Hope…

reflecting on Isaiah 65. 17-25 & Romans 8. 18-25

We are old hands at life. We’ve been at it too long, and sometimes too sorely, to whip up enthusiasm over cheap or easy happy-ever-afters. The former things in life that Isaiah’s poem no longer remembers still visit us – sometimes as regret, often as loss, leaving us with questions we can’t easily answer.

We’re still close enough to the sound of weeping that Isaiah no longer can hear: lately as it comes from those gathered with candles around photographs of family and friends accidentally shot down a moment after take off in Iran.

Isaiah’s words aren’t as a sedative for pain and grief. Isaiah’s words are not the equivalent of dry your eyes it’s going to be okay.

Like wise, if we tell someone to “wipe their tears; it’s all going to be alright” we need to be sure that’s not simply an expression of our discomfort at someones sadness, rather than an attempt to comfort their sorrow.

Israel understood that loss always needs to be aired as the only trusted way towards comfort -that’s why there are psalms of lament. But that’s not what Isaiah is doing here. But these words aren’t a lament either.

It’s a poem that works the way all good poetry does by allowing its readers to look up and see more than is obvious. Who is this poem for? Isaiah’s poem is for a particular audience:

  • The disappointed…
  • The long suffering…

It’s originally for folks tempted to conclude how in the end disappointment and suffering is all that’s ahead of them. Isaiah’s poem was written in years after the exiled people of Israel had returned home from Babylon. They were now free from captivity – yes –but it was a cold, hungry, messy freedom. Coming back home to Jerusalem hadn’t lived up to the long-held dream of the exiles.

Isaiah’s poem is a word to the disappointed and long suffering, a word that says there is more to your story still to come. And the source of that more is Israel’s God: YHWH:

six times Isaiah names God in this poem and each time God is doing something…

I am about to create…I am creating…I will delight…I will rejoice…I will answer… I will hear…

The poem gets to work on Israels imagination: look – far from being absent – God is working towards not just the remaking of Jerusalem but the making of a new world, a world where life has a bigger voice than death, where what you give your days to building, living, planting is never a waste of time.

Isaiah’s poem invites hope for the future: God will safeguard life, bless what they build and plant, take pleasure in the happiness they share. God will and listen and answer. What they are now living is not in meaningless, it’s moving somewhere. Isaiah asks them to imagine what the arrival in that future will look like.

The move from cynicism to imagination, the move from giving up to going on, the move from just existing to living hopefully is where Isaiah’s poem wants to move the disappointed and long suffering people. It still invites us to journey today.

What does hope taste like?

So what’s it like – living hopefully? Is it taking Monty Python’s advice, with accompanying whistle, to always looking on the bright side? It would be a mistake to confuse optimism with hope. Hope is far more real and meaningful than wishful thinking.

We don’t make hope for ourselves. We are given reason to hope.

For followers of the way we have reason to hope because the God Jesus reveals to us is infinitely merciful, whose goodness and love are never separated from his power. Jesus makes a way into a future where God shall be all in all.

Like Isaiah in his poem Paul writes how the whole of creation is hoping for that kind of salvation. The future is moving towards us when God will be all in all. So, Paul says we can persevere with all that happens as we anticipate the time when God will free everyone and everything from death and decay. Hope is presented here as holding onto until the time comes.

That is our hope. But is that all there is to living hopefully?

I met her through a referral from the palliative care team. A short time into our first conversation and tears began to surprise her. She found herself crying for who she was going to miss.

We got to know one another and she shared with me some of her story: The people she’d loved and lost, the worst that had happened, the dreams let go. Growing up she had wanted to become a nurse but her mother had a drink problem and circumstances did not allow for that. She did become a care giver at a nursing home where she got attached to the people she looked after. She did nurse her mother before she died.

Once I asked what she felt she’d learned about herself these past 7 months of her illness. “I’m braver than I thought I was.” She said.

I saw her the days she felt she was coping and the days she was afraid. On the afternoon she was being discharged she said to me: “I’ve decided to focus on the life I have left more than the death I’llI will die.

This wasn’t a denial of what was happening to her, it was more than that, it was someone deciding to live hopefully. Her heart would remain open to the time left to her because life wasn’t finished gifting her little things.

