Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 9, 2020
Greetings of peace, wholeness and serenity to us all. For, in the time of pandemic, these are the virtues that serve us best.
In doing my part to stay home, I’ve found myself recently ordering groceries, small household needs and even ‘big ticket’ items more and more online. I’m sure you’re all doing the same thing – keeping the Postal Service and UPS on the ‘frequent visitors list’ of your home. One part of this ordering and waiting that has fascinated me lately, is the speed at which it all happens. There have been times when I’ve ordered something on – say – Wednesday morning, and the item arrives at my doorstep before 10 a.m. Thursday morning. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Some of us remember ordering things from the Sears catalogue – by mail or by phone – and the last bit of small print on the order read: “Please allow four to six weeks for delivery.” And we’d be thrilled!
The immediacy of today’s online order for tomorrow’s delivery still seems like science fiction to me. I understand (in part) the logistics of making such an event happen, but it doesn’t take away the thrill of it all. Have you noticed that there’s the additional ‘bonus’ of getting several emails about your order, telling you first, that the order was received? Then, in a few hours later, another email arrives that tells you your order has been processed. A few moments later, a notification tells you your package has been shipped. Then, first thing in the morning, you get another email informing you that your package is on the truck and to expect its arrival before noon!
Is it me, or is there a hidden intent behind all those emails? Does each one of them, when it arrives in your mailbox, send a resurgent flick of excitement about the impending package? They each remind you of when the package will come; what day, what time, and sometimes where it will land on your front porch!
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that these emails and the speed by which they arrive at your front door, are all reinforcing how easy this all is, how convenient it is and, by the way, wouldn’t you like to try it tomorrow? I have found myself disappointed in the process on those days when I get a confirmation of my order and I am told the item will arrive ‘in three to five days!’ Now, this is where it gets really ‘wonky’ for me: upon receipt of that email which notifies me of the delay, I become a little irritated and super-observant of my email inbox. Sometimes I feel like the RCA Victor puppy (I know this dates me, but I’m happy to explain to anyone who wants to know) as I stare at my email box waiting for that delayed promise of “it’s on the truck.”
While the engineers and CEOs of these companies have found the benefit to Americans of the quick delivery system, I wonder if getting us accustomed to this sort of immediacy is having a detrimental effect on us.
What is the impact on us when, for example, we expect something very important — with no indication of time for its arrival (or resolution) — and which causes us to be in a (seemingly) perpetual state of waiting? What happens to our patience, our endurance, or willingness to “put in the time” for the long-awaited, promised delivery? Does this kind of ‘forced delay’ cause us to lose hope, to forget about the promise, the go-on-with-life as if the “package” is never to arrive? I’m thinking today about two specific promises made to us.
First, I’m thinking of the promised resolution and end to the COVID-19 pandemic and its required quarantine, and what our expectations in this “delivery tomorrow” culture portends for us. I’ve been hankering for going out to dinner, for shopping in favorite places, for going to a movie. These impulses are like those emails that come so frequently and remind me that I don’t have long to wait! It is natural under any cultural conditions that we become weary of waiting, to lose patience, to want desperately for it all to be over. So, I’ve begun wondering if the act of waiting itself is being fanned into outright testiness and intolerance. The end of the quarantine WILL COME. Even the most pessimistic prognosticators will admit that. Am I prepared, however, to be patient and to keep doing what is being asked of me (keep a mask on in public, stay home if possible, limit non-essential contact with non-household members, etc.) until that day finally arrives – AND do it without the additional anxiety brought about by the expectation of quick deliveries?
The second promised delivery for which I am being called into patient-waiting is the promise of the full revelation of the Reign of God; the time on earth when there will be no more crying, no injustice, no poverty death or sickness. Granted, this promise has been around a lot longer than a few short months since the onset of the pandemic. In fact, it was given me at my baptism when I was 10 days old. The priest bathed me with shockingly cold water to awaken me to the profundity and beauty of the life that awaits me. He anointed me with oil that not only marked me as a sojourner on this journey, but one who was protected by a believing community who was searching and struggling like I would. He gave me a candle that promised to be the light of Christ leading my way through life to the promised Reign of peace and love.
