Gospel: Mark 12:38-44
1st Reading: 1 Kings 17:8-16
2nd Reading: Hebrews 9:24-28
When I was working as a receptionist at the optometry shop, the place I worked before I was called here to be your pastor, I was constantly dealing with people who were waiting in the aptly-named waiting room. They waited for their appointment. They waited while the doctor took too long with the patient before them. They waited for their eyes to dilate. They waited for their glasses to come in. People deal with waiting in lots of different ways, but mostly waiting is considered to be more of a negative thing. Once I proposed calling it something other than the waiting room—like the lobby or something so that people wouldn’t have the negative association with it. That idea was shot down. The people would still be doing the same thing there, waiting, so why pretend they weren’t?!
It can tell you a lot about a person, what they do while they wait. Some people bring a book everywhere they go and the moment they have a chance, they put their nose in it. Some people bring their knitting or cross-stitch. Some people complain the whole time. Some people listen to music on their portable listening device. Some people these days talk on their cell phone, text, or play computer games. The nature of those cell-phone calls can tell you a lot. Sometimes it seems that the conversation is a little too loud on purpose to draw attention to it. Some people fight on the phone in public. Sometimes they want to talk about it with you and sometimes they don’t.
My favorite were the ones that would just chat. People have interesting lives and it can be fun to find out more about people just having a normal conversation. Of course, the conversations can vary. Some people seem to be very self-centered and self-interested. Others seem to want to interview you. Others show off how much they know. And then sometimes it just clicks and you have a nice chat with someone interested in your life, able to share bits about their own without the TMI factor, and you come away feeling refreshed and connected and hopeful about humanity.
We are all in the waiting room of life. We wait in traffic. We wait for the weekend. We wait for our paycheck. We wait for our spouse to get home. We wait for dinner. We wait for the next holiday. Some of us are waiting for life to begin. Others are waiting for it to be over. We await for test results. We wait for people to help us. We wait for the sermon to be over. We wait for Christ to return and make everything right.
The scriptures today make me think about what we are waiting for and what we do while we wait.
The scribes haven’t had to do a lot of waiting. They are first in line. They’ve got the best seats. They are waiting for people to notice them and give them respect. They are waiting to climb the ladder of society and have the most money, the biggest house, the longest prayer, and the most pats on the back by all the important people. They want the biggest plaque, the best seat, and the highest salary. They will never be satisfied because there is always someone who hasn’t given them the recognition they feel they deserve. They get their value from others rather from a deep sense of self-assurance.
Today Jesus refuses to give them the credit they feel is due and it is driving them crazy. He won’t cower before them or butter them up with fake compliments and soon they will have him arrested to punish him for not giving them the attention they like.
The widow in the Old Testament is waiting to die. It might very well be the same for the widow in the Gospel. She could care less about the finest clothes and best seats. She is waiting for a crust of bread for the next day, a bite to feed her child, a sweater to keep away the chill. She could shut her doors and go and die quietly alone. But while she is waiting to die, this Gospel widow goes out. We don’t know if she was Jew or Gentile, but she goes to a place of prayer, of community, of connection. She goes to be seen, not so that she can feel important. It is a last act of resistance. At least people are going to see the one they’ve neglected, the very specific one that God has commanded them to help. They would probably rather not see her or acknowledge her. She is a sign of their failure. She is raining on their parade.
How we act while we are waiting can be an indication of what we are waiting for. If we are waiting to be important, we will prance around in long robes, talk loud on our cell phones, pray long prayers until we get what we’re waiting for.
If we are waiting for God’s kingdom to come we might wait a couple of different ways. We might wait passively, like the first widow. She’s preparing the last supper for herself and her son and then are just going to wait it out. In this case, God is active while she is passive. God sends Elijah to ask for her help. God doesn’t send Elijah to give her food. God sends him to let her know she’s still got something valuable to give. Even if the world says she’s worthless and has no value, God is letting her know through her community that just isn’t true. God isn’t done with her. She’s got the ability to share. She’s got the ability to trust in God. She’s able to do a lot with a little. She’s able to teach generosity and trust to those who think they have it made and don’t really have anything of value at all.
Who might God be sending us to, to affirm their gifts, maybe people the world has written off, but we know are of value to God? Are we going to them and bringing life to them and letting them bring life to us? Are we forming relationships with them and bringing them into community where there is a safety net and a place their gifts will be valued? How can we do this better?
We can also wait more actively, in the Hebrews reading it talks about those who are eagerly waiting for Christ. To me this means people who are creating the world they want to live in, who are bringing in the Kingdom of God. You could say that Donald Trump creates the world he wants to live in. With money he surrounds himself with a private jet, and people who say yes to him, and mansions and exclusive golf courses. But money and fame is so fleeting. He creates the illusion of the world he wants to live in. None of it can last. And it takes from others in order to have it the way he wants it. It creates a life in the short-term that he seems to want, but not one that satisfies, and not a world where others can also enjoy riches beyond imagination. In fact it impedes on others’ view of a good life as he literally bulldozes the livelihoods of families and the nesting grounds of endangered birds just to make room for his golf course.
What does it mean to create the world we want to live in? I think of a young mother here recently, nursing her baby during church and I was so proud. I thought to myself, this is the kind of church I want to be in! This is the kind of world I want to live in. Maybe someday, pastors will nurse their babies in church, and to me that would be the Kingdom of God realized on earth, the way God meant it to be. Maybe that wouldn’t be the Kingdom to you, but it would be for me and a lot of mothers. To have been able to have my child with me at work this year, has been the Kingdom of God realized in my life. It might not have looked particularly professional. Yet to be able to be your pastor and Sterling’s mother at the same time and not to have to choose or miss out has meant so much. It is the Kingdom of God to me. And it meant that to some of you, too. It meant I got to share him with you and my joy and his progress. You are a part of him and he is a part of you. It is messy and awkward sometimes, but it is Kingdom.
We have been doing things the Kingdom way here at King of Kings. We practice the bringing in the Kingdom when we accept the help of pantry clients. They teach us how to be generous and thoughtful. One brings boxes with handles for people to carry their groceries in. He puts little labels on them reminding them to bring them back for the next pantry. He is a pain in the neck as he stacks his boxes everywhere we are trying to walk, but now that we have a designated place to put those boxes (outside and out of the way) we have to acknowledge he is bringing in the kingdom of God. Someone in our congregation has been an example of creating the kind of world he would want to live in. His elderly, disabled neighbor was going to have to move because she couldn’t get up and down the stairs. He wanted to live in a world where people can live in their own homes for as long as possible. He built her a chair lift. She will probably live longer and is definitely already happier because of this gift and this building of the Kingdom of God, the kind of world where we can all live life to its fullest.
I invite you to dream about this Kingdom of God and what it would look like to live in a world where people have the chance to really live. You are dreaming God’s dream. Then your waiting becomes so much more than waiting. And your wait becomes shorter for God’s dream to become a reality because he is making it a reality through you.
Discussion questions: What kind of world do you want to live in? Where do you see your dream and God’s dream intersecting? Where do you see God’s dream being realized in this world? Where do you see the potential for God’s dream to be realized?