2 Peter 3:8-15 – Patience in Waiting

I wonder how many of you consider yourselves patient.

I am sure that many of you have heard the brief prayer, ‘Lord, give me patience; and I want it now!’

Peter Marshall prayed,

‘Teach us, O Lord, the discipline of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work.’

Joyce Meyer says,

‘Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.’

But Pope Francis said,

‘This is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff. I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.’

Pope Francis gets patience a little closer, because Peter, in writing to the Early Church does not speak about humans being patient, he speaks about the Lord’s patience:

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)


Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. (2 Peter 3:14-15)

The Lord is patient with us in order that we come to salvation and because he is patient we have salvation.  Thank God for his patience.  Of course we should argue that if we are created in the image and likeness of God, if God’s nature is to be patient, then it is in our make-up to be patient as well.

There is a danger, of course, as American journalist Kin Hubbard recognised, ‘Lack of pep is often mistaken for patience.’  As we know from the gospel, God’s patient salvation was not without effort in bringing about his hope for our salvation.  Patience is not an excuse for doing nothing; it is bound up with the hope of the thing to be achieved, and working toward its achievement with endurance.

makrothumei – longsuffering, forbearing, patience – 3rd person, singular

Here Peter is telling each and every member of the Church that they are the object of God’s salvific patience.  It is not directed at the collective church, but each individual.  God has been patient with you in order that you may come to salvation and continues to be patient in order that others may come to salvation as well.

From the Old Testament we can understand God’s patience as his gift to us.  God acknowledges that we are sinful, that our humanity is corrupted by the sinful nature.  God understands that we are never going to be perfect.  This does not mean that we are not saved.  Instead God works patiently with us so that we can continually turn more and more toward God’s self.

We see this nature of God in Jonah’s response to the repentance of the Ninevites, he prayed to the Lord and said,

O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. (Jonah 4:2)

God’s patience is not just with the church, those who are being saved, but also with those who yet do not know him; and he sends his people to those with whom he is patient in order that they may come to his salvation because of his patience.  God does not hatch chickens by smashing the egg and we should beware doing the same.  What God has done for us, we should reflect for others.

Despite this acceptance by God of our corrupted human nature, as the Rabbis reveal, patience does not equate with lenient permissiveness; allowing us to get away with whatever behaviour we can imagine.  As Peter writes,

But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.  (2 Peter 3:13-14)

We are to attempt to live out our lives according to the promise, according to what we understand God has promised us, according to how we understand God to be at this point in time.  The word ‘peace’ here meaning secure in our relationship with God that he has patiently waited for us to have.  It is this that sees us as ‘without spot or blemish’; not that we are perfect, as we have already understood.  As I say, God looks at us through Jesus coloured glasses.

There is an old bumper sticker that read, ‘Be patient with me, God has not finished with me yet.’

In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant caught out owing his master ten thousand talents, he falls on his knees before his master, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” (Matthew 18:26) and his master showed him more than patience, forgave him his debt, which is of course the purpose of God’s patience.  However, when that slave went out and came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him money and was asked the same question, “Have patience with me and I will pay you,” (Matthew 18:29) he did not display the patience toward him that he himself has received.  For this he was accused by his master, being found, as Peter would have it, ‘with spot or blemish’.  What we have received, what we have understood, we are to display to others.  So Paul lists patience among the fruit of the Spirit.  (Galatians 5:22)

This of course may lead to that aspect of patience which is endurance, to which Jeremiah testifies,

  O Lord, you know;

  remember me and visit me,

  and bring down retribution for me on my persecutors.

  In your forbearance [patience] do not take me away;

  know that on your account I suffer insult. (Jeremiah 15:15)

Living with and in the patience of God for us and for others can be tough.   English clergyman, Richard Cecil, said ‘God’s way of answering the Christian’s prayer for more patience, experience, hope and love often is to put him into the furnace of affliction.’  We learn patience through the challenges that life throws at us.

Horst argues that patience is a central theme to Peter’s second letter.  He is explaining why the Lord has not returned in glory with the fulfilment of his kingdom as soon as they had expected.  The glass-half-full Peter is explaining that this is a positive thing because it allows time and space for others to turn back to God.

As we celebrate Advent, not just as our preparation for Christmas, but also as a foreshadowing of the preparation of the ultimate return of Jesus, there is a tension in our praying for Christ’s return.  On one hand we desire to see the kingdom fulfilled in his return, but we also recognise that there is so much more work to be done in enabling others to turn again to God.  We wait patiently, actively and with endurance until that time comes.

