2 Peter 3:8-15 December 7, 2014
As a parent driving down the road on car trips there is nothing more annoying than those faithful words, “Are we there yet?” The words that echo from the backseat as if it were the Grand Canyon absorbing a choir yelling “Are we there yet?” This faithful call from the backseat of the car is trying to figure out when the next step of the trip will come. It is frustrating because in the front seat we know that “we will get there when we get there.”
As a teenager I had the opportunity through the church to travel throughout Montana and Wyoming for youth events. My friends and I were from all different parts of Montana and Wyoming, so we would only see each other at these meetings. That meant that along with the work we had to accomplish each day that sometimes we would stay up all night talking and enjoying each others company.
As soon as one of us would mention the need to sleep in order to drive home one friend would say, “Oh come on, Jesus is my co-pilot.”
Our scripture today comes from 2 Peter and it is a message to the Christian people in the early 2nd century. For many early Christians the second coming of Jesus was supposed to happen quickly and Jesus was to replace Rome and bring in the New Kingdom of peace with justice. However, this had not happened in the way they had all imagined. People were beginning to struggle and question if it would ever really happen. 2 Peter is a response to this struggle and I invite us to all listen to the words that brought comfort to Christians of the 2nd Century.
2 Peter 3:8-15 Common English Bible (CEB)
8 Don’t let it escape your notice, dear friends, that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day. 9 The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will pass away with a dreadful noise, the elements will be consumed by fire, and the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed.
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be? You must live holy and godly lives, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming day of God. Because of that day, the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt away in the flames. 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
One line in our scripture reads, “You must live holy and godly lives, waiting for and hastening the coming day of God.” For many Christians I believe we have often focused on the “hastening” and less on the “waiting” end of that verse. As if we are the kids in the backseat of the car yelling “God are we there yet?” or “God are you here yet?” There are consistently groups of Christians trying to find ways to excite people that the end is near; the world is about to be overturned by God. It happened at the turn of the 20th century, the turn of the 21st century, and even when people decided the Mayan calendar was important again and 2012 was the end.
However, I don’t think it is just extreme Christians who rush the coming of Christ. Everyday Christians rush it as well. We rush it when we wish this moment would just end, so we can get to the next. Instead of us hoping to make the best of the gift of this moment, we teach this hastening to our children during the Christmas season when we hone in on Christmas as the overarching day of the season, instead of asking us all to live fully each day leading to Christmas. By quickening the pace we actually miss the point of Advent. The point of advent is we should prepare patiently for God to be born into our lives at every moment.
I love this clip that Pastor Brian Zahnd shares on Advent. As we prepare for God’s love to be born to us, the wisdom of the Advent season is patience. The other two lines to pay attention to in our scripture are long before hastening “…that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day.” “The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but patient toward you…”
We are called by this season to a term that has been extremely helpful in my faith practice, “Holy Urgency.” Holy urgency is the sense we have when we are excited about what is to come, but find the wisdom of patience to look for the kingdom of God in every moment or season of our lives.
The kingdom of God, or “the Empire of Christ” that Brian Zahnd talked about is an image described by the prophets of the Bible, share by Christ, and it is what the Christians of the second century hoped for. The early Christian community was hoping for the end to the violence of the Roman Empire, to be able to worship God instead of Caesar, and to be able to be living in a kingdom where righteous actions were the goal. The coming of Christ was centered in the hope of a loving kingdom of God coming and the earth being made new for good. Quite literally the early Christian church was called to have Holy Urgency that they would be ready for this glorious change in the workings of the world.
Advent keeps happening though, and the ultimate change did not come and has not yet been fully realized. Each year at Advent we seek to see hope that God’s kingdom might be realized and in the celebration of Christmas we remember it is born into the world in small and surprising ways.
As we entered advent this year the grand jury rulings in two cases have recast our national attention to race. Protests about the Ferguson verdict are happening throughout our nation and I have caught wind that a candlelight vigil is happening tonight in Helena. The most adamant opposition to these protests that has been vocalized is, “We no longer live in a racially unjust nation, so what is this all about?” I think this concern comes from the hope that we had moved beyond race in our culture. It comes from that same yearning the prophets felt. The prophets hoped we could live in a more just world centered on God’s love.
