Isaiah 40: 1-8 & Romans 8: 18-25
“A Good Lenten Journey: The Spiritual Discipline of Waiting”

“A Good Lenten Journey: The Spiritual Discipline of Waiting”

Isa. 40: 1-8 & Rom. 8: 18-25 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ March 17, 2024


Preparing to sit down and enjoy a meal, many will offer a table grace. What words do you pray? Many of us draw upon poetic prayers going back to our childhood. Perhaps you know this one? “God is great, and God is good. And we thank God for our food. By God’s hand, we are fed. Give us Lord, our daily bread.” Yet, as we ponder those words in adulthood, many wonder about God’s goodness. We wonder whether God really is good. For many of us, things are very difficult; things might seem more bad than good. And we wonder, can we still pray “God is great and God is good” given the realities of life?


In 1958, American playwright Archibald MacLeish wrote the Pulitzer winning play “J.B. A Play in Verse”. It was a modern-day retelling of the biblical story of Job. Told through the story of a 20th-century American millionaire banker whom God commands to be stripped of his family and wealth. Yet, through the play, the banker refuses to turn his back on God. The line in the play many remember questions the words in the grace: “if God is God, He is not good. If God is good, He is not God.”  The play highlights an interesting dilemma that we continue to wrestle with today: where does God align with the goodness of the world.


Many say the playwright was doing as much etymology as well as theology. In Old English, the words God and good both have the same origin. Both words were spelled g-o-d. With the pronunciation of “God” there was a short vowel, and that of “good” being pronounced with a longer one. So, looking back, the origins for both good and God were the same. Historically, we saw good synonymous with God. Yet today we ponder this just a childhood prayer wondering if it really has any bearing in reality? How do you hold in tension the goodness of God given the troubles you endure?...given the troubles of the world? I would like to suggest this morning that the way we rectify this is with the spiritual practice of waiting.    


So, what is waiting? To be sure, waiting is work. It is hard work. Waiting is not passive. Much like the other spiritual disciplines we have been discussing through lent: temptation, forgiveness, listening, and love…waiting is a spiritual discipline that requires faithful work. It is anything but passive. Perhaps the French have it correct. The verb for waiting is “attendre”. Waiting is about actively attending…and as we consider attending as a spiritual practice, waiting becomes attending to God’s movement in our lives and in our world.


As we shift to the two texts that Angus read for us, we find two powerful examples of the challenges that God’s people faced in their waiting. Going to the Isaiah passage, this takes us to the 40-year period of Babylonian captivity. In the 40th chapter, we see a shift in the prophet’s language. Scholars refer to this part of the book as “2nd Isaiah” because this is the time that the captives begin to sense release after all the waiting in captivity. 40 years…after all the waiting, after all the pain, after all the struggle…what arrives is the enduring comfort of God’s hope. When Handel wrote the famous “Messiah” cantata that so many of us enjoy, you will recall that following the opening overture, this piece comes next. The strong voice of a skilled tenor sings out: “comfort ye, comfort ye my people”. The two verbs used in this passage are: “speak” and “cry”. Part of the active waiting that the exiles engaged in was speaking and crying. God encourages hears our speaking and crying. The importance of knowing that their God is listening to their words…hearing their cries…comforting them through the struggles and pain is an ever-present promise contained in the waiting. And that promise in the waiting is, one day, a way home! Isaiah names it as a “highway”. There would be a highway through the desert between Babylon and Jerusalem…a way home!  Highways, in Isaiah’s world were created for processional events where rulers and gods would parade in victory. Now, the highway will be God’s people, whose faithful waiting, will now victoriously parade them home!


