Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 30, 2016

2016.10.30 “What to Do While We Wait for the Vision” – Habakkuk 1: 1 – 4; 2: 1 – 4

Central United Methodist Church
What to Do While We Wait for the Vision
Pastor David L. Haley
Habakkuk 1: 1 – 4; 2: 1 – 4
October 30th, 2016

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,

and what he 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.

– Habakkuk 2: 1 – 4, the New Revised Standard Version

Is it just me, or is the tension killing all of us? And not just about one thing! How are we supposed to calmly go about our lives with all these avalanches about to fall upon us?

First, the Cubs in the World Series. How about that game Friday night, a cliffhanger to the end? And then last night’s game, which left us all deeply disappointed. And tonight, well, that may be the final verdict.

Secondly, only a week from Tuesday, we will at long last know the outcome of this year’s presidential election. What I’m worried about is what’s going to happen afterwards. Thursday, the New York Times ran an article entitled, “Some Donald Trump Voters Warn of Revolution if Hillary Clinton Wins.” As an example, the article quoted Paul Swick, 42, of Wisconsin, who owns a moving business. Mr. Swick went with his wife and daughter to see Mr. Trump speak in Green Bay last week. Mr. Swick considers himself a “Bible Christian” and “Thomas Jefferson liberal,” and said he hoped to beat Mrs. Clinton “at the ballot box.” But Mr. Swick, by his own estimation, also owns “north of 30 guns,” and he said Mrs. Clinton would have trouble if she tried to confiscate the nation’s constitutionally protected weapons. “If she comes after the guns, it’s going to be a rough, bumpy road,” Mr. Swick said. “I hope to God I never have to fire a round, but I won’t hesitate to. As a Christian, I want reformation. But some-times reformation comes through bloodshed.” (Ashley Parker and Nick Corasaniti, the New York Times, Thursday, October 27, 2016)

Thirdly, though without the immediacy of the other two, as we have been discussing through the month of October, we also have anxiety about what’s going to happen to the Church, not only in our lifetimes, but in our children’s lifetimes. Let me be clear: what I have been saying is not that the younger generations do not have faith – they do and will; what I am saying is that everything I have seen and read says that their faith is not going to be expressed as we have expressed ours, through institutions such as denominations and congregations. So I am anxious about what is going to happen to congregations such as Central and others that we have known and loved, which have been important to us and to our faith.

In the book I have quoted most often through this series, Weird Church: Welcome to the Twenty-first Century (Pilgrim Press), by Beth Ann Estock and Paul Nixon, they lament the decline of church as we have known it, but cite 19 different models of emerging church:

The Neighborhood
The Simple Cell
The Dinner Party
The Soulful Village
The Family Chapel
The Community-based Enterprise
The Innovation Lab
The Pilgrimage
Same Time Next Year
The Community Center
The Mission Base Camp
The Gallant Fortress of Defiance
The Small Venue Multisite
The Tabernacle
The Cathedral
The Spiritual Theme Park
The Seminary
The Moment of Grace
The Holocracy

Many of these are aspects of things we already do, and hold possibilities for us as we seek to morph into both vital and sustainable new forms of “church.”

But as we await answers on all these things and more, what do we do? In today’s Old Testament text not only do we have an answer of what to do, but a model, which is to remain faithful, doing what we do best. We have this model in the form of a 6th century BCE Biblical prophet whose name we can barely say, by the name of Habakkuk.

What happens is this: When Habakkuk looks around, he sees nothing but trouble. So the book by his name starts out as a lament, a complaint to God:

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.
Habakkuk’s words still resonate powerfully with us in times of conflict, injustice, and violence, whether in our personal lives and in our society and world.

God answers Habakkuk, but not in the way Habakkuk expects. God responds by sending upon Israel an invading army of Chaldeans, which Habakkuk does not find acceptable, any more than we would, since after all they are more evil than the evil he sees around him.

Not satisfied, like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Habakkuk plants himself where God can see him – not on a roof but in a watchpost high on a rampart wall – where he says:

“I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
In time – the text does not say how – God answers Habakkuk, and says this:
Write the vision; write it in big letters on a billboard,
so that it can be read on the run:
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.”

“The righteous shall live by their faith.” These words, recorded by this ancient Hebrew prophet, have resounded through the centuries. It was quoted by Paul in Romans (1:17), and taken up by Martin Luther, at the time of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, which we commemorate today.

But what do they mean? We think of faith as an inner quality, a confidence we have in God. But did you know this word could also be translated as “faithfulness”? The righteousness shall live by their faithfulness: demonstrating our inner faith in God, through outward deeds of faithfulness, justice, and righteousness.

Even as we wait for answers, even if the answers don’t come or come in ways we do not like, still we are drawn to God; to a life of faith; to places of worship like this one; to this gathered group of loving, struggling, beautiful, and flawed people; to this font of blessing; to this table that feeds us with God’s love and compassion.

On previous Sundays, we have asked and discussed among ourselves these questions:
Why are you a Christian?
Why do you worship at Central?
 
What issues in your life, in your neighborhood,
or in the world, really concern you?
 
What are your hopes and dreams for Central Church,
for our community, and for the world?
 

newyorkercartoonToday we are going to ask what is that we have, that others need? Sometimes we forget what that is; I like this cartoon that recently ran in the New Yorker: (“What is it again that we’re the leading provider of?”)

So today, for the final time, turn and talk to each other, and ask each other this question:

What can our church and our people offer the neighborhood
and the world that no other organization can offer?
What can you offer the world that no other person can offer?
 
As we await answers to these questions that concern us –
Who will win the World Series?
Who will be elected President?
What will happen to the Church?

– what if we – like Habakkuk – would station ourselves at our “watchpost,” whether it is a quiet room, outdoors in nature, a place at work, in a church chapel or sanctuary, on even in a place inside ourselves. What if we did that and said: “Here I am, God. I will keep watch and I will see what you will say to me!” As not only Habakkuk, but many others throughout the Bible teach us, it is even OK to yell at God about the trouble we see.

Most of all, as we wait for the future to emerge, let us definitely establish a “listening post” to listen to what God is telling us through each other, but also through our neighbors, just as we have talked to each other over these past four Sundays. This is where we are going to go next.

The tension may be gripping, but for God’s faithful people, we join Habakkuk’s final affirmation:

“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,
and dare we say it:
if the Cubs don’t win the World Series,
 if our preferred presidential candidate does not win,
 if we cannot yet see what the future of the church is going to be –
yet we will rejoice in the Lord;
we will exult in the God of our salvation.
God, the Lord, is our strength;
God makes our feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes us tread upon the heights.”

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