Are We There, Yet?

Robin White

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It is about being ready for an arrival, as well as about not being ready for a delay. We’re oh so ready for a vaccine, for a return to the analog world, for decisive victories and equally decisive defeats, for a release from the multitude of limbos we all inhabit. We are ready and willing to arrive. We have not proven ourselves ready to wait.”—The Rev. Robin White

Wing + Prayer

By The Reverend Robin White

Adoption of the The Hague Declaration on Human Rights in Action. (Image: © One Young World.)

Adoption of the The Hague Declaration on Human Rights in Action. (Image: © One Young World.)

Robin White Weekly Hubris

ANDERSON South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—1 December 2020—So, here we are, waiting. And, appropriately, our lectionary reading for today—the text we Presbyterians have drawn out of a hat three years deep—is about waiting . . . .  

It is about being ready for an arrival, as well as about not being ready for a delay. We’re oh so ready for a vaccine, for a return to the analog world, for decisive victories and equally decisive defeats, for a release from the multitude of limbos we all inhabit.

We are ready and willing to arrive. We have not proven ourselves ready to wait. Suffering from pandemic fatigue and exhausted from a month, now, of counting and recounting the vote, ballot by ballot by ballot, we feel like Samuel Becket’s Vladimir and Estragon, as well as like the bridesmaids in Matthew’s parable.

In that parable, Jesus teaches us that God’s realm demands, requires, decision, preparation, expectation, and anticipation . . . .

When God finally breaks into our lives, however, will we be ready? Or will our lamps have burned out because we have not prepared for a delay?   

It feels, to me, as though Matthew is speaking directly to us at the tail end of 2020, but he was actually writing to a 1st-century community impatiently awaiting the return of Christ. The destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 was understood by many to be a sign that that return was imminent. The early church had become focused upon and even obsessed by determining the “day and the hour.” Matthew reminds Jesus’ followers that they cannot know the day nor the hour, and that a delay must be considered a possibility. To ignore that possibility would be foolish.  

We know now, perhaps more clearly than ever before, what it is to wait, and wait, and wait. Lord knows, Christians have been waiting for the in-breaking of God for over 2,000 years. After such a long wait, it is only natural to become complacent, to take for granted today, while focusing all of our attention on tomorrow. How easy it is to go through the day and do everything we are supposed to do but then wonder, at day’s end, if we have done anything that matters. Have we just missed the entire point of living? Have we merely existed, in a state of suspended animation, the light dimming around us—having run out of oil?

For the gospel writer, Matthew, that God’s realm is coming is a happy, comforting given, but the time of that arrival is . . . . irrelevant. Let that sink in.

We must rejoice, as believers, that such an arrival, such a return, is promised us. But we are not vouchsafed a specific appointment. And so, we can choose how to wait.

Matthew offers his community a story that reveals the reality of the coming realm and how it should influence how followers of Jesus live in the present.  

The story of the young women with their lamps is told towards the end of Matthew’s gospel, just before he addresses the plot to kill Jesus. (Perhaps, then, the bridesmaids’ story is also about endings; about arrivals; about the cessation of waiting; about how we should wait.) Those five wedding guests who are unprepared are locked out of the feast. Life, and living properly, cannot be deferred as we wait. We are urged to be alert, to watch, to wait consciously, to be prepared. Determining the time of our release, our arrival, is not at all the issue: behaving responsibly over the period of our wait, be it an hour or several lifetimes, must be our focus. If we really do expect the coming of God’s dominion, then we will keep watch with extra oil on hand.

The question Matthew’s community had to ask themselves is the same question we must ask ourselves. Do we believe God will break in and redeem this broken and fragile world? Will the meek ever really inherit the earth? Do we really believe God’s realm will come? If the answer is yes, then we must, for the duration, carry oil 

Even in the dark, even if we cannot remember Jesus’ face, even if our appointment is uncertain, even if God’s arrival is, seemingly, delayed, we have been taught well how we must be. We must preserve the light, and hold it high, however long it takes. We’re not there, yet.   

I can’t help but sing these words by Herbert Kretzmer . . . . They make the point better than I am able.

“Do You Hear The People Sing”
from Les Misérables

Do you hear the people sing,
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.
 
For the wretched of the earth,
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.
 
They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
We will walk behind the plowshares.
We will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward!
 
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that we bring
When tomorrow comes!
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that we bring
When tomorrow comes!

Robin White

About Robin White

The Rev. Robin Kaye White grew up in a farming community in Central New York State: she is descended, on both sides of her family, from dairy farmers, and is most alive, still, in rural North American landscapes. A voice major, she studied Music at Ithaca College; then earned her MDiv at Lancaster Theological Seminary and did graduate work at Princeton Seminary and The Theological Institute of Advanced Theological Research in Jerusalem, Israel. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), White was recently a Co-Moderator of the National Board of More Light Presbyterians. White is passionate about liturgy—“the work of the people”—and preaching. In her sermons, she strives to illuminate the original context of scripture and tease out its messages for the fraught present. She has had the privilege of “holding space” for the dying and their loved ones and experiences this ministry of presence as a gift: she is most willing to go with people as they journey to desert places. She states: “I have lived my life by adhering to Paul’s words in his letter to the church at Rome, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.’” She is just as likely, though, to quote Rachel Held Evans as St. Paul: “This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.” A Lesbian-Pescaterian-Presbyterian, Reverend White is most alive out of doors, whether hiking, biking, kayaking, golfing . . . or just sitting on a rock. (Banner and Author photos by E.B.-Herring, taken at Pendleton SC's Liberty Hall Bed & Breakfast.)
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