One of the first times I ever preached at this church, at Christ the Lord, I did something that apparently wasn’t the norm here. No one ever called me out, but I realized fairly quickly that we don’t do this here. Here is what I did. I got up to the pulpit to preach the sermon and the last stanza of the hymn of the day was coming to an end and, as it did, I looked out at everyone – many of you – and I said, “please stand.” Now, where I grew up the pastor would often have the congregation stand just before the sermon and he’d reread a portion of the text and then would give his words of greeting and would then have them sit. It was sorta a chance for everyone to stretch their legs. Now, here at Christ the Lord we don’t reread the text before the sermon, and we don’t even always give you a formal greeting before the sermon. So, when I said, “please stand” way back in 2016 everyone stood up, and I realized I really didn’t have anything to say. So, I said a quick greeting and had everyone sit down.
Now, what does this have to do with James’ words here.? Well, James tells you and me to be patient. And, often, when we think about patience, we’re thinking like this illustration of the farmer that James gives in verse 1, how a farmer waits patiently to plant and to harvest. Right, You can’t plant too soon. You can’t plant too late, and you need to wait. Crops take time to grow. This is still true today. So, patience is certainly this idea of waiting for things that take time, but James’ patience is a bit more than that as we see in verses 10 and 11. There we find out that part of the patience James wants us to have includes perseverance. The Greek word there literally means to “hyper stand,” to stand up or stand your ground. You’re not giving up. You’re not giving in. You stand! The patience then that James wants us to have is a standing, a steadiness in the face of delayed gratification. That’s patience!
So, here is James and he wants us, he needs us, to be patient, but why? Well, some time ago I came across an article from Psychology Today and this article talked about how young people, more so people in college, were struggling with anxiety, and depression, and stress in just unprecedented ways. Young Americans, the author said, are not as resilient as they once were. The article said that. “…frustration will often catapult these people into crisis.” There was no middle ground for them. You’d be happy, things were going well, but then a frustration would occur, a boyfriend dumped me, or I got a bad grade, or someone said something triggering, and immediately these young people would fall apart because they’re missing something in the middle. Do you know what they’re missing? Patience. I read some more recent articles from Psychology Today and this problem has only gotten worse for young people, but I might argue that even we who are a bit older aren’t great at being patient.
And here’s the problem: our society, our culture does not help us in the area of patience. Today, technology allows instantaneous purchasing, communication, information sharing and, while great, today’s tech does not support patience, it actually confirms impatience. If Target can get me a toy for my kid in three days, but Amazon can get me that same toy tomorrow at the same price. I’m gonna pick Amazon, even though I actually don’t need that toy until Christmas. If we have a culture that does not create or respect patience, it can make real everyday life hard. Suddenly, frustrations and disagreements in life, as Psychology Today said, will catapult us into crisis. We fall apart. And, so, some of James’ advice here is actually quite practical.
Look at that farmer again, what does James teach us? That when you’re dealing with life, nothing worth any real value is instantaneous. Look, you might have some natural skill, or athleticism, or intelligence, but it takes time and work to enhance and improve those natural gifts. It takes time and effort to build a business. A worship life that will sustain and change you is going to take time. Dropping in once every few weeks or months isn’t going to do you a whole lot of good.
Another practical reason to practice patience involves people. If you move into verse 9, James doesn’t want us to “grumble against one another.” One reason people have difficulty with relationships is that, again, we are not patient. We don’t want to take the time to understand others, where they’re coming from, and why they think the way they do. We don’t take the time to love each other as God wants us to, and this leads to us lashing out against anyone who seems to think or act differently from us. When you learn to be patient, then you won’t be grumbling as James says here against each other, because you’ll take the time to understand each other.
Now, these first two areas of patience, you don’t necessarily have to be a believer to think, “Oh, yeah, that makes sense.” This last area of patience, however, is uniquely Christian. And, if you are able to stand in these moments, it will be that much easier to have patience in everyday life and with other people. So, where else does James urge us to be patient? In suffering. Suffering could certainly be those smaller problems in life, like my car breaking down, but perhaps more so the real tough moments in life, the diagnosis of cancer, or the death of a loved one. In all these moments of suffering, James tells us to persevere, to stand, to be patient. And, thankfully, he also teaches us how.