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Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Matthew 25:31-46 – Actions approved by motivation

Some time ago I was at a short conference at St Stephens Richmond titled, Open Space Technology.  When the advertising first came out I had rejected it simply because of its title; not that I am opposed to technology, in fact, I love it.  However, it was the Technology bit that confused me.  I tried to explain the conference to my colleagues at Deanery and the word Technology got in the way.

Having been at the conference I am more able to appreciate that Open Space Technology has less to do with the design of office space and more to do with group communication processes.

An Episcopalian, that is, Anglican, priest in the USA, Harrison Owen, noted when he was undertaking consultations within businesses, organisations and churches, the most significant and beneficial conversations happened naturally over tea or coffee or when people were having a meal.  Having undertaken research into this he developed a process to naturally inspire conversations that would lead to action.  Because it was observed and researched he called the process Open Space Technology.

A part of the Open Space is idea that the leader or organiser only acts a facilitator of the process but not a part of the process.  In this sense it is not consultation at all.

The important aspect of Open Space Technology is that it enables, through asking the right questions, those things that people are passionate about to be discovered and doing something accordingly.

I had the privilege of having breakfast with the conference convenor, The Reverend Michael Wood, Chaplain to the University of Western Australia; we were the only ones staying in the motel.  As I spoke about the work we were doing in here at St Stephens through our House Groups and Parish Community Growth Meetings and we realised that we were intuitively doing a rudimentary Open Space Technology.  Always encouraging when those things happen.

The most important aspect of Open Space Technology is the intention for it connect with the gifts and passions of the members of the congregation and have those gifts and passions expressed in mission and ministry.  We have all heard the saying, ‘The person with the vision gets the job,’ to which there is some truth.  The missions and ministries that are sustainable are those that are driven by our own desires.  One of the reasons that many mission activities fail, or lack endurance, is because it was the bright idea of the Vicar and we are being forced to do it.  The point here seems clear to me; it is not what we do in ministry and mission that honours God, it is why we do it.

There is something of this in the readings from Ezekiel and Matthew today.  Can I quickly make reference to the difference between the two stories of the sheep.  In Matthew there is a clear distinction between sheep and goats.  However, in Ezekiel both groups are sheep.  For Ezekiel he is talking about all God’s people, but there are some of God’s sheep who are oppressing others of God’s people.  So we have fat sheep, the oppressors, and lean sheep, those who are oppressed.  Ezekiel is addressing the injustice that is taking place amongst God’s people.

Is the Matthean Jesus reinterpreting this story?  Certainly the parable of the sheep and the goats is also concerned with justice and injustice.  Those classed as sheep are those who cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the unprotected, the oppressed and the sick.  We are told, they will inherit the kingdom of God.  Those classed as goats, however, are those who did not do these things, and they would not inherit eternal life.

We need to be careful here about how we interpret this story.  If we say we have eternal life because we do these things, then we are saying we are saved by what we do, and we know this is contrary to the good news of Jesus.

Firstly, it seems to me, this is saying these things will happen where the kingdom of God is present.  If we are in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of God is in us, we will do these things.

Therefore, it must be saying that it is not what we do that makes our mission and ministry acceptable, it is why we do them that makes them acceptable.  It is our motivation for what we do that leads our ministry and mission to be the things of the kingdom.

Why do we undertake mission and ministry, why do we think that every person deserves the same that we have?  If we know that God loves us and what God has done to express that love through Jesus, then we will know that God loves all people and wants the same for them that he wants for us.   This, for me, is the foundational motivation.

There is, however, a secondary motivation.  That is, God has created you and me with gifts and purpose and has given additional gifts for different times and seasons.  It is who we are created to be that gives rise to our passions and when we undertake the ministry and mission according to those passions we are energised by what we do.  It seems to me those who are sheep are those who are actively expressing the nature of who they are as God created them to be and these things will be consistent with God because we are created in his image and likeness.

The work of Open Space Technology is a process that is designed to help us to tap into our passions and, where those passions are shared with others, to work with them in implementing ministry and mission.  A part of the task of our house groups is just this; working out what we as individuals, or as a house group, are being called to do for the building up and expressing God’s kingdom as ministry and mission.