Living hopefully would be living well the time she had left with the people she loved. I asked if there was a window in the room she would spend most of her time in? “Yes,” she said, “it looks over the Campsie hills. I like that.”

“When I get home tonight I’m going to try and make Macaroni cheese”.

Before I left the room I offered a blessing for her: I asked the God of all hope to give her grace to live each day as best she could and to keep her hard-won courage.

What does living hopefully look like? It’s finding courage you never guessed you had…to leave open the door of your heart so that the beauty of the hills from your bedroom window can still find you, even when there is less and less of you to find. What does hope taste like? It tastes like making macaroni cheese for the people you most love in the world.

Hope isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. Our human spirit needs hope, the way our hearts need blood to beat and keep us going. Without hope we feel forsaken, abandoned, unreachable, trapped in despair Like a fly paralyzed in amber.

Saint Paul says hope does not disappoint us because God has poured his love into our hearts. The love of God opens us up to living hopefully. That hope is not just anticipating the future, it’s the grace to find beauty and joy in the ordinary things of any given day, even when the loss we anticipate seems overwhelming.

Hope most often finds us in the presence of others. The strength we need to live hopefully is so often given us through relationships. In the company of others we know we are not alone.

Isolation is the great enemy of hope. When we avoid others for too long it undermines our hope and tempts us to despair. But God pours his love into our hearts and hope does not disappoint.

Our church here is to be a hopeful presence for the village. In the stories we share of what we have lived, lost come through; in the way we share the love of God poured into our hearts, we become the presence of hope among our disappointed, long suffering neighbors, who are afraid what they have lived or what they have lost is all there is. 

Voyage with my father

I’ve been away from the woolen cross site since late November when my father died. He was 84. The picture above was taken one Christmas around about 2010.

In the 1930’s growing up in the wild East of Glasgow’s Gallow-gate, Soho street was home to my father and even when his memory was a slippery thing he could still tell you about the bakers, the pub, the fire station and dairy that ran the length of the tenements.

He could tell you of roller skating down the flat tarmac street and rising at 5 in the morning to queue for rolls and butcher meat, or how his mum would go to the pictures and see Errol Flynn only to find her wee dog, Jackie, dodged the trams, to sneak into the cinema and sit in the dark at her feet.

His mum died when he was no more than 10. He remembered the wee dog refused after that to ever enter the house again.

His own father cared little for raising children, never mind dogs, and on the day my dad’s bed was sold as a gambling debt he chapped the door of an upstairs neighbour and asked if they would take him in.

And God bless them, Jimmy and Lucy Campbell, welcomed him into the room and kitchen they shared with their own 3 children. Jimmy was a carter and Lucy a dinner lady and my dad never forgot they gave him a home.

Jimmy showed how a man could look after his family, iron and wash and clean the house, and Lucy who had a voice like a goose in the fog taught him the joy of singing. And there was a lot of singing in their house –especially on a Saturday night after a week’s hard working.

My father found his voice and he loved to sing: he would hoover the house to “Arividerchi Roma”; he would answer the door to “and I love you so.” And he sang to my mother from West Side Story, Maria: I’ve just met a girl called Maria…when first they met in the noise and heat and molten metal of the Saracen foundry.

He had just come from 3 happy years spent in Germany as an armorer In the Royal Air Force and was thinking about re-enlisting when he met my mum. They were married at Barmulloch church of Scotland on the 28th of March 1959, that night my father sang: the bells are ringing for me and my girl…

And throughout their married life those bells rang with gladness, faithfulness, laughter and hard work. Sometimes they sounded out a sadness, when their infant children Patricia and Steven were lost to cystic fibrosis.

How do you keep faith with kindness when the world is a rough hand on the scruff of your neck? How do you remain gentle when chance and circumstance is a callous thing –

My dad’s life was the lived answer to these questions: lived with a quiet dignity when all that can’t be changed keeps your happiness like a bird in a cage; his song remained kind, gentle and generous.

In his working life my dad had many jobs few of which meant much more to him than keeping the wolf from the door. But he loved running works football teams and raising money for them –and he was a good player himself trial-ing for Clyde before his national service began.

My dad also had an acute sense of fairness. One story enough to tell:

He and my mother spent a short spell in England and went to work at a sister foundry to Saracen. Travelling down with a group of fellow Scots, he discovered the Englishman he worked alongside was earning more for the same job.

