Sunday’s sermon: Sitting in Traffic: Unexpected, Unhurried, Unavoidable God


Text used – Psalm 130


  • Fair warning this morning, all. Today’s chapter of Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life[1] is a tough one. Warren’s title for this chapter is: “Sitting in Traffic: Liturgical Time and an Unhurried God.” At the beginning of it, she describes an instance when she’s stuck in traffic with her kids in the car and all of the frustrations and worries and anxieties that bubble up while sitting there not moving.
    • Warren: My kids are strapped in their car seats kicking the seats in front of them in boredom. We are all a little tired and a little whiny. It’s hot in the car. I crank up the air conditioning and turn on NPR. We need to get home soon or my kids will be cranky – “starving,” they’ll say. They’ll get a late bath and be late for bed, and there goes my hope of a little downtime. As I wait, I grow increasingly irritated.[2]“As I wait, I grow increasingly irritated.” As I wait in the midst of this pandemic, I grow increasingly irritated. As I wait in the midst of this shatteringly divisive political climate, I grow increasingly irritated. As I wait in the midst of flagrant and violent acts of racism and hatred that we witness all around the country, I grow increasingly irritated. I feel it all lodged right here in my chest, stuck like a rock and smoldering like a coal that hasn’t quite gone out but isn’t fully blazing either. Waiting. Waiting to know what God has in store for me and for us – us as a church, us as a community, us as a nation, us as the human race. Waiting to see how God shows up and acts in the face of all this turmoil and loss. Waiting to hear who and where and what and how God is calling me to be as a follower of a risen, hope-filled Christ surrounded by anger and loss and distress and hopelessness and fear. Waiting. Warren’s chapter for today is about waiting. Dang.
      • Of course, Warren’s book was written years ago – published in 2016 – so this chapter and everything in it about waiting for God and the sacredness that can be found in waiting was written long before COVID-19 and sheltering in place and the agonizing decision that we’ve had to make: those of us with aging loved ones in care facilities or caring for aged loved ones outside of care facilities; those of us with children returning to daycare or returning to school; those of us who are considered essential workers and those of us who aren’t; those of us faced with furloughs or unemployment choices or any of the other financial struggles that have arisen during this extended time of pandemic → That’s what makes this chapter so hard today, friends. Undoubtedly, there is a sacredness that can be found in waiting – in stopping, in pausing … even if just for a moment.
        • Warren: In my life, time is most often something I seek to manage, or something I resent – something, it seems, that I never have enough of. In my frenetic life, I forget how to slow down and wait. For the good of my own soul I need to feel what it’s like to wait, to let the moments march past.[3] → And there is absolutely truth to that. I mean, how many times have you gotten to the end of the week … the end of the month … even the end of the year and gone, “Wow … where did that week/month/year go?” We’re so good at packing every moment of our days with activity and busyness and rushing from one thing to the next that on the whole, we are terrible at waiting! Terrible! And yet here we are in this strange and drawn-out time of pandemic waiting. Many of us long for the hustle and bustle that was “normal life” just 4 months ago. And that reality makes this chapter even more difficult.
  • That’s why I chose this psalm to go with our chapter this morning
    • Begins with a cry out to God – a cry from someone who is sick and tired of waiting – text: I cry out to you from the depths, Lord – my Lord, listen to my voice! Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy![4] → clearly a call for God to hear from someone who thinks God isn’t listening
      • Heb. “cry” = connotations of summoning, invoking, appealing to God → The psalmist isn’t just crying out to give voice and volume to his or her frustrations. The psalmist is calling on God – crying out with the expectation and the longing for God to be present in the midst of whatever trouble the psalmist is facing.
      • Psalmist wants more than just a present God – psalmist wants an attentive God – Heb. “listen” = also “understand,” “examine,” and even “obey” → The psalmist is begging God to come near and to be present in all the ways that matter when you’re feeling lost and lonely – in body, mind, and soul. This shows such a powerful relationship with God because the psalmist isn’t just crying out to some remote, unreachable, uninterested God but a God that the psalmist truly believes will come – the kind of God who turns a compassionate and attentive ear to those who worship and cry out to God.
    • Next part of the psalm addresses the reason why the psalmist feels God is remote → addresses some topics we’ve already discussed: confession and forgiveness – text: If you kept track of my sins, Lord – my Lord, who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you – that’s why you are honored.[5]
      • After crying out to God – begging for God’s presence in the midst of whatever turmoil he or she is facing – the psalmist drops to his or her knees in confession: “God, I’ve messed up. I’ve messed up a lot. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve messed up … but I bet you can. And still, you’re here. You’re with me in spite of it all. And that blows my mind.”
      • Two really interesting Heb. words in here
        • First is the phrase “who would stand a chance?” – Heb. = simple word for “stand” → But there are so many layers to that “simple” word. It can mean stand. It can mean stop moving. It can mean stay or maintain. It can even mean restore. So it’s a word that sort of encompasses all movement – physically moving forward as well as the mental and emotional ways we move. So the psalmist is talking about being literally paralyzed by the weight of his or her own mistakes.
        • Other interesting Heb. word: “honored” (“But forgiveness is with you – that’s why you are honored”) → This is a Hebrew word laden with meaning. It can also mean revere or even fear. There is a sense of incomprehensible awe and holiness and the sort of respect that you feel when you encounter something so vast that it’s unfathomable. That, the psalmist says, is God’s forgiveness: incomprehensible, unfathomable, holy.
    • The end of the psalm speaks of the one thing we all need in the midst of waiting, whether we’re waiting in line at the grocery store or the car wash, waiting at the bedside of a dying loved one, or waiting in the midst of this pandemic: hope. – text: I hope, Lord. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise. My whole being waits for my Lord – more than the night watch waits for the morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for the morning! Israel, wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God! He is the one who will redeem Israel from all its sin.[6] → And there it is, friends. There’s the good news. There’s the glimmer in the darkness. There is something to grasp at and cling to in the midst of all the trials and tribulations of waiting: hope.
      • Lord knows it’s not always easy – Warren addresses this: Christians are people who wait. We live in liminal time, in the already and not yet. Christ has come, and he will come again. We dwell in the meantime. We wait. But in my daily life I’ve developed habits of impatience – of speeding ahead, of trying to squeeze more into my cluttered day. How can I live as one who watches and waits for the coming kingdom when I can barely wait for water to boil?[7] → Warren addresses a really important theological point here: that as Christians, we are indeed people who are simultaneously waiting and hoping. We know and believe in the good news of Jesus Christ – of a Savior who rose from the tomb after three long, agonizing, darkness-filled days of waiting and shattered that kind of listless, hopeless waiting for all time. We know that there’s something to wait for: love everlasting, grace everlasting, hope everlasting. Because that is what Jesus brought us, and that is what Jesus promises to bring again one day. But … when? Jesus was pretty vague about that particular detail. And so … we wait. And wait. And wait.
        • Warren: Waiting, therefore, is an act of faith in that it is oriented toward the future. Yet our assurance of hope is rooted in the past, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and in his promises and resurrection. In this way, waiting, like time itself, centers on Christ – the fulcrum of time. Because of Christ’s work, we wait with expectation. We replace the despair that the passing of time inevitably brings – “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” – with faith – “if we have died with him, we shall also live with him.” … Our imaginations are fixed on what is to come, on the future glory when God will set things right.[8]
  • But Warren also makes another very important point in this chapter: that our waiting as Christians is not a passive, lifeless, disengaged waiting.
    • Warren: Yet our patience does not make us passive about the brokenness of the world. We are not blithely waiting to abandon this world for another. Christian faith is never an otherworldly, pie-in-the-sky sentimentality that ignores the injustice and darkness around us. We know that things are not as they should be. We also know that here – not up in the sky, but in this earthly, waiting world of peach trees and inchworms, of brass bands and didgeridoos – things will be made right. Heaven will be established right here in our midst. … We have a telos as we wait, an ultimate purpose and aim. Because we have a telos – a kingdom where peace will reign and where God is worshiped – we can never wrap our lives in little luxuries and petty comforts and so numb ourselves to God’s prophetic call for justice and wholeness in this world. Our hope for a future of shalom motivates us to press toward that reality, even in our ordinary days. Our work, our times in prayer and service, our small days lived graciously, missionally, and faithfully will bear fruit that we can’t yet see.[9] → It makes me think of the Shel Silverstein poem “Lazy Jane.”