We all want to go home and find all made new, don’t we? We all want to go home and see forgiveness and restoration. Theologian Fredrick Buechner wrote “no matter how much the world shatters us to pieces, we carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons us” (The Longing for Home). I wonder what that promise might mean to you amidst your struggle? What it might mean to consider God’s promise, that after the waiting that all will be restored, forgiven to the wholeness and the former beauty of what once was? This is the struggle of waiting…of attending…of faithfully waiting on the goodness of God. Indeed, as Isaiah poetically writes, the grass withers and the flower fades, yet the word of the Lord stands forever. This is the deep and profound challenge of our faith…the spiritual discipline of waiting…waiting on the Lord allows us to see it come to fruition.  


The Romans passage move us into the era of the early church with people now beginning to form house-churches and live the Way of Jesus. We can only imagine…Rome would have been the most difficult place to exercise the spiritual practice of waiting…waiting on the Lord! Rome: the epicentre of power, and Christians would be defying all that by proclaiming Jesus as Lord (and not the Emperor). In this passage, Paul writes to support the Christians faithfully waiting in Rome. What he describes is this spiritual discipline…waiting through the pain, through the oppression, through the challenges of the present. We wait through this present time, Paul argues, because we are fellow heirs for the glory that is to come!


Paul intends to give the reason why we ought to practice waiting and (often times) suffering with Christ. Our spiritual discipline of waiting and suffering allows us to be Christ’s fellow heirs. And for that reason, our future glory far outweighs any present suffering. Suffering is itself, Paul explains, a cause for celebration. Because waiting and suffering produce patience, character, and a hope that does not leave one ashamed. This is not merely a feeling or a private opinion: it is something Paul has thought carefully through. The idea that because Christians are in Christ, the true life is already present, but hidden, and waiting to be revealed with Christ in glory. Paul proclaims that we wait in a state of hope: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”


Part of my calling is to practice spiritual waiting with people. At the hospital ward, at hospice and palliative care, in my study…sometimes all we can do is wait. Sometimes all we can do is attend to see what God is up to. People ask, ‘how can you be sure of God’s help?’ We wonder ‘how can we know? ...that God is good? …that all will be well? …that it is all worth waiting for? I guess, all I can say, is that we can be sure because we have this immeasurable thing that buoys our waiting. That think is called faith. Sometimes we have the internal faith needed to wait; and sometimes we rely upon the faith of others (or the signs around us) to accompany us. But we all must through the waiting! The deepest form of spiritual transformation in one’s life occurs when we wait. Faith is not born during those times when we promptly get what we needed. Deep spiritual transformation occurs in those times of faithful waiting.


One community that waits for the Lord in faith is the LGBTQ2SIA+ people. Earlier this week, on March 14th, Affirm United and Affirming connections celebrated PIE day. A relatively new movement within our denomination to celebrate (and work towards) the full inclusion of the LGTBQ2ASIA+ people. March 14th corresponds to the number Pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. 3.141516 (and continuing) is the infinite number that begins with 314 (March 14). It is a symbol of God’s expanding and never ending love for all people. P-I-E also stands for “public”, “intentional” and “explicit”. When we affirm that all are welcome and beloved children of God, we are taking part in the active waiting for the acceptance of all of our siblings in Christ.


We all wait…even Jesus modeled faithful waiting, didn’t he? Next week we will shift towards the most significant week in our faith: Holy Week. And the foundation of that week will be grounded in the waiting upon God. For, while the majority of Christ’s life was focused on doing: healing, teaching, comforting…reflecting God into the world. Even Christ, in his passion will be forced into a time of faithful waiting. When Jesus is arrested, some Bible versions render that he is “betrayed”; however, the Greek implies a waiting aspect that is not present in “betrayed”. It says that he “is handed over”. Judas handed Jesus over and Jesus waited…waiting upon the goodness of God…waited for the culmination of God’s power. Jesus will fulfill all time and space with glory by first waiting on the Lord.


God is great…yes! God is good…yes! Let us wait patiently on the goodness of God. May our waiting allow us to grow in faith, depth, and spiritual maturity. Let us hope for what we do not see and wait for it with patience.