Sermon Seeds: The Waiting

Sunday, January 21, 2024
Third Sunday after Epiphany | Year B
(Liturgical Color: Green)

Lectionary Citations
Jonah 3:1-5, 10 • Psalm 62:5-12 • 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 • Mark 1:14-20

Focus Scripture: Psalm 62:5-12 in conversation with Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Focus Theme: The Waiting
Series: Arise! (Click here for the series overview.)

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

Waiting is part of the human experience. We spend much of our lives waiting. In certain instances, the time horizon may be years. We look at milestones in our early years such as learning to drive or registering to vote. Even earlier, our parents or parental figures wait as we demonstrate developmental progress by taking our first steps as we learn to walk and utter our first sounds as we grasp the fundamentals of human speech and communication.

Waiting also has a role in our daily lives. If we share living space, we may need to wait our turn to use the shower or prepare our morning coffee or tea. We wait for public transportation to arrive or we may wait in traffic as we commute to work or school. We make appointments to engage the services of professionals like physicians, mechanics, and barbers, and those time slots can often feel like an invitation to wait at an appointed time rather than a fast track to services.

At the same time that we acknowledge that waiting inevitably and inherently factors in the human condition, we have developed innovations to reduce the need to wait exponentially. Microwaves, instapots and air fryers have reduced the time to prepare meals to minutes rather than hours. When we want to see someone face to face, we no longer need to employ planes, trains, or even automobiles. We can call through FaceTime or Zoom. Letters no longer get sent using Pony Express, and only occasionally through what we now refer to as “snail mail.” Think about that, what had been an innovation in reducing the time necessary to send and receive written correspondence is now considered unbearably slow because we can send an email instantaneously just as directly with the same information.

Waiting may well be an unavoidable aspect of life, but we have done our best to get around it with significant success. That reality makes it more challenging to identify with the words of the psalmist as they acknowledge, affirm, and even celebrate the waiting. The passage opens with a declaration, “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.” While we often use the word “soul” synonymously with “spirit,” the original audience would have held a more expansive understanding.

The word nephesh (soul) in this psalm, as elsewhere in the OT, is simply another way the psalmist refers to himself. It does not refer to a spiritual and immortal principle that enters the body at birth and leaves it at death. Nephesh has no existence apart from the body. After death the nephesh ceases to exist (Job 14:22). Any weakening of the bodily functions such as through hunger or thirst is also described as the pouring of the nephesh (Lam. 2:12). It is the usual term for a man’s total nature, the Hebrew man being regarded as a unity and not composed of a physical and a spiritual separate from one another. When nephesh is not referring to the whole person, it means nothing more than a distinction between that which is living and that which is dead. “It is the unimportance of nephesh that is really significant for Christian belief.”
Dave Bland

Waiting does not involve compartmentalization. There’s no splitting mind, body, and soul for all are captured and contained within the soul. All wait for the Holy One in trust and hope. This is how the psalm begins, and the pronouncement is repeated in the first verse of this passage. Repetition always signifies emphasis. If the audience retains anything from this psalm, it is that the waiting is an active expression of hope and trust in God beyond circumstance.

Whereas the psalm’s imagery and expression of trust are characteristic of the Psalter, the form of the poem is distinctive. Some type of crisis is in the picture, including enemies, but the psalm does not take the traditional form of the lament psalm or the thanksgiving psalm. It has some connections with wisdom, given its instructional dimensions. Most of the psalm speaks about God and trust in God. God is not addressed until the concluding verse with an expression of trust. The best way forward for readers of the text may well be to think of it as an expression of trust in God in the face of difficulty. The psalm’s basic literary structure is tied to what appears to be a refrain in verses 1–2 and verses 5–6. Following the opening expression of trust, the psalm addresses the enemies. Verses 5–7, with the second use of the refrain, return to the expression of trust. The final verses (vv. 8–12) address the community based on the expressions of trust in the first seven verses. The psalm contains complaint, as is characteristic of ancient Israel’s prayer, but there is no petition. The psalm addresses God at the end, but with an expression of trust. That appears to be the focus of the poem.
Walter Brueggemann and W. H. Bellinger, Jr.

