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Waiting for the Strength to Climb the Mountain

Waiting for the Strength to Climb the Mountain
By Steve Plottner
Sermon delivered at St. John's Lutheran Church, Sunday, October 8, 2000

I am here today to speak with you, not as a political figure, for my focus this morning is not the government and there is a multitude of leaders and politicians who are more capable than I am in delivering to you words about their accomplishments or programs. And I do not come today to speak to you as a Christian, for the word is over-used, and bantered these days like a badge of pride. For many who call themselves Christians tell me it means they believe in God, and Scripture tells us that even Satan believes in God. Instead, I come to you this morning, a person who is in poverty and brokeness, who believes, but barely, that Jesus Christ was born, died, and was resurrected to redeem impoverished and broken people and save them from their sins so each can fully know the joy of God's creation and spend eternity with Jesus Christ and God the Father. My continual prayer is: "Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief."

Nowhere in Scripture do I find a more sobering passage than in Mark, Chapter 10, because I am divorced. Those of you here who are also divorced most likely share in the experience of being broken and in poverty from what I like to call "the never ending open wound." And yet, whether you have been married fifty years or recently divorced, what I know is that, as Scripture says, all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory, and man's righteousness is as filthy rags to God. Divorce, for me, serves as a continual reminder of my need for Jesus. It is He, Himself a Wounded Healer, who can close our wounds, not only from divorce, but from all sin that separates a person from knowing the peace that passes all understanding, which is the Spirit of the Risen Christ living inside you.

I am going to talk with you this morning about poverty and brokeness and making room inside your heart for the Risen Christ and His love by learning to wait on Jesus Christ. To do so, I'd like to read a portion of Scripture that is well-known, that perhaps is the antithesis of divorce, and is read at many marriage ceremonies, 1 Corinthians Chapter 13.

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not Love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not Love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not Love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, and is kind; Love envieth not; Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, Seeketh not her own, Is not easily provoked, Thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth: but whether there be prophesies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, Love, these three; but the greatest of these is Love."

I'd like to focus in on just one thing from this passage: Love is Patience. This is the normal attitude of Love; Love passive, Love waiting to begin; not in a hurry, calm; ready to do its work when the summons comes, but meantime wearing the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. Love suffers long; beareth all things; believeth all things; hopeth all things. For Love understands, and therefore waits.

Those of you who know me will know that I am not a patient man. And that waiting is very difficult for me. So I return again and again in my poverty and brokenness to this concept of waiting. I believe that to learn to wait on Jesus Christ is the hallmark of a Christ-centered life and will open-up a person's heart to his or her own poverty which will create space for Jesus to dwell and for love to live and for eternal life to begin. Jesus says in Mark, Chapter 10, several verses following the ones read in the Scripture reading today, that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God." Of course, there are many explanations for this verse from theologians and scholars, but I have a sense that the passage is talking about those who are puffed up with themselves and their professions or possessions, who are not poor in spirit. "Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God," Jesus tells us.

Poverty is a quality of the heart that makes us relate to life, not as property to be defended, but as a gift to be shared. Poverty is the constant willingness to say goodbye to yesterday and move forward to new and unknown experiences. Poverty is the inner understanding that the hours, days and weeks and years do not belong to you, but are the gentle reminders of a call to give, not only love and work, but life itself, to those who follow us and take our place, or to those we seek to love. He or she who wants to love is invited to be poor, to strip all illusions of ownership and create some room for the beloved inside. When our hands, heads, and hearts are filled with worries, concerns and preoccupations, there can hardly be any room left for anyone, stranger or beloved, to feel at home. There is no room for Jesus. Such a heart is like a New York street at rush hour, filled with so many cars that nobody can move, in which the automobile itself has stopped all mobility. Such a place is rich with occupation, with doing, yet it is literally "pre-occupied." To create a space in side yourself where Jesus can come, where love can dwell, means to stop relating to your life as a possession that you are obliged to defend at all costs.

Learning to wait with a quiet mind comes from being poor in spirit, from being broken and impoverished. To wait is to be poor. Waiting is a sign of poverty and requires patience. Who likes to wait? If you wait in a restaurant for more than two or three minutes until the waiter brings your menu, you say the service is poor. If you wait in line at the grocery store more than five minutes you feel hassled. Last week, I went to a restaurant and was told it would be a twenty minute wait to be seated. After twenty-five minutes, I was seated. Then the waitress told me that the restaurant was short of help and it would be at least thirty minutes from the time I ordered until I was served. I felt very angry. A science fiction writer once defined waiting. He said, "Waiting Is….." I like that. Because I have found that eventually waiting and silence go hand and hand.

