Sermons That Work

Let Nothing Disturb You…, Proper 7 (A) – 2002

June 23, 2002

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing make you afraid,
All things are passing,
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is lacking to the one who has God–
God alone is enough.

These words, from a meditation titled “St. Teresa’s bookmark,” are a fine summary of today’s readings from Scripture. They all speak to us, strangely enough, about the gift of patience. We are taught that patience is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but it often feels like a heavy burden. People in today’s society mistake patience for submission in the same way they mistake kindness for weakness — and they walk all over you. But as usual, we must look beyond the surface. God has a greater message in store.

Some truly great people in the history of Christianity have been “walked on” in this way, you see. Just as one example, St. Teresa, known as Teresa of Avila, is world famous as a theologian, reformer of the Carmelite Order, and spiritual advisor to the great medieval Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. But Teresa’s ministry was not well received in the community that she loved. Her sisters had grown lax in faith and practice, she called for reform, and their response was to throw her out of convents that she herself had established. On one occasion, she was turned out at night in the middle of a rainstorm. Dressed from head to toe in her coarse wool habit, she got back into her donkey cart and was riding along when the wheel of the cart hit a ditch and the cart turned over, dumping Teresa into the mud. She sat there, in mud-soaked wool, looked up to heaven, and said, “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder that you don’t have many.”

But frustrated as she was, Teresa clung to God. Her writings also lead us to suspect that she got a response from God while sitting in that muddy ditch. One of her meditations on the Disciplines of the Holy Spirit talks about how we must not be deceived by the appearance that evil triumphs over good, for sometimes, as she wrote, “God uses the Devil as a sharpening-stone for Christians.” Teresa not only taught this lesson, she lived by it. She did not give up on God, even when her sisters fought her every step of the way, going to priests and bishops to make trouble for her. She kept right on teaching what she knew to be the truth. And eventually, she won out. Her desire was not to be right but to be faithful, and God prospered her efforts. Today, the very same saint who was treated so cruelly is known as a Doctor of the Church — an exemplary teacher and thinker — while the nuns who treated her so badly are long dead and unknown to us. And the Carmelite convents of Teresa’s Reform continue to outnumber those of the unreformed group to this very day.

You see, Teresa understood what the prophet Jeremiah was talking about and what Jesus was teaching in today’s Gospel lesson. It’s a lesson you could put in very simple words. “Sometimes, when things go wrong, you just have to sit back — and pat your foot.” This is what Teresa did, and it’s at the heart of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Our Lord himself. He endured persecution wordlessly and embodied the triumph of God over evil while waiting upon God. This Christian example is not a sitting back that does nothing. It is not passive submission, it is active waiting that is grounded in ultimate faith in the righteousness of God. Neither is it surrender to the belief that nothing can be done about the wrong; it is understanding that it is God who makes things right.

When you do everything you know to be right and then sit back and pat your foot, you imitate the long-suffering God who has been watching all along, watching patiently and mercifully, waiting for folks to do what is right. When you do all you can and then sit back and pat your foot, you see that when people refuse to “get it” and God runs out of waiting time, God comes forward to do what only God can. And if Scripture teaches us nothing, it is that when God gets tired, all kinds of things happen.

So, yes, we must be patient because the God we serve is patient. But the patience of God is a mysterious thing that comes in mysterious ways. We do not know how long it will last. We do not know how the solution will come when God steps in to make things right. The only thing we know for certain is that it is very good idea to be on the right side of God when it’s time for God to act. Holy Scripture teaches us that misery is waiting for people of ill will, but miracles happen for those who walk by faith.

Holy Scripture gives us lots of examples to follow. The Bible tells the story of a God who recognizes the righteous human, striving to do right in the midst of people who would do harm. Jesus spoke of “sheep among wolves” and warned of the harm that comes from people of ill will. But his warning is intended to teach us to handle our problems with the patience of God and to trust in God’s righteous outcome, for “A disciple is not above the teacher.” When we try to be like God, giving people the chance to do what is right, God steps in at decisive moments — and miracles happen.

An old, wandering nomad with no home to call his own ends up with children and great-grandchildren and a great land in which to enjoy God’s protection. A parade of persecuted refugees walk to safety on dry land in the middle of a sea. A woman in labor away from home with no place to bear her child is given warmth and shelter in a rocky cave, and wise men are sent to protect the child’s life from a man who would kill it. The One who is killed for speaking God’s truth is raised from the dead and goes on to prepare others to witness to God’s triumph. The God of the Scripture is a God of miracles-and they happen in our day, too. Martin Luther King taught that “right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant” and the whole world continues to benefit from his legacy of patient but active faith.

So we do not strike back in the darkness of our own anger and impatience and arrogance. We do not take the problem into our own hands, tempting God by “flying out in front” with our own solutions. Instead, we turn to God with the truth in our hearts, in the Spirit of the Psalmist. And God will protect and shield us from harm, while dealing with the wrong in God’s own way and time. We’ve all seen it happen — folks banding together to run somebody out of a job and end up losing their own. School kids banding together in a lie to get another child in trouble and ending up suspended themselves. Folks in clubs and societies banding together to harass and mistreat new people and end up with their own organization disbanded. Indeed, what goes around, comes around. No matter what anyone may choose to do to us, we are all called to love justice, do mercy, and walk humbly before our God-and when we do not, the consequences when we don’t can be an awful thing to behold.

As it is written, “weeping comes in the night, but joy comes in the morning.” This is the Good News of the Gospel, this is the faith that carries us through, and this is God’s own response to evil and sin in this world. So when troubles come, do just what you know is right and pray for protection. Then sit back, pat your foot, and watch God bring deliverance. Teresa’s words are a message of ultimate triumph: “God alone is enough.” So as we come to the Table of Grace, let us come with spirits lifted and hearts grateful for the patience and providence of Almighty God-and let the People of God say, AMEN.

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Christopher Sikkema


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