Sermons by Rev. John Kidd Habakkuk 1,2 and Luke 19 From Observer to Follower October 30 2016
As I was studying for this sermon there was a story told in one of the commentaries that grabbed me and helped me get to the heart of our texts for today. It did as all good stories do. It helped me to see from another vantage point. It caused me to say yeah. The story is of a conversation between an elderly monk and a young man exploring a call to the monastic life. Here is the story.
The elderly monk was sitting outside of his hut enjoying the warm sun. His old dog was sitting with him. A young man exploring the monastic life sat down with the old monk and asked the question; “Why is it Abba that some who seek God come to this place and are zealous in prayer, but they leave after a year or so and others like yourself, remain faithful to the quest for a life time?” Abba told him a story.
“One day my dog and I were sitting in the sun as we are now. Suddenly a large white rabbit ran in front of us. My dog jumped up barking and took off running after the big rabbit. He chased that rabbit all through the hills with passion. Soon other dogs joined in the chase. They were attracted by my dog barking.
What a sight it was. The pack of dogs ran across the creek, up the embankments, through the thickets and thorns. Gradually the other dogs dropped out of the chase discouraged and frustrated by it. Only my dog continued to pursue the white rabbit.” Confused the young man asked “what is the connection between the rabbit chase and the quest for God?” The Abba replies. “Why didn’t the other dogs continue the chase? They were only attracted by the barking of the other dogs. My dog was the only one that saw the rabbit. Once you see the rabbit you will not give up the chase.” Seeing the rabbit and not following the commotion is what has kept me in this place.
There are many times when we look around us and ask what happened. How did we get here? How did we become observers of Jesus rather than followers? What changed? What changed was our lives. What changed is maybe we followed the barking rather than the rabbit, or maybe we just wondered off the path.
The prophet Habakkuk reminds us that once we have seen God we will continue the pursuit of God. The story of Zacchaeus reminds us that as followers of Jesus we can get back on the path that we have strayed away from.
Habakkuk is preaching to Judah around the time when Babylon has rousted its great enemy to the north, Assyria. Then Babylon turned south and invaded Jerusalem in 597 BC. Judah cheered on the take down of Assyria. They were a long time powerful enemy. God’s justice would finally prevail. The enemies were conquered.
When Babylon came south into Judah and invaded Jerusalem, they were singing a much different tune. What is God doing? The wicked are surrounding the righteous they protested.
The people called to God for help against Babylon, encouraged by the prophets who were speaking what the king and the people wanted to hear. Judgment is coming from the perverted. This cannot be right. Where is God? What is God doing? Why is God not judging the oppressors and the evil doers?
Habakkuk is not about to give up on God and God’s promises. Habakkuk has seen the rabbit. Habakkuk has seen God. Habakkuk has had an experience with God and God’s justice and mercy. That is why he stays in pursuit of God and God’s promises despite the challenges of ongoing injustices, and invasions.
In the second chapter Habakkuk says he will go to his watch post on the ramparts and keep watch and listen for God to speak in answer to his complaints. With time and patience, he listens and watches. The Lord comes to Habakkuk with an answer to his complaints. God says write the vision so plain a runner can read it. There is a vision to be revealed in the appointed time. It speaks of the end; it does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it. It will surely come. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by faith. God reminds Habakkuk and the people, that faith, patience, and trust in Gods timing is what sustains you and will get you through the most challenging times.
God reminds us that our faith is what gives us the courage to move forward when we want to throw up our hands and give up. Then there is the story of Zacchaeus. The story of Zacchaeus reminds us when we stray off the path and get involved with other things, we can get back on the way of following instead of observing.
The story of Zacchaeus is most familiar. It is a popular children’s Sunday School song. It is a favorite story to tell with that old Sunday School technology, the flannel graph board. We use the story for kids because it includes tree climbing and an invitation to a meal. The story is so much more than that.
It is a story about faith that is cultivated and then set aside. It is about falling away about as far away as one can fall. It is about redemption. It is about wanting something so bad that you don’t mind looking like a fool to get it. The story of Zacchaeus could be the story of any one of us and it could be the story of a congregation. Imagine with me what Zacchaeus’ back story might have been.
