The Spirit of Patience

Format Image

Patience is not a virtue that comes easily to us.

Some of us are built with fairly short fuses.

I think it is because we get personally invested in our work and our play and we want to see the results of our efforts.

But when things start to fall apart, instead of taking the long view – we begin to lose hope, we begin to get angry, and sometimes we behave in ways that are far from Christian.

So, this morning we are going to talk about patience through the story of two brothers… Jacob and Esau.

Esau is the older of the two – a rough and tumble sort of guy who thinks with his gut.

Jacob on the other hand, is quietly clever… a mamma’s boy who uses his wit to trick his older brother and gain the upper hand.

And Jacob uses these skills to steal the birthright and deathbed blessing from his brother, Esau.

Esau is furious at the outcome of these events. Everything has just been taken from him.

This isn’t the kind of frustration that comes from some sore muscles – this is the kind of existential angst that comes from having your very identity called into question.

As we heard in the scriptures from this morning – Esau seethed in anger against Jacob… he brooded, “The time for mourning my father’s death is close. And then I’ll kill my brother Jacob.”

It was the last straw. Esau just couldn’t take it anymore and he snapped. And Jacob had to flee for his life, far off to the land of his uncle, Laban.

Usually when we visit these stories, our attention stays with Jacob. We follow him to Paddan Aram where he works for seven years for the hand of his beloved Rachel… and then for seven more years when he is tricked into marrying Leah instead. We follow his story as he spends time increasing the flocks and in turning tricking his uncle Laban and ends up with the best of the flocks and the herds and a huge family of wealth and power.

We could point to Jacob and talk about his patience. About how in spite of being cheated by his uncle, he stuck to his promises and waited for God’s blessings. We could talk about how his persistence and trust led to his success.

But today, I want us to look back to the land of Canaan to the son who was left behind.

The fruit of the spirit we know as patience, is often translated as longsuffering.

It is the gift of being able to endure in spite of the circumstances that have come against you.

It is a hopeful fortitude that reminds us that there is light at the end of the tunnel… that if we trust and wait, the outcome we are praying for will come to pass.

Barclay’s commentary writes that patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.

Patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t.

Patience is seeking an opening, waiting for the anger to pass, breathing deeply, and finding a way forward.

Patience is remembering that this inconvenience, this obstacle, will not last forever.

If patience is the grace of a person who could revenge a wrong but doesn’t… then I think the person who actually exemplifies the spirit of patience is not Jacob, but his older brother, Esau.

The first way that Esau is patient is that he doesn’t strike out immediately in anger when his brother cheats him.

If we followed their story from the time they were just children, I’m sure that there was more than just these two instances of trickery. And yet, up until this point, up until the moment that Jacob steals away his blessing, Esau has managed to not let it get to him.

The straw that broke the camel’s back is this moment where everything is taken from him and Esau is pissed off.
But, even in the midst of his anger… we might even say righteous anger… he has enough control to wait.

I haven’t played a lot of disc golf this summer, but there was an afternoon a few seasons ago when I hit four trees, in a row, on four consecutive shots, before I ever got to the basket. I hadn’t been playing well all afternoon, and my frustration was building. My temper was getting the best of me.

If we truly think about patience as having the grace to not revenge a wrong, then patience would have been taking a deep breath, not picking up my disk and chucking it at the nearest tree out of frustration for it being in the way.

Many people in today’s world who had something done to them like Esau experienced would immediately grab the nearest weapon and seek out their brother. But Esau waits. He thinks. He knows that there are some things that are more important at the moment… namely, the fact that his father is dying.

Patience means being slow to anger and while Esau became angry, he didn’t allow that anger to consume him in an instant. He thought about others. He put his anger on the back burner.

In moments when you find yourself on the brink of acting out of frustration or anger, patience is taking a moment to breathe and to pray.

It is asking for God to come into the situation and remind you of what is really important… and if necessary to let go of the anger.

Esau also helps us to understand patience in how he lives his life after Jacob flees.

He acts not out of spite, but in all things tries to follow his father’s wishes.

