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How to Wait

Psalm 78:1-7 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
I don’t know about you folks, but waiting is a skill that I find incredibly difficult to cultivate. All of the bible readings for this week have something to say about being patient and waiting. (And in talking about waiting, I have chosen not to focus on the gospel reading about wise and foolish waiting, because otherwise I will talk for way too long! But I encourage you to explore that for yourselves.

Our baptismal family have been practicing waiting recently. Becoming a parent is a great way to practice your waiting skills. Whether you are trying to conceive, or you are pregnant, or you are waiting out approval periods for fostering or adopting - so much waiting! And then once the child arrives, a whole new set of waiting for them to grow into the person that God has chosen they will be. (Not to mention the waiting at doctor’s surgeries, emergency departments, school pickups, extra-curricular activities and so on). I swear, parenting is just one huge waiting session!

Waiting is hard work. We need to learn to wait, and our Psalmist knew that. “I will utter hidden things, things from of old – what we have head and know, what our fathers have told us!” Or in other words – “Lord, I suck at waiting. I need to be reminded of the stories of those before me who have succeeded in this waiting.” These stories of the people who have come before us are words which help us deal with our waiting. These God-stories give us strength when we think about our lack of control, and our fear of the unknown, when we are worrying about whether or not we are ready, whether or not we are good enough, when we are anxious about being prepared for what comes next.
Waiting involves many different emotions – it can be anticipation, wonder and eagerness. I know when I carried my babies under my heart, I was so keen to meet them. But waiting can also involve dread, agitation, fear, longing and loss.
I think about the people in refugee camps, and those imprisoned on Manus Island and Nauru – Behrooz Boochani recently described his life on Manus in these words: “There is a mood of death, a climate of death…Death is always ever so present. The breath of death. The scent of death. The reign of death over Manus prison. This is the reality of living out here.”

Our times of waiting are experienced differently, depending on what we are waiting for. Waiting is hard. My problem with waiting isn’t so much the feelings that happen while I’m
waiting, but the fact that I have a lot of trouble being content with the present. And I think that is a problem shared by the people of Thessalonica as well.
In his letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul is writing to a group of people who have only recently converted to Christianity. They are facing persecution because of their conversion, and there’s not a lot of external support around for them. The main thrust of the passage that we are focused on today is to provide some reassurance about the fate of Christians who die before Christ returns. (Remember, Paul and the Christians in Thessalonica all expected Christ to return in the very near future. They would probably be stunned by the fact that we are still waiting for Christ’s return in 2017!) Paul is writing to encourage these people in their waiting for Christ to return to earth. “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God”.

Given the 2000 years between us and the people of Thessalonica, I find myself thinking that the 2nd coming, Christ’s return to earth, is actually not really the point. I think the point for us is more in the waiting, and how we wait. And most significantly, perhaps what we are waiting for is for Christ to show up in our waiting.

