Sussex Christian Reformed Church
Text: II Peter 3:3-10 (NRSV)
First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the godless. But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow about his promises, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.
I’m not sure if you remember, but as the year 2012 came to an end there was a strange phenomenon in which people thought that the world was going to come to an end. There were people who held signs that read, “The end is near.” and there was even a movie about the world coming to a cataclysmic end in the year 2012. But here we are in the year 2016 and the world as we know it is still here. For an entire year there was a crazed hype that the world was going to cease to exist, but when the time came nothing happened. And the world would eventually begin to look back at 2012 as another year that people thought that the sky would fall and that everything would come crashing down from the heavens above.
Though it may be the year 2016, we are still left with many questions about the world we live in today. Where is God in the places where there is bloodshed, in the places where justice is made corrupt by coin and ignorance, in the places where hate against people who were created in the image of God is propagated but it is met with nothing but silence? These are the questions that encapsulate the tension that is found in our Scripture reading for today. The people in our reading had been hearing about the coming of the Lord, the day when evil would be purged from the world and God would establish a kingdom on earth, but nothing ever happened. The day of liberation, the day of salvation, never seemed to arrive as they had hoped. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they probably turned to one another and asked, “Where is God?”
There have probably been multiple occasions where we found ourselves throwing out sayings like, “It’s in God’s hands.” or “God is in control.” But what do we really mean when we use such phrases? What is at the core of our being that drives us to say that God is in control? It can be quite easy for us to say such things like this when we feel as though God is on our side; when we feel that our will is aligned with the will of God. However, if we were to take a closer look at the nature of God, we would find that time and time again the will of God often is quite different from that of our own expectations and hopes.
So maybe we need to develop a better understanding of what it means to be open to difference between God’s will and ours. Because the Bible is filled with people who experienced this first hand. Abraham’s plan was to have a child with Hagar. Moses’ plan was to kill the Egyptian who was beating an Israelite slave. David’s plan was to be a shepherd. And Peter’s plan was to prevent Jesus from going to the cross. All of them would eventually find that their hopes and expectations for the world were quite different from what God had in mind, but along the way all of these individuals found a way to draw closer to God, which was God’s desire for them all along.
You might say that this discrepancy between God’s will and our hopes and expectations is an occupation hazard that comes along with being a disciple of Jesus Christ. In a culture that seems to demand that everything happen in an instant, it can be quite disorienting to shift into the mindset of waiting and praying. It means that while we wait and pray we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and risk going down a path we think is right only to find out that God had something else in mind. And as a result, it can be quite tempting for us to try and fit God into our own designs. So that if something does go right for us, we can claim that God is in control or that everything is in God’s hands.
By the time that II Peter was written there were many Christians who had become skeptical of the idea that God would come again to establish a kingdom here on earth. Peter writes hoping to give them encouragement and to tell them to keep patient and waiting, but not the way that we think about waiting. The waiting that Peter writes about is not the kind where we sit on our hands and do nothing, but an active kind of waiting. The waiting that doesn’t involve us holding signs that say, “The end is near,” but the kind of waiting that calls us to live lives of holiness that show the love, peace, and justice that God wants for all people. The waiting that is often challenging us to go outside of our comfortable boundaries into places where we never thought we would go.
Waiting and being patient is not something that is new. When we turn through the Bible’s pages we find that people have always waited for God. Israel had waited in Egypt for 430 years. Moses waited on Mt. Sinai for forty days, and the ancient Hebrew people waited a total of forty years in the desert before they were able to enter into the promised land. And the waiting does not stop with the coming of Jesus Christ. Indeed, our wait continues as we anticipate God’s coming to reign with divine justice and peace that exceeds our human understanding. And so we wait, and so does God.
It would be an understatement to say that the Lord is patient. Our Scripture reading reminds us, “that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow about his promises, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” And that’s the key for unlocking the tension that is present in our text for this evening. Understanding that God’s patience is not the same as God, neglecting the promises that were made to us is pivotal. It is a liberating reminder that God is indeed in control, and that we are free to put our energies to the work that is laid out before us. God’s patience is not God forgetting us or the promises that have been made to us, but another means of understanding the salvation that only God can provide.
In his book “A Theology of Liberation” the late theologian Gustavo Gutierrez offers us some additional insight into God’s interaction with history and salvation:
If we mean by the “history of salvation” not only those action that are properly divine, but the actions of human being as they respond to divine initiatives, then there is in fact only one history, for the uncertain endeavors of human beings, whether they like it or not, whether they know it or not, have their place in the divine plan.
Therefore, we see that the work of salvation, the work that is to be done is the world today, is not accomplished by God alone. Because it is important for us to see that our mission, our purpose, is not to get to the right place in life. That is God’s job. Our mission our purpose in life it to discover that this God who is patient is calling us to come to this divine work just as we are. Because regardless of where we have been God is waiting patiently for all of us to come and join in the larger community of saints now living and those who have passed away. With God, there is a redemption in everything.
And so we are to regard God’s patience as a means of salvation and grace. For as God waits, we know that there is still time! There is time for us to go to our neighbors, strangers, enemies, those whom we have forgotten to care for and protect, those who transform us by showing us how expansive God’s world can be. There is time for us to go and welcome them, to let them in, to let them know there is still plenty of room in God’s story redemptive love. There is time, because God waits with the hope that we will one day be made whole. God waits, knowing that there are people whom we have left in the shadows, that there are people who we pushed out of our communities, and that there are those who were never invited to the table in the first place. God waits for the day where we will no longer claim to belong to any nation, any state, or any group of people, but claim to be citizens in the kingdom of God. God waits for the day when we are able to stand with all our brothers and sisters in a way that reflects the love, the peace, and the justice of God.
We find ourselves starting another season of Advent, another season of waiting. But we aren’t the only ones who are waiting. Because, as I mentioned before, God is waiting as well, waiting for us to go out into the world to share this story of unimaginable love and to care for those whom we have not always cared for in the past. This Advent may we use the time we have to tell those around us the story of God’s love. The story of this great love where God “[does not want] any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” The story where the only thing that does pass away, that does die, is the oppressive and darkened Empire of the days of old. Because it’s all about the people, God is waiting for all the children of the world to come. If it takes a day or another thousand years God can wait. Because that is how important we are in the eyes of God.
Would you please pray with me… Holy God, we find ourselves beginning another Advent season, another period of waiting. We ask that you send your Holy Spirit upon us. May your Spirit strengthen and guide us so that we may not feel weary and remember to live lives that are holy and reflect your love and compassion to the world. As we go into the world allow our mouths to not keep silent about the story of redemption that you have laid out for all people. Give us the nourishment we need to be disciples of your holy name and give us open hearts to be transformed as we welcome all who come to take their place among the many who journey with your son Jesus Christ. Amen.