REFORMATION SUNDAY 2016

“Sustained in Hope”
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Luke 19:1-10

Today we observe Reformation Day. As Phyllis Tickle once wrote, we are entering into a new Reformation.(Tickle, Phyllis. “The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why” Baker Books, 2008.) Tickle (cites an Episcopal bishop, Mark Dyer) says that about every 500 years the church has a “rummage sale.” In this sale the ‘great church’ gets rid of what doesn’t fit anymore, or that hasn’t been used in ages.

Everybody knows how hard this is to do.The fact that it needs to be done doesn’t make it any easier.  It is particularly hard when you are in any kind of relationship, which we are, by definition, as a community of faith. When we moved to Wernersville we piled up some old junk that had been sitting around for a long time. I noticed that Becky was doing the very same thing. Only she was boxing up some stuff that was particularly important to me. No, I hadn’t used it lately, and no, I don’t exactly remember why I was saving it, but I was saving it. It was good stuff.

I find the whole idea of a rummage sale offensive. Your personal stuff is put out on card tables. People are pawing over your things. “How much you want for that honey?” “don’t call me honey, and you know what, I changed my mind. It’s not for sale.” Really, she says? Well, how about fifty bucks? Only fifty? that’s a steal. Really, I said?

One reason that people get rid of stuff is that their situation has changed. Some time ago…well, not really all that long ago, we got rid of several boxes of cloth diapers. Our first child wasn’t wearing those disposable jobs. You can imagine that once we got down to the business of changing and washing cloth diapers our theology of diapering began to change. By child number 3 we were fully involved in the Huggies faction. So when I noticed these cloth diapers, I wondered. Are we ‘closet’ cloth diaper folks? Was my wife trying to tell me something? No. So we were honest with ourselves about what and who we were and the cloth diapers went.

The prophet reflects an exceedingly difficult time period where the situation has changed. Not long before, the mighty Assyrian army destroyed one city after another, brutally killing people. And we know that not long after Habakkuk was written, the Babylonians under king Nebuchadnezzar would three times attack Jerusalem, taking the leaders and skilled citizens into exile, and in 587 BCE, destroying the city and the temple. Indeed, violence is all around. The present situation is scary.

But that wasn’t the last time the situation was scary. In 1940, a church newspaper in Basel Switzerland published a column under the title: “The Word on the (Current) Situation” that included an excerpt from the book Habakkuk. The Nazi’s censored the paper. The powerful do that when they feel threatened.

In Habakkuk, we see how the prophet is standing on the watch tower, waiting for the Lord to answer. As is all too often the case, no answer is quickly coming. Finally a word is heard. That word, “Wait,” is rarely a satisfactory answer when it appears as though some of your best stuff is going in the dumpster.

At his listening post, the prophet hears a word from the Lord, and it does begin with wait. But that’s not all he hears. So he speaks to the people, saying how important it is to keep on, and believing in, a God that will bring deliverance. Not back to the way things were, but to a way that things will be. This unflinching belief in God’s ability to have effect on the present situation is sometimes called hope. It is the substance of that which the Apostle Paul speaks when he tells the church in Rome: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” (Romans 8:24 NRSV)

Now there are two principles to keep in mind in order to tap into this hope. They are the principles of power and privilege and the principles of truth and justice. If you pursue truth and justice it will always mean a diminishment of power and privilege. If you pursue power and privilege it will always be at the expense of truth and justice. (Chris Hedges quoting Norm Chomsky: TruthDig,“Noam Chomsky Has ‘Never Seen Anything Like This’” April 19, 2010.)  This idea seems to me to be socially true and biblically correct, if we are convinced that Jesus, at his interrogation before Pilate, said, “my kingdom is not of this world.”(John 18:36, NRSV)

This rummage sale and the difficulties church is experiencing makes me think of the stuff of our study with the Center for Progressive Renewal, and the book some of us are reading, “Vital Vintage Church.” In the book the Rev. Michael Piazza strives to help Virginia Highlands church by focusing on truth and justice. There are some uncomfortable moments during the rummage sale, but not everything is sold or given away. Getting ready for these things help us sort out what is important to us, so important that we keep it, and not only keep it, but get those old dishes out of the china cabinet and serve Thursday evening dinner on it, we don’t need to only drag it out on Christmas or Easter when the whole family is gathered at the table; when we want remind everybody how special it is. Everyday is worth the good china.

That is the point of the 2020 vision statement, really it is. It isn’t intended to toss on the sale pile things that are vital to our life together. In fact, there are many things in that document that we have done for a very, very, long time and it would help if we would just say that out loud so the community knows it.

Yes, the current situation can always be a source of discouragement. These verses from Habakkuk shares the certainty that the present situation does not mean that the end is near. It is discussed, but not near. The Prophet is so certain of God’s intention to make a difference with God’s people, no matter what the current situation looks like, that he tells others of his steadfast hope. For the Prophet, he is moved to write this conviction so clearly that even a speedy runner will be able to rush by it and still read it!

On this Reformation Day when we so often applaud the idea that we are not like other Christians, forgetting the fights and bitterness engendered by Luther’s break with the church of his youth and ordination; and the estrangement produced by that split over the succeeding five hundred years, I long for Habakkuk’s clearer and more straightforward claim. When I encounter those in these days who are hurt and fearful, unable to see that our best days…as defined by truth and justice…are ahead of us, I turn to Habakkuk.

Listen, God is determined, even desperate, to be in relationship with all of us so that, in turn, we might be in relationship with each other. This won’t be easy for us to hear. We like our formulas and comfortable patterns because, truth be told, they give us a way to manage the illusion that maybe we’re still in control, at least a little bit.

Perhaps that’s exactly why Jesus again shocks the crowds and disciples alike by seeking out this rich tax collector, honoring him, affirming him, naming him a child of God and declaring that, indeed, salvation has come this very day to his household. Maybe it’s to remind us that we never were in control in the first place. Which, while hard to take, proves in the long run to be a good thing.

Maybe, by the grace of God, in our present rummage sale, we will be moved to get rid of what doesn’t fit or is worn out, once good stuff, and keep what is faithful in these days. Then we will be able to baptize this baby today and be convinced that this child and all of us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, will be steadfast and sustained in hope.

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