The Waiting Game

Preacher: Amy Norton
Date: November 8, 2020

Scripture: Matthew 25:1-13

No audio is available. Please watch the service on YouTube.



You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!


As of Thursday afternoon, it feels like we are smack dab in the middle of the waiting place. The constant re-freshing of newsfeeds, cross-checking different news sites, hoping that maybe there’s some new piece of information that temporarily eases the aching anxiety of waiting. Perhaps by the time we’re worshiping on Sunday, we already know the election results. Regardless, many in the country will be thrust back into the waiting game until January 2021, many will be waiting until January 2025, and all of us will still be in the pandemic waiting place. 


Jesus’ parable tells us of two sets of bridesmaids who were waiting with the bride, keeping watch to provide light for the groom, who would customarily arrive at an unannounced nighttime hour. They both brought their lamps, but only one set brought extra oil in case their lamps ran out (now, maybe they were overfunctioning, protecting the groom from the natural consequences of his tardiness, but given that Jesus calls them ‘wise’, I think we can save that interpretation for another sermon). 

Jesus has advice for his listeners; be like the wise bridesmaids, be prepared! Keep awake! You never know when the groom is coming, so make sure you have plenty of oil for your lamp! And this reminded me of the words of famous children’s book author and anti-facist, Dr. Seuss, when he tells his reader not to get stuck in the waiting place and to instead be “ready for anything under the sky!”. 


I believe that one way of talking about this advice is by framing it as a warning against stagnancy, against passive waiting. 


Passive waiting is anxiety producing, draining, and even boring. It’s the bridesmaids falling asleep on the watch.  Passive waiting, even hopeful passive waiting, can turn into complacency with the status quo. After all, if we are so convinced that tomorrow will be better than today, why not just give up and stop addressing the problems of today? If we’ve just gotta ride it out, we can hunker down until then. We’ve got our lamps for when the groom comes, we can sneak in some shut-eye until he actually arrives, right? 


Passive waiting creates the illusion of having no agency- how many of us consistently refreshed our newsfeeds this week to see updated vote tallies? How many of us donated, shared information for, or volunteered with organizations dedicated to fighting the injustices that continue exist regardless of the occupant of the whitehouse? Yeah, me neither. 


Jesus tells us to stay awake- to not be lulled into the complacency of waiting.  Don’t just sleep while you wait for change to come- stay awake. Stay active. Maybe you are the one who will enact the change you are waiting for? 

This example is for harry potter nerds- remember at the end of book three when Harry has used the time turner to try to save Sirius and he is waiting for his dad’s patronus to come and save him from the dementors, and then he realizes that past him must have seen future him cast the patronus and so he casts the patronus and saves past him AND future him? It’s kind of like that. But less time travel. 


One of the other lectionary texts this week, from the prophet Amos, gets to the heart of this. 

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.

Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.


Amos reminds us that working for justice is far more important to God than our religious posturing, the trappings and rituals with which we adorn our worship, as meaningful as they can be.


The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice…what do you think bends it? Who do you think bends it? 

What if, what if we’re not actually in the waiting place. Hear me out. Reverend Jim Keat of Riverside Church posed this perspective in the most recent iteration of their video bible study, the word made fresh: 


What if, instead of talking about a return in the vague future, Jesus is inviting us to live into the kingdom that is already at hand! “Stop dreaming about some utopian future,” he says, “and wake up to see what’s right in front of you!”  What if we are looking for what’s still to come at the expense of what’s right in front of us.  Missing out on the invitation to wake up and meet Jesus now, here, among us and alive in our world, embodied in the hands and feet of the people who live and breathe and work for love here and now in the world around us.


Reverend Keat posits that “WE are called to live and work to bring heaven to the literal hell that is raging all around us.”


Earlier this week I read a post by a black activist who reminded their readers that big change rarely comes about through national elections, but rather through community efforts, advocacy, agitating, and organizing. Having “your guy” (or hopefully your gal) in the white house doesn’t exempt you from the work, and neither does having “the other guy” in charge. Jesus reminds us that the work is ours. We are the ones who build the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. 


I want to circle back to the lamps, for a moment, before we wrap up and launch into a hopefully (hopefully) less anxiety-ridden week. Because even after the election is called and sorted, we are still in the ultra-marathon waiting place that is the covid pandemic. And if we’re gonna get through this, if we’re going to actively wait- actively work- instead of passively fall into complacency, we are going to need oil. And lots of it.  

We need to have respect for the duration of the endeavor we are undertaking, and make sure we have the resources, the fuel, to sustain our …awake-ness (I…couldn’t say wokeness). We source that fuel from our communities, from our families, from our alone-time, from our sabbaths, from our rituals, our laughter, our commiserating, our communing with the holy spirit. The uncertainty of waiting, uncertainty in general, for that matter, is much more easily accepted when we are topped-up spiritually. When we have reserves of oil with which to keep our lamps burning. 


I challenge everyone, from now through Christmas, so that’s 7 Sundays, to some element of self-care to your sabbath day, each sabbath day. Perhaps you light a candle and challenge your children to play the ‘quiet game’ for 5 whole minutes. Maybe you take a walk without your dog who can’t stop pulling on the leash. Maybe you talk to God, and then sit silently and listen for God to talk back. Maybe you even order takeout to save time and energy on cooking and instead play a game of cards with your partner. Maybe you call someone from church, not to ask a favor or to discuss committee business, but just to connect, say hi, and tell them something you appreciate about them. Whatever it is, pick it, commit to it, and use it to fuel your lamp. 


Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.

With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.