Adapted from a previous sermon series at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas
and inspired and using ideas and content from the Rev. Chris B. Herring
preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church of Saint Louis. Original citation lost.
So we’re back to this little sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit
after a quick break last week.
I’m very glad that the Rev. Eric Garbison was here
to bring you a word from Cherith Brook
and to lead our worship. Thank you for your hospitality of him last week.
We are now on the fourth of the nine Fruit of the Spirit that Paul lists in Galatians,
the fruit of patience.
You might remember how Paul put it:
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
There is no law against such things.
So we’ll deal with Patience today.
Something I know none of us need to focus on.
To do this, we’ll read from the letter to the Colossians, the third chapter.
Listen for the Word of God to us this morning:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
Bear with one another and,
if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other;
just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
to which indeed you were called in the one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly;
teach and admonish one another in all wisdom;
and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms,
hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
And whatever you do, in word or deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
And may God bless our reading
and our understanding
and are applying of this Word, to how we live our lives. Amen.
Once, many years ago, I heard a pastor open a Father’s Day sermon
with these dubious words from an anonymous poet:
Patience is a virtue.
Possess it if you can.
Seldom in a woman
Never in a man![i]
See: dubious. I told you so.
Well, I clipped it, and I was going to use it last week on Father’s day,
but I wasn’t here, and
somehow it fits today’s sermon a bit better…
This little verse recognizes a common malady these days.
I know how impatient I can be.
It was on full display last night, for instance
when I was trying to get home from being in
Portland at our General Assembly,
the national meeting of Presbyterians
and found my self, those last twenty minutes
waiting for my checked bag…at midnight….
did I mention twenty minutes…?
I wasn’t at my best, lets just put it that way.
And, my friends, I don’t think I’m alone.
Our frantic paced, solution-on-demand,
me-first culture seems to breed something like impatience.
The schedules and expectations we set for ourselves
well, they put us in a pressure cooker,
And we let off more-than-a-little steam
when things don’t go as we have planned.
Unfortunately, that steam usually leads only to more heat, and more stress…
Well then. If we are a generally impatient lot,
Then today’s sermon on the fourth fruit of the spirit, the gift of PATIENCE,
May be particularly important for all of us.
We might welcome a word from on High
to help us become a less-edgy, more-calm person.
how to harvest patience in your life…
However, when we look to the Bible, and particularly the New Testament
for clues on how to overcome our impatience
we might at first be disappointed.
Over the course of this sermon series,
We’ve moved from three qualities of the Christian life—love, joy, and peace—
that have plenty of supporting material,
reference after reference from Jesus and the various letters of Paul…
We’ve moved from love and joy and peace
to THIS fruit, and most of those which follow,
that get relatively little attention in the scriptures.
Paul mentions patience a half-dozen times or so, more than anyone else, true
but in every case that is all that he does—he just names it,
usually in a list with other similar qualities,
without defining precisely what he means
or suggesting ways to make it more a part of our life.
And to make it more difficult,
patience is a word that, at least according to the gospels,
was never quoted as coming from Jesus.
However, there it is in Paul’s list of the Fruit of the Spirit.
In listing patience here, I think Paul is acknowledging
that this quality does not come naturally to us.
In part, that’s what makes it a GIFT of the spirit,
Part of the transformation that occurs when we open ourselves
to the power of God flooding into our life.
It is not something we POSSESS, as much as a gift that we RECEIVE.
Moreover, the definition of this fruit,
the explanation of what it looks like and how it is displayed,
like each of the fruit that Paul lists,
is best exemplified by looking at God.
And that is because:
to be transformed by the Spirit, and to bear the Fruit of the Spirit
is to come to live as God lives, or to at least try to.
Fair enough. So what is this fruit, exactly?
One reason Paul doesn’t elaborate
is that he doesn’t need to talk a whole lot about what he means by patience,
Most of his readers were very familiar
with the patient God of the Hebrew Scriptures.
William Barclay once argued that the Greek word for patience
Means the opposite of Short Tempered.
Barclay regrets that we don’t really have a word in English for
Long-Tempered, which might convey the proper meaning.
I’ve tried to capture it today in the phrase a Tempered Temper.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word is often expressed as “slow-to-anger.”
and in the New Testament
You’ll sometimes find it translated as “long-suffering.”
And so Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase of Galatians,
translates this fruit as our ability
“To DEVELOP a willingness to stick with things…”
However it is translated, this word PATIENCE connotes the quality
of someone who doesn’t give up on another person,
of someone who ALWAYS keeps the door open,
of someone who keeps on trying to build relationship.
The Hebrew Scriptures know our God to be THAT kind of God.
