The flight was delayed because another flight had been canceled. The passengers at the gate became increasingly impatient as the wait dragged through the afternoon. Finally one angry passenger pushed his way through the crowd at the desk, slammed his ticket down and said, “I must be on a flight and in first class, now!” The airline clerk, trying to be nice said, “Sir, we will get to you as soon as possible, but you must wait in line like everyone else. He responded, “Ma’am, do you have any idea who I am?” Without hesitation, she smiled, picked up the intercom and said, “We have a passenger here at the gate who does not know who he is. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to gate 17.”
That’s a pretty good way to break tension. I suspect most of us dislike waiting as much as the man in the story. Let’s hope, however, we all have better manners. Waiting is part of modern culture. As recently as 1775, the most exhaustive dictionary of the English language, did not include any word describing standing in a line. Only as the industrial age began, did waiting enter humanity’s consciousness in such a way.
Not long ago, Timex, the company known for their watches, conducted a study of waiting. The results, Americans spend, on average each day: 20 minutes a day waiting on a bus or train; 32 minutes waiting at the doctor’s office; 28 minutes in security lines each time we travel; 21 minutes waiting for significant other to get ready to go out, (notably a gender was not specified!); 13 hours annually on hold for customer service; 38 hours annually waiting in traffic, and 50 if living in a big city. Over a life time, this adds up to six months of living in a queue!
The impact of waiting and our adversity to it has transformed countless aspects of our culture. Consider, the concept of “fast food” as compared to restaurants that cook food slow, the old-fashioned way. TV diners were created for those who couldn’t wait through the effort to prepare a meal. Credit cards have great appeal because we can buy things without having to wait until we have saved the cash to afford something.
What’s your antidote to waiting? When headed to the doctor’s I carry a book or journal to read. Millions connect pull out a phone or IPad when in a queue, all to pass some part of those six months we wait.
Well, while waiting may seem a modern construction, scripture reminds us that waiting is part of our calling as disciples of Jesus. Hebrews 11, another of the readings for today, names those in the “hall of faith” who had to wait for the promised blessings of God. Their wait was even longer than we would like to contemplate- they were still waiting when they died. They are still waiting!
Jesus calls his disciples to wait, for his return. If we think the six months of the Timex study was excessive, the faithful of the church have waited for 2,000 years!
The twelfth chapter of Luke is about stewardship. Last week we addressed the stewardship of our possessions Now Jesus turns to the stewardship of time. His guidance is for how we might view and use time as we live into God’s abundant life on earth, while waiting for the completion of God’s kingdom.
So, if we have to wait, we better make sure we have decent strategies, otherwise we might end up with an airline clerk showing our impatience for all to see.
Jesus lays out three elements involved in waiting, three descriptions of the readiness for and expectations of his return which we should be engaged in at all times. There is also a promise of blessing for those who wait and a warning for those who do not wait in readiness.
So we must consider the three key descriptions of what makes a good waiter: Preparation, Maintenance, Expectation.
Preparation of the waiter means readiness for action. Now, no one can stand at attention 24/7 waiting on some signal. Rather imagine a fire house where the occupants go about the daily business of being ready to be called out to a fire, they keep their equipment clean and ready, they drill, they eat, and fellowship and at night, they sleep. Yet when the alarm sounds, their gear is prepped and ready for them to jump into, the door to their vehicle, often propped open, and off they go.
Richard Rohr notes that the earliest writings of St. Francis noted, “you only know as much as you do.” It is an emphasis on doing a lifestyle of faith. A life of preparation. At every turn, we prepare by doing the things of discipleship. Caring, feeding, nurturing the poor, the orphan, the alien. That is the prep work before us. It is beyond the reading of a book or playing a computer game while you wait.
The second aspect of a good waiter, maintenance, is keeping the lamps burning. Without street lamps or porch lights in Jesus’ day, when one returned home after dark, it could be just that, dark. A good servant kept and ear tuned for the sounds of the master’s return, lighting a lamp at the first sound of an approach. Think of the new parent, with one ear always on the baby’s slightest night whimper.
Or again, the fire house, where the routine is keeping the gear ready, cleaned, oiled, coiled, ready for whenever it is needed.
Third, the good waiter is as a devoted servant, eagerly awaiting, anticipating, the master’s return, as if from a wedding banquet. In other words, from a joyous, festive occasion. Such that on return, good feelings wash over the household.
Preparation, maintenance and expectation. The marks of a good waiter indicate that our waiting means engagement with the life of being a disciple. Rohr reminds us that the tension of waiting is best embraced as practicing faith, rather than believing faith. Which is to say, faith as a belief system can be a very static thing. You accept this as truth, you don’t accept that as truth, and that is the end of it. However, is faith is practice, well then, we are back to the fire house, everything that is done, is work to keep us prepared for the moment we are called by the alarm.
So it is with waiting on the Lord, everything, we do, and make no mistake, there must be doing -feeding, giving, caring, nurturing- is our task as disciples in waiting.