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    Oct 02, 2016

    Encountering God

    Encountering God

    Speaker: The Rev. Becky Crites

    Category: Faith

    Keywords: challenges, encounter, grace, justice, vision

    Holding on until the day of the appointed time is hard. God doesn’t promise us a rose garden. Faithful people will always struggle to understand how bad things happen to good people. The answer comes in encounters – in lifting our hearts and our hands at the altar rail, in a risen Lord that is the bread of life.

    Habakkuk is a short little book much like a great symphony. One section speaks to another, building the theme, leading you on, with a great ending of a vision that brings confidence, “like a deer treading the heights.” And then there is this one final note – to the choirmaster: “to the leader with stringed instruments.” Strings are to accompany this oracle; for this is a basic of our hearts.

    In this distant time, life in the ancient world is completely foreign. So a very, very condensed history:

    In the 10th century before Jesus’ birth, the Hebrew kingdom becomes divided. The 10 northern tribes form the nation of Israel and Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital, forms in the south. 400 years later is a dire time for God’s chosen ones. Israel, the first to fall, falls to the Assyrians. And other armies grew stronger. Another war was on the horizon: Egyptians to the east, Babylonians to the west, Scythians to the north, Arab tribes to the south. And with the death of the Assyrian King in 669, these sizzling hot spots exploded. Judah soon fell under Egyptian control, weak though this was. In 598, Babylonia overthrew Egypt. Twelve years later, in 586 BCE, the city of Jerusalem finally fell and the Temple was destroyed. The kingdoms fell because the people disobeyed God. This is their punishment, so say the prophets.

    But Habakkuk says: Really? Look around. Surely the crimes of the conquerors are worse than the crimes of God’s people? Is God’s law just? God brought in the Babylonians? What? No! Habakkuk pleads that the Lord account for this: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save?”

    Today’s lectionary gives us only a hint of where Habakkuk’s vision will lead him. Like other prophets he cries out about the injustices faced by God’s people. But unlike Jeremiah he does not accept that injustice is in the land because God’s people have failed – for surely those who conquer have done worse things than God’s own people. Habakkuk goes beyond Jeremiah and demands God to tell him why he does not listen to theirs cries for help. Does their failure to follow the law demand this type of judgment? Habakkuk rejects this as a possible answer. He finds no satisfactory answer that this is so. So he will stand and wait. I love this defiant image – standing, not kneeling in prayer.

    He doesn’t get the easy direct answer. That is just not how God seems to work. But he does get an encounter with God that changes his perspective on God and out of that new perspective comes an understanding on how to live in the face of his own life’s challenges. And that, my friends, is the answer. To ask for an accounting from God is to ask God to act as the world acts. Measure, keep count, tally up good works – that is the way of the world. But God’s grace transcends accountability. For that we should rejoice. It is not about increasing our faith. For the world does not ask the slave to sit down with us at the end of the day. The world sets people in certain places. Jesus rejects the apostle's question. It is not about the amount of our faith. That mustard seed? This isn’t about the amount of our faith. This is a vision of God’s kingdom. Jesus is trying to change the apostle’s focus, as God does with Habakkuk.

    Holding on until the day of the appointed time is hard. God doesn’t promise us a rose garden.

    God promises, in all the circumstances of our life, there is a kingdom spreading like kudzu. For that is what the mustard seed is – an invasive shrub. A farmer would be silly to plant something that would take over the field that was worthless as a cash crop. The mustard seeds spread like dandelions all over Palestine. When was the last time you saw someone selling dandelions down at the community market? God’s kingdom, God’s justice, will spread like an invasive weed not because we plant it but because of God’s grace. And God will respond to all the violence the world brings. This is not a hallow promise I preach today. It is not an avoidance of the question of evil in the world. It is lifting our eyes to another vision for the answer. As Paul has said to us, in Romans and Galatians, we sinners do nothing to bring about our salvation. God’s grace makes us righteous – or we might say acceptable – to the Lord.

    Habakkuk’s answer comes not as a direct response to his deep anguish. It comes to him by way of the whole process: the process of voicing his complaint, demanding God to answer him, waiting for God’s answer, and finally he heard and responding then hearing and responding to it. Voicing, waiting, listening and responding brings his new perspective, his new vision, his new way of living as a prophet of God. Through his vision God gives Habakkuk an assurance that he is present and he is in charge. “There is still a vision for the appointed time.” Despite what he sees around him, God is there. Live by this faith – the faith that God’s vision will in the end bring justice, mercy and peace to God’s very own creation. Wait for it, trust that vision, not what you see in the world. And it is that piece of this little book that I want to lift up for us today. It isn’t an easy answer to life’s challenges – for can we understand all the ways of God? If you want scientific answers or if you seek a God with an accountant’s ledger – you won’t find God.

    Faithful people will always struggle to understand how bad things happen to good people. The answer comes in encounters – in lifting our hearts and our hands at the altar rail, in a risen Lord that is the bread of life. Encounters sustain. Seek such with active hands and feet – holding onto the vision of God’s justice invading the soil. Seek it with inactive hands and feet – listening, thankfully waiting. Seek such with others – silently or loudly – worshipping, praying, thanking for God’s grace that takes us just as we are.

    Habakkuk gives us a glimpse of how to live in the face of challenges: voicing, waiting, listening and responding brings our new perspective. As in any relationship, you must work to be in that relationship to better understanding and you will come out knowing God in a new way. This is our hope. And as Timothy cautions – do not be ashamed of this truth. It’s not about me and my idea of immediate justice. It’s not about how I think God should act in the world. But it is about a vision of a spreading kingdom based on the grace of God. Like the old hymn says, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea; there's a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty. There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.”

    May God’s grace be with you all.