In Exodus: “The Lord, merciful and gracious, slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
In Nehemiah: “You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
As you might have noticed,
when God is described as possessing this PATIENCE,
God is also typically described as demonstrating love.
That’s important, because so it is with Paul.
Paul understands Patience to be a facet of Love.
It is a characteristic of a loving bond between people
who know and truly care for each other.
So the Pauline author of Ephesians writes “I…beg you to lead a life worthy
of the calling to which you have been called…
with patience, bearing one another in love.” (4:1-3)
And we have heard very similar words from the letter to the Colossians today:
“As God’s chosen ones clothe yourselves
with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…
[but] above all, clothe yourselves in love.”
And you may remember that famous chapter of First Corinthians,
…think back to the last wedding you attended,
When Paul discusses that supreme quality of love,
the very first thing he says is… “love is PATIENT and love is kind…”
Its as if Paul is saying “Love doesn’t close the door on the beloved.
Love manifests a tempered temper…”
Though Jesus is not recorded as ever talking about patience,
He certainly practiced it.
Especially with the disciples, this small group of very common people
Whom he chose to follow after him,
Though they never seemed to follow very well,
Or to ever quite understand the lessons the Jesus taught …
Christ loved them, and he nurtured them with infinite patience,
Never closing the door on them
even when they revealed their denseness, or worldly ambition.
The Gospel reading this morning Kakie offered
is just one example of Jesus’ long-suffering Tempered temper,
His steadfast love with them…
So patience is most often mentioned in Scripture
as a QUALITY of relationships, as a bond of love.
Fits of exasperation because of a traffic jam or a computer meltdown
Would me more appropriately discussed under the final fruit of the spirit,
Such day to day aggravations are best minimized by making room in our heart
For the fruit of peace as we discussed last a few weeks ago.
We “get a grip” on the aggravations of life by receiving
the gift of peace that Christ offers.
But the emphasis of the Biblical writers when they talk about patience
is engaging in relationships with respect and valuing people, warts and all.
Patience is about keeping doors open,
rather than shutting them in fits of anger or self-righteousness.
It is about a tempered temper. It is about a resilient attitude…
An important word of disclaimer:
This gift of PATIENCE, just like the other fruit of the Spirit,
should never be construed in such a way as to
keep us in relationships that are abusive or destructive.
People need to get out of such situations,
even as we hold out hope and pray that an abuser may find help
with damaging or harmful behavior.
The fruit of the spirit isn’t about permitting those you love to act in ways
that are harmful—to themselves, to you, to their neighbors.
They’re about cultivating the attitude of the Holy Spirit in your life
so you can help others cultivate it in theirs…
That caveat said, lets explore this quality a little deeper.
Do you find patience challenging?
Do you find yourself seeking ways of expanding your temper
or your tolerance of those around you?
I was thinking about this
after watching Evan Almighty anew a couple of months ago.
You might not remember it very well
It was a not-particularly-memorable movie from about a decade ago
starring Steve Carrell and Lauren Graham.
And in the movie, God appears to a housewife
who is dealing with all sorts of stress at home.
She has asked God for patience, you see,
in dealing with her husband and is increasingly bizarre antics
who starts thinking he’s something like noah
grows a beard, builds an ark….
There is this great moment in the movie
when God and the housewife are talking
they say get into something really important that I want to lift up.
Here’s what God says to her, in a way:
“Do you think that God gives us patience when we pray for it,
or does God give us opportunities to be patient.
And when we ask for courage, does God give us courage,
or give us opportunities to be courageous?”
Well, I think God grants us daily opportunities to be patient,
and when we seek out this fruit of the spirit in our lives,
we have ample opportunity to expand our ability to keep the door open…
There are two particular challenges here:
First, we need to find effective ways to keep our irritations, our stresses,
our PRESSURES from spilling over into our relationships with people.
There are enough challenges to loving one another
without allowing outside pressures to alter how we get along together.
But when that driver cuts me off on I-35,
or when that cashier is talking on his cell-phone
rather than scanning my groceries when I am five minutes late
or when I’ve got work up to my ears, still, and its time to go home…
How easy is it to translate THAT into how we treat OUR KIDS,
our PARENTS, our SPOUSES,
not to mention that driver, that cashier, our bosses, or whomever…
Paul’s admonition to bear the fruit of patience reminds us
to keep our priorities straight
and to make our relationships to one another of far more concern
than the petty, or even not so petty, pressures that we face everyday.
If people are more important than things,
they are also more important than the frustrations that we experience
dealing with things that don’t work quite right.
In High School, I was once at an airport during a blizzard with my family,
why do all of my experiences seem to happen at Airports, I don’t know…
But I was at an airport
Spending the night in the terminal with thousands of other people.
