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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

James 5:7-11
“Shine with Patience”
December 15, 2013 - Third Sunday in Advent

         I’m ready. I’m ready for my foot to quit hurting eight months after I injured it and three months after a doctor and physical therapist started treating it. I’m ready for my daughters to arrive home on Wednesday after not seeing either of them for six months. I’m ready for summer after just a few weeks of cold weather. I’m ready, and by that I mean I don’t feel all that patient.

         The word from James this morning is obviously “patience.” He urges us to be patient as we wait for an event that has taken much longer than a few months to arrive, “the coming of the Lord.” He and his church community were in the same kind of place you and I find ourselves in the middle of December, caught between the fact that Jesus Christ came into the world and the promise that He is coming back. That second event is taking a long time to arrive. So James tells us, like he told Christians in the first century. “Be patient.”

         Verse 7 of our text offers a farmer as an example of patience. By necessity the person who makes a living planting things in the earth needs to wait. Farmers in the twenty-first century have machines to speed up plowing and harvesting, chemicals to cut down on weeds, computers to arrange and keep track of prices and sales of their crop. But waiting is still required. You can go on-line and place an order with express shipping and have what you want tomorrow. But if you are growing something, you have to wait.

         In ancient times, and in many places in the Midwest and around the world, farmers still wait for the rain. James mentions the early and late rains. It’s drier climate, but winter is the rainy season in Palestine like it is here. The first rains of fall were crucial so seeds would begin to grow, and the late rains of spring were necessary so ripening crops would not dry out too early. The farmer James is picturing had to wait and depend on God to send both those rains at the right time. To grow a crop you have to wait.

         As Jesus pictured in parables, God is growing a crop in this world. He’s growing men, women and children whose lives are renewed and transformed by the grace of Christ. And that crops takes patience, God’s patience and our patience. James says it again in verse 8, “You also must be patient.” Then, “Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”

         “Near?” Two thousand years down the pike, that sounds a little hollow, a bit hard to swallow, just a tad wrong. And James is not the only one. Paul and Peter and the book of Revelation also imply that the return of Jesus is not too far off, just a few months or years in the future. Jesus Himself gave that impression in the way He spoke to people then about being prepared for His return.

         Yet here we are. I just read how the Seventh Day Adventists quietly, with some embarrassment, observed the 150th anniversary of their denomination. No big gathering and celebration like the Covenant Church had on our 125th three years ago. The Adventists were founded by folks who were sure Jesus was returning very soon, in their lifetimes. That’s what their name means, people watching for the second Advent. Now here they are, a century and a half later, and it’s a little embarrassing, a little sad.

         It’s hard to be patient when what you expected soon does not happen. Adventists are reporting that they now lose 43 members for every 100 they gain. I don’t mean to pick on another denomination. The figures for our denomination or for our own church probably aren’t much better and may be worse. It’s just hard to be patient. James knew that. Jesus knew that. John the Baptist in our Gospel text this morning felt that.

         Last week we heard John preaching to the crowds that the Messiah was coming soon. He was full of fire and confidence, ready even to chew out the spiritual leaders who didn’t really believe him. We find him later baptizing Jesus and then in John’s Gospel announcing that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Yet now we find him in Matthew 11, sitting in prison, not sure he himself believes. So he sent that worried, impatient message to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

         It’s hard to wait. It’s especially hard to wait in prison. I recently read a book that looks at the Bible from the perspective of incarcerated people. They would get how John felt. You give up hope. You give up patience. If your release isn’t for a long time, you find other ways to cope. You get drugs or pornography on the prison black market. You get in fights. You try for power on the inside since you won’t see the outside for years.

         So near? What did James mean? What does “near” mean to you and me, or to a man in prison or to one of the folks who sleep in our sanctuary when it’s cold? Shouldn’t the whole Christian Church feel like Seventh Day Adventists, just a little embarrassed and ashamed that we’ve hung around so long and nothing has happened? Jesus just hasn’t shown up.

         But Jesus will show up. That’s what “near” means. Our Lord could return at any time. We don’t know when. Two weeks ago we heard Jesus saying that even He did not know when that time was. Yet it could be any moment. God is asking us to patiently live as if the moment was now, today, tomorrow, this year.

         The world has been remembering Nelson Mandela. To black South Africans, he is the father of their nation, their first black president. He was arrested for conspiring against the Apartheid government in 1962. His was tried and sentenced to life in prison. To all appearances his hope for freedom for himself and for his fellow South Africans was over. Yet he was patient, keeping his political contacts and becoming a symbol of resistance to the injustice of Apartheid.