I imagine that Zacchaeus was born into a loving household that was observant in their faith. They may have struggled with their finances. As a young man, Zacchaeus may have thought; I don’t need this if this is what it means to be faithful. He had an entrepreneurial streak. He became a tax collector for Rome. He was good. He advanced to be a chief collector. That meant he had others working for him. He made good money. He paid a very high price for his success.
He was known as a collaborator. He was perceived as a traitor. He was rendered unclean as he associated with gentile Romans. He could not go into the homes of observant friends and family members. He could not participate in the life of the synagogue. He was on his own. He was separated from his former life. That was fine with him when he was young and head strong. Now he is older and he knows he is missing an important part of who he is. He wanted to get back on the path but he does not know how.
Through his position as a regional tax collector he had heard stories about Jesus. He knows of Jesus’ reputation as a friend of tax collectors and sinners. He heard the stories of Jesus healing people with all kinds of diseases of the body as well as the soul. He had heard of the forgiveness Jesus offered. He figured what did he have to lose.
He kept his ears open and found out that Jesus was going to be in his neighborhood. Everyone else in the neighborhood had heard. There was a crowd gathered. Zacchaeus was determined he was going to see Jesus. He climbed a tree as he was a man of short stature. He is up on his perch waiting.
Here comes Jesus. He is walking with a crowd around him. It is boisterous. Suddenly Jesus stops at the tree he is in. Jesus caught a glimpse of Zacchaeus. A wide grin spreads across Jesus’ face. Jesus chuckles at the sight of a chief tax collector up in a tree like a little boy. Everything stops. Jesus looks up to Zacchaeus and says that he is going to stay the night with him. Everything changed for Zacchaeus in that moment.
Zacchaeus came down out of the tree and greets Jesus. Then it starts. The crowd grumbles out loud. “How can Jesus go and be the guest of a sinner and of all people a tax collector. Jesus should have stayed at the Rebbe’s house or at the home of the village leader not a tax collectors house of all places.
Over the grumbling of the crowd, God moves Zacchaeus. He repents. He promises to make amends for what he had done. He sets out on a new path. Jesus says to him salvation has come to his house. He, the tax collector, is a Son of Abraham. The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. It was so.
What do these two passages say to us? Habakkuk reminds us to watch and listen for what God’s vision is for us. He reminds us to open our ears and our hearts to hear God’s call for us. Luke reminds us that we when we stray off the path, we can get back on it. Both are tied together by the image that we have seen Jesus. Like the old monk’s dog, we have seen the white rabbit and we will continue to pursue it. We will not follow the commotion of the noise around us that distracts us from pursuing our Lord.
Last Sunday I said for us to continue being a congregation of Jesus followers we must be open to something new. We do have the challenges that I named. We wonder what to do about them. We have tried many different things over the years that have had success to some level. We want to see our congregation grow in the traditional sense of our Sunday morning congregation growing larger.
Like Habakkuk we want to challenge God to heed our cries, address our concerns give us direction or at least acknowledge the struggle we face. That was what Habakkuk was asking of God. You remember he did not get an answer that he wanted. He did not get an answer other than hang on for the ride, it is going to be rough. In the next chapter Habakkuk has a new tactic. Habakkuk goes and takes up a post on the ramparts and watches and listens for God to act. God comes to him and says My vision for you is coming, it is in progress. Have faith and you will realize it.
It is time for us to take up our positions on the ramparts to watch and listen for what God is going to do with us. The vision will come at the appointed time. Meanwhile we must watch, listen, and have faith. Habakkuk ends with the prophet not realizing the vision but praising God for what God was going to do and extolling the people to trust that God had something for them. Waiting is the hardest part.
We are a people who want it now. When we go out to eat we want our order at our table five minutes before we are seated. We get bent out of shape waiting for computers and other electronic gear to boot up. Internet speed is never fast enough. We want change and we want it yesterday. God says take a deep breath. Watch and listen. I am in control. I know what I have for you. I am preparing you even though you may think nothing is happening. As Sam and Dave sang so well back in the mid 60’s “Hold on I’m Comin”. So, we hold on. We watch. We listen, we pray, we hope, we dream, we get angry, and we may even move off the path and go another way. We get so far off the path that we forget what and whose we are. We go our own way and something keeps after us to come back to the right path.
