Sunday, November 30, 2014

Vision--a sermon for Advent 1, on Habakkuk

Rev. Teri Peterson
Habakkuk 1.1-4, 2.2-4, 3.17-19
30 November 2014, NL1-13
Advent 1

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 wrongdoing
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.

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.

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.

How long, O Lord?

Sometimes I have said it as a joke—waiting for the end of winter even though it’s only November, watching the cookies that never seem to turn golden brown, listening to the cat sneezing and coughing in the middle of the night.

How long, O Lord?

The psalmist says “how long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?”

But the prophet wants to know “how long, O Lord, will I cry for help and you will not listen?”

It hurts—to feel forgotten, to feel ignored.

It hurts—to walk through life wondering if anything really matters.

Sometimes I have prayed “how long, O Lord?” in deadly seriousness—as people I loved suffered from cancer, as the shadow of death lengthened, as violence seemed unending. How long, O Lord? Will grief go on forever? Will your people ever find peace?

The prophet has watched the destruction of the northern kingdom, and he sees the armies coming for Jerusalem. He sees that if God doesn’t do something, then God’s people are going to be carried away, God’s temple reduced to rubble, and God’s promises left unfulfilled.

And so he prays: How long, O Lord? Everything is coming out wrong. The systems that are supposed to protect people are hurting them, the ways of justice are creating injustice, and nothing seems to be turning out right.

Sometimes, scripture hits a little too close to home, doesn’t it?

We too live in a world that seems wrong. Systems that are supposed to protect are hurting, and justice has been lost in the shuffle. The idea of God’s kingdom where every single life is equally valuable seems more like a pipe dream than a promise. Instead of abundant life, we have people afraid to leave their homes. Instead of justice, we have pre-judging and stereotyping on every side. Instead of peace, we have fear and anger.

How long, O Lord? Why do we see so much violence, so much wrongdoing? Why do some of us matter more than others? When will your kingdom come? Why won’t you come and save us?

The answer Habakkuk gets, and the answer we get, has nothing to do with plucking us out of this world and making us comfortable in heaven. We don’t get a promise of ease and wealth, a promise of effortless and meaningless peace. Instead God gives instructions—we are going to have to be partners in creating a new reality. We cannot sit by while our children are killed in the streets, while all officers are painted with the same brush, while dark skin equals dangerous and power is separated from responsibility. As we cry out How Long O Lord, God cries back—how long, my people? How long, O Body of Christ? How long will you insist on your ways, close your eyes to my vision, close your ears to my call? How long will you put up with children dying? How long will you explain away inequity? How long will you determine someone’s worth by their gender, their religion, their skin color, their sexual orientation, their wealth, their accent, their address? How long will you turn my words to your advantage? How long will you seek first for your self, rather than first the kingdom of God?

This is the call from God, issued in answer to the prophet and to us:

Write the vision. Make it plain, like a billboard, so even in passing it can be seen. If the vision seems far off and unattainable, keep working while you wait. The kingdom will come, and your work will be part of it.

If we are going to display God’s vision so that all can see, then first we need to be clear about what God’s vision is. So what is it? What is God’s vision for the kingdom that comes here on earth as it is in heaven?

(conversation in the pews)

This vision, you’ll notice, is not primarily about what we think. It’s about what we do. Faith is not an answer, it is an action—and our faithful action is like a billboard flashing God’s vision for the world. How we live matters. What we say matters. What we eat matters. How we respond to the news matters. How we treat our neighbors, whether they live next door or hundreds of miles away, matters. If we are not displaying the vision, who is?

Or more to the point—if we are not displaying God’s vision, then what vision are we displaying? Because our lives are our message. What story are we telling—a story of God’s love, a story of a creation God called good and people made in God’s image, a story of grace and hope and peace, a story of justice that seeks the greater good? Do we tell a story of being found and fed, and then paying forward that grace? Or some other story that we have created to serve our own interests instead?

This is not an easy calling. The prophet knows that to live by God’s vision will be hard work, and it will be unpopular. And yet he rejoices, even in the midst of the difficulty, because he knows that when we pursue God’s vision, we are not alone and we do not do it under our own power. When we fill our eyes with what God sees, then our clumsy feet become like the feet of deer—sure and light at the same time, able to find a foothold even in uncertain terrain, even on the sides of mountains and across pock-marked valleys. We can cross any obstacle as long as we keep our eyes fixed on God’s way. Write the vision, make it plain, so everyone can see it, and rejoice in God’s faithfulness.

May be it be so. Amen.

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