“Thank You for Waiting” 2 Peter 3:8-15 12/10/2017
You need to call customer service. So you tap in the number and wait. Then there’s that voice. “Thank you for waiting. Your call is important to us.” You hear those words and you know you’re going to be put on hold. Often, the robot voice will tell you how long the wait time is expected to be.
“The waiting is the hardest part,” sang Tom Petty in his hit song with the Heartbreakers in 1981. Back then it was certainly true that waiting was hard
Imagine, for example, waiting in the waiting room of the doctor’s office with no smartphone and only some outdated magazines to peruse. You would’ve had no contact with the world beyond that antiseptic, boring room until you were mercifully called back to the examination room where you would wait some more, this time without magazines!
Today, we have multiple entertainment options right at our fingertips to keep us occupied while we wait. But despite all that technology, waiting is still hard.
- We wait at airports (security lines, boarding lines);
- we wait in waiting rooms;
- we wait in traffic;
- we wait at the post office;
- we wait at the bank;
- we wait for a human when calling customer service;
- and of course we as a congregation wait for the new pastor!
Every stage of our lives involves some new form of waiting.
- When our children are tiny, we wait for what appears to be years for a good night’s sleep.
- When our children are toddlers, we wait eagerly for the time when they will no longer wear diapers, can take a bath on their own and get dressed by themselves.
- When our children are teenagers and driving, we often wait anxiously until we hear the front door or garage door close and know they are safely home.
- And at any stage of life, we can experience waiting for the results of medical tests. This kind of waiting is perhaps the hardest of all. A weekend can seem like an eternity if we are waiting to find out whether a tumor is malignant or benign.
Waiting presents an enormous challenge. We tend to be impatient, “I-can-fix-it types of people” … but not all situations can be fixed. We assume that everything in life can be made better by taking action, but sometimes it just isn’t so.
In Scripture, to wait is to be active, to do something, something very important. In fact, it is the most important thing we do, since waiting is an expression of faith, of being open and receptive to God; receptive to God’s action, to God’s voice, to God’s will, to God’s answer.
To wait is to be patient, which literally means “to suffer,” or to be acted upon rather than acting; to be receptive to the action of others. To wait and to be patient is to trust that God is at work even if we can’t see or understand what God is doing at any given moment of time.
All of our waiting usually causes some level of distress, and to wait without distress requires patience. But having patience can be as difficult as waiting. One source says that patience is the “quality of being willing to bear adversities, calm endurance of misfortune, suffering, etc.”
The word patience comes directly from the Latin patientia, meaning “endurance, submission” or literally “suffering.” Ambrose Bierce, in his whimsical book, The Devil’s Dictionary, defines patience as “a minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.”
- No wonder, then, that waiting is so difficult.
- It requires that we be patient, that is, that we suffer to the point of despair.
- Who wants to do that?
And so we wait throughout our lives … and our patience runs thin.
But what if the wait time is going to be longer — like, maybe, a couple of thousand years? That’s the dilemma the early church was facing after Jesus’ ascension into heaven (Acts 1:1-11). Jesus had promised to return, and many in Christian community believed that return was imminent.
As time passed in that first century, however, and as persecution of Christians intensified, the waiting became the hardest part for the early Christian community which was slowly being called the church. In fact, some were beginning to question whether Jesus would return at all. That’s the situation that is addressed by the Apostle Peter in this letter.
This letter, which is a follow-up to the first letter that bears the name of Peter, reads more like a theological instruction manual than a typical epistle & for good reason. (v.1) In the first letter, the writer encourages the church, which is being pressured by external forces, while here in the second letter the writer addresses the problems arising from internal sources — namely, false teachers who were skeptical about Jesus’ return and whose teaching thus encouraged looser ethical and moral behavior. (2:15)
This letter reminds the church that Jesus will, indeed, return as promised to bring justice and abolish evil, ushering in the new creation, and that the way they conduct themselves as they wait for Christ’s return will have implications for eternity.
Peter understands that the waiting is the hardest part, but what seems like a long, slow waiting period for Christ’s return is actually a gift from God. The Lord is not slow or tardy, but rather extends his own patience to allow time for people to “come to repentance” (v. 9). The “day of the Lord” is coming like a “thief” and on that day the deeds of all on earth will be “disclosed” as if cleansed by fire. (v. 10) Fire is a common biblical image for judgment.
