Benediction Online

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A Vision for the Appointed Time

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-10

It sounds like he's been watching the evening news - "God, why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.” Nothing is known about the prophet Habakkuk yet his words ring as true today as they did in the seventh century before the Common Era. It is our cry whenever we watch the news, whenever we hear about the shutdown of government, the contention in Washington, the war in Syria, US raids in Africa, details of the Westgate Mall massacre… whenever we hear about the difficulties and horrors of our global society we wonder why? Why? “Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.”

The prophet waits for a response to his complaint, and this is what he hears God say:
…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.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.

Two thousand seven hundred years later I think we can be forgiven for feeling that it has tarried long enough.

Again and again the Bible tells us that the wicked perish and the righteous live, but in reality it doesn’t seem true. We all know wonderful people who have died young and quite repellant people who seem to go on forever. There are no guarantees. Evil-doers flourish.

Does this dissonance between the words of the Scriptures and our lived experience mean that we should throw the Bible out with the bathwater?

The disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. Was this because they could no longer believe the Scriptures? I don’t think so, because Jesus never asked them to believe in a list of faith statements. Jesus never taught that we should believe in the virgin birth or that we should believe that God will send all evildoers to an early grave. But he certainly took for granted the presence of a personal, loving God, and I imagine that the disciples seeing this depth of conviction in him longed to have the same connection with the divine themselves.

Jesus’ faith was not a belief in the unseen supernatural, but a faith that the person he knew as Father would always love him and would not let him down. Even though I am sure he had inkling that he would be betrayed by his friends and die a horrible death, he knew with Habbakuk that there was “still a vision for the appointed time” and he trusted that it would happen in God’s love.

When we go through times of change in our lives, especially when we are dealing with disappointments and illness, sometimes even when the changes are positive, our faith is challenged. The way we have understood things to be changes. We retire and our life is no longer so structured and focused - it may even seem somewhat futile - and our faith no longer fits so well. Our trust in God working in our lives wavers, because things are so different. We find ourselves unemployed and the providence we have always experienced from a loving God seems to have disappeared. Our health is compromised and when we hurt and ache it’s difficult to feel God’s love in the same way. How can God allow this to happen? we wonder. If God really loved us wouldn’t he “give us our heart’s desire” just as the psalmist proclaims?

Things change and our trust, our faith wavers. This is quite normal. Our relationships with each other change as we do, so why would we expect our relationship with God to always stay exactly the same? It can be difficult to have trust and faith in an all-compassionate, unconditionally loving God who wants only the best for all of creation when all of creation seems to be going to hell in a hand basket.

There seem to be two main ways that we try to solve the problem of God’s love in the face of evil, pain and change. One is to say that God is limited by the rules of living in this world and that She can only work through humans; the other is to say that this “world is not our home, we’re just a-passing through” and everything will be fair and just and lovely in the world to come. I suspect that there is some truth in both solutions but they both have shadow sides. If we say that God is limited by the rules then we are imagining a God who is not completely free. Yet it’s clear from all our understandings of the divine that God is radically free. Free to do or not to do, free to respond or not to respond. I think that may be the underlying sense of the second part of today’s gospel reading about the status of servants – who are we to tell God what to do?
On the other hand, if we say that this is just a temporary world and we’ll get our reward in heaven then it’s much easier to justify a throwaway society, it’s much easier to justify oppressing others because it’s only temporary. There is little reason to throw yourself passionately into life here, because it’s just a waiting game.
Perhaps the answer is both more complex and more simple than either “solution”.

When you make an etching, you cover the metal with a waxy, acid resistant substance and you scratch away the wax where you want the acid to make a mark. Then you dip the whole thing in acid. Now when you clean off the wax you have grooves in the metal which can take ink and when paper is pressed against them you get a print.

What if our lives, and the whole of created existence, are like the process of etching? What if every time we come from a place of genuine love we are making a mark in the wax but every time we come from hate or indifference it simply doesn’t make a dent? So the way we live here becomes vitally important because the more we act from love the more we create the beautiful picture which is the reign of God - the true reality both now and in the world to come. The “vision for the appointed time” is not just a lovely idea for the future but something which is being created today, here and now, in the lives of God’s people as we learn to trust more and more, as our faith changes and increases. If that is true, we do not need to fret ourselves over evil-doers, because however big and scary their tactics are, they are not even making a mark on the wax – they have no impact on the etching that is the work of eternity. That is the province of the people of the God of Love.

If that is anything close to a picture of truth then we need to pay close attention to the qualities of love. Love is not being polite. Love is not caring for one’s own family and then blocking others out. Love positions mind and spirit to be of service to God and to others. Love is an attitude of gentle and humorous compassion. Love is generous and stretches us to be more than we can imagine. Love can be practiced in community and in solitude through prayer and through learning deep yet tough minded compassion with oneself. Perhaps the highest love is when we can allow the spirit of God to love through us, so that we become a channel for God’s limitless love and truth to touch those around us and be grounded in this world.

This is the love that builds the eternal reign of God.

As a next step in learning to love, let us attempt to practice the words of the psalmist:
Be still before the LORD *
and wait patiently for him.
Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, *
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; *
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.


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