Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Waiting for God
April 19, 2010, 8:01 am
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: ,

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, 18th April 2010

You can hardly have avoided hearing that there is a new Doctor Who, even if you never watch the programme. Just over two weeks ago- on Holy Saturday- the new Doctor crash landed in the garden of a seven year old girl called Amelia. After promising her a trip in the TARDIS he leaves, saying he will be back in five minutes. Amelia packs her teddy bear, puts on a warm coat and woolly hat, goes out into the garden, sits on her little case, and waits. And waits. And waits.

TWELVE YEARS LATER the Doctor returns, having slightly miscalculated the time. After saving the world (for the millionth time) he departs again for a “short run”. This time it is TWO years before he returns. Amelia (now grown-up Amy) is beginning to get annoyed.

Time passes. It is three years since I stood in this pulpit and preached about this Gospel, and I bet none of you remembers a word I said. Let me remind you. I wondered how the Apostles were getting on, two weeks after Easter. They had been given a message by the women on Easter morning to return to Galilee, where they would see the Lord. A week later, they were still in Jerusalem, trying to sort out Thomas’s difficulties. I speculated that Peter had decided that there was no question of leaving while Thomas refused to come. But as soon as Jesus himself had compassionately removed Thomas’s doubts, they must have set out for the north, probably to Peter’s house in Capernaum. And there, it seems, they stuck. Jesus had promised that he would be back, but he had not said precisely where, or precisely when. All they could do was wait.

How long, precisely, we are not told: but when Peter says “I’m going fishing”, he sounds as if he means, “I’m fed up with doing nothing.” So seven of them set out in Peter’s boat, and at dawn (when they have caught nothing) they hear a shout from the shore. It was probably still too dark to see who it was, but they follow the advice to cast the net, and lo and behold! A great catch! John suddenly realises that it is the Lord, Peter jumps into the lake, and they all have breakfast.

Waiting for God. Is not that what human life is? God never seems to be in a hurry. The Old Testament records many promises of salvation, of the coming of a Messiah, but thousands of years went by before the earliest ones were fulfilled. When the Messiah finally came, he was not exactly ready to start work on the spot: he came as a baby, and thirty more years passed before he began his ministry, with three more years wandering up and down Palestine before being killed.

Strictly speaking, his saving mission was complete at the moment he passed through the gate of death, but he made his friends suffer a good forty hours of grief before returning to them. Again, strictly speaking, he ascended and sent the Spirit as soon as he rose on Easter Day, but he still waited forty and fifty days before manifesting those realities to his disciples. And despite his promise to return “soon”, nearly two thousand years have gone by and we are still waiting. Why?

Part of the trouble is that (quite naturally and understandably) we tend to measure time by our own life-span. Children find waiting far harder than adults do, because a week is so much longer to a child than to a grown-up. And the modern world is particularly prone to rush, to want things at once, yesterday preferably.

God’s timing seems to be geared to our need for preparation or assimilation of what, from his point of view, is timeless and eternal. Thirty years of hidden life, because that is the human scale- the Messiah was to be a mature man, not a child prodigy. Three years of ministry, so that those he gathered round him could really get to know him, in such a way that when they met him again in his new existence they could be certain it really was him. Thirty-six hours of grief, to convince them that he was really dead, followed by forty days to convince them that he was really alive. Human beings need time to absorb, to digest. God makes us wait, because what we rush we do badly, or do not appreciate.

On the seventh day, God rested: that is a poetic way of expressing the fact that God’s creative work has a goal, a state of fulfilment. God is “I am who am”, while we are “becomers”, not yet what we will be. To us, our life-story sometimes seems like that of the two tramps in Samuel Becket’s play who are waiting, not for God, but for the mysterious Godot. In each of the two acts, they stooge about, while nothing much happens. Will he come, or won’t he? At the close of each act, a boy appears with a message: “Mr Godot is sorry that he has not come today, but he will certainly come tomorrow.”

After the lakeside breakfast, Jesus gently questioned Peter about his love (his love, mind, not his faith). The Lord asks us the same question: “Do you love me?” He knows that we are weak, that we fail to trust him as we should, that we often cannot vouch for our confidence, our faith. But we ought to know whether or not we love the Lord. Questions about our faith are, in a way, questions about ourselves, whether we are prepared to trust. Questions about our love are actually questions about him: is he lovable?  Following Jesus is not just a matter of the head, of logical calculation. It is even more a matter of the heart, a desire to be close to him. Does his apparent absence pain us? Is the waiting irksome? I don’t know whether absence makes the heart grow fonder, but the absence of someone we love can reveal to us how much we love them.

Waiting for Godot- is that what our life is about? I’m not so sure. “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”- but when? Are we waiting for God, or is he waiting for us, waiting for our love to grow more perfect?

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