2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”
As a child I helped my father on the farm. One of my favourite activities was moving sheep from paddock to paddock. Just the old dog, me and 500 hundred sheep. A great time of reflection, day dreaming and slowness that counteracted the busyness of the school week. It was life in the slow lane.
My father had set a standard of slowness. If the dust was raised behind the mob you were moving to fast. Slowness necessitated stillness and the inevitable waiting for the mob to graze and move at their own pace. It wasn’t a life of linear progress or rushing to get this done so you could go and do something else. This was all you had to do and it would come to an end when the end came. Any sign of dust indicated anxiety to be somewhere else with something else and not right where you were. This is a waiting to move on.
John the Baptist exhibits this last type of waiting in our Gospel reading today. Are you the one we were waiting for or do we have to wait some more? His question is full of anxiety, frustration and impatience. If this is not it, then we have to hurry up and wait for some more. And what are we waiting for?
Jesus replies, wait and see. Stop being anxious and looking for something else; stop being anxious and wanting to be somewhere else; stop being anxious and looking in a linear fashion. Look around you and see what is already here, what is already happening and what you are already in touch with. Yes, you have to wait, but the waiting is to see what is already here, mot waiting for another person, idea, experience or event. The kingdom of God has come near and is here. Wait and see.
One of the gifts of being an artist is this waiting to see. Walking home from taking may car to the garage for repairs I wandered slowly back along streets near here and was gobsmacked by what I saw. Melbourne in the morning is a place of great light and I discovered beautiful trees, amazing garden scapes and intriguing little finches buzzing around and was made aware, once again, that the Spirit of God is alive in Glen Iris. We simply have to wait and see.
We are often to anxious to move on, shift our seeing, all our senses without allowing ourselves to settle into what we see, feel, hear and sense. We pass a cursory glance across our world and those we share it with and move on, looking for something we already have.
We are like John, neurotically looking for that definitive moment to complete our hopes and our dreams.
It is a challenge to the church to stop our rushing to succeed and to simply wait as the Bride of Christ and be aware the marriage is alive and active now. In our Sunday liturgy we are called to let go of our anxious searching and engage in a waiting, a stillness, a welcoming presence open to the Spirit’s embrace. Yet it seems we want to rush through the formalities of worship to get on with our busy lives. We give an hour or so and that is all. We have family commitments, morning tea to run, lunch to serve and a busy week ahead and our minds flit back and forward between these competing anxieties and we struggle to be present here, now in a waiting stillness feeding our soul.
The liturgy has been skilfully constructed to give us time out from the busyness of life, although we often do our best to make it as busy as possible. Liturgy is a work in waiting and stillness. It is the process of stopping, of letting go and of being available to wait with what is happening for us in that moment. As Jesus says to John, wait with what is happening and allow your self to hear what the spirit is saying to the church. We can’t do that if we are anxious to move quickly and efficiently through the various sections of the service.
The creed isn’t a linear race we have to finish in so many seconds, neither are the Psalms. They have been devised in stanzas allowing us space to sit with what has come before and wait for what is coming next. The are many places of waiting in our service and it is through these spaces that we begin to unload the baggage we bring with us and unhook ourselves from the need to get a to a defined outcome – usually morning tea!
John wanted a definitive answer. Jesus said sit with what is already here and make sense of that. Take time to process and unpack your life and your experience and recognise the depth of that experience. Do not be in a hurry to chase after some golden thread of idealised promise. What is, is. Wait with it and allow it to speak.
Our liturgy is a rich treasure of stillness and waiting. Our 21st century sensibilities finds it difficult to sit with empty space – be it on a wall, in our garden or in our worship, yet it is in this waiting space we discover truth. As you have noticed already this morning we have instituted longer spaces, slower movement and a little less urgency in our service. This will become a pattern which I hope will be helpful.
I encourage you to enter the church with quiet waiting as your intention. Using this space before the service as a time for sitting in the place of no-thing doing, allowing your presence to deepen and lengthen ready for the liturgy to come. There is time after church to meet and greet, to chat and swap stories and to share aches and pains. Prior to and during the greeting of peace let us find our centre and be still and know that God is God; that we are more than our anxieties and this is a safe sanctuary for being at rest.
Finally I would say, as we begin to explore our liturgy and the treasure it holds, to be still, very, very still, and above all else do not wobble! Waiting without anxiety will open up the vista of the treasures we already have and allow us to avoid repeating Johns frustrations.
Let us be still.