Sermon for Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost. 11/10/2020. When we get impatient. Paul Mitchell.

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost.  11 October 2020.  When we get impatient.  Exodus 32:1-14.

“God give me patience … and give it to me now!”

We could chart a curve describing the shape of our tolerance for delay in what we feel should be happening.  The sharpness of that curve depends on many factors.  When we are overtired and stressed the curve is very steep from being chilled to ‘make it happen now!’  Another metaphor often used is that of a fuse which can, at times, be very short.

When we are under a range of pressures everything internally seems to speed up while the rest of the world around us, frustratingly, seems to slow down.  When we are in a hurry the people in the queue in front of us always seem to be going deliberately slowly, don’t they?  Or those lights seem to go red just to cause us further difficulty.  All of them.  At every intersection.  We are sure that there is someone somewhere doing that to us deliberately!

I am sure we can all relate to that experience of frustration and impatience building and that desire to do something to get things, life, movement, action, results, conclusions, responses to happen which we want to happen.  It is a consequence of our digital age that expected response times are down to a nanosecond.   We want change to happen now!

In the days when messages went by pigeon or a running messenger the expected response time was reasonably  slow.  When people wrote letters (remember them?) we did not expect quick responses.  Telephones sped things up considerably, especially when it was possible to leave a message on an answering machine.  Emails seemed to promise or guarantee quick answers.  Now the near universality of mobile phones means we expect people to be constantly available and any delay is treated as a rebuff.

There needs to be time to breathe.  To listen.  To wait.  To develop patience and the art of reflection.

Before the end of 2019 it was very common to hear people say that life had become too fast and they wanted it to stop for a while.  For many people it has, or at least has changed so much that the usual patterns of busy-ness have been turned upside down.  As I reflected in an earlier sermon there are some people for whom this year has been even busier than usual! I spoke this week with a builder who said that he has been flat out all year.

Now, especially for those who have been under regulations which have restricted movement and activity, there is an impatience to get going again.  As we have seen in some places that impatience has led to some small relaxing of rules turning into extravagantly unsafe behaviour which looks like the equivalent of what happens if you shake a bottle of bubbles then pop the cork.  Moving without patience is fraught with potential problems.

In our reading from Exodus 32 today we heard part of the ongoing journey of the people who had left Egypt under the leadership of Moses.  The people who went into the desert with Moses seem to have had short memories and, often, short fuses.  They had barely left the places where they had been persecuted and enslaved mercilessly when they were remembering those golden days back in Egypt where life was described as a paradise of leisure and an excess of food.  They were not a very discerning or wise group of people.  But they were God’s people and God kept leading them closer and closer to a place which would actually become a place of plenty and a place where they were secure and could flourish.

Along the way, though, they kept getting impatient.  God wasn’t moving fast enough for them.  Things were not happening as they wanted them to.  In this passage from Exodus 32 we see the people spitting the dummy in their impatience and deciding to push their own narrowly define agenda.

What they did was actually to reach back into their memories of Egypt and the new figure they created to worship was based on the Egyptian god Hathor.  It was a deliberate act to say to God, ‘you are not satisfying what we want, what we think we need, so you have been replaced’.  One of my favourite parts of this story comes after the passage we read, where Moses confronts Aaron and asks “What did you think you were doing??!!??”  Despite the evidence that the golden calf had been deliberately constructed Aaron offers this lame excuse to say that all he did was toss all the gold into the fire and miraculously the calf appeared!


In their impatience the people lost their integrity, they lost their gold, they almost lost Moses as their leader, they almost lost their relationship with God.  But God did not give up on them.  Moses stayed and kept leading them.  Yet as we see in the Psalm we read today (106) written perhaps 1000 years later, that time when the people of God lost the plot was still being remembered.  Notice that in the first verse of that psalm the scene is set for interpreting all that follows.  God is merciful.  However much people stuff up and wander off and push the envelope, God is merciful and faithful and still loves even the most impatient and impetuous of us.

So where does this leave us today?  I wonder what God is NOT doing that you are feeling impatient about?  Is it a response to a need which you see in your life or the life of someone close to you?   Is it some serious problem in society into which you are convinced that God should already have been acting … yesterday?  Is it a concern for our world, environmentally, politically, or in some other way which disturbs you so deeply that it is incomprehensible to you that God is not acting to sort it out?

There needs to be time to breathe.  To listen.  To wait.  To develop patience and the art of reflection.

Part of that chilling and part of that reflection is fed by some perspective.  Charles M. Schultz created deep and wonderful cartoons full of delight and wisdom.  In one cartoon Charlie Brown and one of his friends are lying under a tree and looking up at the sky.  Charlie Brown reflects aloud “I sometimes think I would like to ask God why God allows there to be so much suffering and poverty and sadness and conflict in the world and doesn’t do something about it.”  His friend responds, “Why don’t you ask God that?”  Charlie Brown replies “I am afraid God will ask me the same question.”

The awareness of problems and need and dissonance between how the world might be and how it actually is should bring us to reflect on several questions.  One is “Do I just feel this as a problem because it is what I want to happen?  Is this JUST me saying ‘this is what I want’?”  If that is what we can honestly admit then frustration and impatience and tossing gold rings into fires may well end badly.  A second question flows from the first. “If what I see that isn’t happening is something for the good of community, a blessing for others, something which will be life-giving, how can I be part of the solution?”

Another important question to ask is whether what disturbs, frustrates or outrages us is actually based on accurate information.  Are we impatient for change about the right things or for the right reasons?  For example, one of the things that has been used to push for quicker lifting of the COVID-19 focussed restrictions in Melbourne is reports of vastly increased suicide rates because people are not coping with being isolated.  Every suicide is a tragedy and there are individuals and families deeply affected each time a person chooses to take their own life.  Despite some reports for political purposes the coroners department in Victoria has clarified that the suicide rate in Victoria is actually LESS than for the preceding year across the same period.  The opposite of what has outraged some people is actually true.  It constantly amazes me that there are people who still seem to treat Sky News and similar outlets as if they reported real news and the politically motivated ‘entertainers’ on there as if they were real journalists.  We need to be sure of the accuracy and truth of what disturbs us and what spurs us to response.

In the time of breathing and listening and waiting and developing patience we can, hopefully, become aware of new ways of holding what agitates us.  If our prayers are ‘God make this happen, now’ then we need more breathing.  And in that breath and that space God will be there, alongside us, with that peace which surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7).  That peace will become our centre.  In that peace there is space to see more clearly.

If life is not happening as you want it to, if impatience is overwhelming you … breathe.  Then find the space to listen, to ask the better questions and to pursue deeper life.


Paul Mitchell.

2020.10.11 Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

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