Tired of Waiting – Mark 13.24-37 & Isaiah 64.1-9

November 30, 2014 – 1st Sunday of Advent

This past week in response to the Ferguson, Missouri grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, I’ve been seeing a portion of Langston Hughes’ poem “Tired” show up in a lot of places.

I am so tired of waiting,
Aren’t you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?1

Advent is a season of waiting. We say that every year. It is a season of looking back and celebrating the birth of Jesus. It’s a season of remembering the wait for a baby to be born and the longings of people who waited for the Messiah—the Promised One—to enter the world.

Advent is a season of waiting in the other direction—looking ahead and waiting for the desires of God, for all the things Jesus told us about the reign of God, to be realized, to be made a reality not just here and there but everywhere for all people in every time and for all of creation.

“There is a longing in our hearts for justice, for freedom, for mercy.”2

That’s what we wait for in Advent.

But this week, don’t you want to say “enough with the waiting! We are tired of waiting!”? We don’t want to wait any more for justice, freedom and mercy. With Isaiah don’t you want to cry out, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” Come down and make things right with your justice, your freedom and your mercy! We don’t want any more unarmed black men and 12-year old boys to be killed by police officers. We don’t want any more mothers and fathers to worry about whether their children are going to come home. We don’t want people of color to feel any more, as New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote this week, “the unsettling sense that they are under siege from all sides.”3

The early Christian community in which Mark’s gospel takes its form was a community that also felt under siege. The end-of-the-world, apocalyptic writing in the thirteenth chapter gives us a clue about that. “Apocalyptic literature is found cross-culturally among…groups that are persecuted and groups that perceive themselves to be fully disenfranchised, with no hope of affecting their future…Apocalyptic writing [like we hear in Mark 13] serves to encourage the group to which it is addressed. It urges steadfastness in the face of persecution, assures the reader of heavenly control over what appears to be a chaotic world, and offers the promise that, with the momentous entry of the divine into human history, the righteous will be rewarded and the wicked punished.”4 The community in Mark’s gospel was tired and they were weary waiting for Jesus to return as he said he would.

In this season of Advent, there is a longing in our hearts for wisdom, for courage, for comfort.5

It is an old longing.

As we have said before that Advent is a season of waiting, we have also said it is not a passive waiting. It is not watching the clock, tapping your foot, looking endlessly up and down the street for the arrival.

Advent is a season of getting ready, of preparing for the reign of God.

There has been a tiny little movement among some liturgical people for Advent to be longer than just four weeks. In a lot of ways, in the church Advent can feel like a late-coming getting-ready-for-Christmas. By the time our decorations are up and we are starting to sing the familiar carols, every where else around us has been blasting CHRISTMAS! for weeks.

Originally, as the Christian year found its form, Advent was seven weeks long. Originally, its focus was more on the coming reign of God than on the birth of Jesus. A few years ago Mark and I, after both reading about observing a longer Advent, started Advent two weeks early for a total of six weeks of Advent. It was weird—primarily because everything in the church is oriented for four weeks of Advent—and after we did it we decided we wouldn’t do it again.

But this year we’ve had a bit of an early start on Advent from the parables we’ve been preaching from in Matthew’s gospel. They’ve been about waiting. Waiting and preparing. Getting ready. The parable of the bridesmaids in Matthew 25: five of whom let their lamps run out of oil, five of whom kept their lamps filled with oil, so that when the bridegroom eventually arrived, half of them were left in the dark and half of them were prepared for the wedding feast. And Mark reminded us in his sermon on this parable that the wedding feast is an image the bible uses to describe the coming reign of God.

Or the parable of the owner who leaves his treasure to his servants while he takes a long journey. When he returns the servants who have carried on their owner’s work and done something productive with the treasure are rewarded, the servant who has only buried the treasure in the ground is castigated.

Both those parables are about preparing, keeping awake, paying attention, being watchful. There’s even a tiny one verse parable in this reading from Mark that reminds us of the parable from Matthew’s gospel. “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his [servants] in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.” [13.34] “Each with his work.” The period of waiting while the man is away is not idle waiting, it is a time of continuing to work—faithfully and diligently.

The Langston Hughes poem that I started with has four more lines.

I am so tired of waiting,
Aren’t you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?

Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two-
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.6

It is not just hopeless waiting as we long for the world to become good and beautiful and kind. As we long for the fig tree to blossom and bear fruit as Mark writes. As we long for God’s reign to be made fully know. There is work that must be done in the season of Advent—and through all the Christian year—to figure out what keeps the world hurting and diseased and to do all we can to root it out.

Also floating around this week following the Ferguson grand jury decision has been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quote, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” He said that in his 1968 speech “The Other America”—highlighting two Americas; one where there was opportunity and propensity and all that was needed for minds and spirits to grow. In the other America opportunity was not forthcoming, education was substandard, unemployment and underemployment was the norm. This was an America where “the buoyancy of hope” was transformed “into the fatigue of despair.” And so Dr. King says,

“I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the…poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”7

I only left out one word in that quote and it sounds as if it could have been written this week.