He queried this and was told it was because the guy had been working there longer. There was a black man who worked along with them too and had worked there longer than them both.

My dad asked out of a matter of interest what he was getting paid and discovered he was on least of all. My dad told the man and let all the Scottish boys know and walked out the same day. When he returned to the foundry in Scotland the union rep asked him – “what you do down there – because they’ve all come out in strike.”

He loved telling that story.

He was the kind of dad who would come straight off from night shift and take you swimming; he’d make a 2-course breakfast for you and your sleepover pals, so early that you had to learn the art of eating it without waking up.

He loved being a papa to his grandchildren and in his garden would grow wishing strawberries for them (as well as being the reason they couldn’t eat their tea due to limitless supplies of crisps and pokey hats). No wonder they loved him.

After he moved to Stonehouse you could set your watch by him going to the cooperative: he was there so often the staff even bought him a birthday card.

As she grew frailer, more and more he was my mum’s carer and their mutual stubbornness meant these roles weren’t always acted out graciously – more than once I was the reluctant referee. But there was no question about his loyalty, patience and love for my mum, even when the cuckoo of dementia began to nest in his memory.

The year following my mother’s death was a struggle for my dad, and we kept him at home for as long as it was safe. For nearly a year he loved the runs we would go in the car where we would sing together: sometimes rhinestone cowboy, but latterly “we’re off to see the wizard” and occasionally the French national anthem.

He couldn’t easily grasp names of faces he loved, forgot words to the songs he’d sung by heart and each day he was in made less and less sense to him.

But he could still recognize kindness and love and there was so much of that around my dad.

As dementia unraveled him it never completely unpicked the dignity he had in facing what he couldn’t change; the smile he could still summon though he was less and less sure of what was going on around him.

The final gift my father gave us was his letting go of life…

We made up a play list of songs he once knew by heart and told him of how loved he was. Ally and I sat with him, anointed him with holy oil and in prayer commended him to the infinite mercy of God.

We walked him home if you like, for what is the love of God if it’s not the home we come from and return to.

Death didn’t come for my dad like a hungry bear from its hidden hibernation. It arrived like winters first snow, one flake then another, until its whiteness was silently everything.

Like the first disciples in a locked Jerusalem room, my dad’s wonderful surprise shall be how death is not an end but a threshold where the risen Jesus shows the wounds of his love and with a life that can never die says Peace be with you

From here my dad shall find there are other songs yet to be sung, songs he had never imagined. Songs we’ll one day join him in:

When we sing to God in heaven

We shall find such harmony

Born of all we’ve known together

Of Christs love and agony.

brother sister let me serve you…

Along the way

Photo credit: Jaap Stronks on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA

Matthew 2. 13-23

Herod the Great is in his chamber alone. Word comes to him – it’s done.

Herod isn’t really interested in the numbers, he doesn’t care whose blood was spilled, his eye roams for where the next plot will come and he suspects everyone.

No one was surprised at the lengths he would go to.

Who can say what turned his heart to stone, what made him incapable of trusting anyone.

the heart has its reasons…

It was after an uprising had broken out in Israel killing his father and brother, that the Roman Senate declared Herod king: Anthony and Octavian, two rivals for the laurels of Caesar both saw something impressive in him.

It took Herod 2 years to reclaim the land and though there were battles to be fought he was neither a cruel or enthusiastic killer. Herod never forgot the day he cornered some rebels into a Galilean cave and from the ravine below asked them to surrender,guaranteeing the lives of their families.  

But an old man brought his family out from the cave and in front of Herod took the life of his own wife. Herod begged the old man to spare the children but there in front of him the old man killed them, one by one, then mocked Herod for his lack of guts before took his own life.

Who can say what turned Herod’s heart to stone, incapable of trusting anyone.

Worse was to come. He listened to rumors spread by his sister Salome and his first wife Doris that his wife Mariamme and their 2 sons, educated in Rome, are plotting against him. And even though the emperor Augustus finds them innocent, a worm of suspicion eats away at Herod, and he orders their deaths.

He discovers – too late – that each of them was innocent. A worm of grief and remorse eats away at Herod.