We think that we can get so far away from the faith that we can reach the point of no return. The good news is in Christ there is always a way to return. In Christ, we can get back on the path. In Christ, we can move from observer to follower.
The beauty of the story of Zacchaeus is that Jesus invited Zacchaeus to come back home. Come back to who he was. Come back home. Move forward on a new path. In short he was invited into a new life by Jesus. He accepted the invitation.
Individuals as well as congregations can stray from the path of following Christ. We sometimes decide that our way is the way. We decide that comfort is better than adventure. We decide we like ourselves and don’t need to include others. Something moves us to reconsider where we are in our lives. Like Zacchaeus, we decide that we must make a change. After we decide to change we are ready to do what is necessary, even if it means acting in ways that look foolish to those around us. We get past worrying about what the neighbors are going to think. We decide that we can no longer worry about what the ancestors would think and focus on what Jesus thinks. Like Zacchaeus we are willing to climb the tree to see the one who we are searching for.
When Jesus calls us to come down, we say I wish I had done this sooner. We apologize for not loving our neighbors as we should. We confess that we turned our focus inward rather than outward. Jesus opens up his arms in an embrace and says to us welcome back. Salvation has come to you and you have reclaimed your rightful place as children of God.
The question is; are we ready to listen and watch for God’s call to us? Are we ready to get back on the path of discipleship where we actively seek to follow Jesus, however challenging that may seem?
Are we ready to climb the tree to see Jesus and to come down when he reaches out to us? Are we ready to move from the role of observers who say there is much to be done, and become followers who will do it? Are we ready to say; we will follow you wherever you lead, however crazy it may seem to us? Are we willing to go down a road that we do not know, trusting that God has gone down that road before us and is leading us? Are we ready to say yes to getting back on the road of being followers rather than observers of Jesus?
Joel 2:25-32 and Luke 18:9-14 October 23, 2016
One of the tasks always before the minister is trying to make sense of what is going on in his or her life, what is going on in the life of the congregation, and what is going on in the surrounding context that the particular ministry serves. The task includes asking questions that seek to understand such concerns as where is God in all that is going on. It is asking questions such as what is God trying to tell us? Is God speaking to us in a subtle way or is there a crisis developing that will not allow us to ignore what is going on any longer. Is God calling us to repent, to change, and to be renewed? Is God calling us in a different direction in our life or in the life of our congregation?
Every week in our fellowship hall 2 different groups of people gather to put similar questions to themselves; what is going on in my life and how is it affecting my sobriety? They will identify who they are by their first name and also what they are by the descriptor of alcoholic or drug abuser. Together they will try to work with and care for each other because of what they desire to be. By naming, repenting, and receiving the change that has come in their lives, they are becoming new people that have a new purpose in life. They desire to stay clean and sober. There is desire to help each other sustain that, and the desire to help someone get back on the path if they get off. That is what forms and guides their community.
In the life of the people of Israel, in the life of the followers of Jesus, in the life of congregations of Jesus followers, there are times when God needs to stop them in their tracks, cause them to reflect on their direction, call them to repent and change, so they can be what God desires them to be. Sometimes God breaks in through a nudge now and again. Sometimes it could be a total collapse that gets to the heart of what God is trying to tell us.
According to Joel, Judah needs to see what is happening with them. God is using her trials as a wakeup call. God wants them to repent of the old less than obedient ways so God can create new life in them. Luke reminds us that in our relationship with God our prayer posture is one of humility that acknowledges we are sinners who need to be forgiven rather than an opportunity for self promotion. Let’s talk about what God is trying to tell us as a congregation.
In the light of our current challenges, what is God telling us? One of our biggest challenges is that we are an aging congregation. I am not saying anything new. Each of us can observe it as we look around. We know that with each passing year it becomes harder and harder for members to do what they once did. That is the natural progression of aging which brings declining health, strength, and the ability to do what we once did. Children or neighbors get to worrying that we are doing too much. Going out at night becomes a concern along with all the other concerns that the younger have for the older. As we get older and there are no children and youth around, anyone who comes to visit that has children is not likely to return. The cycle continues as we grow older and it gets harder to break. That leads to declining attendance.
