Tuesday, September 10, 2013
If it Delays
Habakkuk 2:2-4, 18-20
2Then the LORD answered me and said,
Write a vision,
and make it plain upon a tablet,
So that a runner can read it.
3There’s still a vision
for the appointed time;
it testifies to the end;
it does not deceive.
If it delays, wait for it;
for it is surely coming;
it will not be late.
4Some people’s desires
are truly audacious;
They don’t do the right thing.
But the righteous person
will live honestly.
18Of what value is an idol,
when its potter carves it,
or a cast image that has been shaped?
It is a teacher of lies,
for the potter trusts the pottery, though it is incapable of speaking.
19Doom to the one who says to the tree,
or “Get up” to the silent stone.
Does it teach?
Look, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
but there is no breath within it.
20But the LORD is in his holy temple.
Let all the earth be silent before him.
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
20Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was coming. He replied, “God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed. 21Nor will it say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you.”
22Then Jesus said to the disciples, “The time will come when you long to see one of the days of the Human One, and you won’t see it. 23People will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Don’t leave or go chasing after them. 24The Human One will appear on his day in the same way a flash of lightning lights up the sky from one end to the other.”
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
Our world is fractured, families are divided, churches are splitting, politicians focus on wedge issues, nations either attack or ignore one another, and nobody stops obsessing over their own rightness long enough to consider that maybe being a people of God doesn’t mean that we defeat or destroy everyone who disagrees with us. Perhaps rather than conquering our enemies, we instead make them our brothers and sisters.
I wonder if some of what we used to call respectful traditions have become so overlaid with gold and silver that we have forgotten that there is no breath in them. I wonder if we’ve gotten lost in the richness of our history. Sometimes our greatest strengths become our stumbling block.
Like the master potter of our Old Testament Passage, who begins to love the product of his gifts more than the God who is their source. In the face of these distractions, we must make our vision plain, like Habakkuk’s tablet. There’s still a vision for the appointed time. A dream that testifies to the end, it does not deceive. There is a vision for a time when a father doesn’t have to choose between divorcing his wife and keeping his children. There is a vision for a time when church buildings are inviting and gracious, rather than austere and intractable. There is a vision for a time when we will no longer have to choose between funding a prison, and funding a school. There is a vision for a time when our rockets are used to explore the cosmos rather than to rain down destruction as punishment for violence already done.
There is a dream that one day children will not be judged by the color of their skin but for the content of their character. Beyond that dream is a vision of when they will not be judged by the content of their character but by the Grace of God and the Love of Christ Jesus. Because as worthwhile as the dreams of great people are, the vision God has for us is immeasurably more wonderful. It testifies to the end, it does not deceive.
If it delays...
Parents still struggle with marriage and custody issues because some marriages can no longer work, but they never stop loving their children. We still spend more money on prisons than schools because a criminal is more dangerous to society than an uneducated person. Nations still bomb each other because some people cannot understand any language other than violence.
Children are still judged by their skin because we have a history of keeping ourselves separate from those who are different than we are, and those bad habits, though weaker in each generation, still persist.
We do not live according to the vision that God has set for us. We have not learned our role in the kingdom of God. There is still a vision for the appointed time, but we cannot embody that vision on our own.
If it delays...
Wait for it.
God’s not done working on us yet. We don’t have the answers to the complex questions with which we are faced, but we cannot allow our fear of being wrong to either prevent our action or to stop us from listening to those God has placed in our lives. God’s not done working on us yet.
Then the LORD answered me and said “Write a vision, and make it plain upon a tablet.” Remind yourself that you are not mired in this moment, there is a plan for us, an intention. God is not satisfied with the state of the world either, and is intervening in it constantly so that all who are regarded as righteous may live honestly.
The greatest intervention was the person and work of Jesus the Christ. God saw that we could not, can not, live up to the vision of the image of God in which we are all created. God saw the brokenness of humanity and chose to accomplish his ends for us by becoming flesh himself, experiencing the shame and death of the cross, all for the sake of a world that had not yet come of age. God’s kingdom is already among us! But we can not yet live in that new reality. The time is at hand, but the vision is unfulfilled.
