A year ago last summer we bought a potted Hibiscus plant already in full, glorious bloom. The local nursery encouraged us to plant it right away and let it take root in our garden. When winter came, we snipped the stem down to a few inches above the ground.
Last Spring, the sprig showed no signs of life. At all. And it was late June already when I was tempted to pull up the seemingly lifeless root ball from the garden to make room for something else. Visiting the same nursery at the time I complained to them about the Hibiscus plant they sold to us, that obviously did not winter-well. To say the least.
“Don’t pull it up, yet!” they entreated me. “Wait a little longer, for it has been a late Spring. Give it a chance.”
At first, I didn’t believe them. But I left the dead thing alone trying not to think about my disappointment too much. Was I in for a surprise! In early July a tiny, green shoot pushed up the earth around the base. But then, not just one, but two, three and four shoots of new life erupted out of the ground. Seven weeks later, we were enjoying a multitude of magnificent blooms. The plant had more than doubled its growth from last year!
How critical it was for me to heed the gardener at the nursery when she told me “Don’t pull it up!” and “Wait a little longer” and “Give it a chance!”
“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart”
In Jesus’ story, the theme is ‘not giving up.’ Not giving up is what it looks like to pray always. Elsewhere in the bible, Paul, the writer to the early church, instructed the faithful “pray without ceasing”. It’s about being persistent in waiting, in not reacting, in staying the course when it starts feeling like it’s no use any longer to keep going.
“If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”
The prophet was waiting for a vision from God, a word that would give new life to those who were discouraged, defeated and ready to give up on God, on themselves and on the world.
For what do you wait? After what justice do you persist? What is it you seek after that seems elusive, just beyond your grasp? Whatever that is, the scriptures describe an inner quality of the heart that will not give up, that will wait for it, that is patient and true in enduring and persisting.
That sees the present moment as holding value in and of itself.
The goal, the destination, the vision – this may seem to tarry. Perhaps in those impatient moments it’s important again to look around at what is happening. Infant baptism, for one thing, is a visible sign of this challenge and truth.
For an infant does not express knowledge of God in the way we adults do. An infant cannot give us a rational accounting of their faith. They cannot, surely, deserve blessing by pointing to a long list of their good deeds and giving an impassioned testimony.
It confounds us sophisticated grown-ups crazy, as we are influenced so much by a success-mindset culture of instant gratification. The world we live in has little patience for this kind of long-view approach. We’d sooner just give up on someone or something for which we hope. When it seems we are in futility grasping at something not yet.
Here, we are asked to commit to quite the opposite. Infant baptism invites us all to dedicate ourselves to long journey. We are challenged to persist in our waiting for it, not to give up, to have faith and stay the course.
And, in the meantime, walk with the baptized as he grows over time into the person God has created him to be. The flowering will happen, yet quite beyond our claim to control it. The green shoots poking out of the ground are occasion to rejoice. Here is evidence enough for now, for this moment. Those tiny shoots hold the fullness of the gift of faith and life in him.
Dear family and friends of the baptized, and Faith community, I hope you stick with it. This journey of faith, together. Trust in the vision, the promise. And celebrate the wondrous gift of this moment.
1 Thessalonians 5:17
Habakkuk 2:3, the first reading from a couple of weeks ago, Pentecost 17C (RCL)