You can believe that I was stressed. We all were.
There was a man there who was about my father’s age,
And had with him a three or four year old child, a cranky, tired, upset child.
I assume the man was the boy’s father.
In any case, the man seemed to put every ounce of his energy
Into accommodating the needs of the young boy.
He would carry him, walk with him, buy him food and drink,
Rub his back, hold him on his lap, walk some more…
The first time I saw the two of them, I thought to myself:
Boy, am I glad I don’t have a small child with me!
Later, after I had been watching them for a while, I thought:
This must be the most patient man alive!
The next morning, we finally were going to board our flight,
and I noticed the man again, arms held out as a barrier,
shielding his son who had finally fallen asleep
and was on the floor in front of my gate.
The father was making sure that the crowd
walked around his son and did not disturb him.
Here was a man who under very adverse circumstances
had plainly “clothed himself in patience, and clothed himself in love.”
That’s the kind of patience with which the spirit wants to fill us with.
It will help us to remember the Spirit’s desire each time
we come through the front door after a stressful day
to greet the people we live with.
To seek out those in our lives who seem to have gotten it, who have this trait,
And to try to model our behavior after them.
The second challenge I’d lift up in being filled with the patience of God
is to expand the circle of people around us
to whom we desire to display this tempered temper.
I think we all want to be patient with those closest with us,
And we make some effort to accomplish it, often successfully.
On the other hand, too often our circle of patience is relatively small.
Now: if patience is fostered in relationships and because of familiarity,
it can be hard extending generosity and patience with others.
There are only so many people in our circle of care and concern.
Kathleen Norris, in her book Dakota, talks about learning of patience
from her frequent visits to a monastery
and studying the Rule of St. Benedict,
one part of which reads, “to bear with the greatest patience
the infirmities of others.”[ii]
Norris writes about how necessary patience is in a closed community,
where people thrown together get to know one another,
and each other’s “infirmities,” very well.
One monk told Norris, “when someone in the community
is driving me up the wall,
we are still in church together four times a day.
And that begins to make a difference. It takes the edge off.”
Norris commented, “When I hear one monk complaining about another,
however harsh the remark,
however acute the exasperation or even rage,
I sense that I am hearing an honest acknowledgement of differences
grounded in love.
Monks, after all, are conscious of moving,
as Benedict says, ‘together unto life ever lasting’.”
What Norris discovered in the monastery is true in other places as well.
The longer we know someone, the longer we expect to be with someone,
the more we come to accept that person.
The key, I think, to expanding our capacity to be patient,
is to see in ALL those we meet, not a stranger, but a potential brother or sister.
To be patient with their strangeness long enough to come to know their gifts.
To be tolerant with our differences
so that we can come to know our sameness before God.
And with those we will never come to know well,
even those who seem incompetent or rude,
patience is to grant them the understanding and courtesy
that comes from recognizing that they, too, are a child of God
just as we are.
In a way, we model that as a community of faith
each Sunday as we come together in worship.
We model that as we engage in our sacramental life,
welcoming all around this table to share the Lord’s supper,
proclaiming that God welcomes all of us, as we are,
to share this feast which the Lord has prepared.
We model that when we witness to God’s amazing acts,
and recognize what God has already done
in the life of young Samantha
by welcoming her to the church through the waters of Baptism.
And as we go out from this place,
and serve at Center Elementary, or with the Harvesters,
or travel Cherith Brook, or a host of other outreach activities
that you do, week after week,
we expand our understanding of brother, sister, neighbor, friend.
These ARE the practices, brothers and sisters,
which help us cultivate this spirit of patience, of a tempered temper, in our life.
Thanks be to God for each of them.
You may remember that humility was among those qualities
Paul listed along with patience in our reading this morning from Colossians.
Certainly humility is a bridge in allowing the spirit
to transform us so that we can bear its fruit of patience.
Humility in knowing that our schedule, our needs,
our ego is not the most important factor in the universe.
Humility in knowing the weaknesses of others
are often mirrored in our own actions.
Humility in knowing that Jesus died for all of us,
and not just the few people I know in my inner circle…
In humility, then, let us move our sometimes over stressed
and inwardly focused lives aside
so that Christ’s spirit can bear patience in how we live.
If we are able to do that, then we can offer living proof of a new poem:
Patience is the Spirit’s gift
Receive it if you can
It transforms many women
And even many men…
May it be so… Amen.
[i]Often cited as coming from Jonathan Morris’ work The Way of Serenity but unattributed. See discussion at http://forum.quoteland.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/99191541/m/203108232?r=986102832#986102832
[ii]Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (Houghton Mifflin: New York, New York, 1993) p. 116.