Presbyterian Church of Easton

Sermon James 5:7-10  Being Patient

September 26, 2021

Today, I am concluding my series of sermons on the Book of James.  The early church had a problem with bringing poor people and non-Jews into congregations.  They need wisdom from above to tame their tongues on fire. With this wisdom we learn to listen first and be slow to anger, and slow to speak.  But how long must we keep doing all of this?   Surely Jesus will return one day and all conflicts will cease, our tongues of fire will be extinguished.   Surely this will be soon.  Won’t it.  What shall we do as we wait?  We will get to all of this, but first let’s pray.

“Grant unto us, O Lord, to be occupied in the mysteries of thy heavenly wisdom, with true progress in piety, to thy glory and our own edification. Amen.” (John Calvin)

James 5:7-10  7 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.  8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.  9 Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!  10 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 

I can remember a time, not that long ago, when if you wanted to talk with me on the phone you had to wait until I got home.  If you called before I got home you heard the phone ring and ring and ring with no answer.  If you knew my business number you could try me there, but if not you had to be patient.  As the years passed, I added an answering machine so that people could leave a message and I would get right back to them when I got home.  Then I got a pager so that I would know that someone had left a message, and I could listen to that message wherever I was.  This allowed me to respond to calls sooner.

If you wanted to send me something in writing you had to mail it through the post office.  Several days could pass before I received it.  After a while I got a fax machine and email so you could send me a message and it would be waiting for me when I got home.  I no longer had to wait days for the letter carrier to bring me the mail.  

Today I carry around a smartphone.  You can call me anytime you want, and unless I am doing a church thing, I will answer it almost every time.  I have email, but use it less and less.  For young people email and voicemail on your phone are too slow.  They like to use text messaging which allows information to be sent and received instantly without having to wait for someone to read his email or listen to her voice mail.  

I love having instant access to news, sports and weather.  I used to wait for the morning newspaper or the evening TV news.  But now I find all of this information instantly on my phone.  I have become someone who expects things to happen right now.  And I do not have any patience to wait.  This is nothing new.  Men and women have always wanted things right now, not later.  We find waiting difficult.  And yet God wants us to wait until Jesus’ return.  James tells us to “be patient.”  

The early church expected Jesus to return at any moment.  They certainly thought that he would return in their lifetimes.   But as the years went by they were still waiting.  They had been praying, and worshiping and studying their Bibles.  They had been serving the poor and needy in their communities.  They wanted everything to be right when Jesus returned.  But he hadn’t returned and so they were still waiting.

So too with us.  We worship every Sunday.  We have Bible studies and prayer groups.  We share our grief on Tuesday nights.   We support Talbot Interfaith shelter and have grocery cards for needy families.  We have Bible story time for the preschoolers.  We have been doing all this for many years trying to get the world right, and we are still waiting for Jesus to return.

The Apostle James, the brother of Jesus and the leader of the church in Jerusalem, wanted his church to be patient until Jesus comes again.  He gave as his example of patience a farmer who patiently waits for his crops to grow.  

The farmers in Jerusalem in the first century had to practice dry weather agriculture.  Some of the farmers, those in valleys, could irrigate their fields from the Jordan river.  But those who farmed on the hillsides could not.  They were dependent on the limited rainfall that fell on Judah.  These farmers expected rain twice a year.  In the Fall, October and November rains would come that would break up soil which had baked for months in desert heat.  This was needed so that crops could be planted.  Without these Autumn rains nothing could be planted because the soil was as hard as a rock.  Planting would occur in the early Spring and would be completed by Easter.  The Passover was a celebration that the crops were in the field.  Then the Spring rains would fall in March and April watering the crops.  Harvest would occur 50 days later.  The crops had to be harvested by early June so as not to be scorched by the hot Summer sun.  They would celebrate the June harvest with the feast of Pentecost.  Beginning with the new year in September the farmers would patiently wait for the Autumn rains to start the process that hopefully would lead to an abundant harvest.

So too with us.  Just as farmers patiently wait for God to send the rain, so too must we patiently wait for Jesus’ return.  But how do we do this?  We don’t like to wait for things.  We don’t want to wait for Jesus.  We want him to come right now.  James has a few ideas about how we can wait.

First, James suggests that we strengthen our hearts.  This means that we grow spiritually.  We continue doing what we have been doing.  We continue worshiping and studying the Bible every week.  We continue praying and meditating on scripture every day.  We continue providing resources for the poor, and gift cards for the hungry.  We do the work of various groups in the church.  As we do these things our hearts are strengthened for what might be a long wait for Jesus’ return.  And a strong heart gives us patience.

The second thing James wants us to do is to not grumble about the wait.  Grumbling is what we usually do when we wait.  “Why doesn’t he return my call?”  “My children haven’t visited for a long time.”    “I’ve been on session for years; why isn’t Jesus here already?”    You have heard people grumble, and I’m sure you have grumbled yourselves.   But James wants us to cut it out because grumbling makes us impatient.   The more we grumble, the more unpleasant our wait is.  And this leads us to grumble even more.  But if we stop grumbling and always say good things about our wait then we break the cycle, waiting is more pleasant, and seems to pass more quickly.   So don’t grumble as you wait for Jesus’ return and become more patient.

And the third thing that James wants us to do as we wait is to focus on the people in the Bible who also had to wait.  The example James gives of a biblical character who had to wait was Job.  Job was a wealthy farmer with a large family, and everything you could ever want.  But through no fault of his own he lost everything, his health, his wealth and his family.  His faith was strong and sustained him throughout the bad times.  He grumbled to God about his plight, and received a rebuke.  But he remained faithful, and his health, wealth and family were eventually restored.   Job became patient and his waiting led to blessing.

So what should we do, those who have been waiting for thousands of years?  Should we be impatient and like Job grumble about our long wait?  I think not.  Jesus will come.  Jesus might come tomorrow.  Jesus might come a thousand years from now.  We don’t know.  All we can do is wait.  And while we are waiting we can build patience by worshiping, and praying, and studying the Bible.  And we can stop grumbling about our long wait, and accept the blessings of God through this waiting time.  Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus, we have been waiting for you for so long.  Waiting is difficult and we are tempted to start grumbling about it.  Grant us the gift of patience as you did for the prophets.  And strengthen us with your spirit.  This we pray in your glorious name.  Come Lord Jesus.  Amen.