Lazy Jane

    • This is not the kind of waiting that we’re called to do, friends. Our waiting moves. Our waiting trusts. Our waiting believes. Our waiting does. Our waiting hopes.
      • Can’t help but think of all the posts I’ve seen on Facebook about different hobbies people have picked up during the pandemic; different projects that people have completed during the pandemic; different experiences people have finally quit putting off during the pandemic; books they’ve always wanted to read … movies they’ve always wanted to see … old friends they’ve been meaning to connect with that they’ve finally called again … causes or philanthropic organizations they’ve always wondered about and finally taken the time to research and support → Friends, this time of pandemic waiting has been particularly challenging in so many ways we never even could have dreamed of. But we do not sit through this waiting time alone. God is with us, inching us forward even when we can’t feel it.
        • Warren: The future orientation of Christian time reminds us that we are people on the way. It allows us to live in the present as an alternative people, patiently waiting for what is to come, but never giving up on our [ultimate purpose]. We are never quite comfortable. We seek justice, practice mercy, and herald the kingdom to come. … God is redeeming all things, and our lives – even our days – are part of that redemption. We live in the truth that, however slowly or quickly we may be traveling, we are going somewhere. Or, more accurately, somewhere (and Someone) is drawing near to us.[10] → Friends, this is indeed the Good News. Alleluia. Amen.

[1] Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2016.

[2] Warren, 102.

[3] Warren, 103.

[4] Ps 130:1-2

[5] Ps 130:3-4.

[6] Ps 130:5-8.

[7] Warren, 104.

[8] Warren, 108-109.

[9] Warren, 112-113.

[10] Warren, 113-114.

2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: Sitting in Traffic: Unexpected, Unhurried, Unavoidable God

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Calling a Friend: Talking to God Together | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Sleeping: Holiness in Rest | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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