Lament and (God Doesn’t) Lie

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-4; 3:17-19

After LamentIt’s a 12-minute song I’ve had in my head this week, preparing for this sermon. And, truthfully, it’s not the most pleasant thing you’ll ever hear. It’s from an album by a band called Of Montreal and from an album that is deeply spiritual in the questions it asks of life and of God. Truthfully, I used to skip the song when I’d first listen to the album. But, one day, I found myself in the middle of it, realizing it was growing on me, taking me with it. The singer, not unlike the prophet Habakkuk, wonders what it’s all for, singing of disaster and lamenting I’m gone, I’m just gone Things could be different but they’re not Things could be different but they’re not.  (Wanna give it a listen?  I really recommend you listen to the whole album, but man, if you’re willing to give this song a shot, them who am I to demand more?)  Here it is: 

And I think part of the reason this song was in my head is because of how today’s scripture reading ends. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. Huh. Some of the best songs are the saddest songs. And today’s scripture is mostly a lament- it’s the prophet lamenting the condition of life for Jerusalem. The Babylonian exile is upon them – they’ve been defeated by Babylon. And like all good poetry, it’s heart breaking.

Habakkuk is lamenting the mess. It’s a mess. The Babylonians are destroying Jerusalem and taking them into exile, away from their homeland. They’d been plucked from their homes. They are in misery. And Habakkuk laments for them to God. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.

Tw1q9n9O Lord, why do you make me see wrong-doing? I wept over the Ferguson riots erupting from the verdict in the shooting of Michael Brown this weekend. I feel helpless to the systemic racism built into our country.

O Lord, why do you make me see wrong-doing? I cry for Ebola and its wiping out of families in west Africa and the stigma people face who live here for ever having lived there.

O Lord, why do you make me see wrong-doing? I weep for the people and families behind the safe term of “immigration” and the lives of fear they lead with no one to turn to.

O Lord, why do you make me see wrong-doing? I wept with the Olson family as they buried their young daughter on Wednesday, the November winter wind giving us no respite.

Then Habakkuk launches into this beautiful, heartbreaking poetry about all that he can see, and it’s despair: Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, 

There is no life, Habakkuk says for us. There is nothing to eat, there is no future, he laments.

It is a mess, isn’t it? We are a mess, aren’t we? We’ve made a mess. And just where is God? Where are you God?

It’s the season of Advent. A season when we wait for God to do something, already. To show us that God is with us. For God to do something new since the old way obviously isn’t working. To give us new vision for God coming into the world as Jesus Christ. Advent is a season of acknowledging the mess. Looking at it full in the face with a new kind of vision that tells you this ain’t it.

While you may have Christmas up in your house and shopped on black Friday, or local business Saturday, our time here in worship is to acknowledge the mess – to lay it all out there – to acknowledge its existence – and to wait. And it’s not a passive waiting, because hope and waiting are wrapped up, one in the other. It’s a waiting that has us peering into the darkness that is our reality and also looking to the future, to the glimmer of hope on the horizon.

Habakkuk laments for the people and God responds. God says, For 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. 

You see, as people claimed by God and readying to follow Jesus anew, God reminds us: there is still a vision. Because God has claimed us, our vision for the future changes. It doesn’t morph into “c’mon get happy” and doesn’t make us instantly dance. It is a vision that speaks of the end, says God, and does not lie.

waiting+on+the+Lord(2)So here is a place, in worship, for you to relax into the reality that your life may be a mess. Or the world around us may be a mess. Because, so often, we’re not allowed to hurt or grieve or say, yes, I’ve fallen apart. Here, in this place and in this time of Advent, you can let go of the stress of making everyone’s holiday perfect through just the right gift, a mountain of food. Spending too much money. Thinking happiness is dependent upon you somehow. Because God has a vision for the world and God does not lie. And we are the ones to catch that vision and because it’s God’s vision and not the vision of a free market economy, then we can see hope where others only see despair. We can see life where others can only see death.

You see, faith is not an answer. Faith is not an explanation in Habakkuk. Faith is a way of life. In the face of unanswered questions, you still have to live. So God reminds us of the vision God has for the world, for you and for me, so that we can continue to put one foot in front of the other and live through this mess. We’ve all got unanswered questions. We all question what God’s will for our lives is. We don’t know some days, do we?

Habakkuk is having one of those days when all he sees is despair. No hope for him or the people. No food, no future. Only despair. Everything he can see says give up. There is no reason for hope.

Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, 

B3nvXuNCcAElrkkDo you hear the promise coming on the heels of this list of laments? Even though all of these things are plainly in our sight, it’s then that verse 18 breaks out all over this lament: yet I will rejoice in the Lord.

Yet, on that little 3-letter-word hangs the hope and reveals the very nature of hope. Hope is to look for the very thing you cannot see, the very thing that is contradictory to what is defined as reality. Having hope flies in the face of despair and says to despair, you cannot have me.

 

 

holding-handsMartin Luther is quoted to have said, “The Godly people are waiting for the Lord; therefore they live…because they hold the hand of the Lord.”

We hold the hand of God as we struggle and question and doubt and weep.

We hold the hand of God as we see no evidence of things changing.

We hold the hand of God in the lunchroom; in the depths of the dark night.

We hold the hand of God at the baptismal fount and cling to the promise that God claims us long before we can articulate love or faith in and for God. And then we cling to the hand of God at the graveside, hoping beyond hope that the promise is true. And, as God reminded us today: For 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. 

It turns out God is with us in this mess. Right smack dab in the middle of it with us. And now we wait. We wait for the birth of the hope of the world, for the world. It is the ultimate act of defiance.

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