Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sermon for 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, "Run With It"

Sermon 10/31/10
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

Run With It

            I’ve never preached on Habakkuk before. It’s just one of those books of the Bible that doesn’t get a lot of play. You know, ones that, if you aren’t a regular Bible-reader, you might not have heard of before this morning. Habakkuk is one of the books in the Bible in the collection we call “minor prophets.” Minor prophets are just shorter books of prophecy than major books – they aren’t any less important. Not a lot is known about Habakkuk, the person. He was a contemporary of the more well-known prophet Jeremiah. His writings seem to come at the time around the 6th century BC when the kingdom of Babylon was becoming a greater and greater world power, and their takeover of Israel was a threat that was forming on the horizon. In other words, the people of Israel probably had a bad feeling about what was coming.
            Habakkuk’s writing is a dialogue between him and God. He has some questions, hard questions, to pose to God, and then he waits for God to answer. Our reading for today gets right into that conversation. Habakkuk wants to know: why is justice so long in coming? Why are bad things always happening? If God is just, why isn’t God intervening in this situation? Pretty timeless questions, right? “O Lord,” cries Habakkuk, “how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.” Habakkuk says he’ll wait for God’s answer: “I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.”
God does answer. In the next verses we hear: “Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 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.”
Earlier this month, as you know, the Parish Council went on a retreat at Vanderkamp. Paul Spero, the council chair, besides getting us lost in the woods, spent some time talking about and asking us about what our vision for the church was. We have a mission statement. I hope you are a bit familiar with it, because it appears in our bulletin insert every single Sunday. Our mission is “Growing together in our knowledge and love of God through Jesus Christ and sharing this with others.” That’s our mission. But what’s our vision? How do we expect to put our mission into practice?
Each person shared some thoughts about their own vision for the church. I won’t name names, since I didn’t ask everyone about sharing their words in advance, but I think I can give you the content of what was lifted up. Our vision is: Service, and doing for others. Being a helpful church. Reaching out. Being challenged, communicating Jesus and growing. The church is only as strong as its youngest members. Sharing our story and creating a space that makes that happen. Seek God’s view. Love. Joy. Think about long-term viability. Try non-traditional things, try blending old and new practices. Respecting a diversity of opinions. Forgiveness. Just because we’ve always done it or tried it before doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it or try it again. God’s love, our love for each other, families, community. Respect, dignity, humility. A church you can come back to. Welcoming and family-oriented. And here’s what I said: I want this church to be a place where people’s lives change because they’ve encountered Christ. I want people to hear God’s call and learn how to respond to it.
“Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time.” Is there a vision here, friends? What do you see for this church? The last couple of weeks, as we’ve talked about giving and stewardship, we’ve been talking about the why questions. Vision is all about the why-questions. Why do you come here? Why is it important for you to come to church? And why would you want someone else to come here? What do you hope happens to you because of coming here? What would you want someone else to discover because of being in this place? Do we have a vision? Is it plain? It is visible? Is it apparent? Can we all be a part of it?
            Let me tell you more about how I would answer those questions. First, and foremost, we come here to worship God. We give thanks to God for our many blessings. We offer gifts back to God. We pray to God. We meditate on God’s word. We sing our praises. We come to worship. My vision is that we would worship with our whole hearts. With passion. With enthusiasm. With joy. How we do that, what form our worship takes, is not nearly as important as how invested our hearts and souls are when we’re worshipping. Honestly, I could find worship meaningful with only traditional music, or only contemporary songs, or only printed prayers, or only spontaneous prayers, with drama and dancing and noise, or with quiet, contemplative reflection – any of those work for me when I feel that I’m surrounded by people who are here to joyfully give thanks to God with their whole hearts. If there’s a way I can help you connect more in worship, please, seriously, let me know. What would capture your heart in praising God? Last night, some of us were treated to a wonderful concert by Richard Koons and friends. He sang quite a mix of songs – show tunes, ballads, hymns, show-stoppers. But everything he sang, he sang with a passion and commitment to what he was doing that was clear in his expression, his every gesture, and his tone. No one doubted his sincerity. That’s what I think worship is about – offering our whole hearts up to God.
            We come here – I want you to come here, to come here myself – to have our lives changed. Time is one of our most precious commodities, isn’t it? It seems like there is never enough time. We are such busy, busy people. To come here, to be a part of this church – that’s a commitment of some of your precious resource of time – to come for worship, for meetings, for activities, for youth group, for Sunday School or Bible Study. You commit your time. And yet, time is such a precious resource, why would we give it unless we’re a) required to or b) really consider what we’re giving our time to a priority in our lives. You aren’t required to be here. Ok, maybe some of our younger members have strong parental influences for being here. But mostly, you are here by choice. Some folks long for days when going to church was a cultural expectation – you just went to church because you were supposed to. But, although I’m sure that was great for attendance figures, I don’t wish for that. As we heard Rob Bell say last week – God wants nothing less than our hearts, freely given. God wants you to want a relationship with God, not to force one on you. I want my relationship with God, and my relationship with the church of Christ to be life-changing, or why bother? How has being here changed your life? If it hasn’t been changed, for you, in ways you can articulate, I encourage you to wonder: is there a way you can put more into your relationship with God? Can you make getting to know God a higher priority in your life? If you do that, and you still don’t see change in your life – talk to me. Seriously. I’ve said before and I’ll say again: I love helping people figure out how God is calling them. I’d love to talk with you.
            And if, if the first two are true – if you come here to praise God, and you praise God with your whole heart, and if you find that your life is changed by knowing God more, then why wouldn’t you want to share your experience with others? My vision for this congregation is that we’re a community of faith where being a part of God’s family is so meaningful that you can’t help but want to talk about it with others. I don’t mean that I want you all to be moved to going door-to-door or preaching on the street corner. I mean that I hope you are so grounded in your faith that it is simply a part of how you live and move and exist in the world, so that is it part of every decision you make. You feed the hungry because you were deeply moved by Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 and can’t stand to see more people starving in the midst of abundance. You care for children because you understand that children have the easiest time seeing God, and you want to see through their eyes. You visit shut-in members because you understand what the apostle Paul means when he talks about us being essential parts of the body of Christ. If your life has meaning it didn’t have before, if you have purpose, and if you have this unfailing love of God – how can you not share that, share your life with others? I want your life to be your witness in the world.
            That’s my vision. Habakkuk was wondering, in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty around him: did God have a plan? Did God have something good in store, even still? Maybe you are wondering that too. I believe God answers us, as God answered the prophet. There is a vision. What do you see?
“Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time.”  Amen. 
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