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It’s fairly often that we hear people talk about the good olds days in contrast in our society now. People seem to think that life was simpler and safer a few generations ago. Now life is dangerous, immoral, and godless!
2010 isn’t the first year people have lamented that our present isn’t what it should be. People in the distant past had the same laments. Have you ever thought that you have something in common with people who lived 3000 years ago? Their opinion of society could be ours:
The world’s going to hell in a handbasket. All signs confirm it. Any 24-hour news station shows us plenty of reasons to believe it. Their talk-show hosts convince us to fear: fear for ourselves and especially fear for our children. War is being waged around the world. Students are shooting each other. Corruption is rampant. Everywhere we once thought was safe is no longer. For some, even the church seems a stranger.
Right here in this sanctuary, where we might think we are safe from bullets and missiles, we find that we are not safe from our captivity to fear. We look around our church and fear that we will not be able to sustain ourselves. We look into our own lives and fear the brokenness we see in our families, our inability to live up to our own expectations, and the unknown future.
When we look into our world, church, and personal lives and see the brokenness, decay, and destruction, what else can we do but fear? Is there any other option?
Does our faith give us any answers? Do we think God has any role to play? Or is the state of the world a sign that God has abdicated God’s role?
Do we dare expect God to give us answers? Are we so bold as to demand an account from God? Should we meekly accept all the junk in our lives and our world as part of God’s plan? Or should we demand more: should we shout out like the prophet Habakkuk “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you do not listen? Or cry to you ‘violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me, strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous- therefore judgement comes forth perverted.” (Hab 1:1-4)
If our world is going to hell in a handbasket, shouldn’t we expect God to see that and do something about it? Habakkuk certainly thought so. He shouts this lament to God as his world is crumbling around him. His country was being conquered. The rich were ignoring God’s commands and exploiting the poor. Destruction and violence, lawlessness and corruption are the norm. Could God not see? Did God have no power to save God’s chosen people?
As he calls out to God, Habakkuk names all he sees wrong in his world. He demands God answer for not stopping the destruction. Then he stands and waits. He listens to hear what God will say.
God offers Habakkuk – and us- the only answer that brings freedom from captivity to fear and despair. God answers with a vision. This is a vision of the future that gives life to those who trust in God’s faithfulness.
The Lord tells Habakkuk to write down the vision and share it with all who fear that God has abandoned them when they look upon the destruction of their society. Even in the midst of this present darkness, God still has in mind a future for God’s people. God declares: “For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie.” (Hab 2:3)
The Lord is so confident that this vision would be fulfilled that God commands Habakkuk to write it down, to keep it as proof that God fulfills God’s promises. Change, peace and healing will not come immediately, but God gives the people a vision of a good future, and asks them to wait expectantly for its fulfillment. This is the life of faith.
What is our life of faith? Do we have any sense of God’s vision for us here today?
I believe that even when we don’t see anything good around us, God is still with us with a vision. When I hear news of more violence and war, I remember God’s vision of peace. God’s vision comes to me through the prophet Micah (Isaiah 2:4 too) 4:3 “God shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” The Apostle Paul writes God’s vision of unity among peoples in Ephesians 2: 14-17 “For Jesus Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So Jesus came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” When I hear news of the oppression of the poor and vulnerable, I hear God’s vision from the prophet Amos 5:24”But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” When I hear news of religious violence and intolerance, I hear God’s vision revealed to John 21:10”And in the spirit the angel carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God…22I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”
God’s vision is for the transformation of our present reality.
What is God’s vision for us as the people who worship at Redeemer?
Hear the vision I see: God is here with you, to give you life and freedom from whatever binds you: sin, grief, fear. God is already at work to bind us together as one people in the body of Christ: who rejoice with those who rejoice, who cry with those who are in grief (Rom 12:15). You spent yesterday working, laughing, and sharing together as you served this community and raised money for our ministry. Our faith, our trust in God’s vision, shapes our life as a worshipping community. Our faith compels us to join in God’s vision. What would it look like for us to live into God’s vision?
How would we “take up our cross daily and follow Jesus?”(Luke 9:23). How would we “go and make disciples of all the nations?” (Mat 28:19). How would we live as the first church as recorded in Acts 2:42”They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” These are examples of God’s vision for the lives of those whose faith binds them to Jesus.
Faith is a gift from God. It starts out like a tiny mustard seed within us. It grows by the grace of God. Our lives are shaped by our faith. This gift of faith is our trust in God’s vision and God’s faithfulness in fulfilling that vision. God will be faithful to God’s promised vision for our good future. Even when that seems impossible, when we feel that God has abandoned us completely, God is still faithful and at work for us.
The central revelation of God’s fulfilling vision is in Jesus Christ on the cross. As Jesus is dying, he calls out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Jesus experiences the despair and the loss of God that is at the heart of our fear in our present and for our future. When Jesus dies, the hope that God was doing something wonderful through Jesus died. Yet it is this event, where it doesn’t look like God is there at all, or has any power over anything, where Jesus conquers sin and death. Jesus’ death shows God’s faithfulness to us. God raises Jesus from the dead. Jesus comes to us, knowing the depth of despair and abandonment, and offering a new future of hope, freedom and life.
Whenever you see destruction, violence, or brokenness in your world, tell God about it. Open your eyes with watchful expectation and be ready to recognize God at work. Let your faith guide you into living “as if.” Live as if God is at work, as if God has power over all evil, as if God’s vision and promise are true. This living “as if” is living by your faith. It is clinging to God’s faithfulness, God’s vision, and letting that vision shape your life.
Whatever fear or despair you enter, God is there with you. God is willing to enter whatever darkness you experience and even there has a good vision for you. As God spoke to Habakkuk: “If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” (Hab 2:3)
God, you promise a vision of peace. Bring all nations and leaders into a reality in which war is ended, and the needs of the poor are met.
God, you promise a vision of all nations united in worshipping you. Bring your church into oneness in your body. Strengthen the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and our parish: worshipping at Redeemer, Our Savior, and Trinity, that we might live by faith and work towards your good future.
God, you promise a vision of restored creation. Bring us into a reality in which we care for all you have made: plants, soil, waters, living creatures, and humanity. Grant a full and safe harvest for those who work in the fields.
God, you promise a vision of community in which outsiders are welcomed and the hungry fed. Bring us into this community, and stir in us a spirit of love that washes away our judgment.
God, you promise a vision of healed life. Bring our bodies and relationships into wholeness and wellness. We especially pray for those concerns and people on our minds, including those on our prayer list — and those whom we name before you now.
God, you promise a vision of resurrected life. Bring us and all your saints into your presence for eternal rejoicing.
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