Tonight – Game 5! I am looking forward to heading downtown to the victory parade when the Indians win the World Series. I will never forget last June when Deanne, Jack and I went to the Cavs parade. We were at the corner of 9th and Superior in a crunch of people – literally we couldn’t move – and while we saw Kyrie and JR because they were riding on top of a bus; when LeBron came by he was sitting in the car – we didn’t see him.
But there were smart people there who had climbed trees and found a perch on top of bus stops. They had a great view from above!
Each of the readings today describes an elevated perspective.
The prophet Habakkuk stations himself on the ramparts and looks out. He waits to “see” what God will say to him. How God will answer his questions about all the violence? Why justice doesn’t seem to prevail and the law becomes slack?
Zacchaeus, crushed by the crowd and short in stature, climbs a tree so he can see Jesus. He is a tax collector, not well liked. But Jesus invites himself to dinner and those in the crowd grumble, “Doesn’t Jesus know that Zacchaeus is a tax collector?”
Zacchaeus climbs down and offers half of his possessions to the poor and four times re-payment for anyone he had cheated, which is what the Jewish law required.
Paul, in a more metaphorical way, takes an elevated and distanced view of the church at Thessalonica. Paul is full of praise for this church: “You get it, keep doing what you are doing! I brag about you all the time.”
These three passages remind us that we need sometimes to take a view from above – that extends the horizons beyond a narrow focus.
You and I need to climb out of the muck of the day to day and get some perspective. Ten days before the election – and we have to remind ourselves that we will get through this, thanks to our constitution and history. We are a resilient nation. Even if the worst happens, we will figure it out. So calm down!
It is too easy to become burdened in the heaviness of the moment and narrow our scope. It is hard to see God working in your life or in the life of this world. It is hard to keep your eye on Jesus, living the spiritual life, when you are in the crush of the crowd. There are just too many distractions.
Habakkuk felt exactly the way you and I feel – looking out over the contour of his time and his city and not feeling good. “How long shall I cry for help and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?” How timely is that?
Beset by violent language, and violence on our streets – it is all we hear about and it wears us down. Habakkuk is worn down: “Destruction and violence are before me.” “The law becomes slack and justice never prevails.”
Just think of the people in our nation right now who feel this way; this is what Black Lives Matter keep before us; it may be what police feel too. It is what many young people feel who have done their time and still can’t find a job or even vote.
Even the cheeriest among us are sobered by our daily news.
Habakkuk’s answer is to listen for the voice of God that comes amidst the din, and cuts through the noise. And the message he hears is: God is not done yet. There is still a vision for the appointed time. Keep the faith, keep pointing to that which we know is true, and keep enduring: WRITE IN BIG LETTERS so that everyone passing can see.
A modern Habakkuk – Bishop Desmond Tutu – climbed the ramparts and declared: “Goodness is stronger than evil and love is stronger than hate.” In the midst of the evil of apartheid how did Tutu know to declare that? Because he had this deep abiding faith that God does not lie.
In the midst, don’t give up! Rather, rise up, stand fast to your creed that love wins. Don’t blame God. Don’t blame Republicans or Democrats, or Hillary or Donald. You know “O mortal what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly before your God.”
Let’s live that message in big letters!
God will not answer the question of violence until we do. In fact God will answer the injustice of world through our work. We keep waiting for God? Well, God keeps waiting for us.
So as church, and as faithful people, we gird ourselves up, we keep our eyes on the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, Jesus. We keep on, keeping on. It is not for us to bring the end but to stay faithful in the present.
God’s call for us at this time, as we stand on the ramparts is to stay faithful, keep watch, write the vision in big letters.
Be a beacon and a sanctuary like Zacchaeus in the tree above the fray. He yearned to see Jesus, he wanted to catch a glimpse of the holy, he was an outcast, had cheated, defrauded, forgotten the poor. But Jesus saw him and recognized a beloved child, a Son of Abraham, and said, “I want to eat with you, I want to stay with you.”
Everybody wants to know where God is. Well, God is right here, with you and with me – not judging us, not threatening us – he just wants to come to your house and break bread.
And that act of non-judgmental inclusion melts everything. Zacchaeus wants to be his best and offer his best and is changed and the outcast becomes host to the Lord of life.
Everybody is looking for a holy encounter – looking for community, wanting to offer their best not their worst. Deanne and I heard a great story on the radio about a family in DC who started opening the door to classmates of their children. Weekly dinner, everyone at the same table at 6:00 p.m. Everyone has chores. Everyone is part of the dinner discussions. It has been going on for years. Children at risk now adults taking creative risks. There is the kingdom.
It’s amazing what an offer of a meal will do. Sometimes I think “faith” is not about what you have to believe but, rather; what do you have to eat? And who are you eating with?
And I think this is what St. Paul saw in the community at Thessalonica. In the midst of persecutions, afflictions and suffering, these early Christians have every right to say “To heck with this!” But Paul commends their growing faithfulness, saying “the love of every one of you for another is increasing.” How about that?
The role of the church is to glorify the name of the Lord Jesus Christ so that people will know that there is justice, hope, joy, welcome and abundance on this little corner of Monticello and Lee – and that our faith, our determination to endure, our welcome, our generosity will continue to make an impact. As Paul was proud of the Thessalonians, I am proud of you Forest Hillians!
Standing on the ramparts – declaring God’s message – seeking relationship – sharing the wealth and restoring to others what is owed, (that is the definition of biblical justice) loving one another – we can do that, we are doing that – all so that “the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
So climb the ramparts and the trees and the pulpits. And listen for God. Look for Jesus. Get some perspective that a view from above will give you.
And then come on down so we can eat and get back to it!