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1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 – Growth through destruction of peace

Three years ago as I was leaving to come into the office, somehow, I accidently ran over, or crushed between the car and the fence post, my dog Abbie.  For those of you who have met her, she was, as I wrote on my Facebook page,

the cleverest, friendliest, loyalist, most patient, humble and compliant pet.  She never complained about what I fed her, it didn’t bother her that the housework wasn’t done, she didn’t mind if I came home late without letting her know, she didn’t mind if I had to work on weekends, she didn’t mind if we didn’t go out anywhere, and she was overjoyed when I came home.

The result was a decision to have her put to sleep due to her injuries and the probability of success of surgical intervention because of her age.  I have lost the best material example of God’s unconditional love and I have been surprised at how devastated I am.

In the midst of this, the words of the letter to the Thessalonians ring true for me,

“There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them.[1]

In the comfort I have been feeling in my personal life and my ministry among you at this point in time, this event, this disaster, this devastation, comes and shakes that peace and security.

Some may say that God has caused this to happen because I have become comfortable.  Others may use words that reflect that sentiment.  Both these things I find inconsistent with my understanding of a God who is just and merciful.   Things do happen that break into that peace and security, but those things just happen.

However, when those things happen it is worth asking the questions, ‘What is this devastation telling me about myself and how I understand God?’  ‘What is this destruction revealing to me?’  ‘What is this crisis encouraging me to do?’

Last week you will recall that the context of the letter to the Thessalonians is concerned with waiting for the Lord’s return that has not come as soon as they were expecting, says,

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,  who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.[2]

We are to allow these devastating, disastrous, disturbing occurrences to build us up and to build one another up.  This is the stuff of discipleship, and Jesus commission in Matthew’s gospel account to, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…’[3]

I wonder whether this is also the major point of Jesus’ parable of the, so called, talents.

The Religious Instruction curriculum used this story two weeks ago for the purpose of encouraging the students to think about their own and fellow students’ unique talents.  This is a worthy life skill to teach the students, although, if you ask me, it is a complete misinterpretation of the parable.

One of the issues they raised in the consideration of the story was the inequity of the distribution of the funds, one gets 5, one gets 2 and one gets 1 talent.  This, too is an interesting observation on the parable, however, I wonder if that, too is missing the point.

Note, if you will, the response of the wealthy man when calling his slaves to account.  Both the 5 and 2 talent slaves in returning a 100% profit to their master were credited with the same,

Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.[4]

This, of course stands in contrast to the slave who received only 1 talent; afraid of his master, he simply hid the money and returned it with absolutely no profit at all

If any injustice was noted in the parable it is what the master did with that one talent of the lazy slave.  Instead of dividing between the two that had made 100% profit, and were credited for it, he gave it to the one had made 5 more talents; now having 11 talents in all.  But, then, you could argue that the money still belonged to the rich man and not the slave.

So perhaps it is the reason that the 1 talent slave did nothing but bury his allocation of the funds.  The slave declared what he believed about the rich man,

‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.[5]

There are two reasons that the slave buried his funds: what he thought he knew about the nature and character of the rich man and, because of that, he was afraid of him.  Perhaps these are the reasons that we may not do anything during our waiting for Christ to return because of what we believe about God and our resultant fear of him.  What if we get it wrong, what if I am not good enough, what if I do the wrong thing?

Both the letter to the Thessalonians and this parable of the talents are concerned with this time of waiting for Christ’s return.  Paradoxically, as the Great Commission tells us,

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age,

we are also waiting for Christ’s return and the fulfilment of the kingdom of God.  During that time, however, we are entrusted with a task.  As the letter to the Thessalonians tells us, I can’t help wondering whether the profit of the talents represents our building one another, and others, up as disciples of Jesus.  We are to go and make disciples, entrusted with this good news we have.

This is the work and method we are undertaking within our house and small groups.  Those things that come our way that disturb our peace and security are also moments when we can grow in our knowledge and love of God and, more importantly, as we prayerfully reflect, meditate, on our reactions and responses to them, learn about those things that are going on in ourselves.  Like the 1 talent slave, we are not to bury those disturbances in work, in busyness and distraction.  Rather, we are to let them have their profit in us, as we discuss them with others, in the light of scripture, in the conversation with God of prayer, to build us up so that we can build each other, and others, up in Jesus.

This is the nature of discipleship and discipling others.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:3

[2] 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

[3] Matthew 28:19

[4] Matthew 25:21 and 23

[5] Matthew 25:24-25

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