If the fulfillment of the vision does not fit our schedule, if the completion of who we are as a people of God works at a slower pace than we hoped for, if our progress in answering God’s call in our lives is set-back, if it delays...
Wait for it.
For it is surely coming.
It will not be late.
That’s easy to hear when we’re comfortable with the order of the world: when our the leaders for whom we voted are in office, when our wealth increases consistently. The vision is surely coming. It will not be late. It’s easy to hear when our churches are growing, when our children are healthy, when smiles come easily to our faces.
If it delays, that’s ok, because my life is basically good. I’m living in comfort and have built a good life for myself. I can wait for the vision.
But many of the people of God live on the other side of that coin. They live constantly worried that they will be able to feed their families, or that they will be able to maintain a roof over their heads. When your best day involves being ignored instead of attacked, it’s tough to hear that the vision is surely coming, and will not be late.
You’re telling me I have to wait for the arc of history to bend back around to justice? What do you mean it will not be too late? It certainly looks like it’s too late for those who were killed during peaceful protests around the world. It certainly looks like it’s too late for the martyrs who seek human rights for all people. How many more people have to suffer under the injustices of fear and oppression before God will do something and bring about that vision! What’s the suffering level got to be before God decides it’s “the appointed time.”
When it feels like you’re winning, it’s easy to run out the clock. When you’re on the losing end of things, being asked to wait, for the help from the Lord is surely coming, is offensive. How many civil rights leaders were told “Wait, your rights will be granted to you, just don’t go too far too fast, let us adjust to this new way of life slowly.” How many church leaders have shied away from changes they know are necessary because they don’t want to change too much, too fast. They know the direction, but feel the inertia of the system drags on them. The vision is there, but just out of reach.
If it delays, wait for it.
For it is surely coming.
Because God’s promise is for all people, even for those who resist being a part of it. The Human One will appear on his day in the same way a flash of lightning lights up the sky from one end to the other. After all the waiting, we will be made one in an instant, and the vision that testifies to the end will be realized.
If it delays, wait for it. For it is surely coming. It will not be late. But some people’s desires are truly audacious, they don’t do the right thing.
Some preachers see the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in the crisis in Syria. They hear about the potential destruction of the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Damascus, and call it the beginning of the end times.
Like them, I long for the days of the Human One, when we knew Jesus face to face, instead of through a faith tradition passed down to us from our spiritual ancestors. It was easier then, when we could put our hands in his wounds and experience the wonder of the bodily resurrection. Like those preachers I look toward the moment when God’s vision for humanity is fully realized, and the already surpasses the not yet. But I will not join them when they say of those days “Look there” or “Look here.” God’s kingdom isn’t coming in signs that are easily noticed, wrath and destruction that happens to fall on people we don’t like.
The kingdom of God is already among us in a thousand easy-to-overlook ways. In love for one another, in sharing of ourselves with the least among us, in holy moments that reveal God’s creation to us, God’s creation is already among us. But these require faith.
Paul writes that once we knew Christ according to the flesh, we no longer know him in that way. So our faith is made more difficult, based on spiritual experiences and trust in God’s vision for his people, rather than a physical encounter.
It is difficulty to be faithful to the vision God has for us when we are being pulled in so many different directions by otherwise honorable obligations. It is easy to get sidetracked by the trappings made with our own hands, overlaid with gold and silver, but with no breath within. We get caught up in our impatience when compared to God’s timeless vision, and would rather build a kingdom for ourselves than wait for the fulfillment of the one God has established forever.
God’s kingdom is already among us, the LORD is in his holy temple. But we don’t fit in that kingdom yet. But God’s vision for us testifies to the end.
There is great hope in the idea that God’s vision for us has not yet been fully realized, because it means that God is still working on us to make us more faithful, to make our actions more meaningful. We are validated if we are not satisfied with the way things are, or with the way we ourselves are. If we are happy with how we are, it means that God’s vision for us is better than we can imagine.
The LORD is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him, as he appears on his day in the same way a flash of lightning lights up the sky from one end to the other.