As an example of patience in suffering, James points to the prophets and to Job – interestingly enough I believe this is the only time that Job is mentioned in the NT. If you look at Job and the prophets, these guys weren’t stoic in their suffering. They didn’t just gladly accept their lot; they complained a lot But you know what else they did? They never stopped preaching and they never stopped praying. They didn’t look to themselves. They didn’t think, “I got to stand and get through this.” There was no inner poise here. There was simply a reliance on God to see them through those hard times.
Uh, go to our gospel lesson for today. There, John the Baptist is in prison, and he sends his followers to Jesus to ask a rather surprising question. On John’s behalf, they ask, “Are you the one who is to come, Jesus, or should we expect someone else?” That’s an interesting question coming from John. He was after all the one who prepared the way for Jesus and even baptized him. Yet, here John is in prison, life is hard for him, and it’s quite possible that he’s wrestling with some uncertainty.
You see, John knew what Jesus was supposed to do; he knew what Jesus came to do, but as he sat in a jail cell – well, even the prophets and Job had moments of doubt and uncertainty – so should it surprise us then if John did too? Should we be surprised if he was struggling with patience, if he was struggling to stand, to stand firm? But, look where he turned in this moment. He went to Jesus. And, in that lesson, Jesus assured John that the Messiah was at work. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Now, do you see then how you can be patient? How even you can stand? And why this is so important?
Roughly three times in our lesson James tells us that “The Lord is coming.” “The Judge is standing at the door!” James is telling us that someday, yes, God will come. Jesus will return! So, sure, right now, you’re sick, but someday you won’t be. Right now, injustice seems to go unchecked, someday it won’t. Right now, tears are in your eyes, someday those tears will be wiped away, but he’s not doing any of that now. Later he will come to do that. Later there will be that day of Judgment and restoration of all things, but not now. And that’s often the problem.
Right, “I know that God can work out all things for my good, but why isn’t he doing it right now? God, I know what must happen and you’re not doing it!” Wasn’t that the thought behind John’s question? “Jesus what are you doing? Why the delay?” And you see what this all is, it’s a lack of trust.
Anxiety, anger, impatience, all those things that will often rip you up inside all come to us because of an assumed omniscience. We think we know what must happen. We think this is exactly how it has to go. So, when our expectations aren’t met, it’s not happening that way, we doubt God has a plan. You see, in a way, as James is telling us to be patient, he’s also telling us that we don’t truly know what’s going to happen day-to-day. I don’t know what God is going to do in your life or how he plans to work that or this out in your life – I don’t! – and neither do you. Can you say that? Can you say, “I don’t know”? More importantly, can you be okay with that. Can you simply trust God?
In short, no we can’t and no we don’t. We are sinners, but that doesn’t make you any different than the prophets, Job, and even John. And, somehow those people are held up as examples of patience, so why can’t you be? You can, and here is how: James tells us at the end of our lesson that “the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
In Hebrews 12 verse 4 we read that “he, Jesus, endured the cross and despised it’s shame.” That word endured there is that same – hyper standing – that we’ve been talking about today. Jesus, in compassion and mercy, took on the cross. He took the fists and the jeers, and he endured; he stood there, and he took it. He wasn’t stoic. He cried out on that cross, but he trusted his Father’s plan of salvation. He was patient then with God, and even with other people, “Father, forgive them.” Why did he do it? For us, for you. Jesus saved you through his infinite patience, so now your sins are forgiven, and your heavenly Father can be infinitely patient with you forever.
So, when the judge comes, when Jesus comes again – and he will. You can stand. You can persevere, because you’ve experienced God’s patience, you’ve seen his compassion and mercy and you share in it. You live it, just like the prophets, like Job, and like John. Which means, in this life, frustrations and hardships don’t need to catapult you into crisis. No, instead let them catapult you to Christ. These are moments, opportunities, to grow closer to your God and also opportunities to help others come to know him too as they see you being an example of godly patience.
Be patient then. You don’t have to know how every situation in your life will turn out, sometimes you probably don’t want to know, all you need to know, all we need to know is that the Lord is coming soon and when he does, we will stand. You will join him in heaven because the Lord is full of compassion and mercy. “The blind received sight, the lame walked, those who had leprosy were cleansed, the deaf heard, the dead were raised, and the good news? Well, it continues to be proclaimed.” So, please, stand. God is with you. Let’s celebrate then our Savior’s coming birth and let’s wait patiently, but eagerly, for his coming again. Amen.