Who can say what turned his heart to Stone, made him incapable of trusting anyone.

Herod’s court corrodes into a place of scheming and terror. By the time the magi arrive they find a cancerous old man eaten away by the fear that one of his surviving sons would try to poison him.

Where is the child born to be king?

Is not a safe question to ask a man who for over 30 years has gripped his crown with a bloody hand. But the wise men are no threat to himZoroastrians who don’t have a dog in the fight.  So, Herod decides to use them as spies.

They don’t need to consult the stars to work out there’s more going on than Herod is saying: So, they return home by another road.

Furious, Herod doesn’t blink at what he does next and the man who once pleaded for the lives of his enemies’ children now massacres all the infant boys in a village.

A few days before he dies Herod will murder another son and have the hippodrome he built in Jericho filled with hundreds of upright citizens. He gave orders that at the moment of his death they were all to be killed so that the sound of weeping would be heard throughout the land -because no one would weep for him.

Who can say what makes a heart so hard, unable to trust.

But Herod wasn’t born evil. He wasn’t a cartoon villain. The man who once begged for the lives of his enemies’ children Became the man who massacred the children of Bethlehem.

Our hearts aren’t fixed. What we live, what happens to us on the way, chasing what we most want all shapes who we become. Herod “the great” got what he wanted – to be king – but at what cost?

The child he once tried to kill survived to say: “What does it profit someone to gain the whole world and to lose their soulWhat can we give in exchange for our soul?

What can we give in exchange for what makes us truly human? And what’s at the heart of our humanity anyway?

At the heart of our humanity is trust: Love, hope, a meaningful life open to good can’t survive without trust. Herod trusted no one. To trust in no one doesn’t keep us safe. It turns our heart into a haunted house.

leaving Bethlehem…

The vulnerability of a needy child in the arms of parents running into the night, looking for refuge somewhere they didn’t belong. If the journey to Bethlehem felt a long way, how about the walk to Egypt as refugees?

What did it take for Mary and Joseph to make that journey? A willingness to trust.

To trust in God. And to trust in one another.

To agree to bring a child into the world, to go on a journey together to Bethlehem, they trusted God and trusted one another. To leave in the middle of the night and go into a future that was uncertain, to somewhere you never intended to live, to a life you never chose beforehand, needed a deep trust in God and a trust in one another.

In the new testament the word for faith is Πίστις (Pistis): it means trust.

To have faith is to trust. Mary and Joseph trusted God, trusted one another enough to let their lives go in directions they hadn’t expected or planned. Trust makes a way for hope, runs on the energy of love.

To believe in God isn’t a very deep question. But to trust God? With who we are; what we’ve lived; all we’ve failed at and are helpless before; to trust God with what we are going through. Trusting God softens our heart to live, hurt, hope, sorrow, rejoice live and die in a way brings us deeper into the love of who God is.

But have you ever thought that trust goes both ways.

Mary and Joseph were given a needy, vulnerable, fragile child to raise as their own. God trusted them to care for his son.

I wonder who are we called to care for with kindness, tenderness, understanding, even forgiveness? God trusts us. Trusts us to care.

And he will guide us on routes we hadn’t planned before, on journeys we never imagined would be ours. It’s here we learn to trust in the God who comes to our world: a world of bush-fires and floods and deniers of climate change; a world of gung-ho presidents and assassinated murderous generals; a world of food banks and refugees.

And trusts us to care.

To care like Mary’s son, a peasant child and refugee, a carpenter, who healed the sick and welcomed the outcast, who loved even from the height of cross and left death redundant; in whom the whole of who God is was with us.

If I have one resolution this year I think it’s this: to be more worthy of the trust God has in me.


bad dog…

Sermon. What a dull word. And more than one sermon has been less the sight of a burning bush than it’s been the smell of something fusty, as pages are turned. There are sermons were you feel nothing’s actually being said or what has been said is so blindingly obvious it shouldn’t need to be. What about the preacher who vents his theological spleen, so all the congregation hear is a kind of verbal waving of a finger: bad dog! bad dog! And they leave with their tails between their legs.

I’ve been guilty of all the preaching crimes and misdemeanors.

the end of sermons…

Let’s stop it shall we?