One of the challenges of an aging congregation is many will get to the point when attendance is physically impossible. Mobility becomes an issue. Not being able to drive one’s self becomes an issue. Some medications can be an issue as can other physical impairment. This combination of aging membership and declining health becomes a downward spiral that becomes difficult to break. We think we must hang on until no one is left to turn out the lights and the doors have to be closed for the last time. That will come true unless we are willing to go another way.
We have the challenge of a beautiful building that needs ongoing attention. We remember the days when we used to be able to take care of many things ourselves. We could climb the ladders to change the bulbs, cut the tree limbs, or paint. We could spend a day raking the leaves, keeping the bushes trimmed, and the weeds pulled. That is no longer true. Now we have to pay to have that done. It is a reminder that time has not been kind to us as we have aged in body and declined in numbers. We become overwhelmed. It becomes much easier to not do what we need to do to keep the place up.
Our declining membership and attendance causes us to wonder if we have enough money to pay a pastor, keep the building up and serve our neighbors. All of this reminds us of what we once were and when we compare that to what we are now we wonder what is God doing? Those are some of our internal struggles that would happen no matter where we are located. It is something that many congregations throughout the land are dealing with. We also have external challenges such as the neighborhood where we are located.
When Milner was planted here there was the dream that Raleigh would grow out this direction. We have a beautiful piece of land, with a beautiful building. The high hopes of the founders were to become a large thriving congregation. Something beyond their control happened in the late 1950’s. According to a summation of the history of the church in a homecoming bulletin, the dream of Milner being a 1000 member church died when the Research Triangle Park was developed in another part of the city. The hoped for influx of new residents went to a different part of the city. The area around the church went into decline. The church had to decide what to do. How and who was it going to serve? What would its membership look like? Would it reflect the character of the neighborhood or would it keep doing the same thing and hoping people would come from other parts of Raleigh to be a part of the church. With the aging of the congregation, the decline in attendance, and the ability to maintain the property on our own, we are faced with the question; can we go on as we are and if so for how long? The more important question is; is that what desires for us?
It is not a surprise to anyone here that the question how long can we last is a question that has to be discussed honestly and decided sooner rather than later. We might like to keep kicking it down the road, because we want to tell ourselves that things will change even if we stay the course. That is an option for us. What God wants for us is a whole other matter. The last challenge is maybe the hardest. It requires us to ask is there another way to do and be church?
The challenge before an aging congregation whose membership has been coming for many, many years is that it is difficult to imagine another way to be and do church. It is difficult to put it into practice. Let’s face it every one of us gets set in our ways as time passes. It becomes harder and harder for us to change those ways. I fully include myself in that. None of this is new. None of it is our challenge alone. It is what Joel talked about in his prophecy.
In Joel’s prophecy he is proclaiming to Israel that their life is going to change. It did not matter if they were willing to change. It already had. Joel is writing after Judah is exiled. He talks about it. He acknowledges that there is a need to mourn the events that caused this tremendous change. He called them to repent. He called them to acknowledge the role that they had in their situation. He called the leadership to gather the people and all implore them repent, to think about what they had done, and to be open to what God is doing.
In chapter 2 before our morning text, there is a call to fasting and repenting. Joel proclaims “the Lord says return to me with all of your heart, with your weeping and fasting. Return to me for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and who relents from punishing.” Then God speaks through Joel in the portion that we read. “I will pour my spirit out upon all flesh; your sons and your daughters will prophecy and your old men will dream dreams and your young men will see visions. Even on male and female slaves in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” God is moving and active among the community of the repentant who are willing to listen and follow the vision that God has for a new Israel. The vision of that new community in Joel still has many challenges to face. There is still the matter of judgment to be dealt with. In the end God will restore and make new.
God through Joel is calling us to repent and to turn toward God. We are called to repent of our ways that cause us to deny, ignore, overlook, or fight against the changes that need to happen for us to continue bearing witness to the good news of Jesus. The question is how will we respond?
We have several choices about how we respond to God’s call. The first choice is to ignore what is happening and go on with the way we are currently ministering until money, people, or both run out. The problem with that choice is that we are saying to God we do not trust you to make a new life for us. We become like the Pharisee in Luke.
