Sunday, October 30, 2016

“How Long?” (Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4)

God’s perception and our perception are not always the same.

A man was praying to God and asked the question, “Lord, how long is a thousand years to you?”  And, surprisingly, the Lord answered: “A minute or two.”  Impressed that the Lord answered him, the man pressed on, “And, Lord, what is a million dollars to you?”  Again, the Lord answered him, “Oh, about a nickel.”  Buoyed by God’s willingness the man pressed on with one more prayerful question, “Lord, could I have one of those nickels?”

Now there was a long pause in the conversation . . . then God replied, “Sure, in a minute or two.”

God answers prayers . . . and, I am sure that gentleman will get his million dollars in about a thousand years . . . but, God answers prayers in God’s own time.  Which is frustrating for most of us who live in this day and age of pretty instantaneous results . . . rarely do we have to wait for much of things that we want in life . . . we live in an age of instant gratification.  We want things fast.  We don’t want to wait around.  Whether it is in our everyday lives or our spiritual lives . . . we want it now.  Thus we experience frustration when we do not get what we want when we want it.  It is especially frustrating when it comes to our requests for God’s presence and intervention in our lives.

Ask the prophet Habakkuk.  This virtually unknown minor prophet has a conversation with God . . . a conversation that had been apparently put off for quite some time as Habakkuk had been praying to God to intervene in the lives of God’s children to right the world of all the moral corruption he was witnessing among God’s people.  Habakkuk was a morally sensitive soul who could not turn away from the oppression of the weak, the dismissal of the poor, dishonest dealings, constant fighting and public conflict, the destruction of the fabric of social life, endless litigation--in short, what he saw was the wholesale abandonment of God’s will by the people whose sole purpose was to be a visible witness to God’s way with the world.  Over and over the prophet prayed for God to act . . . to do something.  Despite endless prayers to God, Habakkuk felt that his prayers fell on deaf ears.  He was frustrated.

Finally, in frustration, he cries out, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?”

Much to his surprise, God answers him.  

I don’t think it was quite the answer that he was expecting, but God answered him.  God assured Habakkuk that something was going to happen . . . that righteousness and justice would win out . . . and, then added, “When I get around to it.”

There is nothing more frustrating to talk to someone who you think is listening . . . think are understanding what you are saying . . . expecting results . . . only to be told that they will do something about it when they “get around to it.”  No one likes to hear that answer.  

I have worked with a lot of people throughout my life that I learned never get around to what they were going to do until they got “around to it.”  And, for a while I used to have one of those wooden round coins that had the words, “tu it”, printed on it.  Whenever they answered my request with the phrase “round to it”, I would pull that wooden coin out and flip it to them.  I would be giving them a “round tu it”.  I thought it was funny, but rarely did the person I offer it think it was funny.

That is what God tells Habakkuk.  God is going to do something and it will be in God’s time that it is done.  The children of God will get what is coming to them . . . they will suffer the consequences of their actions . . . and, in time, it will all straighten itself out.  Besides, hasn’t God always come through with what God has promised?  In the meantime, the people will have to wait until God gets around to it . . . in God’s time.

Again, this is not quite the answer that Habakkuk is expecting.  But, Habakkuk is person of prayer.  Instead of getting upset and indignant about what God is saying, he takes God at God’s word . . . he plans on positioning himself on the lookout for what God will do and say next.  He trust God is already at work, even if he cannot see it.  He trusts that God has more to say, and he commits himself to waiting on God rather than taking matters into his own hands.  This is not quite what any of us would expect . . . Habakkuk taking a disposition of waiting with confident trust in God.

Waiting around doing nothing doesn’t seem like doing much of anything.  Waiting, in our estimation, is worthless; and, yet, in the spiritual life--in the scriptures--we learn over and over again that waiting is to be active, to do something, something very important.  One scholar tells us that waiting is the most important thing that we can do, since waiting is an expression of faith, of being open and receptive to God, to God’s action, to God’s voice, to God’s answer.  Waiting is to be patient, which means “to suffer”, or to be acted upon rather than acting, to be receptive to the action of others.  To wait and to be patient is to trust that God is at work even if we can’t see or understand what God is doing at any given moment of time.  It is faith in God and not in ourselves . . . a willingness to accept God’s will as it comes to us each day as God continues to be God.

So, Habakkuk waits.

What is he waiting for?  What is the vision that God gives to Habakkuk to share with the people?  To wait . . . to wait for the truth . . . the truth of what is going on, what is truly worth waiting for and will certainly come.  The Lord says, “. . . but the righteous will live by his faith.”  The righteous will live by this faith.

We are waiting for God.  Faith is trusting in God.  Faith is a willingness to trust that God knows best and will bring our lives and the world to a good completion.  This is God’s will for the world, what God has promised and what we, by faith, trust will surely come in God’s good time and in God’s good way.

And yet, as we sit here this morning, waiting for God, we wonder, “How long, O Lord?”  The truth of the matter is that none of us truly knows . . . even though lots of people through the ages has tried to predict it.  We do not know.  We just trust that God knows, and we trust that God knows what God is doing.  This trust is not based on some wishful thinking, but it is grounded on solid ground . . . something firm . . . something strong enough to sustain us.  Our faith rests on God’s sure and certain promises spoken in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Such faith is what keeps us going . . . each and every day, each and every moment.

In faith we live.  This does not mean that we simply do nothing; no, what we do is the desire of God . . . it is to build the kingdom in our time and place.  It is to be people of faithfulness despite what the world around us is doing or what the world around is throwing at us . . . it is to seek that love of the Holy--the love of God and be in relationship with God . . . it is to love others as God has loved us . . . it is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  This is God’s gift to us . . . it is God’s doing, which is why it frees and empowers us to find great pleasure in living a life following God’s will, delighting in God’s ways rather than our own.

In the end God wins . . . we profess this belief.  The end will come when it is God’s time . . . when God gets around to it.  In the meantime, we wait.  We wait with faithfulness . . . we live faithfully . . . we listen to the word of God . . . we witness the presence of God around us . . . we gather to worship . . . we break the bread and lift the cup.  We wait.  In the waiting we find the presence of God all around us.  Such is the gift of faith.  Amen.

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