Second Sunday of Lent - Return To Me: Wait For It
This series is inspired by a phrase that is found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures--a phrase that is closely connected to repentance but is also much deeper and all-encompassing than mere penitence.
The key verse for our particular journey, however, comes from Joel 2:12-13, which reads:
12“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.” 13 So rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving devotion.
I've always been moved by this passage, mostly because of the way verse 13 starts off, "So rend your hearts and not your garments." In other words, don't go through a big show of your piety, when your heart still might not be in the right place.
And so this series will help us retrace our steps back to faithfulness, and enable us to discover the meaning of true repentance for the things we've done and left undone that have strained our relationship with God and others.
Today we're going to be talking about how our return to faithfulness requires trust and patience in the midst of seasons of challenge. We're going to hear an exhortation from Scripture to "Wait on the Lord," and we'll also talk about how waiting on God to do what God does is so hard for us sometimes.
But first---I'd like to talk about the Psychology of Waiting.
I don't like to wait for things. I'm not especially good at delayed gratification. I'm terrible at gift-giving because I want to give people gifts before their birthday or Christmas---I just want to see their reaction, and I hate waiting to see it.
I also don't often back my Jeep into a parking space---even though as a Jeep owner I'm compelled to do so.
Don't get me started on waiting at the DMV or in long lines at the H-E-B.
Not many of us like waiting, and here's why.
Psychologists teach us that when we are forced to wait in line, or we are waiting for a response, a callback, or to find out news whether it's good or bad, time actually seems to pass more slowly mostly because we are inactive, or we're focused solely on the thing we're waiting for.
When we are forced to wait with not much else to do, we become more aware of bodily issues, and our constraints within the waiting. Time drags when we're waiting because our brain perceives it as dragging.
But when we are engaged in an activity, when we are non-anxious about our waiting, when we are active either in mind or body---now that's a different story.
Time seems to fly by, anxiety is reduced, concerns seem to fade, we focus not on our constraints but on our lack of them. Our mind becomes occupied with generative, productive things that make time seem to pass more quickly.
When you are having fun---time passes at a breakneck speed.
When you're not---it feels like it lasts forever.
This is why waiting on God is such a troubling thing for most of us. And by waiting on God, I mean waiting on revelation, purpose, direction, answers, peace---whatever it is that we are looking to God to grant us as we pray or wonder.
I've had moments in my life where I have prayed so fervently that God would intervene, that God would resolve my confusion, alleviate my heartbreak and pain and there is nothing in response but silence.
And so I waited and waited... growing more desperate, more anxious, more depressed, you name it.
What I often struggle to do in those moments of waiting is to look back on my life and remember the times when God seemed to show up right on time, when I was saved from the things that were troubling me, or saved from an outcome that may have made my life a lot harder.
We all have a tendency to do this, don't we? We have short memories in the middle of life's trials and tribulations about all of the other times in our lives when God arrived and rescued us.
So today we're going to be taking a look at one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 27. And we're going to learn what it means to be saved, and also what it means to wait on God in ways that are generative, engaging, and faith-building.
This is the one thing I want us to focus on today... WE MIGHT THINK WE’RE WAITING ON GOD, BUT GOD IS ALWAYS RIGHT ON TIME
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When the wicked advance against me
to devour[a] me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
3 Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.
4 One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.
6 Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.
7 Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
8 My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.
13 I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
First, let me talk a bit about the structure of this Psalm. Scholars claim that this is a strange combination of a Psalm of Trust (a kind of prayer that reminds the hearer/speaker of all the reasons they should trust God), and a Psalm of Lament (where the hearer/speaker is reminding God of God's faithfulness even in the middle of tragedy and trial).
This strange combination becomes something interesting, however: An Oracle of Salvation.
That last word needs some unpacking---Salvation. In the Scriptures, Salvation equates with Life As God Intends It. Salvation is an intervention that makes life possible in the face of all that threatens, weakens, and corrupts life.
This is not about going to heaven when you die. In fact, almost the totality of Scripture says nothing about going to heaven when you die in relation to the concept of salvation. In fact, it's quite the opposite. God saves so that we can begin living eternal life now... and then.
This Psalm has a couple of words in it that are part of some older Hebrew literature, specifically Genesis, and the story of Abraham. The word used here for "confident" is also the same word used for "believe" and is the same word used to describe what Abraham did when he was called by God to leave his homeland and go to a place where God would tell him to go.
He was also told not to fear, which we see echoed here as well. The author of this Psalm wanted to convey a connection to the kind of faith that it took for Abraham to do what we did---to trust God even though he was being compelled to do something when the outcome was not known.
In Israel's society, the courts had no attorney to prosecute or defend, or judges to ensure fair procedures. Witnesses played a dominant role. A false witness violated one of the Commandments. You had to appeal to God at the shrine or claim sanctuary at the shrine.
This is why the speaker seems to long for the sanctuary---a place of refuge from the slings and arrows of those who surround him with evil intent.
The speaker wants to convey that our relationship with God is more sure than any other relationship, and we are right to trust in it. Trust is active and real precisely when one is aware of one's vulnerability, of one's helplessness.
Also in this Psalm, the author's "one thing" is this: continual and unhurried abiding in God’s beautiful, wise, and holy presence. This is what he’s seeking. This is what he wants more than anything.
At the end of the Psalm everything comes down to this one verse:
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.