A teacher was helping one of her kindergarten students put his boots on. It was getting frustrating. Took much pulling and him pushing – finally the one boot went on. By the time she got the second boot on, she had worked up a sweat.
She almost whimpered when the little boy said, “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.” She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as they worked together to get the boots back on — this time on the right feet.
He then announced, “These aren’t my boots.” She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, “Why didn’t you say so?” like she wanted to.
Once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off.
He then said, “They’re my brother’s boots. My Mom made me wear them.” She didn’t know if she should laugh or cry. She mustered up the grace to wrestle the boots on his feet again.
She said, “Now, where are your mittens?” He said, “I stuffed them in the toes of my boots.” Now that is one patient woman!
James tells us to be patient, like a farmer and wait for the precious crop. Waiting for the coming of the Lord – not grumbling against one another; rather showing endurance.
Patience, patience – one of the “gifts of the Spirit;” an expression of one of the classical cardinal virtues (soph-RO-sune – forbearance, temperance, self-control)
But, oh my, it is difficult to cultivate, maintain, live out of a grounded patience. I don’t have the time! As Erma Bombeck once noted: “At my age, patience is not a virture…it’s a luxury.”
And there is much to be impatient about – I get impatient with stupidity, my own and others, with injustice – I don’t think God wants us to wait. Sometimes the call to wait is an excuse for inaction! I find it hard to be patient with those who blame God for the problems of the world.
The Greek word used is macrothumia which comes from two Greek words: “macro” which is “big,” or “long”; think of macro-economics (the large view of economic systems) and “thumia” which comes from “thumos” “temper.” So the word translated “patience” is really about controlling your temper. It is having a “long-temper” as opposed to having a “short temper.” And we all know what that is. We know people who have a short temper. You may recognize that in yourself.
To be patient in a Christ-like way is to cultivate – like the farmer, like the prophet, like a parent – taking the long view of things. To take the long view of things means that you realize that something more is coming, you are not ultimately stuck in your rut, it is not all up to you. And if you trust that there is something more to come, that “it ain’t over ‘till it’s over,” then you are in touch with Christian hope that realizes “nothing is good or bad, until God gets through with it.”
It means even in the most trying times: when your child does not seem to be getting it (whatever the “it” is) that there is still tomorrow. It means even in the face of injustice, there is reason to go down to Olivet and support Greater Cleveland Congregation.
Just because today nothing much seems to be happening, (in fact, today, after yet another shooting, it may seem as if we are going backwards), change is happening.
But Christian patience is related to hope – we cast our fortune with that which we may not be able to see, but we trust is happening. Even as we face death, there is this patient hope that there is something beyond that which we see, because we trust God.
We can take the long view. We can be long-suffering, as some older bible translations have it. We can be long-suffering because there is indeed something beyond the present suffering, the present madness, present sadness, beyond the present darkness.
James Russell Lowell, the American poet of the 19th century, touches upon this concept of hopeful, indeed energized, patience that sees beyond the present into that which is coming, in his poem on Columbus.
In this poem Columbus is mired with naysayers – and he utters:
One day more
These muttering shoalbrains leave the helm to me:
God, let me not in their dull ooze be stranded:
Fortune’s full sail strains forward!
One poor day!– It is God’s day,
A lavish day! One day, with life and heart,
Is more than time enough to find a world.
Last week, Amanda Osenga – who as many of you know used to work at this church – led the Confirmation retreat. In speaking to the group, she shared with us the nature of growing bamboo. Did you know that when you plant bamboo it takes three or four years for the plant to actually grow up. BUT, in those three to four years, the roots are growing down, establishing themselves, so that when the time is right the above ground growth begins.
This speaks so well to what you and I must be doing as Christians: cultivate the soil of prayer, of patience, of faithful waiting, of thoughtful action, of compassion for others, being rooted in faith, keeping hope alive, doing what you have to do but knowing it is not all up to you. We plant trees in patience trusting that growth will come in us and others. Patience well rooted leads to community – we are not alone.
As the Greek proverb has it: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
This speaks to the impatience of our own age – as we want what we want now, not later. We take the short view, and have short tempers, lose hope in tomorrow and feel alone. Impatience is costing us, you see, our hearts and souls.
As St. Francis de Sales once wrote: “Have patience with all things but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your imperfections but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.”
When you cultivate patience and till the soil of hope – taking the long view you discover endurance – you can persevere. You must persevere.
This is very related to the words of St. Paul in Romans 5: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand… and not only that but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.”
Let me close with a story from the Talmud (the collection of Rabbinic stories and interpretations of the Hebrew Scripture). There is a story of the wise man Choni who was journeying and saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked him, “How long does it take for this tree to bear fruit?”
The man replied: “Seventy years.”
Choni further asked him: “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?”
The man replied: “I found already grown carob trees in the world; as my forebears planted these for me, so I too plant these for my children.”
In godly patience you and I cultivate a community of compassion, of hospitality, of character and endurance.
We do not give up as we await the coming of the Lord in his own time and in his own way.
We baptize babies and pray that the parents will have patience: oh, what a journey you are on Christy and Abel; take the long view!
God is patient with you, so be patient with yourself, and with others as you help them put their boots on!