Carla J. Bailey, Pastor
A sermon given at
The Church of Christ at Dartmouth College
A congregation of the United Church of Christ
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
I’m going to make a wild guess here, but I bet you’re all more than ready for election day. And I bet you have already decided how you will vote. And though I believe the Spirit has made some amazing last minute saves, I’m pretty sure nothing you hear, see, or read between now and Tuesday morning is going to cause you to change your minds. Here’s an idea for campaign finance reform – we each get a dollar for every phone call we answer asking us to support a candidate, and $5 if the call is from the former governor of Alaska or the husband of the current Secretary of State. I’m a believer in the political process and I love to vote, but merciful God, please bring this to an end!
And aren’t you just a little tired of the battle between the Hanover police department and Dartmouth College concerning underage drinking? I know it’s a serious problem – a medical AND legal issue – and it’s simply a fortunate accident that there hasn’t been a death on campus from alcohol poisoning, but why not just lower the drinking age to 18 and be done with it?
And a rally in Washington to tell us to keep our voices down and talk nice? And you mean to tell me that Brett Favre gets paid one million dollars for each regular season game – broken foot or not?
Grumble, grumble, whine, whine – I’m tired of this, sick of that. I’m especially weary of hearing economic recovery measured by how much more Americans spent this month than the month before when people I know and love can’t find work. I’m weary of the war in Afghanistan and the war on terror. I’m weary of knowing that the cholera outbreak in Haiti could have been prevented and I’m weary of the outrage against the UN for introducing the disease into the country through its peace-keeping troops.
When will there be peace? What will it take to bring about a world of justice, fairness, and kindness? The vision of the lion lying down with the lamb – will that ever happen? And justice rolling down like streams of water? And a world so safe that a child can play over the hole of a poisonous snake or outside her front door and have no fear of danger? Will that ever be? And peace and righteousness will kiss one another, and no one will hurt or destroy on all God’s holy mountain, and war shall be no more, and swords shall be pounded into tools for tilling the ground. Really? When?
Perhaps you aren’t asking yourselves those questions. Perhaps you’re not grumbling or whining about the state of the world. But you might be, because life seems to be getting harder, more garish and loud and violent, and the promise of God’s vision seems more and more fanciful and remote – a dream we once had that dissipated upon waking.
Habakkuk, the prophet who was a contemporary of Jeremiah, asked some of the same kinds of questions. Habakkuk’s central concern for justice places him solidly in the tradition of Israel’s prophets but he differs a little in that he questions God, rather than the behaviors of his own people. In this short but powerful book, Habakkuk calls attention to and criticizes the miscarriage of justice in the political, judicial, and economic institutions of Judah and its capital city Jerusalem. But unlike his fellow prophets, Habakkuk gave prominent attention to a persistent and troubling issue that challenged the prophetic confidence in God’s justice and God’s power. It is the same issue that plagues us as well, those of us who believe a thinking faith is not an oxymoron - the persistence of injustice in the world. This significant theological problem – keeping faith in God’s just and righteous rule in spite of an unjust world, is the central issue of the book of Habakkuk. He framed it in the form of two complaints delivered to God, and includes the debate that ensued between God and Habakkuk.
Habakkuk was dismayed over the disparity he saw between belief in a just God and the experience of an unjust world. In Habakkuk’s eyes, God, the divine judge, appears either uninterested or unable to bring about justice in the world. Habakkuk puts the question directly before God, and then says, “I’m going to just stand here and watch to see whether God will answer my question...” Boy do I know that temptation. OK God, you promised a world of justice and peace, you anointed our beloved savior to care for every outcast, every child, every sinner, and who granted forgiveness and cured the illnesses that kept people isolated from one another. The world crucified him, perhaps you remember? And yes, it was a glorious relief to learn that you would not allow death to be the end, but still, how many more have died since then, been put to death one way or another? How many millions of lives have been lost because of the same human sins – jealousy, greed, the need for dominion and power? I believe I’m just going to stand here for a while and watch to see whether God will answer my complaint.
I love reading the old Peanuts cartoons by Charles Schulz. Isn’t it remarkable how ageless they seems to be? Recently, we’ve been reading about Linus and his eternal vigilance out in the pumpkin patch, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear. He is ridiculed, of course but he remains steadfast in his confidence. Then one day, he accidentally lets a little doubt slip in – he uses the word “if”. As soon as he realizes his mistake, he is overcome. Even that little smidgen of doubt will prevent the Great Pumpkin from appearing.
That’s us, isn’t it? We’re not waiting for the Great Pumpkin, but we are waiting for God to show us his stuff. Come on God – you’ve given us a vision of the way the world can be. It’s not happening! So I’m just going to stand here and wait for you to answer my complaint.
“Write the vision; make it so plain and clear, that even a runner can read it while running. 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.”
Apparently, we’re part of God’s vision. We’re necessary for carrying it out. And if we just stand around waiting for it, like Linus in the pumpkin patch, it will never come. I hate that when that happens – when it becomes obvious that God needs me as much as I need God. I’d rather grumble and whine than work, love, listen and pray. It’s certainly easier. Too bad it isn’t very faithful. Amen.