Sermon: Trinity Presbyterian Church, Arlington, VA
Title: “Wait Without Idols” May 8, 2016
Acts 16: 16-34 - Paul, Luke and Silas, the demonic Girl, money, profit, jail, delivered
Rev 22: 12-14, 16-17, 20-21 The Bridegroom Returns
This message is about the core of our faith. It is about the Alpha and Omega, the comprehensive beginning and ending of everything that we or anyone has ever known. It is about the waiting required between the starting line and the finishing line of the great race of life. It is about what you do between your start in faith and your passing. It is about what you do each day between waking and sleeping. It is about what we are doing right now. It is about waiting without idols.
That is, this message is Not about mothers day, my apologies mothers, unless for some of you, you idolize your mother.
It is about the book of Revelation, in fact, it is about the end of the book of Revelation, about the last words spoken there, the final canonized Words of God to us, his church, his people, those whom he asks to wait without idols. And it is about the promise that is expressed there, for us, so that in each and every moment of each and every day, we too, along with countless others who share our faith now in the present time, and in the passing of time, can wait, with certainty, confidence and the strength which comes from faith, knowing that God knows the beginning and the end, and stands next to us in the Person of Jesus who is coming again. It is His return, promised to us in the words “Behold I am coming soon,” into the experience of human life again that gives us the hope and assurance that we in fact can wait for his glorious appearance without idols.
Now I have used this phrase “Wait without idols” three times already. That should, prompt you to remember the phrase, commit it to memory, or at least wonder what I am going to say about it.
Let’s do some brief statistics as we start out on this theme of waiting. The word Trinity, though a very important biblical and theological doctrine in the church, never occurs in the bible. The word Justification also never, in that form, appears in the bible. Sin, however knocks our socks off with its occurrence of over 1086 times. Idols occurs in the singular and plural form around 100 times. The plural word for “gods,” that is false gods occurs over 250 times. And righteousness occurs only 37 times. These are all important theological words and there have been major books written on each and every one. But the word “wait” and specifically the phrase, “wait on the Lord” have a strong presence in the scriptures…. Just the word “wait” occurs over 176 times.
Now if we compared this simple docile seeming word with other verbs of action, we might find that it has a renewed interest for us. In contrast to “waiting” we have words of motion and movement appearing in the bible. The word “walk” in relationship to God occurs over 200 times. The word “skip” appears 13 times overall. It is mostly used in referring to a part of a dance of joy before the Lord. Another word of motion is “run.” Interestingly enough, “run” is more often used in reference to running from someone or some situation where it is not safe to stay, or as in to “run out of something,” like wine, or money, or time. Another word, as the final comparison, is the word “Stand.” It is often used of the simplest posture of a person, or in the sense of “Stand firm,” where it occurs about a dozen times in relation to “standing firm” before the Lord in your faith and commitment to God.
Clearly words carry a weight in the bible by where they appear, how they appear, to what they refer in their appearance, and in what context of meaning they occur.
Do you remember what Moses said to the people of Israel when he was going to go up on the Mountain of God and receive the 10 commandments? God had told him to “Climb higher up the mountain and wait there for me,” and in response, Moses told the elders of Israel to “wait for us here at the base of the mountain until we return to you. “ Moses was gone a long time on the mountain, and the people got tired of waiting. Waiting is not easy. Waiting is tiring. Waiting can be boring. Waiting can seem like nothing is happening. Waiting is so un satisfying in this time of immediate gratification. Waiting is not what we want to do. Waiting seems unproductive. Waiting gets nothing done. Nowadays “waiting” has reached an all-time low in the phrase “wait for it” which according to the urban dictionary means “an phrase intended to add a level of sarcastic suspense to a usually pointless event.” Who wants to wait for what is pointless.
Israel ended up, instead of waiting for Moses, with a deaf and dumb Golden Calf, which was made from their own personal property, and they called it their “god.” They gave up waiting on Moses and God who had lead them out of Egypt. They could not wait without idols and so turned to creating their own to lead them out of boredom and into a promised land of their own making. Idols became for Israel a means to not waiting. During periods of God’s silence, when there were no prophets in the land, and Israel was called upon to wait, that was the time idols sold the best. We select our idols to keep us from hearing the Word of God in the stillness of his small voice. We create idols when we want to block out the voice which calls us to wait in faith, patience and trust.