At some point in my life I realized this promise was really old! It was made, not just 2,000 years ago, but at the beginning of creation. When the universe arrived with a big BANG, we were promised a dwelling place in a beautiful garden where we could live with God and be together in ultimate unity and at peace with each other.
Talk about a ‘delayed delivery!’ Talk about being weary with waiting, exhausted by the demands on our patience, and our ultimate hopelessness for the Reign of God! Is it any wonder, then, how easily we get distracted? Instead of a pure focus on the impending Reign of God and our role in ushering it forward, I find myself becoming busy with being physically comfortable, making sure I have enough things to distract me, and with the desperate search for the world’s best coffee!
I do not intend to impart shame or to point out our folly, people of God. As I have become more impatient in my life with waiting and irked by delays in the fulfillment of these impending promises, it occurs to me to ask, “How am I keeping focus on what is important UNTIL delivery (of the COVID vaccine or the Reign of God)? How do I not let the waiting become a burden? How do I live anticipating what is to come yet fully alive to what is possible for me now?”
Scripture tells us that the answers to living in the interim (perhaps in ANY interim period) ought to include: living with joy, with passion, seeking justice, exercising mercy, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor and the suffering, comforting those who mourn — and telling everyone about the good news of how close we are to what was promised!
I have found that when my life is occupied more by these acts, waiting for something to arrive or for a promise to be fulfilled seems both unimportant to me and the passage of time becomes very quick.
During these days of quarantine, it is an act of purest creativity to find ways to employ these deeds while maintaining recommended personal distancing and staying at home. We have been pushed into maintaining relationships on the phone, using internet virtual applications, and even writing notes to each other and sending them in the mail (gasp). Finding pathways to joy and passion might be hard to find but let me recommend a recent activity in which your Bishop’s Committee participated. We were given a piece of religious art — a crucifixion scene — and asked to make close inspection of it. Then we shared what we thought were the feelings, perspectives and fears of the people pictured in the art, and then our own feelings about the scene. How amazing it was to hear other perspectives, other insights that any one of us alone would never have contemplated. We came away from that experience knowing the piece of art even better, but also loving each other in greater ways.
This is just one example, but what we make of our time in the midst of waiting can be very rewarding. Changing focus from the uncomfortable pangs of anticipation, to engaging in acts of healing and wholeness, passion, love, and joy will get us all to our objectives with much less anxiety in our hearts and in what will seem much quicker.
I encourage you in these days to make time for these activities; you and your spouse, your family, those you love. When you catch yourself wallowing in the morass of what seems to be endless waiting, turn to action. Call someone. Mail a postcard. Share moments of exploration with others. These are the places and times God is closest to us. These are the time we can catch glimpses of the Reign of God and become more excited by what is happening now than what might be arriving on your doorstep tomorrow morning!
Remember that we are celebrating Eucharist at the Church on Saturday evenings in the fountain courtyard. Reservations are necessary and can be found on our home page at www.StJohnsRSM.org. Registration for August 15 opens Monday morning at 9 a.m.
While we observe the shelter-in-place guidelines, St. John’s is worshiping online via ZOOM:
• Sunday (worship bulletin for August 9), Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we pray Morning Prayer at 9 a.m.
• Nighttime Prayer is prayed on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
• Bible Fellowship (open to all) continues on Wednesday evenings at 6 p.m.
To ensure participants’ online security, we don’t publish the Zoom link; if you did not receive the church-wide email from Rev. Christopher and Rev. Karen with the links, and would like to attend services, please email me and I’ll add you to the e-blast, and send you the links.
We’ve posted all Zoom services since mid-March under the “Miss a Service?” button on the website’s home page. Search for a service you missed and get caught up. Go have a look!
My ZOOM office hours are Tuesdays from 10-11 a.m. Here’s the link.
Please remember The Reverend Karen in your prayers as she takes time off. For her refreshment and rest, we pray.
Blessings and peace to you, Christopher+