         Mandela was no saint. I doubt he was much of a Christian, though he did attend worship services in prison. But he waited and waited and waited, and on February 11, 1990, twenty-seven years later, a South African government under enormous internal and international pressure set him free. Four years later he became president and South Africa entered a new era. He was patient. Justice came.

         James warns us in verse 9 that justice is coming to this world, “See, the Judge is standing at the doors!” Back up to the beginning of this chapter and you get why the hope of justice was so important. Wealthy people exploited ordi­nary working class people and the poor. They hoarded their wealth and failed to pay proper wages. They lived in luxury while those who worked for them went hungry. He wrote today’s text for all those waiting for the injustice to be made right.

         Nelson Mandela tried to avoid violence, but used it in the end in South Africa . There were acts of terror. While he was in prison Mandela’s wife ran a gang that was essentially a bunch of criminals. Christians, however, go about justice differently. God wants something different from those who wait for Jesus. So the first part of verse 9 tells, “Brothers and sisters, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.”

         When times are difficult and we are waiting for something better, we start grumbling. Our secretary Jessica told me she was thrilled when school started again Friday. Her two kids finally got out of the house and away from each other after being cooped up together for a week. We adults do it too. A year of financial struggle or a lengthy illness and we get on each other’s nerves, start grumbling at each other. That’s when it is time to remember what James says here, that Christ our judge is coming and we will all be judged for how we behaved while we waited.

         Notice that neither James nor I are offering you the five principles of patience. Don’t ask me to teach you how to be patient. It’s a virtue and virtues are “caught,” not taught. We learn patience and the other virtues by seeing examples and imitating them. He’s already given us the farmer. I gave you Nelson Mandela. In verses 10 and 11, James points to other examples, the prophets and Job.

         This morning we heard the prophet Isaiah’s call for patience and endurance in the promise that Israel would return from exile. He told the people to strengthen weak hands and firm up feeble knees. He wrote “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come… He will come and save you.’”

         The very first verse of the book of Isaiah tells us he prophesied during the reigns of four different Jewish kings, maybe as long as 64 years. There’s an example of patience, to keep speaking God’s word, keep calling for recalcitrant and sinful people to repent and believe and trust in God rather in their riches and in their idols. Isaiah invites us all to have the same sort of patience he did. God answered his patience. Not in Isaiah’s lifetime, but He did come and save His people, brought them home from their captivity in Babylon.

         Then in verse 11, James gives us the proverbially patient guy, Job. You have probably heard how he lost his wealth and then his children and then his health. His wife told him to just give up and die. But Job hung on and kept trusting God, kept believing that God would answer him, would come to him. And God did. He restored Job’s fortunes and gave him more children and made the end of his life better than the beginning.

         Why are Christians to be patient? We believe what James tells us at the end of verse 11. God is up to the same thing He was with Isaiah and with Job and with every other person who has ever patiently waited for God to show up. James says, “you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

         John waited impatiently there in Herod’s prison and Jesus sent him a message about what He was doing, healing the sick, preaching the good news, and raising the dead. Then He said, “Blessed is the one who does not fall away on account of me.” The one who does not fall away, does not lose patience, will be blessed. That’s God’s purpose.

         You have your own examples. Some of you waited a long time for a job and then God gave you one, like He did Charles this week. Or you waited for someone you loved to believe in Jesus, and they did. Or you prayed for help in a crisis and the Lord arrived.

         As I said at the beginning Beth and I are waiting for our daughters to come home from Christmas, but the real waiting was the seven years for Susan our first to come along and another six years for Joanna. But “the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” His purpose for us is good, is tender, is full of love and compassion.

         In II Peter 3:9 we’re told that is why Christ has not come back yet. God is being patient, delaying His judgment day out of compassion, so that as many people as possible might turn to Christ and be saved. When we get impatient, whether it’s in the short term of everyday frustrations or in the long term of the second Advent, let us recall His purpose, that compassionate, merciful purpose for us and for everyone around us.

         That’s why we want to avoid grumbling, to be patient with others. God is being patient with us. We want to be like Him, compassionate and merciful toward those around us. Let’s look at and learn from all the examples we have and learn His patience.

         Patience is one of the great goals of observting Advent. In worship we don’t sing all our favorite Christmas carols on the first of December. We wait. We don’t put out all the decorations right away. We wait. We don’t open the last window on the Advent calendar or put the star on top of the manger. We wait. And as we learn patience, we also begin to receive some of what we are waiting for, what Isaiah promised Christ would bring us when he wrote, “everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness.” May the Lord give us patience to wait for His everlasting joy.


         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated December 15, 2013