There are examples of waiting which astound and confound me. I cannot begin to imagine the kind of waiting that is currently happening on Manus Island. The waiting and enduring that heterosexual Australia has required of the LGBTIQ+ community through decades of homophobic law and the disaster that the postal survey period has been appalling. When I think about the fact that yesterday was Remembrance Day, I think about the waiting of the millions of families whose precious people have gone to war. Where every day could be the day that you get the news of the death of someone precious to you, where the constant prayer is “Let them live today.” I can’t imagine waiting like that. Just like I can’t imagine waiting like the Christians in Thessalonica, waiting for the coming of the Lord. I’m not anticipating that Jesus will return in my lifetime. But maybe the preparation, the waiting will gain some meaning and make some sort of sense if I can trust God in the waiting, and then just live.
Whatever form the waiting takes, waiting is simply the reality of human existence. That doesn’t mean that I’m saying “This is how it is. Get over it”. Definitely not! What I am saying is what we choose to say and how we choose to be in the waiting matters. I think it matters for us, and it matters for God. “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord” is both a call for us to share our God-stories, and also a witness to what is possible and promised. There is a ‘next generation’. Yes, we want the wait to be over. But we trust and know that God will show up in our waiting. If we are waiting in fear, then our God-stories remind us that God will come to us with a spirit of peace. If we are waiting with anticipation, then our God-stories remind us that God will come alongside us to bring us joy in our present.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer in his Letters from Prison had this to say about waiting: “We have learned a bit too late in the day that action springs not from thought but from a readiness for responsibility”. As well as our role as spiritual beings that put our trust in God, we are also temporal and cultural beings – living in a time and place, living in Canberra in 2017. We have a responsibility to do things which bring the kingdom of God to the here and now, not to just sit like a shag on a rock, isolated, lonely or abandoned. We need to recognise God’s coming, and God’s presence and activity now, and co-operate with what God is doing now. We need to be wise to know how best to respond to the challenges we face, and we need wisdom and patience to keep going when the going gets tough. We need to recognise that God’s kingdom can arrive in subtle and unexpected ways. When we are wise we work through the wisdom of God’s perspective, and become agents of inspiration and hope in our communities. When we are alert and watchful for the signs of God’s coming in the lives of those we serve, we contribute to God’s kingdom where we are now.

Dr Philip Humbert challenges us like this. “What remarkable, extraordinary and amazing things will you do with this wild and wonderful miracle, your one and only life?” Or if we look at this another way, what will we do with the wild and wonderful miracle of our waiting? Well, there’s a great big, beautiful, broken world out there, brimming with people who need to know about God’s love and filled with possibility for mission and ministry. I’d like to challenge you to do three things in your waiting every day, which will bring purpose to your waiting.

  1. Inspire Someone
  2. Serve Someone
  3. Thank Someone

How you do those things will vary depending on your personal circumstances.

Points two and three are pretty easy. It’s not hard to thank someone who has done something to make your life better. It might be a little bit harder to thank someone who has made the lives of other people better – particularly if you don’t actually know them. But you can always write a letter or send an email, or you can make a donation to a worthy cause in the name of the person you want to thank and make sure they hear about it.
Serving someone – well there’s heaps of opportunities in this congregation to serve others. Being on the roster for the service, being on Church Council, working with any of the outreach activities, providing a meal or visiting someone who’s not well, and the list goes on. TUC is also doing stuff to serve those we don’t know, through our Emergency Relief hampers, Red Dove Clothing, writing letters for Amnesty and so on. But we can stretch ourselves a bit further on this. How many of us have made ourselves ready for responsibility, as Bonhoeffer encouraged?

Have we made a phone call this week to encourage our politicians to save the lives of those 600 men on Manus who are afraid, and who have no food, no water and no medication? Have we taken action this week to support homeless people in Australia? What have we done to encourage our leaders to take action on climate change, in order to protect the people who will be impacted by rising sea levels? Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:35? “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

But how will you inspire someone? We don’t have to be Deitrich Bonhoeffer or Mother Teresa to be inspirational. We just need to absorb a bit more from “the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done”, and to share what we have learned. We just need to live a Jesus life, to share our God-stories of what we have heard and known, to bring love, mercy and justice into our every day. This is how we inspire others in our waiting.

Megan Jackson

Megan Jackson has attended TUC since 1988.  She has been an elder, a Sunday School teacher and is currently deputy chair of the church council.  Megan assists in leading Rainbow Christian Alliance.

Megan and Doug lead worship at the later TUC service most Sundays, where they are blessed to share their gifts of music and song with the congregation.

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Comrie Street
Wanniassa ACT 2903

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Erindale Centre ACT 2903 

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About Our Church

Our faith community began in 1975 as a small ecumenical gathering of people who settled in the new Canberra township of Tuggeranong. We have grown with the Tuggeranong Community, and our parish centre is the hub for our work, as a place of worship, of gathering and ministry.

We aim to help people have life to the full. We welcome people into a our Christian community where they can connect with God, with one another and with opportunities to make a difference in our changing world.

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