Yet both go against the standards of our time, the rules of our world. The principalities and powers of this present darkness tell us that we've got to have it all and have it now. Blaring radio. And with incessant chatter. Constant television. And with non-stop images. Do you want it all? And want it now? Where is there room for Jesus Christ to come into your heart? A young couple I talked with the other day told me they were finally getting married after ten years of living together. She said she wanted to wait until they bought a beautiful home first. He wanted to make sure they had two brand new cars and high-paying jobs. Waiting. Do you wait for the Jesus Christ that way? Do you say, "Jesus, I'll eventually be committed to you, but first let me get rich. I'll eventually be committed to you, Jesus, but first let me retire with full pension. Jesus, I'll eventually be committed to you, but right now my own life comes first. The Israelites waited that way. When Moses was on Mount Sanai, the people of Israel got tired of waiting. Exodus 32 tells this account: "When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain the people gathered themselves together to Aaron, and said, "Up make us gods, who shall go before us, as for Moses, the man who brought us up out of the Land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him. " So they took their rings of gold and made a molten calf, an idol, to worship and feast upon its altar. They couldn't wait. They wanted it now. So they busied themselves and made a cheap imitation of God. They took matters into their own hands. "As for the idol," Isaiah says, "a craftsman casts it, a goldsmith plates it with gold, and a silversmith fashions chains of silver." We tend to wait in much the same way.

But our idols come in different shapes and sizes. We worship our television stars, our football heroes, our singers and performers, our automobiles, our houses, our 401K plans. And we busy ourselves with these things, perhaps to avoid God, or perhaps because we are preoccupied. There becomes no room. And the spiraling cycle of feeling empty but having no room helps us to avoid what deep inside we know as church going people we need most. The first chapter of Romans tells us that men know about God, for God made it evident to them. "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor him. God, or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man." Trying to out rush the death that comes from idolatry. Living lives filled with busyness. Busy to school, busy to get the driver's license, busy to commencement, busy to a great job, busy to marry, busy to retire; stacking together deadlines, commitments, and the constant noise of a world gone mad with busyness, to avoid feeling the poverty inside oneself, to avoid feeling the brokenness of being. The Israelites waited by busying themselves with meaningless things because they thought they had power within themselves to make those things, to make life, more meaningful. But God reduces rulers to nothing, and makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted but he blows on them and they wither. Those who do not wait for the Jesus, busy themselves with death, with little hope except for the faint well-wishing they can muster each day. Sometimes, even as we wait for Jesus, we get caught up in idolatry. And when He speaks to snap us back, we can't hear because we are so occupied with our own thoughts, our own strength Those who cannot wait love their own noise. It gives a sense of self importance. They bore through silent nature in every direction with the busyness of life, for fear that the calm might accuse them of their own emptiness. The urgency seems to give a sense of purpose.

Have you taken God on your own terms, fashioned an idol from your own strength, and started worshipping it in the name of Jesus Christ? Or are you too poor for such an offering? Or are you too broken for such an offering? Or are you too weak for such an offering? "He who is too weak for such an offering," says Isaiah, he who is too weak to fashion an idol from his own strength, "selects a tree that does not rot. He seeks out for himself a skillful craftsmen to prepare an idol that will not totter." That skillful craftsman is Jesus Christ and the tree that does not rot is the cross on which He was nailed for the sins of man. Waiting for the Lord means to admit your own weakness. You select a tree that does not rot, you select the cross. Jesus on that cross defeated sinful idolatry, he defeated the principalities and powers of this present darkness, and the infestation of death that we see daily in gossiping, whoremongering, cheating, stealing, manipulating, hiding, hating, divorcing; but mostly in not opening up and making room inside ourselves to let Jesus Christ into our hearts. He defeated death. There is nothing to be done but to create room for Him and wait for Him. But waiting at all is considered by most as weakness and noone wants to admit to being weak. "Men of action" get admiration. "He took matters into his own hands," is a mark of distinction in our day. Yet Jesus told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:10, "therefore, I am well content with weakness, for when I am weak, then I am strong. " Waiting is weakness. Waiting for Jesus Christ is to admit to the world that you cannot do it alone, you cannot take matters into your own hands. Yet waiting requires that you have a stillpoint deep inside yourself that cannot be taken in by the roaring world. The constant noise. The urgency. The now. That stillpoint is the tree that does not rot. The cross. Do you have that stillpoint inside you? And if you say yes, ask yourself, "Am I waiting for Jesus to fill me. Or am I busying myself with idols, crowding my heart with constant noise, cluttering my days with Christian pretense to get admiration from my friends and fellow churchgoers?

I have a closet in my office at home where I put a lot of stuff. There are old pictures, files, books, records. There are boxes of nic-nacs. An accumulation of my lifetime is in that closet. Most days, I set a briefcase in front of the door to keep it closed. I just can't fit another thing in it. Is my heart the same way? Is your heart the same way? Do we ask Jesus to dwell in a place where there is no room for Him? Are we clogged and cluttered with dead dreams, past sins, hurtful memories, bitter images of what we could have been, files filled with past betrayals, notations of unforgiveness, and the pains of pretending to be good and righteous? I urge you to unclutter your heart to make room for Jesus Christ and from the stillpoint of His Cross embedded in your unbelief, from the seeds of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13, I ask you to recognize your brokeness and poverty, and wait patiently for the Wounded Healer Himself to heal those never ending open wounds. He gives power to the weary, and to them that are weak he gives strength. Even young men will falter and be weary, and even young men shall utterly fall: But those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint.


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