Rocking Chair Wisdom
2 Peter 3:8-15a
First United Methodist Church, December 10, 2017
Pastor Toni L. Carmer
A rocking chair seems like a good place to wait…to think back on those times when we've waited, and to know there will be different kinds of waiting in the days ahead.
We do our share of waiting in life, don't we?
We start out pretty young, waiting for things. I remember waiting to be old enough to go to school. I always enjoyed school. And then, I could hardly wait to graduate.
I waited forever for a sister or a brother, finally received one of each. Changing my mind about that was a little too late about 6 years later when my sister couldn't keep out of my stuff. But I think she's pretty cool now. They were both worth the wait, for then and now.
Didn't seem like there was a good reason to wait on getting married—Scott and I had known and gone together for 4 years. I was all of 19 and he was 21. Why wait?
We waited 5 years before we started having children, and then I couldn't wait till they could talk… I think I enjoyed the ages they were, but it seems like I was always looking forward to the next thing, you know?
I guess I'm not so good at waiting.
Someday, I'll sit in my rocking chair and I'll wait for the mail to come. I'll wait for my children and grandchildren to come visit. I'll be waiting for whatever it is that comes next.
The writer of 2nd Peter is speaking to a people who have been waiting for the return of Jesus, and he doesn't want them to give up hope. There are people who are telling these Christ-followers that their expectation of his return is misinformed. That they're wasting their time. That they need to give it up and to live for today instead of devoting their time and entrusting their future to a God who has no interest in them. Besides, there are pleasures in the lifestyles of the world. Immediate, consequence-free pleasures. Why would you want all that to come to an end with Jesus coming back and spoiling all the fun?
It's kind of interesting to remember all-those-years when God's people waited for the Messiah to come the first time…all the generations that passed between the time of Creation, the promises to Abraham and then David…and then, finally, Jesus was born. God's promise was true! The Messiah came! So many came to know him, followed him. The church was born, his followers spread throughout the known world, continued to share about him with others—so much good! So much! And now, after all of this, 30/35 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, they're giving up? All of those years of holding on, hanging on, trusting in the promise…and now they're not so sure?
I don't know…maybe it sounds flip, but it took all those years for Jesus to come the first time, did they think he'd be in a big hurry to return the second time around?
It seems that God has his own way of making time.
So, the author of Peter writes to encourage them. He tells them that God's time is different from our time. With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day (v.8). I read that verse and my mind goes immediately to the hymn, O God, Our Help in Ages Past: A thousand ages, in thy sight, are like an evening gone; short as the watch that ends the night, before the rising sun.
God's timing being different from our timing is hard for us to understand. I think I caught a tiny glimpse of it years ago when I had surgery. I was working as a nurse at the time and I was a lot more familiar with medical things than I am, now. And, it was long enough ago that they were using bottles instead of bags when they started an IV. They had started my IV before the surgery began, and that full bottle of 1000 cc's was right above my head, and one of the last things I saw before I drifted off to sleep. When I woke up in recovery, that bottle was again, the first thing I saw—and it was almost empty! I immediately went into this panic that they had run the fluids into me too fast. But then, just past the bottle hanging there, I saw a clock, and it was a couple of hours later than when I had seen it last. It had felt to me that only a few minutes had passed, but really I'd lost a couple of hours.
From that moment on, I've felt comfortable in the knowledge that when the time comes that I "fall asleep in the Lord" no matter how much time passes between then and when I "rise up to the Lord," it'll only be like a moment. Because God's time is different than our time.
With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.
Peter goes on to tell us that the Lord isn't just being slow about his promise, but there's a reason for this time delay. It's not because God is too busy doing other things and so is ignoring us: the time we've been given is intentional. It's because God is patient and doesn't want anybody to perish. God wants us all to have the opportunity to know him and to follow him. It's so that everyone can come and join the party in heaven!
Jesus tells a story in both Matthew and Luke about a certain man who throws a great banquet. He invites lots of folks, but when the time comes for the festivities to begin and the taxi pulls up to their front doors to bring them in, they say, "no thanks, we've got some other things to do now." They have all kinds of excuses, "I have work to do, places to go, people to take care of," but the bottom line is they've chosen other priorities. So when the man's servants report back to him what has happened, he says, "Okay, fine. That's their choice. Go out into the streets and bring whoever is out there in." They do that and there is still room, still lots of good food, so he tells his servants to "go out further, to the roads and country lanes, look for whoever you can find. Bring them in. If those I invited aren't interested, there are others who are" (Matt. 22:2-14, Luke 14:16-24).
Peter isn't talking about universal salvation—if you aren't interested in being a part of the party, no one is going to force you, you are welcome to do your own thing. But this man's servants were sent out to bring others in, whoever they could find—and to welcome them to the party!
I haven't ever put myself—you and me—in the story as the man's servants before. The usual interpretation of this scripture is that Jesus rose up out of the Jewish people, inviting them to follow him. Many did, but others turned down his invitation, and so in time, others were brought in, which includes us…gentiles from out in the streets and country lanes.
But today I'm thinking of this story from a different perspective. Sometimes it can be helpful to put ourselves into someone else's shoes. Might we place ourselves in the role of servants to this "certain man" whose job is to bring others in, to go out searching for those who are lost and alone, those who are distant to God…to bring them in, to feed them, to welcome them to the table, into the banquet, into fellowship with us and with Jesus.
Peter tells the people in his day—and ours—that we've been given this time to be ready—and to invite others, as well, so that we can all sit down at the table of our Lord together.
We've been given this time—not just to rock, or twiddle our fingers—not to idly wait, but to wait actively and purposefully, so all people have the opportunity to come and know Jesus.
Now, let me tell you this: a certain amount of rocking is a good thing. We need time to think and pray and plan. There's too much flying by the seat of our pants, if you know what I mean—too much action with too little thought, so some chair rocking can be a very good thing. So you can use your time wisely, to think about what you want to do, what you need to do, and how you're going to do it. So, Number 1 on our list of Active waiting is chair rocking. (Or wherever you go to think and pray and plan so that you can use your time well.)
#2 on the list is digging into scripture. You can do that while you chair rock, too. That's efficient use of time, isn't it? When we know what's in scripture, we can use it to guard ourselves against false teaching, to be encouraged or perhaps challenged by the words of Jesus, by the prophets and others, to remind us of God's promises and how God has continued to work through history. Being well acquainted with God's word brings it to mind when we need it, and helps us to live out God's way more consistently in all we do and say.
#3, look for opportunities to share the Good News. If we've been given this time so that others have the opportunity of knowing Christ, then we can be a part of bringing in God's kingdom, of making heaven on earth, by being evangelists/messengers. When the opportunity arises, seize it, when someone wonders why you get up and come to church at 8:00 on Sunday morning, I know it's not because you don't have anything else to do…it's okay to tell others that you love God, you love the fellowship in your church, and that this time blesses you… You're here for a reason, and maybe others will be blessed in knowing that reason.
#4, live faithfully. Grow in the image of Christ. Peter says to lead lives of holiness and godliness. Offer grace and forgiveness to others. (Maybe to yourself) Show love and gentleness, kindness. Remember God's promises. Remember the promise of the first advent: Jesus came once, and he's coming again. You can count on that.
This time is a gift. Receive it with thanksgiving.
"O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come; be thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home."