Twenty Fourth Sunday After Pentecost: Putting On A Heart Of Patience
Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity/kindness, humility, modesty, patience:
When I was growing up, the teachers gave us report cards to take home, and one of our parents had to sign it.
I never really understood those letter grades, though. We all know that “F” stands for fail. But F is the only letter grade that stands for anything. “A” doesn’t stand for “awesome”. “C” is average, but average doesn’t start with the letter “C”.
“B” and “D” doesn't stand for anything. And then they skip from D to F. I always wondered whatever happened to the letter E. But “F” is the only letter that stands for something. It stands for “Fail”.
And getting an “F” can be a devastating experience. Now, you may not have ever received an “F” on a report card, but chances are you have failed at something in your life, because all of us fail at one time or another. Not everyone succeeds in life, but at some point, everyone will fail at something. But failure doesn’t have to define you. Just because you have failed, that doesn’t make you a failure.
I’m sure that all of you have a story of a time in your life when you messed up on the job or in a relationship or at school or in your spiritual life, because we all have times in our lives when we have failed.
God made us as little kids who can’t walk or talk or even use the bathroom properly. We have to be taught everything, and, in the process of learning, we fail over and over and over. All of that learning takes time. The whole thing is designed so we try again and again until we finally get it right. And through it all, from the time we are children to the time when we are adults making some of those same mistakes when we were younger, God is endlessly patient.
Just look through the Bible. Hebrews 11 has often been called the roll call of faith, but it could also be called the roll call of failures. Noah got drunk. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife. Jacob and his mother Rebecca lied to Isaac in order to steal the blessing that belonged to Esau. Moses killed a man and because he lost his temper, he failed to enter the Promised Land. David, the greatest king Israel ever had, failed miserably when he murdered a man and took his wife.
And then, you get to the apostles, and you’ve got these men who walked with Jesus for three years, but they still messed up over and over. Jesus teaches them time and again about his upcoming death and resurrection, but they were still devastated when Jesus died, and shocked when he was raised. He taught them repeatedly about being humble, and yet they argued about who was the greatest. Worst of all, one of his closest disciples, Peter, denied three times that he even knew Jesus!
Yet, despite their many failures and despite how slow they were to learn, Jesus still loved them. He was so very patient with them. Failure is just part of the process. And, fortunately, God doesn’t make it a three-strikes-and-you’re-out sort of thing. Rather, every time we mess up, God picks us back up and puts us back on our feet.
It's been said that “Failing doesn’t mean I’m a failure; it just means I have not yet succeeded. It doesn’t mean I’ve accomplished nothing; it just means I’ve learned something. It doesn’t mean I’ve been a fool; it just means I’ve had the courage to take a risk. It doesn’t mean God has abandoned me; it just means He has a better idea!”
So, as we look at all of these people in the Bible who failed, how did God deal with them? And I think the best answer to that question is given to us by the apostle Paul in I Timothy 1. As Paul reflects back over the failures in his life, which included participating in the murder of Christians, Paul said,
“But for this cause have I obtained mercy: that in me first Christ Jesus might shew forth all patience, for an example to them that shall believe in him unto life everlasting.” (I Timothy 1:16)
You see, God shows “patience”. And I’ll be honest with you. I think this is one of the hardest things for me to understand about God’s love. I truly don’t understand it. And many times, I have asked the question, “God, why are you so patient with me?”
I’m so inconsistent. One minute I’m praising God, the next minute I’m complaining. One minute I’m kind to other people, the next minute I rush right past someone who’s in need. One minute I promise to honor God, the next minute I’m doing something to get the glory for myself.
Yet, through it all, God is patient. God is all patient. It’s not just one of his characteristics. It’s who he is.
In Exodus 34, when Moses went up to Mount Sinai, the Lord descended in a cloud and God proclaimed, “O the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, patient and of much compassion, and true,” (Exodus 34:6). God was saying that “He was merciful and very patient with His people.” That’s who He is! He's all patient.
And it’s important that we realize that the Lord isn’t patient with us because we deserve it. He’s patient with us because it’s who he is. He doesn’t lose patience with those he loves, because patience is his very nature.
As I said earlier, all of us will fail at some point in our lives. In many of our minds, being a success means never failing, never messing up. But that’s just not true.
In 1923, Babe Ruth broke the record for most home runs in a season. But, there’s another record he broke that year that most people don’t know about. In 1923, Babe Ruth struck out more times than any other player in Major League Baseball. Despite the number of times that he failed, we regard him as a success.
