Scripture: Mark 10:13-16
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
Summer sermons are based on topics requested by the congregation.
Several months ago, a woman friend and I went to hear the Florida Orchestra at Ruth Eckerd Hall on a Sunday evening. We thought the concert began at 8:00. We arrived at 7:30. Apparently the concert started at 7:30. As we arrived at the appropriate entrance to the auditorium, the doors were closed. Three women ushers were sitting on a bench near the door. One told us that the concert had begun, we would have to wait to enter. We could watch the monitor for the appropriate timing. Then she told us we could take a program and she indicated a stack on top of a tall retaining wall topped with a planter. We got our programs and waited. As we were waiting, two men came up to the same door, apparently also late. When they arrived, one of the women ushers who had been sitting on the bench chatting with the other ushers immediately got up, retrieved the stack of programs from atop the retaining wall, approached the two men, handed them programs and explained that they would have to wait to enter the concert hall. It took a few minutes to take in the blatant sexism of the situation and by then we were heading into the auditorium to find our seats.
A couple of weeks ago when I was visiting our daughter in Burlington, Massachusetts I read the local weekly paper. In it there was an announcement about a rally that had been held in Boston: “About two dozen legislators joined a variety of women’ rights groups for a rally ahead of Tuesday’s Labor and Workforce Development Committee hearing on the Act to Establish Pay Equity. The bill aims to eliminate the wage gap for women and people of color.” As I read this, I thought, It’s great that they are working on this here in Massachusetts. That would never happen in Florida – a big public rally, with 12 legislators, about equal pay for equal work. And then I thought, how do we let this go on?
Martin Luther King, Jr’s book comes to mind: Why We Can’t Wait.
How long do we let the sexism go on? How long do we tolerate the racism in this country? How long do we accept people suffering from hunger and homelessness? How long do we watch as people are cheated of their rights and their dignity? Decade after decade. Century after century. And we go on. Hardly worked up. Hardly loosing sleep.
Oh, but how annoyed we become when we have to wait in line for something. We are steaming over a long wait. How frustrated we become and aggravated waiting for something to download over a slow connection on the computer. And don’t you just love being put on hold when you call the cable company or the health insurance people? These things make us crazy. We become annoyed, aggravated, irritated, and fume. That’s before we even get to traffic tie ups and road rage.
So what about this sermon request about patience? My first response was that we don’t need more patience, we have too much patience. But we have patience with the wrong things. Kids come to school hungry because there is no food at home, oh well. But a kid taking too long to tie their shoes while we are trying to get out the door and we’re counting to 10 to try not to blow up. In addition, I want to mention that the sermon request specifically included the desire for patience with parenting to be addressed. First, I offer a disclaimer. I was not and am not a patient person or a patient parent. When we had two kids at home, and three kids at home, there was a lot of yelling. There’s still a lot of yelling. I don’t pretend or claim to be patient.
But I am thinking about Jesus’ gentle attitude toward children. The kids are annoying the disciples. We can imagine their attitude, bothersome things, children. We can’t have them disturbing the master. And yet Jesus welcomes the children. Yes, there are all kinds of symbolic and metaphorical meanings in this story but what does this image of Jesus welcoming the children say to us about patience and parenting? Jesus has no patience with adults who are taking advantage of people. He has no patience with greed. He has no patience with self serving. But he has all the time in the world – for children.
Take time. Sit down. Read a book. Look at the clouds. Be forgiving. Gentle. With children.
But be impatient, irritated, annoyed, and aggravated that there are children with no food to eat, children who can’t read, children targeted by companies as consumers, children made into billboards for brand names, children who are tied to a screen, children who are not safely cared for, who don’t know how to play outside, and who are made to witness countless acts of violence on the screen and in real life. These are things to fume about. This situation is reason to go ballistic. This should raise our blood pressure. This should make us want to yell.
I’m wondering – Why don’t we have more patience, especially with our children? What is so pressing, so important, so distracting and diverting that we aren’t more patient with our kids day to day? Well, parents are often working, working, working, and trying to keep up with household maintenance, chores, food, laundry, homework, etc. on top of paying jobs that may be demanding and time consuming. We live in a society in which the work expectations are incredibly high. Much higher, say, than is the case in Europe. In Europe the people have a shorter work week and longer vacation. And here in the US, people are often working more than one job to make ends meet, to have health insurance, etc. Economic need coupled with material desires fostered by advertising pressure parents to work, work, work. Kids want this. Kids want that. Thanks to the super effectiveness and ever presence of advertising – even in schools. All this work leaves less time for home life so things need to be done more quickly and efficiently leading to a lack of patience with children who dawdle, forget, take their time, get distracted, etc. Which is how children are and should be.
But there is another side to this. Were things so much better in former days when many mothers were stay at home moms? Was there less yelling? Was there more patience? I have asked some older people about that. It does not seem to be the case. That wasn’t a perfect scenario, either. Often fathers were impatient after coming home from stressful days at work. And some mothers were miserable staying at home and not being out making a contribution in the wider world. This stressed the family, too. The “Leave It to Beaver” world was not perfect, either.
This reminds us of something that is important for parenting, for patience, and for being the person we want to be and that is self care. When we take care of ourselves, we can be our best selves. To be good, we have to take care of ourselves. There may be many reasons why we may be short tempered, easily annoyed, and irritable. Maybe part of the problem is that we are not getting enough sleep, or the proper food, or needed physical activity, or engaging in activities that feed the soul, or we are not serving others. These things help us to be our best selves. It’s difficult to be patient if you are sleep deprived, surviving on caffeine, and overworked in a job you hate.
And while we are aware that good parenting, and good character, involve patience, we are in a culture that is obsessed with fast, immediate, and efficient. No matter how fast your computer is, no matter how fast you get your job done, things like character take time to form, build, and emerge. Cultivating the good, learning how to take care of ourselves, these things take time. To learn a skill or perfect an art takes time and practice. The same is true for perfecting character and becoming good. It takes time and effort. It doesn’t happen over night. To examine things, ourselves included, and understand who we are and who we are called to be and move in that direction takes time. We don’t want to devote the time needed to building character. We let ourselves get caught up in the whirlpool of day to day life and want immediate gratification.
In the story of the disciples and the children, we see that the disciples had their impatience misplaced. They were worried about the children bothering Jesus. Jesus let the children come. Took his time with them. They are worth our time and attention. They not only need us, but they teach us about the world as well. Have patience with children. There is much learning and growing to be done by all.
And we should be impatient with a society that values efficiency over relationships, money over fairness, productivity over parenting. 15.8 million children go to bed hungry in the richest country in human history, partly due to the gender wage gap, as it turns out. Now that is something to blow up about. Amen.