Patience: for the Mundane and the Cosmic

Colossians 1: 3 – 12


I am sure that somewhere along the way you’ve heard the tongue in cheek advice that one should never pray for patience, lest God send trial upon trial your way in order to give you practice in developing it.


It’s one of those “jokes” that has become something like superstition for me, so much so that when someone asks for patience during joys and concerns or in a private conversation, I find myself having to reel in my desire to counsel against such a request.


Life demands patience, and patience helps us to keep stepping forward when things are hard, uncomfortable, unsatisfactory.


In our series this summer we are holding onto a promise made in Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia that when we live by the Spirit, the Spirit causes fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to grow within each of us.


The fourth fruit, patience, as defined by Merriam Webster, is the capacity to bear hard things in life without complaint. But the Latin roots of the word point specifically to suffering. A “patient” in the medical world was originally labeled such because they suffered something.


So…this fruit, patience, do we really want to have to use it? Because it would seem that having patience, growing in patience, suggests that we need to endure things.


Alas, we all NEED patience at points in our life. The human condition seems to require it.


In our text for today, a letter that may or may not have been written by Paul to the church at Colossae, the author begins with a pronouncement of thanksgiving and blessing for the community, particularly:


May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, so that you may have all endurance and patience, joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

I’m aware that we’re getting a lot of Paul in this series…and y’all know that sometimes I have wrestled with Paul. This week I found myself returning to class notes from my New Testament Epistles class taken in the spring of 2007 in order to be reminded of the big picture reasons we pay attention to Paul - in spite of his use of complex sentences, unusual rhetorical forms and regular assertion of highly contextual social norms – like patriarchy.


Remember that Paul lived and evangelized and organized and coached communities (churches) in the space between Jesus’ resurrection and the actual writing down and institutionalizing of the four gospels.  His work, in many ways, was the transitional work of moving the community from a place of personal experience with Jesus and connection to the original disciples to a place of standardized or “institutionalization” stories, memory and practice. 


Paul is coaching to help churches begin to standardize their understanding of who Jesus was and why His good news matters. These communities, as we’ve noted before, are beginning to wrestle with the dawning understanding that Jesus is not returning to establish some new world order in the near term. 


And so, it occurred to me that the kind of patience that Paul is praying these folks will be blessed with might be both imminent – like how do we actually have patience in dealing with folks who want to follow Jesus in our community but are coming from a wildly different world view that we did…


…and more cosmic – as in, Jesus is not going to return and single-handedly topple Caesar, fix the economy, and establish a just society where the last are first. 


Paul is framing the good news of Jesus as cosmic in this particular letter – remember that last week I talked about how sometimes Paul’s letters address something mundane, like a squabble between friends in a community. In this letter, Paul really is offering up a BIG theological idea.  In the verses that follow what you heard today, Paul asserts:


15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.


If you close your eyes and listen closely, those words sound a little bit like the beginning of John’s gospel – in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. Through him all things were made and without him nothing was made that has been made.


Paul’s teaching to this community begins to reframe their expectations about how Jesus has been and will be with them. This is the framing of Jesus who was and is and will be. Jesus’s “is-ness” is as the head of the body – the church. And so as long as the community exists – as long as the body exists – Jesus is the head of that body. Present through all time.


But…let’s face it. This is a really different kind of Jesus-with-us than the Rome-toppling King some folks were still expecting. 


This is a paradigm shift. 


And with those kinds of changes of understanding and expectation, it takes time to move through it all.


So when Paul prays that this community may be made strong by God’s power in order to have endurance and patience, I believe he is addressing endurance on multiple levels. And particularly, Paul is framing big paradigm shifts that subject believers to a slow moving evolution of their thinking and understanding. It is for these things that the community needs patience and endurance.


In Paul’s time, there is a massive paradigm shift happening in early communities about what it means to follow Jesus. And what that means to them can’t be very clear moment by moment. They just have to keep stepping forward into the unknown, with faith in this different, perhaps brand-new-to-them cosmic explanation of Jesus.


This week I have been thinking about this as a different kind of patience. There is the patience of waiting for water to boil. There is patience about waiting for news of a new job or a contract on a house or a new baby’s arrival. There is the patience of waiting for a child to get dressed.


And then there is patience for things that GENERATIONS will anticipate and imagine and live into. 


There is the patience needed to understand that suffering and loss is part of the created order.


There is the patience we need to understand new things that God is doing because the world has and is and will keep changing…and our faith is that in the midst of all that, God doesn’t give up. God is still loving God’s creation, still seeking us out. 


Waiting on the emerging Kin-dom of God is its own kind of patience.


And if we look across the arc of the story line in scripture, this kind of patience is NOT new. Abram and Sarai waited (with more and less patience moment by moment) for God to fulfill God’s promise. Job endured suffering and hardship with very little understanding and explanation. Mary exercised patience while waiting for it all to make sense after an angel announced she would bear God’s son.

Perhaps this has been most present in my spirit this week as our study group convened to prepare for next week’s first community meeting about the possibility of developing affordable housing on our property.


The paradigm shifts alongside the mundane challenges in a conversation like the one we are beginning together here at Faith are pretty overwhelming. Let’s face it, this piece of property has represented Faith’s idea of what it means to be a church for a long time. 


And the idea of being a church has shifted in significant ways over the past 60 years. From the institution that any respectable suburban family participated in as the center of their community life to a spread-out community that is one of many identities a person bears. This is a S-L-O-W bit of work – in part because we are learning to wrap our heads around how God is working in the world today and how we might be called to be part of that work.

It is going to take all kinds of patience – for the mundane and for the cosmic, for ourselves and for one another. Come Holy Spirit.


Come Holy Spirit. 


Patience is a muscle that we build, it is muscle work stimulated in us. 


You may have heard that mastery of a skill takes 10,000 hours of practice. That is 250 40-hour work weeks, for context.


Think about every time you struggle to love your neighbor in spite of some difference – big or small. 


Think about every time you struggle to remember that God is in the midst of all the things, in spite of your general perception that things are falling apart. 


Are there Holy Spirit nudges in those moments of frustration, in those moments of doubt, in those moments of perplexity? 


What does it take to attune yourself, to feel in your body those times when you feel overwhelmed or frustrated or pinched and to invite in the faith that there is something bigger at play? Or to put the frustration in perspective – against the backdrop of the bigger that are happening all around. And to be clear, I am not suggesting that we have to suppress those moments, those feelings. But what does it take to step back and observe what we are feeling. To sit with those feelings. To maybe even have a dialogue with the Spirit in those moments and ask for what we need – a little patience perhaps.


I’ve thought a lot about the gifts of the Spirit – they all seem to be gifts that require some work on our part. Which means that we have work to do to accept those gifts. May we be awake in days to come to the places that the Holy Spirit is nurturing and calling forth the gift of patience in us. For ourselves, for others, for God and for the world.


May it be so.





On a scale of 1 to 10, how patient are you? 

What one step might you take this week to make you a more patient person?



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