When his brother is sent away, Jacob is commanded not to marry a Canaanite woman. Esau is not given this expectation, but he also chooses such a bride, always looking to please his father. He seeks out his half-uncle Ishmael… and marries one of his daughters.

And that is all we hear about his life for the next 14 years.

Not once does Esau plot and plan and come looking for his brother.

Not once does he try to make good on his promise that his brother should die.

No, he moves on with his own life.

He carves out the best possible future for himself.

In spite of the situation that he finds himself in, he endures.

That is longsuffering. That is patience.

Making the most of our given situations is a very hard thing to do. We like to sit and stew and wish that things were different. We breed anger and resentment in our hearts. And we spend too much time looking into the past, instead of living into our new futures.

Yesterday, I had the honor of helping to celebrate the life of a woman named Renee. When our church began its work with the Women at the Well Re-entry Teams, Renee was the first person that we had the honor of walking with.

As I sat talking with her dad, Paul, he mentioned to me how you always think that someone else’s child would be homeless, or addicted, or abused. You never imagine that it could ever happen to your child. But it did.

From the ages of 4-14, Renee was sexually abused by a family member who also gave her alcohol. Her addiction began before most children even know what a drink is. That terrible injustice had a profound impact on her formation. In some ways, it led her to be scared of being successful – often getting in her own way. But in other ways, it provided the source of her ability to connect with people who were struggling, homeless, down and out. Her experience helped her to share her life story and God’s word with people who desperately needed to hear it.

In the midst of the hurt and pain of her life, she knew that God was with her and that her journey was not something to be ashamed of or to run away from, but it was an opportunity to share with others. As the Message translation of Isaiah chapter 50 reads, “The Master, God, has given me a well-taught tongue, so I know how to encourage tired people.” And in spite of her addiction, Renee used her humor and writing to bring encouragement to people who needed it the most. She didn’t allow herself to be overcome with bitterness and despair.

That is God’s longsuffering patience.

Finally, Esau teaches us about patience through his ability to forgive.

We sometimes think of patience as simply the ability to wait… to hold out.

But the kind of patience that God invites us to embody is that grace of a person who could revenge a wrong, but doesn’t.

Had Esau simply been waiting for the opportunity to strike back then his moment would have come when Jacob returned to the land of his father.

And Jacob knows it.

Jacob trembles with fear at the thought of the anger of his brother. He sends messengers ahead to let Esau know they are coming… it’s almost as if he is saying – I’m here… let’s get this over with.

Jacob divides up his great wealth and sends it over the river in waves as a gift to soothe his brother’s anger. He sends his wives and children over – in essence saying – all that I have is yours if you want it.

If Esau had been “patiently” harboring revenge all of those years, he would have destroyed those gifts. Those four hundred men standing with him on the other side of the river would have taken the flocks, killed his wives and children and come rushing over the river to kill the trickster brother.

But Esau was a man of godly patience.

He put his anger on the backburner of his soul, and allowed God to let forgiveness replace the hatred.

When Esau was given the chance to revenge the wrong that was made upon his life, he instead ran to his brother, fell into his arms and wept.

He looked upon all of those gifts, the wealth his brother had humbly offered, and Esau could have taken them all out of righteous indignation. He could have said, “it’s about time that I got my birthright and my power and wealth back.”

Instead, he looked his brother square in the eye and he said, “I have enough, brother… keep what you have for yourself.”

The past was forgiven. All that mattered now was their futures. The future of two brothers reunited at long last.

My family has experienced the kind of conflict and betrayal of family members that Jacob and Esau struggled with and I have to be honest that they have not yet reached the point of reconciliation.

It is difficult to forgive.

It will take time to forgive.

But I also know that when we fail to do so, we carry around with us a burden that is often too heavy to bear.

My prayer for my family and for all of us who have experienced the frustration of relationships or illness or pain is that instead of holding onto revenge, bitterness, or despair, that we would instead seek God’s patience.

It is the kind of patience that our Master has with us.

In 2 Peter, we are reminded that God is patient towards us, not wanting any to perish but for all of us to be able to change our hearts and lives (3:9).

God’s gracious spirit chooses not to revenge the wrongs we have committed.

God’s gracious spirit waits until we finally turn back towards love, grace, mercy and peace.