No lets not. Because there are other sermons when what’s spoken tingles with the electricity of more happening – a life changing more. In the deeply hidden, partly hidden, never forgotten, hoped for and regretted, where we keep our loss and longing for beauty and love – we are encountered. We might not even be able to articulate what’s going on. But we are spoken to. Listen to the Novelist Frederick Buechner describe what happened to him:

… for the first time in my life that year in New York, I started going to church regularly, and what was farcical about it was not that I went but my reason for going, which was simply that on the same block where I lived there happened to be a church with a preacher I had heard of and that I had nothing all that much better to do with my lonely Sundays. What drew me more was whatever it was that his sermons came from and whatever it was in me that they touched so deeply.

And then there came one particular sermon with one particular phrase in it that does not even appear in a transcript of his words that somebody sent me more than twenty-five years later so I can only assume that he must have dreamed it up at the last minute and ad-libbed it and on just such foolish, tenuous, holy threads as that, I suppose, hang the destinies of us all. Jesus Christ refused the crown that Satan offered him in the wilderness, Buttrick said, but he is king nonetheless because again and again he is crowned in the heart of the people who believe in him. And that inward coronation takes place, Buttrick said, “among confession, and tears, and great laughter.”

It was the phrase great laughter that did it, did whatever it was that I believe must have been hiddenly in the doing all the years of my journey up till then. It was not so much that a door opened as that I suddenly found that a door had been open all along which I had only just then stumbled upon. After church, with a great lump still in my throat, I walked up to 84th Street to have Sunday dinner with Grandma Buechner. 

Frederick Buechner – the sacred journey

That’s why the art of preaching is awesome. In a good sermon the spirit glides over the waters of our chaos and we are encountered by more than we know and more than we can say. It changes our direction and destiny. God in other words meets us in the stories, letters, poems as they are retold with graced imagination. And in hearing not only do we get to be known by God, we begin to know ourselves.

Anyway, faithful wee flock, we will now be regularly posting videos of sermons on the law parish church website (lawparishchurch.org) which means sermons won’t make the occasional visit here anymore.

There will be no bad dog sermons. I can’t promise there won’t be the odd whiff of fustiness. I hope they aren’t so obvious they shouldn’t need to be said. And mostly sermons are like manna – bread for the day.

A good sermon is a burning bush; a quietness that lets us hear more than the loops we keep playing to ourselves. God speaks – more than words through fallible sermons and preachers.

woof…

all saints sunday…

a reflection on Acts 3: 1-10
shared on 3rd November 2019 @ Law Parish Church

Maybe it was someone singing your praises or you felt the need to try and defend yourself, but for whatever reason you found yourself saying these words: “Well, I’m no saint…”

Around the world this weekend the church makes room to remember the saints. But who are they? Christian tradition has had different things to say about that. For Roman Catholics it seems a saint is a special category of Christian: Someone who lived a life of exceptional holiness and in death are associated with an answer to prayer. A person like Mother Theresa perhaps.

But in the reformed church, like the Church of Scotland, we’ve tended not to see sainthood like that – not that we would deny there are women and men who have shown how love and faith can be lived in exceptional ways.

But we think there’s something more going on in sainthood that doesn’t put it so out of reach from the little lives we lead. I think the apostle Paul would agree…

As he traveled around the Roman world Paul planted little churches no bigger than our own, in cities like Thessaloniki, Philippi, Galatia, Corinth and Ephesus, and when he couldn’t be with them in person Paul kept in touch by letter.

Listen to how Paul greets the churches in his letters:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God…to the saints in Ephesus.

Paul…to the church of God which is in Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Jesus Christ called to be saints…

Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi.

Is Paul addressing just a few exceptional Christians here? No, he is including everyone in his greeting. All who belonged to the Churches in Corinth, Philippi and so on. For Paul a saint and a Christian are one and the same thing.

So next Sunday as your arriving in Church we’ll maybe get Sheena to play… O when the saints Come marching in

what is a saint?

But what is a saint? In its original language the word Paul uses is ἅγιος (Hagios) – meaning Holy. The Saints are holy. Now in case you’re ready to say: well that rules me out, take a look at those early saints who belonged to the first church.