The progression of the addressee in the text also reflects the messy reality of trust. The psalmist seems to engage in self-talk, public exhortation, and direct address to the Holy One. All may be necessary for the message to be embedded in the soul of the person and the people. Trust does not arise without tension, conflict, or uncertainty. Maintaining a faithful posture is hard work.
In a recent conversation with a friend, they made the statement that they don’t like faith. I laughed and responded that no one does. As they said, they would prefer to walk by sight. Epiphany commemorates the revelation of God, the unveiling of the presence of the divine in the world, and the public coming out of the Embodied One. Inherent in the celebration is the joy that the wait for those moments has ended. The glory has been revealed, but before the moment arrived, generations–over centuries–waited in silence. The intertestamental period lasted for centuries while the people waited in hope for the promised Messiah. That time is often described as a period marked by God’s silence, yet extra-biblical literature challenges that claim. Perhaps the silence of roughly half a millennia was that of a people who had internalized the opening declaration of this passage. Waiting actively is at best a movement in silence.

The gospel passage the psalm accompanies includes Jesus calling for repentance and calling disciples to follow him on a shared journey. This is what they have been waiting for as demonstrated by their swift and uncomplicated acceptance of the invitation. Like Peter, Andrew, James, and John in the gospel, the people of Ninevah in the Old Testament text receive the divine message. While Jonah shares the message of impending doom, the people actually hear the call to turn back to God. The prophet actually has less faith in the redemptive and gracious nature of the Holy One than the people he was sent to inform of God’s perspective on their lives. In both the Old Testament and Gospel readings, when they hear the news, they receive it and believe it, and they repent. They demonstrate their hope and trust in God’s redemptive love and compassion, and God changes their mind because God’s hopes have been satisfied.

The story of Ninevah, like the words of the psalm, forge a testimony of hoping and trusting in God. The psalmist believes they may find rest in the Holy One because God is faithful even through the waiting.

Finding rest (vv. 1 and 5) is perhaps misleading. God can certainly give rest to the weary, a chance for repose and recuperation, but something rather different is David’s conviction here. What he states in verse 1, and reminds himself to ensure in verse 5, is that his soul is silent, or still, in God’s presence. Silence too may not seem quite the right word, since he obviously has plenty more he wants to say. He will, indeed, be encouraging others to pour out their hearts to God (v. 8), as he has poured out his own at other times. But then we notice that scarcely more than a single verse out of the twelve is addressed to God. Perhaps David’s prayers were done before he began the psalm. Prayers of confusion—‘Lord, I don’t know what to say’? Prayers of exhaustion—‘Lord, I don’t know what else to say’? The point of these verses, however, is not that the mouth should cease to speak, but that the mind should compose itself to stillness. It aims to get beyond the earthquake, wind, and fire of Horeb, to the ‘sound of sheer silence’; to have the divine rebuke to the storm on Galilee bring about a ‘great calm’. There one begins to see things God’s way, and the facts come into focus.
Michael Wilcock

The waiting has purpose beyond developing human patience. The waiting enables communion and familial connection with the divine. The waiting makes room for clarity and vision. The waiting cultivates trust and hope. The waiting allows time for development and progression so that what has been hidden may arise and be revealed.

Embrace the waiting.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
In an ideal world we would all learn in childhood to love ourselves. We would grow, being secure in our worth and value, spreading love wherever we went, letting our light shine. If we did not learn self-love in our youth, there is still hope. The light of love is always in us, no matter how cold the flame. It is always present, waiting for the spark to ignite, waiting for the heart to awaken and call us back to the first memory of being the life force inside a dark place waiting to be born – waiting to see the light.
― bell hooks

For Further Reflection
“It is very strange that the years teach us patience – that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.” ― Elizabeth Taylor
But this is what I’m finding, in glimpses and flashes: this is it. This is it, in the best possible way. That thing I’m waiting for, that adventure, that move-score-worthy experience unfolding gracefully. This is it. Normal, daily life ticking by on our streets and sidewalks, in our houses and apartments, in our beds and at our dinner tables, in our dreams and prayers and fights and secrets – this pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of use will ever experience.” ― Shauna Niequist
“Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is “timing”
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles
and in the right way.”
― Fulton J. Sheen

Works Cited
Brueggemann, Walter and W. H. Bellinger, Jr. Psalms. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Bland, Dave. “Exegesis of Psalm 62.” Restoration Quarterly 23, no. 2 (1980): 82–95.
Wilcock, Michael. The Message of Psalms 1–150: Songs for the people of God. Nottingham: Intervarsity Press, 2011.

Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
During the season after Epiphany, invite the congregation to respond with public witness of faith. The local church may reach out to community partners or aligned organizations to solicit prayer requests. Those prayers may then be shared on social media or other means throughout the week. Alternatively, the church may initiate an outdoor prayer box for those in the community to share their prayer concerns with a dedicated prayer group within the local church.

Worship Ways Liturgical Resources

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (, also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page:

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.