In the short-term (even if it’s a long time), Peter asks, “What sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness?” (v.11). A new heaven and new earth are coming in which “righteousness is at home” so, what should we be doing while we wait? (v. 13).
The short answer for Peter is that those who follow Jesus Christ should begin living the righteous life of the future new creation as though it has already arrived. There will be a period of waiting, but it’s not to be a passive one in which we, like the disciples at the ascension, keep staring up at the sky waiting for the Lord’s arrival. (Acts 1:11). Instead, Peter says that there are certain things we should “strive” to do while we wait.
If we look closely at the message of 2 Peter as a whole (all 3 chapters), we discover a list of at least five things we can and must do while waiting for the new Advent:
First, remember what God has done through Jesus Christ.
Peter opens the letter by reminding his readers of the faith that they received “through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (1:1)
That’s a powerful witness to the Incarnation – that Jesus is both God and Savior. Peter and the other disciples were eyewitnesses to the Incarnation of God in Christ, remembering the voice of God during the transfiguration proclaiming, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (1:17)
As we celebrate the season of Advent, it’s a chance for us to remember again that God has come to us in person in Jesus Christ and, in doing so God has confirmed the truthfulness of God’s promises toward us. The Lord for whom we wait is always true to his word!
Second, grow in the image of Christ. When Jesus returns, Peter urges his readers to “be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.” (v. 14)
In fact, this was the way we were meant to be from the beginning when we were created in the image of God as told in the Creation Story in Genesis.
What does it mean “to be created in the image of God?”
- Ask yourself, “What is the image of God in the Creation Story?”
- The image of God in creation is that God creates.
- Therefore “being created in the image of God” means we are invited to be co-creators with God.
We became subject to “corruption” because of human sin, but because of what Jesus Christ has done in his life, death, & resurrection we can once again become “participants of the divine nature.” As it says in chapter 1 of 2 Peter. (1:4-5)
Peter urges us to make every effort to support our faith in Jesus Christ through acting out the virtues of goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection and love (1:5-7). This is what Peter means by living lives of “holiness and godliness” — lives that look more and more like Jesus. (v. 11)
Third, dig deep into the Scriptures. Peter and the other disciples had seen all the promises of the Scriptures confirmed in Jesus.
In chapter 1 of 2 Peter, Peter encourages his readers to dig deep into the Scriptures and be attentive to them “as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” (1:19)
In a world where everyone is ready to overload their phones & computers with information and opinions from the internet, Scripture calls us back to the truth of God revealed by those inspired by the Holy Spirit. We must always be prepared to compare the words of others to the Word of God.
As Peter puts it, “You should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles” (3:2). When we engage the Scriptures daily, we galvanize our memory of God’s Word and more consistently live it out each day.
Fourth, pay attention to what it is that masters you.
In chapter 2:19, Peter criticizes those false teachers for promising freedom while being “slaves of corruption” and then he makes a poignant statement: “People are slaves to whatever masters them.”
That’s a great question to ponder as we move through the Advent season, “What is it that masters us, controls us, and owns us?” Is it power, riches, security? How about your attitude or behavior? How about fear, anxiety anger, jealousy? Do they control you? As Bob Dylan once sang, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Who are you serving?
Fifth, use your time wisely. Peter urges his readers to “regard the patience of the Lord as salvation.” (v. 15) In this intervening period as we await the return of Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity to use the time God has given us to share our faith with others.
Peter, like the apostle Paul, spent every waking minute looking to share the good news about Jesus with anyone he met. The two of them did it with a sense of urgency in anticipation of Christ’s coming.
According to Peter, Paul’s writings may have been hard to understand and were vulnerable to being twisted by the ignorant and the devious, but they were nonetheless powerful because they were designed to impact others with the gospel (vv. 15-16).
As disciples of Jesus we recognize that God has given us time to spread the word about Jesus; to work for peace & justice; to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and protect the vulnerable. We need to use this time wisely. The waiting might be the hardest part of being a Christian, but it’s also the most important part.
God has given us the tools and the time to bring the good news to the world in anticipation of a Second Advent – the return of Jesus Christ. We don’t like to wait. But wait we must. So let’s wait well.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, December 2017
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 12-10-17” name of the sermon.