We tell God that we are able to provide some food from our pantry, space for other ministries, and a few dollars in financial assistance. We still have our Sunday service as well as a Sunday school class. God you should be satisfied with us. Is that what God desires from us? Is that what our life has come too? God is calling us to take a look at our neighborhood.
We must acknowledge that the neighborhood has changed around us and it continues to change. This changing neighborhood brings us new opportunities. We may not want to act on any of those opportunities but they are there. Just because we might not want to act does not mean they will go away.
One of Israel’s challenges was they wanted to exclude those who were different from them. God’s mercy and blessing was only for them so they thought. Joel told them that everyone who called on the name of the Lord would be saved; the Babylonians, the Edomites, other gentiles, the Samaritans, and peoples they did not even know about could call on the name of the Lord and be saved. Big change. One that was very difficult to swallow. That required an act of faith that comes from being empowered by the Holy Spirit. One that requires absolute trust in God’s mercy and grace. One that has absolute trust in God’s provision to do what God desires us to do.
Luke tells us the story of two men who go to the temple to pray. One man Luke identifies as a Pharisee and the other man a tax collector. The Pharisee is a devout religious leader and other is a collaborator with the hated Romans who made a living profiteering off his fellow countryman collecting their taxes.
The Pharisee prays first. “God I thank you I am not like other people; rouges, thieves, adulterers or like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and I give a tenth of my income.” Luke describes the other man, the tax collector. He has been soundly disapproved of by the Pharisee. No doubt he hopes that God did not concur with the Pharisee’s assessment. All he could say is “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus said it was the tax collector who went home justified. Jesus says those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
We are at that point in our life as a congregation. We can respond to God’s gracious call to us by telling God, this is who we are, this is all that we have done and this what we are willing to do. That is what the Pharisee did. He would continue to practice the faith as he understood it. He would continue to do what he understood the law required. He just would grow no further in his relationship with God or deepen his faith. He would be found faithful when he died and his life remembered. Is this the best way for us?
The other way is to adopt the posture of the tax collector. We can acknowledge that we are sinners that we have not done the things we should have done and we did the things we should not have. We seek the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy and move into a new relationship with God that seeks to serve the community with all the resources we have and trust God to provide all that we need.
How is God speaking to us? How is God directing us? How do we perceive ourselves before God? All these questions feed into whether or not God will be able to make us new and unleash God’s spirit and new life into us and the community. Will we stand on our own perceptions of ourselves or will we bow before God, repent of what we have been and open ourselves up to what God wants of us now?
Psalm 137, Lamentations 3, and Luke 17 October 2, 2016
On this beautiful first Sunday of October we gather again in this place that inspires us, gives us hope, and calls forth faith in us. We see the Lord’s Table set before us. We will gather around it as we have done in the past. While we are gathered inside these brick walls and stained glass, we can see some of but not hear much of what is going on outside.
As we gather here this morning more African-Americans have been killed by the police, people are worrying who will be next. A young man has killed his father and wounded two school children and a teacher. We know of people who have to decide do I fill my prescriptions, pay my electric bill or buy food. Someone else is hoping their car will start and they will have enough gas to get to work.
Somewhere there is a parent wondering if his or her teen age or adult child is still alive or are they lying dead somewhere having overdosed on heroin or meth. Somewhere there is a child who is wondering how bad the beating will be tonight from the mother’s boyfriend. A husband is wondering if his wife is cheating on him rather working or doing something else. After every weather disaster people are asking can I rebuild again or do I leave and go somewhere else?
All of these situations and others you can think of or know about can cause us to raise the question; Does God rule the world or has God abandoned the world to us and our ways and left us to go it alone?
This is an age old question. The Psalmist gives us the words to reflect, the poet of Lamentations reminds us of the faithfulness of God at all times, troubled or not. Jesus tells us in Luke that we have faith and challenges us to use it to its fullest.
Psalm 137 is a Psalm of Lament. The people of Judah have been forced out and settled in Babylon. Jeremiah tells them that this is a result of their refusal to keep covenant with God. Jeremiah tells them to settle in for it will be a long time before they go back. Some of the people did their best to maintain their worship and faith traditions. Part of the tradition was the Songs of Zion. They were Psalms about the temple and its glory, about God’s majesty, how Zion would be the holy mountain to which the world would come to worship the Lord of heaven and earth.
