Weekly Seeds: Strengthen Your Resolve

Sunday, December 11, 2022
Third Sunday of Advent| Year A

Focus Theme:
Strengthen Your Resolve

Focus Prayer:
Present God, we wait in impatience for your kindom to be realized. Strengthen our hearts in the waiting. Amen.

Focus Reading:
James 5:7-10
7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

All readings for this Sunday:
Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10 or Luke 1:46b-55
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Focus Questions:
1. Do you struggle with patience?
2. What makes waiting, whether in joyful anticipation or dread, so challenging?
3. How do you fortify yourself during the time of waiting?
4. How does the gospel provide a vision that counters societal norms?
5. What blessings have you received in the waiting?

By Mia M. McClain

What is patience when you’re hungry?
What is advent when you’re weary?
What is waiting when your soul is tired?

I live around the corner from a food bank (of sorts). It is an organization local to Washington, D.C. that gives out fresh groceries to people in the community. Shortly after I moved into the neighborhood, I was coming home one Saturday and saw a long line wrapped around the block. People of all ages, genders, and ethnicities—grandmothers with small children, preteens with their parent—were in this line that descended a hill. Some had folding shopping carts; others had tote bags. Some were dragging small, disinterested toddlers up this hill as they got closer to a piece of communal salvation. I pulled into my garage and once I got inside, peaked out my front window to view the growing line that only shrunk slightly before more added to it. I thought about their waiting. I thought about what they were expecting. Did they know what type of food they’d be receiving, or would it be the typical weekly guessing game? Was this a part of their weekly routine or had they suddenly fallen on hard times?

According to the World Bank’s November update, domestic food price inflation remains high around the world. A June article in the Washington Post reported that 1 out of 3 people in the D.C. metropolitan region face food insecurity. “Food pantries are seeing the consequences of escalating costs and say that people are coming back again for help, following record highs during the pandemic, to keep food on the table”(Kyle Swenson, Susan Doyle, Washington Post).

I don’t know how long many of them had been waiting in that line. Had they eaten breakfast that morning? Lunch? Nothing at all? I remember living below the poverty line in New York City 2018-2019 and surviving on mostly one meal a day, but I had never waited in line for food. I never had to exercise that kind of patience.

What is patience when your stomach is growling?
What is advent when the backs of your knees start to ache while in line on an incline? What is waiting when your dignity has been leveled and your weary soul must resign to painful patience or starvation?

7 Be patient, therefore, siblings, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 9 SIblings, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, siblings, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Sheila Klassen-Wiebe reminds us that “James’s readers were probably, for the most part, the ‘poor’ who were suffering because of socioeconomic disparities and oppression by the ‘rich’” (Klassen-Wiebe, p1). James calls for patient endurance (stemming from Greek terms: μακροθυμέω and ὑπομονή) several times in this short pericope. A variation of “patience” appears four times in four verses. Clearly, it is his focus for this section of the chapter that centers the downtrodden.

“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.” – James 5:1

We come out of the first six verses of the chapter where James is condemning the rich for “[failing] to pay the workers who mowed [their] fields” and “[living] on earth in luxury and self-indulgence” (5:4-5). After this harangue, James shifts the focus of his conversation to those in the audience who had suffered greatly, perhaps at the hands of the greedy rich he speaks to in the first six verses. In this section, James calls the oppressed to embrace patience and endurance, terms used together frequently, particularly in the Revelation to John. The use of these terms together suggests that James is not just calling for the type of patience my mother told me to have when waiting for the microwave to finish heating my food, or when waiting for my food to cool off before taking a bite lest I burn my tongue. No—this patience wasn’t one of quick gratification pending a slightly uncomfortable delay. This patience wasn’t one where you’d know the outcome—the day, the time, the subject. This patience that James writes about presumes that the sufferer knows no day nor hour nor form in which their relief will come.

“This does not mean, however, that James’ exhortation to be patient in the face of oppressive circumstances encourages passivity,” Klassen-Weibe says. “In this text, James urges his readers to an active patience and calls them to faithful living while they wait” (Klassen-Wiebe, p2).

I think about the active patience I am attempting to exercise in my life around some desires that have not yet been met. I am actively waiting for something I’ve prayed for to come to fruition, and while I’m waiting, I’m working. While I’m waiting, I’m living. While I’m waiting, I’m dreaming despite unmet desires. None of those desires, however, are basic life needs—food, shelter, water, clothing; yet, the waiting still makes me weary. I am weary on a full stomach. I am weary and hydrated. I am weary and clothed. I am weary and sheltered; but what do we say to the weary who do not have their basic needs met? How do we preach patience—even active patience—to those who are victims of a rat race with very few exits? Where is this hope in the advent season for the least of these who wait in line on an incline in inclement weather for their help to come?

