If the fruits of the spirit were fruit – I think patience would be oranges. Something we like in concept and even grab and bring with us – but if you are anything like me – the messiness of actually diving into it, peeling it, and then your hands are sticky… it just doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should. Unless it’s a clementine – patience “lite”.
This week’s lectionary text brings us to the book of James, a text full of practical insistence on caring for one another, anointing the sick, and coming together in prayer for prayer brings healing and forgiveness of sins. The author also addresses the wealth gap in the community – calling out the common social practices that favored the wealthy and pushed aside the poor.
We are in the middle of that when we get to our texts in Chapter 5 verses 7-10. “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. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
A beautiful text, and something I think that resonates with us at a deeply human level – even centuries later. Yet – even more helpful when we realize that just a few verses before this at the beginning of the chapter the author called out the wealthy in the community with some harsh truths. “You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.”
Too often it is the oppressed and poor that are told to be patient, and God will reward them. This is unconscionable when we do not also address the sins and the human cost of extravagant lifestyles.
Patience can be word thrown around to pacify, and even abuse. And patience is a virtue and a fruit of the Spirit. What is the difference? Where is the line, or the grey area? The most famous passage in James is faith without works is dead. (2:17)
Our faith in God, revealed through Christ, and felt in our experience of God’s transforming love in our own lives through the Holy Spirit moves us to action. Through our faith the passion and fire we were created with is ignited and we find ourselves compelled to serve others. The Spirit guides us, and gives us patience. What is not okay then, is simply tell others they must have patience – patience that comes from the Lord.
Advent is time of waiting, of getting ready. As we take this time to focus on the coming great mystery of incarnation – the Spirit gives us patience. We cultivate this patience through our own spiritual practices. Through our quiet times – maybe you take a daily intentional prayer walk through the city streets, or during your daily devotions. God speaks to us always – and spiritual practices help us to learn to listen. Help us cultivate what God is already doing, and allow our lives to be good soil – continuing to bear fruit.
We take strength from those who have walked before us – our scriptures are full of stories of the people of God. May their stories help us to grow in our faith – knowing that God uses many people – not perfect, just willing.