The Babylonian captors taunted the people. “Sing us one of your songs of Zion”. This went on and on. Someone wrote about it in beautiful poetry. “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down and wept as we remembered Zion.” The memory of Zion and their lost homes, land, temple, and faith, brought them to tears.
How could Yahweh be defeated like this? How could we, Yahweh’s people, been displaced to here? How could Yahweh have been defeated? Was Yahweh powerless? Had we been wrong? Was it a pipe dream to believe that we would bring Yahweh and his worship to the world? Did we really think that we would be a witness to the world about Yahweh’s love and mercy?
We could not sing. Our tears flooded our eyes. Our mouths were a dry as the desert we crossed. We hung up our harps in the willows. There would be no songs of Zion sung in this foreign land far away from home and God. How can we sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land? Rather than the songs of Zion, the songs of lament poured out. Today we might call them the blues. How could this happen? How long before this is over? Do you not love us anymore? When will we go home? Can we even live in this world that we find ourselves in?
The Psalmist through these words expresses the deepest anguish of the human heart and that calls into question God’s faithfulness. They give us a way to ask the questions we need to ask. Our question may not be how can we sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land? Our question might be can we still have faith and sing songs of joy in a world that God seems to have abandoned?
On this day which we celebrate World Communion Sunday, it could seem like we have little to celebrate. We are killing each other in our own country for the most flimsy of reasons. We are killing each other in the name of religion. We are afraid of people who do not look like, talk like or act like us. We have gotten immune to the news so nothing seems to shock us anymore. We wonder where God is. We can’t sing our songs of Zion in any meaningful sense, because we know that all is not right in Zion.
The rich and the poor despise each other. Those who need help are castigated by those who don’t for being a drain on the economy. We don’t know what to do. We grasp at the straw of thinking about the so called good old days when if we think about it were only good for those who had power or were of the proper skin color. Then we begin to lash out at those we perceive are the enemy. Listen to the Psalmist and ask if we are not crying out in a similar manner. “Remember O Lord against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall and how they said tear it down, tear it down! Down to its foundations! O daughter of Babylon you devastator. Happy shall be those who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy are those who take your little ones and dash them against a rock!” Do you hear the bitterness and anger? Do you feel the heat coming from their face? Do you feel the heat in their breath as they speak this visceral reaction to what has happened?
This is how bitter life is sometimes. This can be the challenge we face when it seems that God has left us alone on our own with no help forthcoming. It is real agony. It is bitterness. It stops us from any sense of hope. We are not without hope. One of the poets in Lamentations reminds us that in the midst of the most bitter of pain and suffering that God is in fact there, wiping away tears, sitting with us, listening to us pour out our hearts and ready to offer us forgiveness, mercy, and a new start.
The book of Lamentations is a collection of poetry that expresses the thoughts and feelings of the exiles. It names the pain and does not try to hide it. It is forthright in its confession that the sin of Judah brought about the exile. It acknowledges that God acted according to the way God declared God would. Knowing and believing that God acted in accordance to his promise did not mitigate the pain and humiliation of the exile. Cry out in pain and repentance. Know that your sin has very real and costly consequences.
The poets of Lamentation are not just writing a bunch or poems of I told you so. They have a far more important message to convey, they have the message to convey that the God who judged and punished is the same one whom it has been said many times is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God is the one who will not keep his anger forever but will remove our sin from us as far is the east is from the west. Listen again to how the poet of Lamentations puts it.
“The thought of my affliction and homelessness is wormwood and gall. My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion says my soul therefore I will hope in him.”
In spite of everything that afflicts us; in spite of every trial we face; in spite of everything we hear on the news about how bad everything is, and I do not want to minimize the very real struggles we all face; there is hope. The one who acted on his word and brought down Judah is the one who restored her again. The one, who calls all of us out for our acts of sin and injustice, is the same one who wipes away the tears from our eyes and gives us new mercy with each new day.
