Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pride and Pretense

Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. (1 Corinthians 4.5)

With gratitude to Bishop Yvette Flunder, for her sermon of 8/29/10.

What Happens in the Wait

Last Sunday I worshiped with congregations I admire beyond measure: Love Center Ministries in Oakland and San Francisco’s City of Refuge. Love Center’s founder, Walter Hawkins, was one of my most influential role models, and I was eager to see how the church was faring since his passing a month ago. Last Sunday was the final service in its time of mourning, and hence, a pivotal moment. I’m thrilled to report its fervor and commitment have not diminished in the least. The message, “Go Forward,” urged the people to rise up in courage and cross into a new era of service, confident of God’s guidance and provision. A profound spirit of submission—no, make that, desire—overtook the people as they joined together in a Taizé-style chorus that prayed, “Lord, whatever you’re doing in this season, don’t do it without me.” It entered the marrow of this great people and witnessed their longing to participate in God’s future. The song won’t let me go.

It was also apt, as I scurried over to City of Refuge, a radically inclusive flock shepherded by Yvette Flunder (formerly an associate pastor at Love Center). As its name implies, City of Refuge is a stubbornly safe place where race, gender, and orientation are irrelevant. Everyone belongs and I’ve yet to worship at COR without the service erupting into a no-holds-barred love-fest as worshipers embrace one another, pray together, and rejoice in the beauty of their Maker. COR is also a place of deep-seated cognizance that self-honesty and humility are the mainstays of a community consecrated to the worth of every individual. This theme rang out of Bishop Flunder’s sermon, as she focused on the disciples’ 10-day wait for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1-2. “A lot happens in 10 days,” she said. “You run out of what you want to say and end up disclosing what you don’t want to reveal. Over time, you look less like how you want to be seen and more like how you really are. The make-up wears off. ‘Cute’ doesn’t last very long. And when you don’t know what else to say, there you sit—waiting for something, with no idea what that is.” The “something” I witnessed struck me as what God is “doing in this season” and City of Refuge tenaciously refuses to be excluded. With the Love Center song hovering in my heart, I can’t stop reflecting on Bishop Flunder’s teaching about “what happens in the wait.”

Waiting is Doing

The revelation in the sermon came when she remarked how so many of us ask, “What am I supposed to do while I wait?” Waiting is doing, she reminded us. It’s during this period that our pride and pretense fall away, enabling us to be 100% real with our God, others, and ourselves. “The patina—the façade—the mask comes off during the wait,” she said. Waiting makes us uncomfortable to the point we’re willing to change so we can receive what God desires to give us. The gift isn’t what takes time. Readiness to receive it is what requires us to wait.

Bishop Flunder pointed out the miserable group of people gathered in the Upper Room had no choice but to work through their issues—within themselves and among each other—while they waited. There were Peter, who denied Jesus, Thomas, who questioned Christ’s resurrection, and James and John, who jockeyed for favor. There were Nicodemus, the Pharisee who went to Jesus in secret, and Joseph of Arimathea, who was rich and a latecomer to this group. There were Mary, whose story of the Virgin Birth some probably viewed with skepticism, and Jesus’s blood relatives, who no doubt expected preferential treatment among His followers. All of them had to come to grips with unpleasant questions about each other and themselves. Until they shed their pride and pretenses, they couldn’t be free to appreciate the mighty thing that was about to take place when the Holy Spirit came. Once they had done the waiting, Acts 2.1 tells us “they were all with one accord in one place.” (KJV) That’s what happens in the wait.

The Appointed Time

“Judge nothing before the appointed time,” Paul counsels in 1 Corinthians 4.5. “Wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.” Strictly speaking, he’s admonishing us to withhold judgment entirely, leaving the job to God, Who alone is qualified to assess what people do since He alone knows why they do it. Yet I think we can also apply this principle to our own lives in terms of waiting. Time we spend doing the waiting brings us to moments of realization. Our make-up wears off. Our prayers progress from reverent requests to candid confessions. We bare our souls. When we reach that place, the Lord comes.

Attitudes and behaviors we’ve hidden in dark recesses move front and center. Our proud façade crumbles. There’s no use pretending these issues don’t exist, because they’re right in front of us. This is the appointed time to admit we’re struggling with habits and thoughts we can ignore no longer. And the beauty of the wait is found in how it defeats our will. It saps the obstinacy causing us to justify our weaknesses. It confronts us with the realization until we acknowledge the harm we do to others and ourselves we won’t be ready to receive all that God has for us. The wait exposes the true motives behind our pride and pretense. We suddenly face the fact that inability to forgive is actually unwillingness. Frustration is really impatience. Reasons are only excuses. And since we’ve waited this long, it’s time we deal with what surfaces in the wait. The assurance, healing, peace, joy, and strength we ask for are there, waiting for us. They will be ours when we’re ready to receive them. God is doing great things in us, in this season of our lives. Waiting brings us to a place of complete surrender, when we’re willing to do whatever it takes to be a part of whatever He’s doing in us.

Waiting is doing—dealing with pride and pretenses we’ve ignored. What we pray for is already there, waiting for us to reach the point where we’re ready to receive them.

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