Listen to how Paul describe them in his letter to the Corinthians?:

“not many of you were wise…not many were powerful not many of noble birth.

but God chose what is foolish… God chose what is weak… God chose what is low…

1st Corinthians

Most of the saints weren’t much to write home about. And if Paul’s letters are anything to go by the saints in his churches were a right mixed bunch: sometimes faithful and generous, sometimes foolish and confused; they had questions that worried them; weren’t always sure what to do; suffered, rejoiced and fell out with one another.

Did any of this prevent them from being saints? No. Because a saint was and is someone who invites Jesus to become a living presence in their own story. a saint is someone who shows us the holy love of God in who they are. But aren’t our lives a poor and sore place for the holiness of God to find himself? What poorer than a stable? Sorer than a cross?

As one great saint has said:

Holiness in the New Testament

is Jesus going right into the middle

of the mess and suffering of human nature.”

Rowan Williams

It’s the presence of Jesus in the middle of our sore and messy lives that makes us holy. That make us saintly.  Not what we do. But what we allow him to do in and through us.

How d we become a saint? let’s ask one in this visual liturgy

(original loop purchased from the work of the people.com)

what we have lived…

What Peter has lived with Jesus and all he has lived with the other disciples is what he brings with him to the moment he meets a beggar asking for help. It’s all he has lived that empowers the hand Peter reaches out to help a lame man.

Like we bring with us what we’ve gone through to someone’s need, their question or brokenness.

We bring to someone’s bitter loss the hope in our life we coaxed out of hurt. We bring to someone’s crushing guilt the times we got it badly wrong and God didn’t walk away from us. The long road to finding ourselves lovable is the map we bring to those who haven’t yet found their way there.

What the saints have lived with God opens new possibilities in someone else’s life: like Peter takes a lame man’s hand and in Jesus name Invites him to stand. The saints encourage us to leave behind old ways of being us – not by making us feel guilt, not by accusing us -but with a kindness that understands how God meets us in our need and wound, in our flaw and longing- meets us not as we should be but as we are.

You’ll know a saint when you meet one. When Ally and I lived in Shettleston, many moons ago, there was an older man with a shock of white hair who went to the local Baptist church. And every time you met Nicol in the street he was delighted to see you. He would stop and blether about church or something he was learning or remembered, like he was breaking half of his pieces and sharing them with you.

And we’d come away from that meeting of only a few minutes or more feeling there was more: more to be lived, more to be explored – felt drawn closer to God. That’s what the saints do by what they have lived and share: they don’t compete, they don’t interrogate, they don’t make us feel inferior. The saints open a space in us to see ourselves kindly and God becomes a beckoning word and suddenly we are standing in different place, like a lame beggar helped to stand.

Who are the saints in your life? Maybe some of them are no longer around. This Sunday we remember them with gratitude.

To the saints in Law Parish today listen to a blessing the saints nearer God in heaven might pray over us:

May the village of Law discover grace

May they learn by your love

How God’s finger nails are dirty

And his knees are scuffed

With a holiness that refuses to stand at a distance

But works the middle of soreness and mess.

until everything comes together

And every loss is made good

Where sin is now known as that which is forgiven

And wounds are mended by the medicine of love.

for all the saints…

Today is all saints day. There is a long tradition of remembering the women and men who lived, loved, suffered and rejoiced to find in their days the shape of Christ happening to, in and around them. It goes back to the 4th century and the 1st of November was recognized as the day of remembering some 4 hundred years later. And here we are in the 21st century, trying in our own time and way to let Christ happen in us.

Not easy is it. But those before us are not beyond us. They form a cloud of faithful witness. Encouraging us on. Praying for us as we go- thank God.

Who do you remember today as someone who helped you recognize the reality of Jesus?

lets take time today to remember someone we’ve known, or whose life and work has become important to our own journey of faith, hope and love. For we know the rough terrain it passes and sometimes the soles of our feet get tired and our souls get winded. But the saints keep us in their prayers.

today I will imagine them singing of the mystery that finds us in Jesus. The mystery of Jesus finding us…

O great mystery

and wonderful sacrament

that the animals should see the newborn Lord,

laying in a manger!

Blessed is the virgin whose womb was worthy

to bear the Lord Jesus Christ

Alleluia!

though it linger…wait

Photo on Visual Hunt
summer house
paul, brandy, sarah jane, fiona

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 fruit
    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.