I don’t know about you, but there are times when I have to tune out from the world. I binge watch HGTV or find a mindless comedy and I just zone out. In part, I do this because my psyche, my spirit, my soul feels overwhelmed. I cannot listen to one more story of natural disaster – of floods, of famine, of destruction. I cannot learn of one more part of the world where humanity seems lost – of genocide, of systemic violence against women, of the taking of land from its rightful owners. And lately, I cannot absorb one more barb by a political campaign – of slander, of innuendo, of plain meanness. And if I am not trying to hide from the world around us, sometimes I find I need to hide from the world right in front of us – from awful diagnoses, to life lost, to relationships broken.
While one common response is to relieve tension through mindless activity, the other alternative is to do what Habakkuk does today: cry out to God. “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” The reading from Habakkuk today starts with what is called a lament – something commonly seen in the psalms,[i] but known by us all because at some point in our lives, we have all cried out a lament to God. In this particular lament, Habakkuk is angry with God because the world is crumbling around him. Violence is on every side and those supposed to enforce justice are perverting justice. You can hear the sense of betrayal in Habakkuk’s voice – as if God has abandoned him and the rest of God’s people. And so, Habakkuk does what God’s people have done from the days of Abraham – he argues with God.[ii] He demands a response. He calls God to task – demanding that God not let this ungodly world continue on its ungodly path.
If you are ever in a crisis, one of the things you will learn about me is what I love about our God: God can take our anger, our righteous indignation, our arguments. Our people have been engaging this way with God from the beginning – not victim to an all-powerful God who demands our obedience, but in relationship with a God who can handle all of our “stuff.” Lord knows God has gotten an earful from me over the years – every time a child is lost, fellow citizens die from senseless violence, or life just seemed too much to bear – God has heard from me. Sometimes I cry out in a lament, sometimes I cannot even find the words I am so angry. I learned a long time ago that the good news is God can take it.
After his lament, Habakkuk does something that is quite familiar to me as a parent of young children. Habakkuk stomps his feet, crosses his arms, and stares in silent indignation, daring God to respond. Of course, one could certainly label this as the conclusion of Habakkuk’s temper tantrum. But an alternative may be to see something else in what Habakkuk is doing. In the face of great sorrow, anger, and despair, Habakkuk does not flee. Though he feels abandoned, he does not abandon God. Instead, he demands God’s presence and will not be satisfied until he hears a word from God. And so he waits. He waits, and watches. He keeps vigil, listening for God to speak.
Several years ago, Hickory Neck was thriving and heading toward what looked like a tremendous time of growth and change. The community rallied around creating this new worship space to house the community that was bursting at the seams. We even have plans for how to expand this building into phases two and three when we expected we would be bursting at the seams again. But a few years ago, we hit a bit of snag. Our pastor became ill and eventually took a new call. Though we had an interim priest, we had interims without the interim. I would not say that things ever got so rough that we called out in lament to God like Habakkuk. But we did take a play out of Habakkuk’s book: we stood in wait, keeping vigil, listening for God to speak a new word to us.
And slowly, God did just that. God began to speak. God began to whisper new dreams, new visions. We began to dream about mission trips, increased local outreach, repurposing building or building new spaces to house ministries for the growing population of both retirees and young families in our area, and meaningful worship and growth. God began to open our hearts to what new clergy might join us, and what new visions we might build together. We began to do what God tells Habakkuk to do today. When God finally speaks to Habakkuk, God says, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.” Now there is a little scholarly debate[iii] about what the vision is God is communicating – one of promise or one of condemnation – one to be rejoiced or one to be feared[iv] – but the clarity is what strikes me. Write the vision; make it plain.
A little under a year ago, your Vestry engaged in just that kind of work. They looked at the state of Hickory Neck, they talked about their dreams for Hickory Neck, they looked at the finances, and then the wrote a vision. They knew what everyone here knows: that Hickory Neck is a special place that has been challenged to grow in new and exciting ways. We have all experienced the power of worship in this place, the transformative nature of formation and prayer in this place, the radical commitment to hospitality in this place, and the passion for Christ’s call to love our neighbors in this place. And so, the Vestry did what may feel a little like that line from a Field of Dreams, declaring “If we build it, they will come.” But the Vestry did not just wait for “them” to come. They soberly looked at finances and decided they would not only fund a rector, but also a curate. They named their vision to make our buildings not just useful to us, but useful to our communities: through Winter Shelter and outside guests, but maybe eventually to a preschool or day center for seniors. The Vestry committed to not just waiting for “them” to come, but employing tools to invite, welcome, and connect seekers into our community. They wrote the vision and they made it plain.
When I first came on board with Hickory Neck in April, the Vestry began to ask me under what vision we were going to operate. What I told them is what I will tell you: we are already operating under a vision. Now, there are certainly dreams I have for where we will be 5 to 10 to 15 years from now, but for today, for next year, we already have a vision. Now, being pragmatists, the Vestry wanted me to make it plainer. And so, we worked in reverse. We sat down and we mapped out the entire calendar from August to August. We wrote down everything we normally do and everything we hope to do. And then we stepped back and said, “Is this us? Does our calendar reflect who we are and our vision for this place?” You see, our calendar was just a tool to mark our values and vision.
We have been engaging in that same conversation in our homes, in small groups, and as a community these last four weeks. As we laid out a vision of being a community that lives generously, we took stock not of our calendars, but of our checkbooks. We sat down and looked at where our money was going and whether that cash flow reflected our values and vision. For the Vestry, our budget involves some commitments that are hefty, but reflect a vision of who we want to be. Each Vestry member went home and engaged in a similar exercise at home, looking to see if their budgets reflected a vision of who they want to be as individuals.
The Vestry and Stewardship Committee have written a vision and made it plain. Instead of scaling back and being tentative, we have committed to being a parish who boldly is ready to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to share the Good News of God in Christ. As the Prayer Book says in the Catechism, our vision is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ, as we pray and worship, proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace, and love.[v] Those are bold promises that will require all of us to succeed. Today, we are talking about how our treasure is needed to bring that vision to fruition; in January, we will also talk about how our time and talent will bring that vision to fruition. But because our vision is living generously, this is not a call to sacrifice and struggle. No, this vision is an occasion for celebration and joy. I look forward to marking that celebration and joy with you today as we bless our commitments to live generously, eagerly helping Hickory Neck to shine its light on the hill for all to see. Amen.
[i] Bryan Spinks, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 242, 244.
[ii] Theodore Hiebert, “Habakkuk,” Neil M. Alexander, ed., The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 632.
[iii] Karl Jacobson, “Commentary on Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4,” November 3, 2013, as found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1875 on October 26, 2016.
[iv] Corrine L. Carvalho, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 247.
[v] BCP, 855.