September 10, 2017 Revision #1
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:2-4
This Sunday we are starting our five week sermon and worship series undergirding our reVision process here at the United Churches. Everyone is invited to participate in a 90 day small group where you will engage with others in spiritual practice and in theological reflection on our lives and opportunities here on this corner of 11th and Capitol in Olympia, WA. You might be saying to yourself that you have participated in a number of Vision processes and the writing of mission statements over the last seven years, and you have. What I hope will be different this time is that instead of using the kinds of mission statement writing processes that we have learned from the business community that we instead encounter the Holy through prayer and relationships with one another. I hope that instead of thinking through “steps for success” or measurable goals, that we instead connect with the Spirit, our hearts, and our passion. I pray that we can see what new things that God is doing with us and through us by opening ourselves to new understandings of our faith and our belief. Then we can open our hearts to the authentic struggles, hopes and dreams of the world around us. Finally, we will find new ways to be faithful responding authentically with our hearts and our minds.
With this as our framework, let us hear afresh these words of the prophet Habakkuk 1:1-4 the first part of our reading for today:
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
When I first read these words this week in the framework of the current Whitehouse Administration, with the rollback of DACA, still dripping wet from Hurricane Harvey, sucking the smoke of the burning Northwest into my lungs, shaking from the terrible earthquake in Mexico and facing the power of Irma, these words written sometime between 550 and 600 BCE seemed absolutely contemporary. “O Lord, how long shall I cry to you for help and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence” and you will not save?” The word in Hebrew for violence is Chamas, defined in the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament as the “cold-blooded and unscrupulous infringement of the personal rights of others, motivated by greed and hate and often making use of physical violence and brutality.” This too is a contemporary description for violence: the harm that we do to one another and to our environment motivated by simple greed and hate.
As you read on in chapter 1 of Habakkuk there is a dialogue between the prophet and God, a back and forth of lament, fist shaking and argument. They are arguing about the Babylonians who are devouring the people of Israel. Because this little, minor prophet Habakkuk is included in the canon, it seems fair game to shake our fists at God and ask what God is doing in the midst of the violence we witness and experience in our day. We are stunned by the physical violence of the weather systems. We are saddened by the way our friends of color are treated. The wars around the world break our hearts. We can’t believe that our hard working friends cannot make ends meet. We hear saber rattling and war-mongering rhetoric and shout “not in my name.” Every day in the door ways of this church, people with out homes and people without hope wake up. As verse 4 says: The law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous – therefore justice comes forth perverted. We have used our laws to undergird this wrongdoing and we use rhetoric to make it sound right. This was the same for Habakkuk who served King Jehoiakim: the laws had become useless, empty, quite literally “numb” and ineffective. As a result, justice no longer existed.
Well that is pretty depressing isn’t it? But that isn’t where the prophet takes his stand. Instead of crawling back into bed and pulling the covers of discouragement over his head, the prophet resolves to stand at his watchpost and see what God will do. Habakkuk is still convinced that God will respond. He still has hope. Here is the rest of the reading:
Habakkuk 2: 1-4
I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what God will say to me, and what God will answer concerning my complaint. Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
God tells Habakkuk to write the vision. God tells Habakkuk to write the vision large and plain so that it could be widely shared. There is STILL is vision, it WILL come, wait for it. Meanwhile, persist in faithfulness. Meanwhile, look to see what God is doing. Meanwhile practice your faith.
We might be feeling like Habakkuk, shaking our fists at God because we are so sick of all of the violence, we are tired of ineffective laws and furious about the gaping divide between the rich and the poor. What would it mean for us to stand at the ramparts? What does it mean to stand watch and listen for what God has to say to us? How do we notice what God is doing every day?
Here is one way I saw God at work this week. You know those Mexicans that our country wants to build a wall to keep out? They came in convoys this past week bringing aid to Houston. Mexican volunteers wearing white vests labeled “Cruz Roja Mexicana” were distributing food and lending a sympathetic ear to some of the 1,800 storm refugees at the George R. Brown Convention Center, a temporary shelter. Mexico was assembling relief for Harvey. 25 trailers were being prepared with rice, beans, coffee and chocolate along with 300 beds, nine generators, mobile kitchens, telecommunications equipment and personnel including paramedics and doctors, Mexico’s foreign ministry said. Mexico is demonstrating its neighborliness as a show of solidarity.
I had the opportunity on your behalf to attend the opening of the community care center in downtown Olympia on Thursday afternoon. The Community Care Center is a collaboration of Providence and 11 local agencies working together to connect those in need with all the community services and help the homeless with simple things like laundry and showers. This church through your generosity gave the foundation $4000.00 to build and outside area for the guests to enjoy. It was heartwarming and powerful to see the city, the county and local agencies all fueled with the mission of helping the most vulnerable. I spoke with individuals with resources who deeply care and want to make a difference.
Every Friday night, dozens of local community members stand at Percival Landing and hold signs calling for an end to violence…calling for peace. They play music and wave at those passing by. They are being faithful, week in and week out, standing for their belief.
We stand, we wait, we notice what God is already doing and we write the vision. Habakkuk was told to write the vision large. They didn’t have billboards then, but that is what I imagine: the words of the vision written large enough that people could read them while running by. We have a fantastic location here on the corner of 11th and Capitol. If we were to put our vision on the side of our building, it would be seen.
We write the vision and then we wait for God to show up while we keep practicing our faith by doing the next right thing. If you are wondering what it looks like to be faithful: it is the willingness to choose living a life aligned God in a certain way, even when the vision is in the far off future and the present circumstances are bleak and barren. It is having a deep sense of hope in what we can be.
I believe that each of you are already doing this, and I also believe that we will have a greater impact on our community as we do it together. As we continue our own daily spiritual practices and as we engage in prayer and sharing together, I believe that the way forward will be made clear. I also believe that each one of us will be given the strength, courage, imagination and energy and love to carry out this vision, being faithful, and doing the next right thing moment by moment.