Isaiah 35:1 says, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus.”

Perhaps, we don’t preach patience—not in the way that I’m thinking of, a passive patience where one resigns to their fate with no hope of liberation. Perhaps, 1 James needs to be paired with some other texts to illuminate what patience looks like in the valley of the shadow of death. Perhaps, we must activate our memory. There is a collective memory that we as followers of Jesus and co-creators with God can call upon in times where patience seems far-fetched and hope seems impossible. The practice of remembering is a practice of hope. The writer of 1 James wasn’t the first to try to bring hope to a dry place. Isaiah reminds us that even the desert rejoices!—even the dry land cultivates gladness! The Psalmist reminds us that even in the midst of the chaos and calamity, we are in relationship with God who can “execute justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry…who sets the prisoners free”(Psalm 146:5-7).

Is this not what this faith journey is all about? Even Mary, Mother of Jesus, in her hour of uncertainty—in the midst of an unplanned pregnancy during a time when her reproductive rights were non-existent—she sings to God in her dry place, saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has looked with favor on the lowliness of God’s servant…. God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:46b-48, 53). I have to believe that somehow she remembered her ancestors talking about a God who would make a way in the wilderness and a river in the dry place (Isaiah 43:19). And that was her patient hope.

It is so easy to find ourselves slipping into hopelessness. Even spiritual leaders who attend to the many crises of our communities can slip into hopelessness. The unmet basic life needs seem to be piling up in great numbers, these days, and it can feel like nothing we’re doing or preaching or fighting for is making a dent in the growing economic disparity. We get phone call after phone call asking for help with groceries, particularly around this time of feasting and festivities, and I mostly want to throw the phone on the lawn of the legislative offices in frustration; But

“Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God”
(Psalm 146:5).

The practice of remembering—of stringing the wondrous acts of God together—is the practice of patient hope—of perseverance. It is a practice needed now more than ever. We remember, not just to live in nostalgia and reminisce on the “good ole days.” We remember as we call for a new revolution. In our patience, we remember the prophets who came before us. We re-member God and God’s presence as we fight to put the pieces of our lives back together again.

We remember that a man named Jesus fed people before he preached to them. His ministry was often a feeding ministry to precede any verbal message he was trying to convey. In this season of feasting, maybe our patience looks less like waiting for the harvest in a world where the harvest may not come for all, and more like activating our memory of a God of abundance who stretches what we already have to get what we need so that all God’s children can feast at the table.

This advent, how will you practice patient remembering? Maybe it isn’t your knees that are buckling in the food bank line or your stomach that’s growling, but somebody you don’t even know is counting on you to practice patient remembering—to not slip into hopelessness, to recall that even the dry places rejoice and make glad the city of a God who gives the hungry GOOD things. How shall you practice patience remembering?

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“Who Said It Was Simple”
By Audre Lorde
There are so many roots to the tree of anger
that sometimes the branches shatter
before they bear.

Sitting in Nedicks
the women rally before they march
discussing the problematic girls
they hire to make them free.
An almost white counterman passes
a waiting brother to serve them first
and the ladies neither notice nor reject
the slighter pleasures of their slavery.
But I who am bound by my mirror
as well as my bed
see causes in colour
as well as sex

and sit here wondering
which me will survive
all these liberations.

For further reflection:
“First, I have not minded so much leaving the Garden because God, blessed be his holy name, has never abandoned us.” ― Katerina Whitley
“Anticipation lifts the heart. Desire is created to be fulfilled – perhaps not all at once, more likely in slow stages. Isaiah uttered his prophetic words about the renewal of the natural Creation into a wilderness of spiritual barrenness and thirst. For him, and for many other Old Testament seers, the vacuum of dry indifference into which he spoke was not yet a place of fulfillment. Yet the promise of God through this human mouthpiece (and the word “”promise”” always holds a kind of certainty) was verdant with hope, a kind of greenness and glory. A softening of hard-heartedness, a lively expectation, would herald the coming of Messiah. And once again, in this season of Advent, the same promise for the same Anointed One is coming closer.” ― Luci Shaw
“Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent; one waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other- things that are of no real consequence- the door is shut, and can be opened only from the outside.” ― Dietrech Bonhoeffer

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Mia M. McClain is the Senior Pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Washington D.C. She is an ordained UCC minister.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

You’re welcome to use this resource in your congregation’s Bible study groups.

Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.