by Rev. Steve Jerbi
What are you waiting for?
There is no way to hear this phrase and not get a sense of urgency. A parent exasperated by a child whose feet have suddenly become encased in concrete preventing them from moving an inch. An expectant partner who knows “this is the one” but their understanding of commitment stops just before sharing a Netflix password. A coach to a player. A buddy at a bar….
…every damn pastor?
Maybe. Or at least close to all of us.
Churches are not known for embracing urgency. We would rather delay a decision than risk offending. We defer maintenance - on both our buildings and our mission - passing the buck to another generation. Statements of welcome get stuck in committees. The appropriate theological responses to political issues are debated or shamed. Meanwhile, lives are being lost.
And this isn’t hyperbole. Literally, lives are being lost. Capitalism kills. Militarized police kill. Inhumane immigration policies kill. The war economy kills. We wish we had the musical ear to fiddle like Nero while Rome burns. More often we murmur behind a swelling organ afraid of our own music.
Is God’s own self asking us, “What are you waiting for?”
If there was every a time when lectionary appointed texts demand more than a hesitant, lukewarm church, this Sunday is it. These texts not only invite a fiery Pentecost/al sermon, they fan the flames of radical living.
We open with the prophet Amos looking over the hollow rituals of a nation. Feel good preachers shy away from the judgement and doom that the prophet seems to invoke. But theologians of the cross call a thing what it is.
For folks of privilege - like my cis-hetro, white male, formally-educated, fully-employed ass - don’t want the day of the Lord to be darkness. We are quite happy with the sunshine on our relatively comfortable lives. Give us some more of that saints in light stuff from last week. The revelation with the lamb on the throne and no darkness.
Communities of resistance are yearning for shade to move over the heat of oppression. Like a drought-ridden landscape, life under oppression seeks the comfort of darkness.
A Sunday morning of prayer and hymns is no refuge for the oppressors.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.
That flowing water will change the landscape. It may lead to a desert in bloom, but first things first. Those forsaken by a community commanded and covenanted to be different will be remembered. Their thirst will be quenched, their dry lives no longer parched.
1 Thessalonians gives us another end-times vision. Don’t get it twisted, Paul writes. I want to be perfectly clear about this gospel that folks are getting locked up and dying for - we will be reunited. In the face of death and despair, in the midst of an empire hell-bent on wealth, power, and control - we remain children of hope. We aren’t afraid of a little empire. We aren’t afraid of the threat of deaths. We aren’t afraid when they want to do the worst to our loved ones and will probably be coming after us next. We aren’t afraid because we know how to story ends. We know that a resurrection awaits us. We will be with the Lord forever.
This “good news” could easily be used to justify quietism. Keep your head down, don’t make waves. But we are told to let the good news encourage one another with these words.
There is a scene that remains vivid in my mind, even as it emerges as a confluence of many memories. While working with the Movement for Black Lives in Milwaukee, an unauthorized march takes to the streets downtown. Traffic comes to a halt and hundreds spill into both lanes, hearing our chanting echo off the buildings like a canyon. The crowd enters into a main intersection, circling and blocking traffic in all directions. The call and response resonates stronger than a Sunday service: I. Believe. That We. Will WIN!
That’s what this passage is saying - against all odds, even as lives are being taken, we know that the righteous struggle shall prevail. Those chants serve as encouragement when the road we trod is stony. The dead shall live and we shall be caught up together!
The gospel for this week has all the subtlety of a Family Guy episode. 5 were foolish and didn’t prepare. 5 watched and waited. They knew their responsibility was to be ready for when the bridegroom announced the party was starting. When he showed up, they got to turn up. The foolish, however, were left out.
Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Preaching about left-out bridesmaids and the judgement of the day of the Lord are hard things for liberal preachers. We want to have everyone get caught up in a Kum-Ba-Yah moment, united with Jesus. But there’s a reason we confess that we “believe he will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
We are all foolish, sometimes. We all get distracted from our walk of faith. We let our pride revolve around a well-executed worship. Yet, all around us are places of struggle that need to be called out and judged as opposed to the kin-dom of God. Call the thing what it is. What sounds like judgement to some can be the liberating news others need. What are you waiting for?
The space I circle around with this point of struggle is that while judgement comes, the judge remains gracious. We will account for our mistakes, we will need to reconcile to God and neighbor. And still, God remains faithful. Do not be uninformed siblings, like those without hope. Our hope is so much wider and more expansive than our own shortcomings. The wedding banquet will be vast. The waters shall pour down. The clouds shall part and we shall be caught up in glory. There are images that reveal God’s mercy and grace - inspiring us to break the dams that hold back the overflowing stream. Grace encourages us to keep our lamps trimmed and burning. Grace moves us from silence, fear, and despair and leads us into action, advocacy, justice and liberation. So, what are you waiting for?