Sermon from Sunday
God, how long will it take before you do something?
We’ve all been around long enough to know where Habakkuk’s question comes from…We’ve asked it at a bedside vigil, in the aftermath of something out of control, asked it for someone we can’t fix, asked it when again the news is up to its neck in innocent blood.
We’ve asked for those who never seem to get a fair shake. Asked it for ourselves when we’ve had about as much as we can take. How long God does it have to be like this. Will you not do something?
I remember visiting the cold cobblestones of Auschwitz and among the shoes piled high, sandals, brogues, slippers – I imagined the feet that once filled them, before stepping into the concrete bunker and disappearing as ash.
How long does it have to go on like this?
A question that’s a prayer. A prayer that’s an accusation: God you are too quiet…
That’s Habakkuk’s gripe: when Babylon’s armies come to town. And it’s our gripe too about this world not as it should be, where finding fairness and truth feels like looking for snow in a desert.
“ How Long Lord, must I call for help – but you do not listen?”
living by faith
Habakkuk’s question of God has something to tell us about what it’s like to have faith:
Faith doesn’t hand out immunity from trouble. Faith won’t come with an anesthetic for pain. Faith isn’t an answer to every question. And we don’t have to pretend it is: Habakkuk wouldn’t and neither should we.
When trouble finds us…if we haven’t a clue about what’s for the best… when the knife of what’s going wrong dismembers all we took for granted: we bleed questions to God – Questions that are a part of who we are and need to be voiced – or we would be living a lie…
I imagine Habakkuk. A red eyed old man who loved fairness, goodness, faithfulness, mercy like they were his children. But one by one each is lost as the Babylonian’s came to town.
I imagine old Habakkuk asking his questions of God -not with fury- but slumped down like a tired old sack, as hoarse as Jesus asking God from the loneliness of cross, why have you forsaken me?
And I imagine the presence of God slides down beside old Habakkuk and out from the silence between them God says:
Write this down in big letters. Write it on the biggest billboard you can find.Write for everyone to see:
There is more than this to come. More than war. More than violence. More than walking away from a grave of a life gone too soon.
Mercy, goodness, faithfulness, beauty, they are walking towards the world. They are not slow, but It will take time before they reach you again. Though they linger, wait…
Goodness is coming home…truth is on its way…beauty is returning…peace is bringing gratitude and generosity with them…they are on the long road here.
Has that ever been our experience? After the worst happened and we thought there was nothing left. Maybe we can’t say how or exactly when but in our bones, we knew life is yet a gift and friendship the bread that nourished our famished heart.
And though no answer ever came that could make things better we found a way to go on, get through and sometimes rediscovered joy and laughter.
faith as waiting
How does that happen? I Imagine this is how it happened for Habakkuk: God watches as he lifts himself up, dusts himself down and walks outside to where everything is still sore and unresolved.
Old Habakkuk looks back to where the presence of God was sat with him And says:
Even though the fig trees have no
and no grapes grow on the vines,
even though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no grain,
even though the sheep all die
and the cattle stalls are empty,
18 I will still be joyful and glad,
because the Lord God is my saviour.
19 The Sovereign Lord gives me strength
God is his strength, providing what he needs to get through. God can be trusted to work with the mess of what is unresolved, painful, because these are events which are smaller than the reality of knowing God.
This is the faith Habakkuk lives by. Whatever healing comes won’t be self administered. Whatever turn towards new life happens, God will need to bring him strength to find. Trusting that God hasn’t lost control isn’t a Cinderella ending for Habakkuk, or the rushing in of a happy ever after. Nor is it for us.
It’s finding the strength to make the next step and then the next, knowing I will be given all I need to pass through where I wouldn’t have chosen. Especially when that road feels high and steep.
So into the world as it is, not as we would have it be, the presence of God meets us in an old man who will trust even when there seems no visible reason to. Though newness and wholeness lingers off, he will wait. Like we wait. Because waiting is a part of faith.
We learn to wait with the patience of Jesus in the silence of Gethsemane… wait with the helplessness of Mary at the foot of her son’s cross…wait in the abandonment of Jesus, cold and dead as the rock they laid him on…wait until mercy, goodness, beauty and peace find their way back into our world as once they arrived in a tomb where a dead man woke into resurrection.
So Christian faith is not immunity from trouble. It’s not an anesthetic from pain. It’s not an answer to every troubling question. It’s living in such a way that despair doesn’t get house room: For though I didn’t get the life I wanted…though sadness found where I hid my tears…though love left by an unexpected door…yet will I trust the God who became a man in Galilee, who climbed the height of a cross and rolled death away like a toppled grave stone. Yet will he bring from the little story of my everyday a harvest of healing, wholeness, gratitude and life. It’s here I’ll find the strength to go on. Here the smell of healing rises like the ground smells on a dry summer just before it rains.
The song, summer house is about the weaving together of sadness, beauty, friendship, decay and unintended consequence. Or as we call it – life.