God’s gracious spirit shows us true patience, waiting with open arms for us to come back home, no matter how many wrongs we have done in this world.

Amen and Amen.

Pride and Humility

I didn’t plan it this way intentionally, but I find it providential that we are talking about humility and pride on the weekend in between our two national political conventions.

Each party competes to see who can blow the most hot air and puff themselves up the most.

They will talk up their achievements and point out the other team’s failures.

And the national pundits and media will delight in every mistake along the way.


Pretty much the opposite of everything the scripture calls us to be and do.


Today, that scripture focuses on two of the minor prophets… connected only by this thread of pride that rings through their message.

Up until this point in our Summer of the Prophets we have been going in a sort of chronological order.  We started with some of the earliest prophets – Elijah and Elisha – and made our way through various kings and rules, to the destruction of first Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and then Judah, the Southern Kingdom.  Last week, we found ourselves with the Judeans in the middle of exile, trying to make the most of life in a strange land.

Scholars disagree about where Obadiah fits into the mix.  Some firmly believe that Obadiah was the servant of King Ahab mentioned in the scriptures… which meant he would have been in ministry during the time of Elijah. Yet the context of his words make far more sense either during or after the time of exile.

In either case, the word of God he receives is meant not for Israel, or for Judah, but for the neighboring kingdom of Edom.


To understand how Edom fits into the picture, we need to go all the way back to Genesis to the story of two brothers… Jacob and Esau.


Esau is the older of the two – a rough and tumble sort of guy who thinks with his gut.  Jacob on the other hand, is quietly clever… a mamma’s boy who uses his wit to trick his older brother and gain the upper hand.  And Jacob uses these skills to steal the birthright from his older brother and to gain a deathbed blessing from his father.

Esau is furious at these events.  He knows that his father is near to death and promises that as soon as their father is gone that he will take his brother’s life.  And Jacob must flee for his life.


Usually we follow Jacob in this story… to Paddan Aram where he works for seven years in order to marry Rachel… and then for seven more when he is tricked into marrying her sister Leah instead.

We mostly forget about Esau… but he lets go of his anger and moves on with his life.  He marries and has children and is wildly successful… and his people become the nation of Edom.


While Jacob and Esau eventually reconcile,  Edom remains a separate kingdom… sometimes ruled over by Judah… at other times in alliance… and still at other times they benefit from Judah’s downfall.

Such is the case when Nebuchadnezzar rolls through Judah and destroys Jerusalem.  The Edomites are recruited to help in the battle AGAINST the people of Judah and plunder the city of Jerusalem.

And so Obadiah cries out… “Because of the slaughter and violence done to your brother Jacob, shame will cover you, and you will be destroyed forever.  You stood nearby, strangers carried off his wealth… You should have taken no pleasure over your brother on the day of his misery… you shouldn’t have bragged on their day of hardship…” (Obadiah 1:10-13)


Zephaniah’s words follow on the heels of these and describe the sort of people God creates out of the judgment and punishment that was visited upon Israel, Judah, and Edom:

“I will remove from your midst those boasting with pride.  No longer will you be haughty on my holy mountain, but I will cause a humble and powerless people to remain in your midst; they will seek refuge in the name of the Lord.” (Zephaniah 3:11-12)


We have here a picture of contrasts.

Those who are prideful, who gloat over the misfortunes of others, who are so thankful that they are safe and warm in their beds while others suffer… they are the ones facing judgment and destruction.

But those who seek refuge in the Lord, who know their limitations and weaknesses, who seek to help others and have compassion on the suffering… they are the ones in whom God delights.


In this day and age, our political parties are like the perpetually warring brothers Jacob and Esau.  Pride, vanity, power all get in the way of real relationship.  And we can be so focused on having it our way and our answers and our recipe for success that we actually hurt ourselves and those around us.

And as much as we don’t want to admit that those same kinds of prideful interactions are part of the church, they are.  As someone who has participated in the local, regional and global levels of church leadership, we, too, have political parties and opposing sides… caucuses and maneuvering… winners and losers.