Michael Jordan has a commercial in which he says that he missed more than 9000 shots in his career. 26 times, he was trusted to take the game winning shot and he missed. He failed over and over and over again. And yet, we regard him as a success, one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived.
You see, we don’t judge great athletes by their failures. And God doesn’t base our value on our failures. The truth is that God loved us even when we were extreme failures. In Romans 5:8, we’re told that, “But God commendeth his charity towards us; because when as yet we were sinners, according to the time, Christ died for us.”
Why would God do that? Because of his “patience”. And if we, as God’s people, are going to imitate God, and if we are going to fill our lives with a love that looks like God’s love, then we are going to have to, in the words of our Epistle readings today, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved,... patience” We are going to need to learn to show “patience” toward those who are around us.
Look again at I Timothy 1:16. Why did God show patience to Paul? Paul says, “But for this cause have I obtained mercy: that in me first Christ Jesus might shew forth all patience, for the information of them that shall believe in him unto life everlasting.”
God showed all patience with Paul to serve as an example to those of us who are Christians. Which means that God shows all patience with us so that we can learn how to show all patience with others.
You may not have noticed this, but people all around us are going to fail. People all around us are going to mess up. Now, I understand that our preference is that everyone around us always does what is right. We would hope (and sometimes maybe we even expect) that everyone around us will always be kind, and will always do the loving thing, and will never do anything stupid.
But, the truth is that your husbands or wives are going to mess up from time to time. Peoples children and children's parents are going to mess up. Our friends are going to mess up. The people you work with or go to school with are going to mess up. The people sitting around you here are going to mess up. “It wouldn’t be hard to be patient if it weren’t for other people.”
But when other people fail, when other people mess up, we have a choice to make. How are we going to react to their failure? Are we going to get insulted and offended? Are we going to write them off and have nothing to do with them? Or, are we going to “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved,... patience”?
And maybe that’s the reason why I have so much trouble understanding how God can be so patient with me, because I know how impatient I can be with others at times. I know how easy it is to get frustrated with people who fail, or people who don’t measure up to my level of expectation. Now, when I mess up, I want others to extend grace to me. But I’m not always so quick or so willing to extend it to others.
But, if love is going to be “true north” in our lives, if love is going to be the one thing that motivates everything we say and everything we do, then we are going to have to learn to be all patient with people.
And it’s important that we understand why we’re called to be patient. We’re not just patient with people because it’s a nice thing to do or because it keeps our blood pressure from sky-rocketing. We’re patient with people so that we can point them to Jesus.
Because we have so many opportunities to show the love of God, not by preaching or prodding or pleading, but simply by being patient. Waiting instead of whining. Smiling instead of stewing. Taking our place in line with a calm spirit. Letting someone in need go ahead of us. And don’t you ever forget that people are paying attention.
People are watching. And we want to show patience in order to point people to Jesus. You can’t talk about Jesus at Church and then go out and be anything other than patient.
In I Thessalonians 5:14, Paul says to “be patient towards all men.”
In Ephesians 4:1-2, Paul said, “I therefore, a prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called, With all humility and gentleness, with patience, supporting one another in charity.”
Paul says we need to be patient, but he also says that involves “supporting one another in love”. The idea is to patiently put up with someone who has done you wrong.
And, as I said, the reality of life is that people are going to let you down from time to time, they’re going to disappoint you. Even your brothers and sisters in Christ. Even your family members. People will say things to you that aren’t very kind, they’ll have an attitude that isn’t what it ought to be, or they’ll do something that’s not very Christlike. And that’s where patience enters into the concept of love.
Patience means continuing to put up with someone even though he has let you down time and time again. It means being slow to anger and quick to forgive. Because that is the way God loves.
Our God shows immense patience, and he expects for us to do the same. It doesn’t make sense for those of us who have experienced God’s immense patience to not be patient with others.
Think about just how patient God has been with each and every one of us. We all struggle with temptation. We make mistakes over and over and over again, coming back to God time and again, promising to do better. If God didn’t have an immense patience, he wouldn’t be able to even hear our prayers without giving up on us. I’m so glad that we have a patient God. Because if he wasn’t, we all would have been wiped out a long time ago.
So, who is there in your life that you need to show more patience toward? Who is there in your life that you have a tendency to get irritated with really quick? At those moments when you find it most difficult, just think about how God has been patient with you, and ask him for the grace to “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved,... patience”