The poet reminds in later verses of chapter 3 that while God is merciful it takes time and patience to realize that. Sometimes we have to wait and endure. Sometimes as our friends in 12 step programs say you have to hit bottom and accept the wrongs that you have done. God works with us in that and God brings us up with that marvelous gift of mercy that comes each day. God does not reject us. God brings us through the process we need to go through to be ready to sing our Songs of Zion restored to our Jerusalem. You may be thinking that I don’t have enough faith to believe that. Luke helps us deal with that question.
In the text from Luke, Jesus is teaching the disciples as they are making their way to Jerusalem for Jesus’ crucifixion. They have seen and heard many things and have the notion that they don’t have enough faith. They ask Jesus to “increase our faith.” Jesus does what Jesus does most of the time; he tells a brief parable.
Jesus tell them “if you had faith the size of a mustard seed (and by the way you do) you could say to the Mulberry tree to be uprooted and go be planted into the sea; and it would obey you. I have a feeling that the sound of an involuntary laugh rang out and the disciples are shocked yet again. They believed their faith was lacking and Jesus believed that they had more than enough. The difference in the assessment was that the disciples felt inadequate. Jesus felt the problem was not lack of faith but the lack of use of the faith they had. What Jesus is saying is use your faith.
One of our challenges is that we do not know how much faith we have. We cannot know unless our faith is challenged. With the people of Judah their faith was challenged most dramatically when they saw the Temple and the Kings palace destroyed by the Babylonians. In the destruction of those two buildings, faith took a near fatal or in some cases a fatal blow. With the temple gone, in some minds God was gone. All that was sacred was destroyed. All that gave life meaning gone. Their identity as Yahweh’s people who would lead the world to Yahweh was gone.
Some lost faith all together. They never recovered. Nothing in the scriptures and sacred songs would convince them otherwise. Nothing could restore what was lost in them not even Yahweh. They had to look other places for meaning and identity. They had to shape their lives around other truths. For others the time of crisis was a time of challenge.
It became a time to reflect. Did we really do this? Did we really disobey God that badly that God brought us to this? Yes some concluded. God brought us t this place. We are at rock bottom. Home is gone, land and country are gone. The Temple is gone. Maybe even God is gone. Yet they cling to the faintest of hope that God is faithful. They are ready to wager their lives, their hope, and their dreams that God is gracious and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. They are willing to cling ,no matter how tenuously, to their faith that God is there and God’s mercies are new every morning. That is what Jesus is reminding the disciples of. If you have any amount of faith, even if it is a small as a mustard seed, we can live and thrive, doing things and living through things we cannot imagine.
All of us have had dark days when we think all hope is gone. All of us have had dark days when we believed that we could endure no more. All of us have had those times when we cry out for revenge against any and all who hurt us. All of us have been taunted to sing the Songs of Zion when all we could sing was the blues. It is our faith, that may not have seemed as big as a mustard seed that we called on and it changed us. It turned our attention away from our lament to our hopeful declaration that God is present at least for today and God’s mercy is new this morning. The next day we wonder if it is still true. We call upon our faith as little as it might be, that God is present and gives us new mercy for the day and we get through it. Day after day, we exercise our faith. We realize that morning by morning new mercy I see. All I have needed thy hands have provided. God is faithful.
Now we can join with the poet of Lamentations when she says “I called upon your name Lord from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea; do not close your ear to my cry for help. You came when I called on you and said do not fear. You have taken up my cause and redeemed my life”
Remember this when we face the challenge of a world in which it seems that God has fled. Remember this. Listen each day for a word from God wherever it might come, that reminds us that God is still here forgiving, healing, restoring, reconciling, and making new. That voice may come through scripture, a devotional reading, or a young child, such as the 9 year old girl who spoke so eloquently addressed the Charlotte City Council about her experience as a young African American girl. She urged us to stop the senseless killings of black men. Too many children know their fathers only as a name on a tomb stone she said. We hear a word from God in the letter a six year old boy wrote to President Obama wanting to adopt a Syrian refugee so he could share what he had and allow that child to grow up surrounded by peace and love. God speaks everyday in the voices of others who remind us that God’s mercy is new every morning. Will we have the ears to hear, the eyes to see and the faith to believe that God’s mercy is new every day?