No doubt, some of you will have heard that the Western jurisdiction in the United States just elected and consecrated the first openly gay, married bishop of our church.  Bishop Karen Oliveto has served as the pastor of Glide Memorial in San Francisco, one of the 100 largest churches in our denomination, before being nominated and elected.

As Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops wrote the night of the election:  “There are those in the church who will view this election as a violation of church law and a significant step toward a split, while there are others who will celebrate the election as a milestone toward being a more inclusive church…”

Whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not, conflict is at the center of our relationships in the church and in the world.


But as Bishop Ough continues in his letter, “We affirm that our witness is defined, not by an absence of conflict, but how we act in our disagreements.  We affirm that our unity is not defined by our uniformity, but by our compassionate and Spirit-led faithfulness to our covenant with God, Christ’s Church and one another.”


I hear in the Bishop’s letter and in our scripture today echoes of my favorite passage from Philippians 2:

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.

But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.

When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.


That call to be humble, to let go of our perceived power, to get down in the dirt and be in solidarity with those who are weak and suffering and broken… that is the core of the Christian faith.

It is right there in the life of Jesus.

It is in the parables… as the shepherd leaves the 99 to find the one lost lamb… in the story of the Good Samaritan… in the story of the widow and her mite.


As the blogger, Joshua Becker, puts it:  “Humility is… the opposite of aggression, arrogance, pride, and vanity.  And on the surface, it appears to empty its holder of all power.

But on the contrary, it grants enormous power to its owner.

“Humility offers its owner complete freedom from the desire to impress, be right, or get ahead.  Frustrations and losses have less impact on a humble ego and a humble person confidently receives opportunities to grow, improve, and reject society’s labels.” (


There is nothing we can do to change the dialogue at the national level right now, but we can choose how we engage in the relationships right here in this room.  We can choose how we have dialogue in our families.  We can choose the kind of dialogue we will have on social media and in coffee shops.

We can let go of our pride, we can let go of arrogance and aggressive attitudes towards one another and instead, we can practice humility.

We can try to hear what one another really thinks.

We can discover and appreciate the values that are at the core of their positions.

We can respect one another as persons and refuse to demonize our opponents.

And we can commit together to turn not to the power of kings or presidents or worldly leaders to save us… but to turn instead to prayer.

Prayer centered in the humble and self-giving life of Jesus Christ.

Prayer that calls us out into the world to love all people as children of God.

Prayer that transforms us from the inside out.


I urge you, as a witness to how Christians act in times of conflict, to live with humility over the next few months.

Seek out conversation with people you disagree with and truly listen.

Be willing to let their positions change you.

Be willing to share openly and honestly and in loving ways what you believe.

Don’t gloat over wins, and don’t pass around falsehoods and half truths.

Instead, stand with people when they are hurting.

Admit when you are wrong.

Try to grow in the knowledge and love of God and the world every single day.




Called By Name

If I ever doubted that I was called to this ministry with Imagine No Malaria, all of that was erased as we finished training this afternoon and closed a devotion and scripture and prayer.  We started with the calling of Samuel – and the voice of God calling him out by name.  We moved to the call of Jacob and a night of wrestling where God names him anew. 

As we listened, my heart leaped in my chest.  Both of those scriptures have been the ones I have turned to when I explain the call of God in my life.  I heard Bishop Carcano tell the story of Samuel’s call when I was a college student and realized for the first time that God had been calling me through the voice of important people in my life.  I have always had a push/shove/pull relationship with God and the idea of wrestling and asking questions and coming through on the other side different and more faithful has been a predominant narrative of my faith journey.

To hear each of those stories once again as the capstone of four days of training for a different direction in my life was powerful.  It was an affirmation that for some reason I am called to be here and to do this new position. 

I have had some fears and hesitations about the gifts needed and the travel required n the position, but I am learning that how we live out this campaign in Iowa is going to be different than in other places.  I have tried very hard to practice good boundaries and healthy self-care habits around my schedule and my family and I was worried that this position would demand something that I couldn’t offer.  But I’m figuring out that in this position, I will actually learn a better way of delegating, empowering, and supporting those I work with so that we can all do amazing things without killing ourselves in the process. 

God has called me by name.  Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.