Hancock Church Sermon – Rev. Dana Allen Walsh – September 22, 2013 – Habbakuk 2:1-4


“Waiting Expectantly”

In this short, four-chapter book from the Hebrew Bible, Habakkuk is reacting to what he sees in the world around him.  The injustice.  The indignity.  The pain.  We don’t need to witness the destruction of the Babylonians to imagine such a time.  Sadly, our modern world has plenty of its own injustices that leave us searching and wondering.  This morning, I begin by sharing three stories I heard this week:

The first is from North Carolina:

It’s only September, but 8-year-old Ryan Suffern already wrote his letter to Santa.  After the start of the school year, he had a special request on behalf of his twin sister, Amber:

“Dear Santa … I wanted a remot contor car and helieopter, but I don’t want that anymor. Kid at school are still picking on Amber and its not fair,” Ryan writes. “I prayed that they will stop but god is bisy and needs your help. Is it against the rules to give gift early? [all sic]”

This was not the normal “letter to Santa” that Ryan’s mother was expecting when she asked her twins to write their letters early.  The single mother was hoping to get a head start on budgeting for the holidays and was unaware of the bullying that was happening to her daughter everyday in school.[1]

The second story comes from Syria.

Since January, Aum Nabeel, a mother of three, has lived in a refugee camp in Lebanon. Neighbors rescued her and her family from the rubble of their house in Syria when it was shelled in the summer of 2012. They moved in with cousins in a Damascus suburb, but it became too dangerous there as well so they fled to Lebanon and have been living there ever since. Aum Nabeel described her family’s situation: “The panic, the fear, the rockets that fell on us, it was horror.” Her husband has tried to find odd jobs. But he suffers from a mental illness, and his condition worsened after he saw body parts of murdered relatives on the street. Their family needs food and medicine. Aum Nabeel’s main concern is the education of her children, who have been out of school for two years. “I told my daughter to read, but she didn’t know how. All of those children used to know how to read. But now they don’t.”[2]

The last story is local:

In the fall of 2008, so many young people were caught up in the Presidential election – especially in the diverse community of Malden. For Gabriella, a high school senior, who was already eighteen years old, she was the envy of her classmates because she would be able to vote in the election. Except she couldn’t. You see, Gabriella was born in Peru and was brought to America illegally by her parents when she was only two. She was not a citizen, then, at time when seniors were planning for colleges – Gabriella was looking at schools only in Canada because she didn’t want to risk her parent’s status in the United States.

The day following the election, her classmates asked her what it was like to vote, and if she was happy with the election. “I told them that it was great. It was really cool to pull the lever. I don’t know what else to say. I had to fight back tears. I wanted more than anything to vote for the President of the country that I call home.”

We hear stories like these and we want action to happen. We want healing for the wounded of spirit and flesh, we want peace and comfort for those displaced, and we want dignity for those who are marginalized. We quickly grow impatient.

We aren’t alone with these feelings.  When the prophet, Habakkuk looked at the destruction and violence in his world, he grew more angry and frustrated.  But rather than sinking into despair, he engaged God in a dialogue.  He didn’t hold back when he spoke these four verses in the opening chapter:

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted.”

Hearing those stories, surely, we ask like Habakkuk “Where are you?  God, Do something!”

The paradox is – in Habakkuk’s lament of “do something, God” He, Habakkuk, did something. He expected, even demanded an answer. Like the character Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Habakkuk plants himself squarely where God can see him—at a watchpost high on a rampart wall (2:1)—and has it out with God. Habakkuk’s steadfastness—his faithful, watchful waiting—is then rewarded by a vision.

In order for Habakkuk to “see” this vision of an end to injustice and a healing of grief, he stations himself in God’s sight.  He is not going anywhere until he receives God’s reply!

And what’s God’s reply? It’s a declarative statement to Habbakuk. – Write the VISION! This is God’s move. God tells Habakkuk. You, do something! This is your world, too.

Now, this could easily be seen as a squabble between two petulant children – “No, you” – “No, you” “No, you”– But I like to think of it as a invitation from the still-speaking, still-creating God to the impatient Habakkuk to create the kingdom, too, to stand for equality, to get to work, to tell God’s story. A story of a world of justice and peace.

For us, we can take that message of writing the vision to be practical. Let’s march. Let’s start a petition. Let’s canvass.  Let’s organize.

But when we only focus on the practical, we can become exhausted, we can lose our zeal, or encounter entrenched systems. So, what keeps us going? What inspires us, like Habakkuk to station ourselves at the watchposts? What allows us to have patience when faced with inhumanity, war, and injustice?

Muriel Lapp, pastor of Church of our Savior, spoke in a sermon about how he, like Habakkuk, could not be silent when faced with the devastating loss of a loved one:
“Consumed by grief, guilt and anger, I could not pray. So I took walks. Though I was angry with God, still I prayed, “God, God, God,” as I walked, just as the writer of The Cloud of Unknowing suggests. Soon this became my regular method of prayer. We lived by the Potomac then, so as I wept and walked, the water of my tears and the water of the river felt unifying. All around the river was death and decay, as well as life and rebirth: a new universe. As I prayed for myself and my own pain, I could not ignore those brothers and sisters around the world who suffered with me, whose moans and groans rose like incense on an altar.”

Even though prayer appears to be deeply personal practice, it connects us with God.  And it connects us with the world.  Through prayer, we enter a conversation with God and our pain and hurt is not just our own, but it’s also what many others are experiencing.  To pray is to say that we are not content with the way the world is.  To pray is to say that we are not indifferent to the sufferings of others.  To pray is to believe that God is still creating goodness and light and love in our lives.

Theologian John Calvin wrote this about Habakkuk: “This is a remarkable passage; for we are taught here that we are not to deal with God in too limited a manner, but room must be given for hope; for the Lord does not immediately execute what he declares by his mouth; but his purpose is to prove patience, and the obedience of our faith.”[3]

“Obedience in our faith” sounds a little too 16th Century for me.  In today’s world, I like to think instead about faith practices.  Like prayer, worship, and hospitality and how they shape us to be better, wiser, more gracious people now, even as these very practices help us to cultivate a sense of anticipation and expectation.

Faith practices are not merely spiritual activities we do to entertain ourselves.  They enliven and awaken us to the work of God in the world.  As we learned from the grieving pastor, our faith practices connect us to our own pain and thus the pain of others. Therefore, through our prayer, hospitality, and worship, we become more in tune with the refugees of Syria, the undocumented immigrant, the hurting and bullied children; We anticipate and hope – assured that God is in the here and now, working to bring peace, wholeness, and unity to our world.

Our practices are the connective tissue between what is, what can be, and what will be.

I’m going to do something a little odd for a UCC minister. I’m going to quote the Pope. In a recent interview, he said, “Our life is not given to us like an opera libretto, in which all is written down; but it means going, walking, doing, searching, seeing…. We must enter into the adventure of the quest for meeting God; we must let God search and encounter us. Because God is first; God is always first and makes the first move.”

So we must go, walk, do, search and see.  We must practice our faith, stand at our watchposts, demand answers, and enter into the adventure that is creating alongside a Still-speaking, Still-creating God. We must do so with patience, gratitude and trust in God’s vision for a just and peaceful world. We must do so for the bullied child, the suffering refugee, the marginalized immigrant. We must do so for ourselves and for the whole of our world. Amen

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/17/letter-santa-bullying-sister_n_3936862.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/09/05/world/middleeast/Syrian-Refugees-in-Lebanon.html?ref=world&_r=1&

[3] Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).