Charles Blow, in his column two days after the announcement that there would be no indictment, wrote,

“The reaction [of the black community] was about faith in fundamental fairness. It was about whether a population of people with an already tenuous relationship with the justice system—a system not established to recognize them, a system used for generations to deny and subjugate them, a system still rife with imbalances toward them—would have their fragile and fraying faith in that system further shredded.”8

That is one of the worms Langston Hughes knew was eating at the rind of the world—an unjust system where the constitutional right to equal protection under the law is denied.9

I was encouraged on Tuesday night when several hundred people gathered at 7th and Jefferson to say loudly that Black Lives Matter and then we marched peacefully through downtown all the while shouting out for justice. There were lots and lots of young people—black and white young people—who were part of the march. Perhaps that’s a little bit of the world that’s good and beautiful and kind. A beginning of the flowering of the fig tree. A little bit of the world where the reign of God is breaking in.

The New York Times had an article yesterday about St. Louis County police lieutenant Jerry Lohr. Lohr, a white officer, oversees security at the Ferguson police station. “He never wears riot gear, even when he wades into a group of protesters to answer questions, resolve disputes or listen to a stream of insults.”10 Those who have been in the streets protesting know him by name and ask for him when they want to make a complaint about how the police have treated them. Quoted in the article, Lieutenant Lohr says, “Allowing people to talk on a one-on-one level does a lot as far as building bridges. They may not agree with what I’m doing, but now they at least know my name and my face. I’m human again.”11 And reading the article it is clear that Lieutenant Lohr knows the names and faces of the protesters and they are human again.

Perhaps that’s a little bit of the world that’s good and beautiful and kind. A beginning of the flowering of the fig tree. A little bit of the world where the reign of God is breaking in.

In this Advent season there is a longing in our hearts for healing, for wholeness, for new life.12

Justice, freedom, mercy, wisdom, courage, comfort, healing, wholeness, new life…are all characteristics of the reign of God. All part of the work that is to be done as we prepare for the fullness of God’s reign—which will requires more than just four weeks..

There are lots of places where this work needs doing. Including in communities of White people. Columnist and activist Sally Kohn wrote yesterday that we who are White need to “scrutinize what race means in our society today—how implicit bias shapes everything from our neighborhoods to our economy to who gets to live and who gets to die when they’re doing nothing else but holding a toy…We don’t have a choice about which side of that equation we’re born on, but we do have a choice about whether we acknowledge the reality of bias and talk honestly—together—about solutions.”13

I don’t know if that is part of your longing in Advent but I pray it will become a longing in all of us. A longing that brings us closer to the justice, freedom, mercy, wisdom, courage, comfort, healing, wholeness, and new life in the reign of God for which we are preparing.

* * *
1  Found in Jonathan Scott, Socialist Joy in the Writing of Langston Hughes, (Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 2006), 219. I saw the poem fragment on facebook and on a sign at Louisville’s “Black Lives Matter” march.
2 Hymn text by Anne Quigley, “There is a Longing in Our Hearts,” (c) 1992, Anne Quigley.
3 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/27/opinion/charles-blow-fury-after-ferguson.html, accessed 29 November 2014.
4 “Apocalyptic” in The Access Bible, Gail R. O’Day and David Petersen, eds., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), New Testament 72.
5 Quigley.
6 Scott.
7  “The Other America,” Grosse Point High School, Michigan, March 4, 1968, http://www.gphistorical.org/mlk/mlkspeech/, accessed November 29, 2014.
8  Charles Blow, “Fury after Ferguson,” New York Times, November 26, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/27/opinion/charles-blow-fury-after-ferguson.html, accessed November 29, 2014.
9 My friend Scott Clark posted this on his Facebook feed on November 25, 2014: “I’ve noticed several commentators invoking “the rule of law,” as if saying that phrase should silence disagreement with the Ferguson grand jury’s inaction. It’s important to remember, though, that the “rule of law” includes the constitutional right to equal protection under the law. It includes the right not to be deprived of life and liberty without due process of law. It includes the right to speak in opposition to the unjust decisions and actions of public officials (including grand juries and police officers). If we are serious about the rule of law, we will work to fix a legal and law- enforcement system that is failing young men like Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin and their families. They deserve so much better than this. #blacklivesmatter”
The Courier-Journal ran an article on November 18, 2014 that noted blacks are arrested at a higher rate than white in Louisville.http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2014/11/18/study-black-arrest-rate-higher-across-region/19249311/
10  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/28/us/officer-defused-eruptions-as-crowds-grew-volatile.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C{%221%22%3A%22RI%3A7%22}, accessed November 28, 2014.
11 Ibid.
12 Quigley.
13  http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/11/28/what-white-people-need-to-know-and-do-after-ferguson/, accessed November 29, 2014.

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