Old Faithful and the Waiting Slaves

Luke 12:32-40

I ventured into Yellowstone National Park for the first time last week.  I flew into Jackson Hole late on Monday and out early on Friday, so my time there was short.  I traveled there to participate in a retreat so most of my time was taken and I wasn’t able to linger long at the amazing sights tourists frequent.  Even so, as I made my way back south out of the park on Thursday, I decided to detour west and take in Old Faithful.

Even in July, the traffic had not been bad before that, but it was backed up as I drove towards the parking lot.  I pulled in, grabbed my bag, and headed in the same direction as all the other tourists seemed to be going.  When I got close, though, it appeared the geyser had just erupted and wasn’t due to do so again for another hour or so.  I thought about passing on the experience, but it was early enough that I could still get out of the park before dark, so I walked back and found myself an early supper.  When I walked back to the viewing area for Old Faithful, it was already packed with others like me.  I was half an hour early and all the seating was taken.  So I stood between some benches and with the crowd found myself staring at a hole in the ground.

After a while a murmur went up in the crowd for there was a small puff of steam to be seen.  Along with all the rest I held my camera phone high over my head, not wanting to miss my chance at a photograph.  And then it stopped. And then there was another.  And then nothing.  A few gurgles of water bubbled up next.  Then it was quiet again.  Those around me began to speculate that perhaps it was just teasing us.  Those accompanying small children were doing all they could to keep them entertained while we watched and waited. 

We were there together all in that place for nearly an hour before the geyser fully erupted.  It came about twenty minutes later than the clock in the nearby shop had indicated. Still, just as it has for hundreds of years or more, it keeps more of a schedule than any other geyser in the park — perhaps anywhere in the world.  And just as millions before had done so, together we witnessed something remarkable.

The images Jesus offers now speak to us of the kind of expectation which I observed in myself and in others that afternoon gathered around a geyser the week before last.  Like those slaves waiting for their master to return, we were hyper alert with cameras of all sorts at the ready.  Mostly we believed it would come — relying as we were on the witness of millions who had gone before.  I don’t know that many of us would have been willing to wait all night to witness this wonder of nature as those slaves would have as they awaited the bridegroom so long ago, but we were willing to wait a while.

Many things in life are not this predictable.  In this season of weddings I find myself thinking back to a young couple I worked with a few years back.  As with many, there was much conversation about when to start a family and how many children they would have.  Soon after the wedding they found themselves expecting triplets.  Yesterday I officiated at the wedding of a wonderful young couple. The bride’s father was killed in a car accident in February.  The beauty of the day was unexpectedly shadowed by their devastating loss.  Joy and tragedy.  Grief and healing —  they all come on their own schedules, it seems. Unlike that geyser in Yellowstone, we can’t set the clock by them.  We can only be assured that they will be. 

It seems to me, it is much the same for all of us as we await the return of Jesus — which, of course, the images Jesus offers today point to as well.  We are offered now clock to help us anticipate his coming and it’s been a long watch by now — for all of us who gather now we have waited our whole lifetimes.  It is the same for those countless who went before us.  To stand still and wait as those crowds of tourists do every day, would not be right and faithful.  But to lose track of who and what we are waiting for would, of course, miss the mark as well.

And so I find myself thinking of those slaves waiting for the bridegroom — not knowing precisely when he would leave the feast to return home.  I can’t imagine they would have simply sat still and watched the door — although perhaps they would have taken turns doing so.  No, I imagine they would have been busy about other tasks: all pointed to the service and care for the one they are waiting for, to be sure.  No, I don’t really believe their time was marked by idle waiting.  At the same time, all ears and eyes would have been leaning towards the door and his return.  For he, in that time, was the source of their life, their meaning, their identity.

It is the same for us, of course.  We work and watch and wait for Jesus to come again, knowing that he also is the source of our lives, our meaning, our varied identities.  We don’t do so as a group of tourists do, watching the clock with their cameras aloft.  Rather, we do so as those slaves would have done so long ago, busy about our tasks, but never losing sight of who we are here to serve.  Never forgetting to lean a little towards the door as we await the return of the bridegroom, who, upon entering, always serves us, too.

No, we can’t set the clock by Jesus’ return.  At least not the sort of clock the tourists in Yellowstone go by nor the one I live by in the day to day.  We do still know, however, that such a day will be ours to embrace one day as well.  We join with the millions upon millions who have watched and waited for two thousand years, trusting their witness as well.  Knowing that the One for whom we work and watch and wait has given us everything and always will.  Indeed, as the beginning of this week’s Gospel lesson urges us, it is in our watchfulness even as we live that I expect we will learn to make purses that don’t wear out. This is how we will find ourselves setting our hearts on the only treasure that matters.
  • What do you think it means ‘to make purses for yoursleves which don’t wear out?’  How do we learn to do that?
  • Is our ‘alertness’ to be idle waiting?  Why or why not?  How do you think those slaves would have used that waiting time in the image Jesus offers now?  W hat does that mean for all of us?

2 comments

  1. Margaret says:

    As I begin my study for Sunday’s sermon, you have given me much to think about – I am determined now to get to Yellowstone, too. Your description of the slaves’ waiting reminds me of getting ready for company, not knowing exactly when they will arrive. I’ll run the vacuum, then check the driveway, then work on dinner prep, then check the driveway, try to sit and read but end up looking out the window. All this even though I have two dogs who will bark as soon as anyone turns into the driveway and run to the door!

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