A United Methodist pastor in Kansas City, Adam Hamilton, interviewed several African American couples in his congregation inquiring what they felt the recent protests and push for change was about. These are people who come from all socio economic backgrounds too. Some are executive at Fortune 500s and just like many of us live and work to make a living. From the interviews it was clear that many of them were mixed about the Ferguson case, but they shared that many of the feelings around the protests come from things their current and past experiences that brought race issues back to the forefront.
Race unfortunately has not left our country. Pastor Adam shared stories from the people he interviewed to highlight this reality.
One couple he shared had been moving into one of the towns near his church. As they unloaded the moving van, taking boxes into the house and empty ones out, a patrol car pulled up. The officer got out and asked them to demonstrate that they were the owners of the house.
Another shared the reality that most African American parents share with their sons that they need to be extra careful not to goof off around authority. Stating that unlike their white peers, it can result in their injury or even death.
The executive of the Fortune 500 shared that when he was pulled over one time he saw the officer unsnap the strap that goes across his holster…just unhooked it as he approached the car. When the executive asked the officer about his reason for this the response he got was, “I will ask the questions here.”
Pastor Hamilton, who is of European decent, says, “I have been pulled over several times in my life for plenty of good reasons. Never have I seen an officer do this.”
I found Adam Hamilton’s sermon in a message he sent to his congregation this week saying, “Police are not bad.” He reiterates over and over again that police are not the problem. Many of our police and law enforcement are the best people I know. They are people dedicating their lives to helping keep our communities safe.
In Portland about a week ago there was a protest in response to Ferguson. A young boy named Devonte Hart went to protest holding the sign “free hugs.” He knew he wanted to be at the protest because he didn’t like the idea that a young black man was at risk just walking the streets. Devonte who was young didn’t know exactly why he was there, except something needed to change.
As he stood, scared with tears in his eyes, a motorcycle police officer named Sgt. Bret Barnum motioned Devonte over to him. He shook Devonte’s hand and said, “Why are you here?” Devonte shared that he was there, mostly he was sad about national events, and he didn’t want the things that happened in Ferguson and Staten Island to happen to kids like him. Sgt. Barnum apologized to Devonte that things like that happen and vowed to not have that happen on his watch. Then noticing the sign that Devonte had now dropped, he said, “Can I have one?”
God wants us to climb in the front seat and stop yelling from the back, “Are you here yet? Are we there yet?” God wants a co-pilot in helping get us to the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ teachings remind us that we are children of God, but that we are called to work alongside God to share love. The story from Portland of Sgt. Barnum and Devonte is a great example of us climbing into the front seat and working with God. When we break bread and share in the experience with each other, then the healing can begin.
Many of you know I grew up in Helena, and I grew up at this church. Somewhere in that growing up was planted in me a seed that I should be wary of dark strangers on streets. It was an idea deeply planted in my being and I don’t think there was any person who planted that in me directly.
I shared in a sermon last spring that during a walk through Denver I acted more defensive when a black man walked by Crystal, my friends and me. The man called me on it. It was an act of defense based on assumptions that had been ingrained to me. It is something I personally am going to have to work on in order for race to no longer is an issue for me.
In the case of race our call is to not be defensive, but instead to be like God. To be like God and Christ we have to risk being vulnerable with one another. Being vulnerable like the Christ child who was born and the Jesus we know who walked among us. God through Christmas dared to meet people where they were. There is plenty of change that needs to happen and it requires us patiently seeing moments to share hope in the small moments of life. Sgt. Barnum and Devonte both chose a moment to do this. There will be moments in all of our lives to take part in simple acts like this. To share hope with each other we have to risk the encounter with each other.
Jesus wants to be our co-pilot in this Advent journey, but we have to be patient and we have to listen. It is about haste to reach out when moments of love are in front of us, and patience to listen when the people are hurting.
The call of Jesus in this advent season is that we seek ways to birth hope into this world through small acts of love through vulnerability. To challenge the brokenness of this world by climbing into the front seat and joining God in guiding our world down the road with Holy urgency and patience. God patiently sits next to us as we beg the question, “Are you here yet?”