Testament book. In the legend around this character, "patience" was the hallmark, as Job endured all the bad stuff that happened to him, before God rewarded his faithfulness by restoring his wealth. Still, there is something to be learned about patience even from the book. "Waiting" in faith for Godís justice to prevail doesnít necessarily mean just doing nothing. "Patience" is not necessarily synonymous with being "passive."

            Take Jamesí first illustration. In it, he tells of how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth to grow toward the time it can be harvested. With patience the farmer waits for the rains to fall in season, something which is beyond his control. However, does the farmer just sit around and do nothing while he waits? I have yet to meet a lazy successful farmer, friends. If anything, the farmers Iíve known have been some of the busiest people around, working from sunrise to sunset. Itís hard work. It requires, however, a firmness of faithful waiting that sees long range rather than short term. Yes, this Fallís hurricanes in Florida may have damaged the crops, causing the price of tomatoes and oranges to go up for us, but there is always the next season for which to prepare. Itís the cost of working the land, something less about possessing or controlling the elements, and more about living within them.

            "Have patience," James says to those who wonder when justice will prevail, when God will make things right, when the Lord will come and judge the earth. The other illustration James uses pools together the prophets of Israel down through the years who spoke in the name of the Lord. Need I remind you that the sins they railed against more often had to do with the unjust dealings of the rich over the poor. Those who have power donít need patience ... or do they?

            Patience is not about doing nothing, though sometimes doing nothing is the best thing we can do."Be still, and know that I am God!," the Psalmist wrote, encouraging us to take notice of this about the Lord: "I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth." (46:10). Having patience has more to do with having a sense of perspective. All of our possessions, as well as all of our activity, falls under the sovereignty of God. A mistaken notion thatís often built into the creed of our everyday living is that we are in control. We own stuff to make life easier or to make us happy, only real happiness doesnít come from our possessions which often end up possessing us. We fill our lives with activity to give the illusion that weíre making a difference, only when all is said and done, we wonder why we wasted so much time on plain, old busy-ness.

            Patience involves God in the everyday. Thatís where growth happens, you know. God is involved in the sowing and reaping of the garden of our lives, day in and day out. God is in the words we speak. How much of it is "in the name of the Lord?" I donít mean dropping Godís name constantly into our communication, I mean speaking with the awareness that the Lord is very near, part of our conversation, how we relate with one another. God is also involved in our perseverence, as we seek to not be so chained to the present that we forget to see that this moment is not all there is. There is a purpose, even if we donít know what it is right now.

            To have patience, to be patient, is to be driven by this larger purpose. Do we possess it, or is it something we just are? I couldnít say. I do know that, like learning a language, the best way to grow is to immerse yourself in it. It takes time and practice. Duh! Of course! "Advent," by the way, is not about sitting around doing nothing until Jesus returns. It about stepping into the advent-ure of faith, immersing ourselves in the soil of our daily life where patience grows and bears fruit.

Have ... be ... live with patience, brothers and sisters.

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see James.

©2004 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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