Waiting for God Trinity Sunday
Psalm 8 Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-15
In the 1950’s, Samuel Beckett published an absurdist play—absurdist. The play is titled “Waiting for Godot.” It has two strange characters hanging out on a roadside by a sickly tree, and both are waiting for someone named “Godot.” Their conversation rambles and some other characters appear then leave, but these two wait with hope. At the end of Act I, a boy appears and tells them that Mr. Godot is not coming today, but that he will surely come tomorrow. That’s the end of Act I.
In Act II, it’s pretty much the same thing, with a few differences. And again, the boy appears and informs them that Mr. Godot is not coming today, but that he will surely come tomorrow. One of the men says, “Well, shall we go?” The other replies, “Yes, let’s go.” They do not move—the curtain comes down—and it’s the end of the play!
Well, I WARNED you that it was ABSURDIST!! It’s no surprise that people have often asked, “What does it mean?” But the playwright always refused to interpret, saying, “It means what it says.”
The Theater of the Absurd has never been so concerned about meaning as it is about feelings and impressions. I got the impression when I read this play that these two fellows are fools to believe that Mr. Godot is EVER going to come—that their hope is out of touch with reality. And it’s interesting to me that, if you took the “ot” away from the end of Godot, it would read “Waiting for God.” There ARE folks who think that you and I are fools to believe that 1. God is ever going to act, and 2. That God is ever going to answer our prayers. They believe that OUR hope is out of touch with reality.
Our Scriptures for today all serve to encourage our HOPE. The Psalmist writes about the overwhelming majesty of God and the MARVEL that God even cares about us—cares so much that we are crowned with glory and honor. In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that we will gradually grow into that for which we wait, being guided by the Spirit of Truth. And Paul, in his letter to the Romans, puts our hope front and center when he proclaims, “We boast in our hope.” This is hope that carries us through our suffering, and suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character. And, at the end of this process, character produces even more hope—a hope that does not disappoint us.
I want to explore this idea of Suffering. A question I often hear is, “Why does God allow suffering?” Now obviously, much of our suffering is caused by our choices. But the rest—seemingly inexplicable suffering—we don’t understand why. But we have seen that it is the only way to achieve some very important things.
We also understand that God suffers with us. God is NOT remote, just watching us deal with our difficulties. No, the cross reminds us of God’s willingness to suffer for us, with redemptive suffering. We understand God to be full of compassion, which literally means “feeling with.” God suffers with us.
The Christians that Paul was writing to in Rome anticipated the imminent return of Christ. And, as they waited, they suffered for their Christian faith. They must have been asking, “How long, O Lord?!” Paul himself knew the meaning of suffering. We read in 2 Corinthians 11: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and have been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”
Don’t get the wrong idea here! Paul was not throwing himself a “pity party”! He is simply illustrating that he knows what suffering is. He would acknowledge that your suffering is real and not to be discounted. And his point is that, in all his suffering, he has never lost HOPE. No. He tells the Romans that suffering produces ENDURANCE.
I once read some research in which pigeons were in cages with food dispensers. The pigeons learned that, when they pecked on a lever, food would come out. One control group got food every time they pecked the lever. The second control group got food at first, and then it would only occasionally come out as they pecked and pecked.
Then the researchers stopped the flow of food for both groups. The pigeons who were accustomed to getting food every time they pecked soon stopped pecking. But the second group had learned perseverance, and they kept pecking long after the first group had quit!
This research has interesting insights for understanding human beings. We see that some people are OVERCOMERS while others are helpless victims. Take those who grew up in the Depression Era. They knew what it was to go without. They developed a work ethic, and had an appreciation for everything they had. Then take those of us who were raised with everything given to us. We are like the pigeons who always got food every time they pecked! We always have an expectation of someone to give us something. And when nothing comes, we crumble. We have yet to develop endurance.
Paul says that endurance produces character. The whole subject of character will require another sermon someday. But today I want to focus on one thing that people of character display: a sense of humor. People with a sense of humor have experienced suffering, and their endurance helped contribute to it! It’s as if their lives have become “a comedy of errors” and they have to laugh, “Well, what ELSE can go wrong?!”
Someone once remarked to a person who had endured much, “I can’t believe you have carried your sense of humor through all this!” And the person responded, “Oh, well, actually my sense of humor has carried me!” Groucho Marx was a person who suffered, but was hilarious. Here’s a sample: Leo Rosten once got a letter from Groucho Marx: “Dear Junior: Please excuse me for not answering your letter sooner. But I have been so busy not answering letters lately that I have not been able to get around to not answering yours in time. Love, Groucho.” Talk about absurdist!
Character is not something that can be achieved through study or reflection alone. (Philosophy students don’t actually adopt the philosophies they study.) But those who make decisions and experience life and choose their response to the uncontrollable events of life—these are people who develop Character.
In the Bible, the word “character” is always a positive thing, like “a person of noble character.” It means someone who is fully developed. Someone who exhibits desirable virtues. Someone who produces the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As Jesus says in our Gospel reading today, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
Let me finish with this thought: as we mature in our Christian faith, we learn patience (one of the fruits of the Spirit).
In His time, in His time, he makes all things beautiful in his time.
Lord, please show me every day, as you’re teaching me your way,
That you do just what you say, in your time. (Diane Ball)
Patience means learning to persevere when things don’t go our way! You and I are called to live a life of HOPE through our suffering, through our uncertainties, much like little seeds waiting in the soil through the long winter, trusting that our Gardner will have us sprout up into the truer reality than that which we now know.
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run, and not grow weary; they shall walk and not faint. Teach me Lord, teach me Lord, to wait.
Prayer: God, when we are having fun, time seems to fly past us so quickly. But when things are difficult, the days feel long and the nights even longer. Help us, God. Help us to remember that you cherish us, that you suffer along with us. Help us to grow as we endure, and be our HOPE. We ask in the name of Christ, Amen.