A year ago August, amidst a bit of celebration, the owners of Pine Grove announced plans to perform major renovations to the club. For weeks, blue prints, computer mock ups of the new layout, color schemes etc. graced the lobby entrance for all members to see as we prepared for the inconvenience of construction to begin. A few weeks went by and nothing happened. Then towards the end of September 2012 a building permit was hung in the window. The first sign that construction really would begin. Then nothing. A few weeks later, as I was working out, I noticed an office area located in the middle of the gym being torn down. A sign that the long anticipated changes were now in the works. And then everything stopped for several weeks. And we wondered, if this was it, until one day, Duke the painter began showing up and started painting. After several days of paint swatches being put on the walls, everything stopped again. Then a week or two later, Duke showed up again and began painting the gym. It was six months before the space was completed.
And then everything stopped, until a few months later when they began tearing down the walls to the offices in the lobby, new offices were built, doors put in and then everything stopped again, until one day a few weeks later furniture was moved and the old offices were torn down. And then everything stopped again. It is now sixteen months later and the renovations continue. For the past two months a new ceiling, floor and service desk have been placed in the front half of the lobby, the plumber has come through several times and yet as of today the project is still not finished, leaving the members scratching their heads in frustration and wondering if the “New Pine Grove” will ever come to completion,and the promises made sixteen months ago will ever fulfilled.
As I reflect on the never ending renovations at Pine Grove, it helps me to imagine what John the Baptist was feeling when he sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was the “real thing” or not. After all, Jesus was not the first one to claim to be the long awaited messiah. And he wasn’t the last. . . .making his question legitimate. Besides, it had been several hundred years since Isaiah had predicted the arrival of the anointed one, the one who would restore the people of Israel to their promised land and reinstate the divine Kingdom as it had been in the time of King David.
But was Jesus of Nazareth the one? Had his years of proclaiming the Kingdom of God as near finally come to fruition? To this, Jesus does not give a straight answer. It would been easy to say yeah or nay. Besides, his saying yes or no would prove nothing. Instead, Jesus tells John’s disciples to look at the signs. . .the blind now see, the deaf hear, and the lame are able to walk. All signs that the messiah was indeed present as was predicted by Isaiah centuries ago.
One can presume the answer John received from his disciples was, yes, Jesus is the real deal. Jesus is the messiah you have been preparing for, preaching about, and calling people to repentance for. Yes, John, Jesus is the real deal, and now you can relax, face your trial and execution knowing your work on earth has been completed.
For those who surrounded Jesus that day, I am not sure they heard what they were looking for. I am not sure they heard the facts the way John would have heard them. From their perspective, the messiah was not about healing the blind, the deaf and the lame, the messiah was about restoring the land. The messiah was about becoming free of Roman oppression. The messiah was about liberation. Where is he? They wondered as they heard Jesus answer John’s questions. When will the day come for us, when will our messiah physically assume the throne of King David? For them the beginning signs are there, but when will God’s work of renovating this world be complete?
To their frustration and ours, the answer was and is, who knows, it will happen in God’s time. And we like those of ancient Palestine, wait and watch and wonder . . . when. Because we too wait and watch for the Messiah. And we too, like our forebears, are told to be patient. To wait in hope of the second coming, for the arrival of the Reign, or the Kingdom itself.
And we ask . . will the Kingdom ever come? Will it ever happen? There are signs of change, signs of hope. Yet they seem few and far between. Every time we see signs of the Kingdom coming near, we see new signs of how far we have left to go. As peace comes to one part of the world, war breaks out in another. As the hungry are fed in one part of the world, famine breaks out in another. Just as we recover from one set of violence in this country, more violence breaks out yet again. At times it makes us wonder if Jesus really is the real deal.
To all our questions, to all our doubts we are told, “Be patient, to strengthen our hearts as we await the coming of the Kingdom.” “Like a farmer who plants his fields, and waits patiently for the rains and for the harvest, we too need to trust the Kingdom will come, that a better time is ahead for us.”
The key to being patient, to being able to wait in hope is to be like the farmer, not just waiting for the rains to come, but trusting in what the harvest will bring. For the last four years, each spring we have tilled the beds for the Seeds of Faith Garden, planted tomatoes, beans and squashes. . .all with a vision of what the harvest will bring and the pleasure it will bring to those who will receive our produce.
Waiting for the Reign or the Kingdom is similar. In a day and age where much of Christianity has moved beyond faith as a means for personal salvation, the vision of the Kingdom becomes paramount to our ability to wait in hope. We need to keep before us the vision of the Reign as that time when hunger, violence, and illness will be no more, when divine righteousness and justice will rule all of creation. As we keep sight of this, our work and wait becomes , and is worthwhile.
We. . .need to be like the woman who, in spite of a hard life and virtually no resources except her stamina and the strength of her faith, raised six fine children and sent them all to college. Asked how she did it, she replied, “I saw a new world coming. *
We too need to see the new world coming and live into it as we wait for the Reign of God to come at last.
*From Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1. Joanna Adams, contributor.