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Abundant Patience, Compassion, & Mercy
12.4.22 [James 5:7-11] River of Life (2nd Sunday of Advent)
May the God of all comfort, comfort and sustain you as you wait for his return. Amen.
So much of our world and our lives is geared around eliminating our need to practice patience. Countless industries have jumped through hoop after hoop so that their customers don’t have to be patient. If they force their customers to be patient, they’ll lose that customer. Someone else will come around and give them some version of what they want without making them wait that long.
Of course, all of us are likely to point the finger at the warehouse giant in our midst: Amazon. Prime shipping has rewired our culture’s concept of patience. But we ought not blame Jeff Bezos for creating this impatience monster. He simply capitalized upon it. To keep up, grocery stores, restaurants, and all kinds of other retailers carved out prime parking spots for pick-up customers.
But it’s not just purchasing goods that has kowtowed to our impatience. Entertainment is now totally on-demand. We expect communication immediately. Think about how much the family Christmas card has changed. It used to be one of reliving the past year with your family & friends. Now you can scroll through their social media feed. Today, it’s nearly unthinkable that you would take a bunch of pictures, drop your film canisters off at a developer and wait a few days or weeks to see how they turned out.
Even the last bastion of patience has fallen—medicine. For a long time it seemed as if the medical community was the one industry that was going to make you wait whether you liked it or not. There are some medical things you still have to wait for. But even they are giving in. You can check in to urgent care without leaving your home. You can video-chat with a doctor for many matters. You can have prescriptions written for you without ever sitting in a doctor's office.
It seems, as a culture, we have eliminated the necessity of patience. Yet, despite living in a world with so instant gratification in every area of life, so many people are still deeply unhappy and disappointed. Maybe it has not been good for us to eliminate so many patience-building opportunities and practices? Maybe God is wise in telling us to be patient, in forcing us to wait for what he promised but we don’t yet have, in developing our character and our faith?
There have been many servants of the Lord who have been called to exercise great patience and tremendous perseverance. Abraham waited a long time for a son. The nation of Israel waited a long time to be freed from slavery. David waited a long time for the royal throne.
But today, I want you to consider Noah. Not just the floating, fuzzy zoo scene that comes to mind. Noah was a man of patience and perseverance. Originally, Noah was (Gen. 9:20) a man of the soil, a farmer. But when God came to him with warnings of a flood, Noah got to work. Nearly every farmer I have ever met is also an ingenious engineer, but the scale of Noah's ark is monstrous. 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Even with all our modern conveniences like power tools, equipment rental yards, and home improvement stores, this task would be really intimidating and really expensive.
Anything like that would try your patience and your perseverance. While he did this, Noah took on an even tougher task. Noah was also a (2 Pt. 2:5) preacher of righteousness in a violent & wicked culture. (Lk. 17:26-27) People were living it up, while Noah warned them to give up their wicked ways. And to no avail. But (Heb. 11:7) in holy fear, Noah and his sons continued to plug away, using everything at their disposal to construct this ark. (Gen. 6:22) Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
Then God commanded him to (Gen. 7:1) go into the ark, with all the animals God has sent to him and all the animals that Noah had gathered. And Noah did. And for seven days, they sat there. They waited. And nothing happened. But on the seventh day, the floodgates of heaven were opened and the underground springs burst forth and every living creature on the face of the earth that wasn’t in that ark died. And Noah and his family spent 371 days on that ark, until God told Noah he and his family could disembark.
How many times, with much smaller tasks from God, don’t we give up? How many times don’t we grumble and complain that the things God has given us to do in this world are just too hard?
How many times don’t we get frustrated with our fellow man? We grumble and complain and gossip behind their back because they aren’t doing what we think they should do, the way we think they should do it. Do you understand the rebuke of James?
He warns us that when we are impatient & weak-willed & grumble against one another, we are sinning. Our impatience is evidence of our sinful pride. We think we know better than God. We think he’s too slow to take action. We think he doesn’t get the importance of timing.
Our lack of perseverance is proof of our faithlessness. We doubt God. If we trusted that God is returning, and that everything in this world will be destroyed and made right, we wouldn’t get so fixated on material things. We wouldn’t worry so much. We would be more generous. We would invest what we have been given in securing a seat for as many as possible on the ark of our salvation, the cross of Jesus Christ. We would gladly stand firm when and where and how the Lord has instructed us, and make concessions for others even when it inconvenienced, frustrated, or aggravated us.
God tells us, his beloved and redeemed people, to be patient and perseverant. God tells us, those whose lives have been changed by his compassion and mercy, to trust his wise timing and Word. Yet, we still struggle to be patient or perseverant. Our patience wears thin. Our perseverance grows weary. We just can’t do it.