There is historically a long time, at least long to us, between the Alpha and the Omega of history. In comparison you would think the length of time between 9am and 10am would not be too long to wait. Or the time between one Sunday and the next. Or between any one moment in our short lives and another. The promise that God will answer our prayers, hear our requests, comfort us in our times of loss and need, the promise of His presence, can be waited for. He is coming to you, to us, even now, but wait, and wait without idols. Do not let the idols which lie closer to us than we would like to admit, the distractions which suggest this is the only moment in which we can act or to plan our next move, have the last word. The idols that our society suggests to us can be created by our own property, talents and skills rather than those which come to us as gifts and measures of the Spirits presence.
Last week Judith shared with us a message about hospitality. She started the message with the passage from Acts just prior to the one for today. In that text, St Paul had attempted to continue his missionary journeys beyond Asia Minor into Asia itself. Several times the Holy Spirit prevented him from doing so. He was told to wait. Your plans are not my plans says the Lord. Then, in a dream, he was told to go to the West rather than the East, to Macedonia and he ended up in the city of Philippi. There he waited by going daily to the place by the river where it was reported was a place of prayer for Jews and Gentile God-Fearers who worshipped the God of Israel. His patience is rewarded by the meeting and conversion of the woman Lydia and her family. St Paul’s waiting on the Lord turns into a time of extraordinary conversion work for Paul and his companions. But it also leads to other opportunities to wait.
As St Paul and the others went daily to the place of prayer a young woman possessed of a spirit much like those Jesus cast out in the Gospels, follows the Apostle day in and day out, for what Luke calls “many days.” Paul finally, in the name of Jesus charges the spirit to “come out of her” and it does so, almost immediately. This young girl was however, not a free woman. She was a soothsaying slave of some local businessmen, they idolized her abiliites, she who with her spiritualist predictive commercial insights brought them considerable business. Their idols drove their lives and actions. So upon losing their idolatrous means of monetary gain, they had Paul and Silas arrested and thrown into jail for being Jews and “disturbing the city.”
The key for us is the posture of waiting which comes upon Paul and Silas. They wait by praying and singing hymns to God while in prison. They wait by sharing patiently their time together. Their focus does not fade and their sense of the Lord’s presence does not waver. This is not idol time, it is time spent with the Lord and each other. Waiting is filled with wonder and praise, belief and hope. Paul later would say “In all circumstances I have learned to be content.” That is waiting without idols. Not knowing whether they were at the Alpha or Omega point in their work, having been beaten, not knowing whether there would be a tomorrow out of that prison, they still waited without idols. Their waiting, in the presence of Jesus, through the hymns they sang was itself a witness to the other prisoners. How they lived their lives in dependence upon the Lord was their witness. When in the middle of the night an earthquake struck, they remained where they were even when all the doors and exits were broken by the force of the quake and opened. They were rescued through their waiting, not their rushing out. Another witness is borne by their patience under the circumstances and the jailer and his family become believers in the power of Jesus to open doors and hearts.
You have to know the end of the story to be able to wait in the middle chapters with confidence. You have to know that the Sabbath is coming to give meaning to the days of unrest which lead up to it. The Omega of the Gospel is the presence of Jesus now, here, asking you to wait patiently for the movement of the Spirit to guide and direct you. You are being called to wait without idols who can distract you from the ministry the Lord has for you. Too often in the scriptures, it is in the still small voice, not the thunder, but the whisper of the Spirit, that the Lord’s voice is heard. It calls, like to Samuel, in the night, personal, real, and guiding.
The reason it is good to start with the end of Revelation, is that in this day of uncertainty and disbelief, a day of many distractions and voices, it is so important to be reminded that there is an Alpha and Omega that is not of our creation. The Omega is God’s doing, it is the final fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. It is the promise that the lion will lie down with the lamb. It is the assurance that we have a righteous God who loves us, his creation, and that forgiveness and restoration is certain. It is a waiting on the promises of sins forgiven and peace provided. The Omega is sure and the foundation of our faith, our waiting, our hope and our joy. Jesus is the one in whom the final Amen of God is manifest and through whom the church lives and moves and has its life. The Psalmist helps us see this in chapter 97. On one hand you have the heavens which proclaim God’s righteousness and the people from all over the world who share faith in God’s glory, and on the other you have “worshipers of images who boast in their idols and bow down to them.” Knowing that God is the Alpha and the Omega tells me that the story is ultimately worth reading and worth waiting for without distractions, without idols. Amen.