So God reminds us of his faithfulness to us, yet another time. As our divine groom, the Lord never tires of telling us: I love you. Again and again. Repeatedly James tells us our Lord is coming back. And soon. But why not now? Because the harvest is not quite fully ready.
James tells us (James 5:7) See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. This is more than just an illustration, this is an insight into who our God is and how he operates in this wicked world.
When we read through the Gospels and listen carefully to Jesus teach the crowds, again and again, he uses illustrations from the fields. There is the parable of the sower & the wheat and the weeds. He compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed. He taught his disciples that he is the Vine, his Father the Vinedresser, and we are the branches. Again and again he speaks of organic growth.
In each illustration, God is patient. He waits and works and waits for the whole harvest to be ready to be brought into his barn. He won’t stop his work when a few of his Gospel seeds get gobbled up. He won’t give up when his field has more than a few weeds. He won’t be let down because the mustard seed doesn’t look like much. He won’t stop providing sustenance to all those branches who rely upon him.
You see, God is that patient farmer. Just as the farmer knows that his seeds need his sweat equity and time to mature into an abundant harvest, God knows that his kingdom needs his patience and his perseverance. Our Lord is full of perseverance and patience. Our Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
We see that in his Son, (Heb. 1:3) the exact representation of his being. Jesus demonstrates the Lord’s perseverance and patience, his mercy and his compassion. Jesus was exceedingly patient with the crowds and his disciples. He never turned any hurting soul away. He never gave up on teaching his disciples, no matter how many times he had to repeat himself. Jesus had compassion on little children, struggling parents, lonely lepers, and even on his enemies who came to arrest him. Jesus was full of mercy for the Israelites who rejected him and the Gentiles who crucified him.
Jesus continued to press on to achieve the plan of salvation—even when it was excruciatingly stressful. Jesus sweat drops of blood as he readied himself for his suffering and death. But, like the farmer, Jesus patiently and perseveringly poured out his blood, sweat, and tears for the harvest. For us. He plowed through the rocky sinful hearts of mankind & called crowds to repentance. He planted the seed of the Gospel—the good news that he was the Messiah-Savior that God had promised—in their hearts. He patiently waited for that seed to burst forth and bear abundant fruit.
And it did with his disciples. God’s compassion, mercy, patience and perseverance with Peter turned a cowardly fishermen into a bold apostle who convicted the hearts of thousands on Pentecost.
Jesus’ love and patience even changed the hearts of his family members, too. The author of this letter was likely not the disciple James, the brother of John, but rather (Mk. 6:3) Jesus’ half-brother. John tells us (Jn. 7:5) Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him. But after his death & resurrection, (1 Cor. 15:7) Jesus appeared to James and he was brought to faith. The Lord’s abundant mercy, patience, & perseverance saved James personally. And, each of us, as well.
That is always God’s goal. (2 Pt. 3:15) God’s patience means salvation. He works & waits and works & waits until his harvest is fully ready. So do we as his farm hands. We work & wait and work & wait some more, confident in our God’s wisdom and timing. We grow organically in our knowledge of his Word, by digging into the fertile soils of the Scriptures, so that we may stand firm in the faith, so that we may work patiently and perseveringly in this world of instant-gratification.
In so many ways, the path of righteousness living as God wants us to walk in this world is a stumbling block for people. They grumble that God’s people think they’re holier than thou. They complain about the hypocrisies they hear about. But patience? Mercy? It’s hard to complain about patience or mercy when you’re on the receiving end, isn’t it?
We are preaching and practicing patience when someone sins against us—and instead of lashing out—we calmly and lovingly call them to repentance. Instead of demanding our pound of flesh, we point them to the flesh and blood of the Son of God who paid for their sins and his (1 Pt. 4:8) love that cover a multitude of things we have done wrong.
We are preaching and practicing patience when we find someone who is lost or clueless and, instead of mocking them or telling them to do their own research, we gently, patiently, and lovingly offer to help them. To show them in the Scriptures who God is, what he says, what he has done and what promises still to do.
This is (James 3:17) the wisdom that comes from heaven. Our Lord calls people who live and love one another like that—who preach and practice compassion, mercy, patience & perseverance— peacemakers.
And he promises that (James 3:18) peacemakers who sow in peace change people’s lives. Patient peacemakers advance God’s kingdom. Perseverant peacemakers cause angels in heaven to rejoice and your heavenly Father to smile. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness and (James 1:12) will receive the crown of life. That’s worth working and waiting for. Amen.
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