Habakkak 1:12 – 2:3

The Reverend Tasha Blackburn

November 13, 2016


I bought a new pair of glasses this week. For years I have been putting it off knowing I couldn’t see very well in the old pair but too stubborn to do anything about it. What finally tipped it over the edge was that I couldn’t wear my glasses without getting a headache. The very things that were supposed to help me see were making it painful to look! So I finally broke down and bought a new pair. You just can’t ignore it when you get to the point that it hurts to see.

Which reminds me, it has been one heck of a week. No matter who your candidate was, there is a lot that is hard to look at. There are divisions in our country that have surprised everyone that they are so deep. There are people all across this land who feel more invisible and left behind than many of us might have guessed. And there is tremendous fear across the spectrum that is bubbling over. If we have learned nothing else over these last months, I hope we have at least learned that we have got to learn to see better. Even when it hurts and we want to look away, perhaps especially then.

Seeing is one of the problems Habakkuk is having. He is seeing too much and he wishes he could shut his eyes. He sees wickedness surrounding him, both within his own people and from the outside. He looks around and violence and destruction take center stage in his line of vision. He has gotten to the point where it hurts to see and he’s pretty upset with God about it. “Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble?” he asks the Lord.

We can get uncomfortable when we think our church might get political or our pastor might get political, all the while forgetting that the prophets were political. But they weren’t the kind of political we usually mean when we use the term. They weren’t affiliated to a party or an economic system or any kind of set secular platform. No, they were political because part of their calling from God was to see.

Whether they wanted to or not, they were to see injustice and take notice. They were to look at violence and not turn away pretending it didn’t matter.  God’s command to Habakkuk when he wants to cover his eyes is four-fold, showing how important it is. God says to him: Look! Watch! Be astonished! and Be astounded. Do not turn from what you see even though it hurts but turn toward it and take notice of it because the Lord may be at work in it.

That is what makes the prophets political—their divine charge to look and to see.

This may sound passive or as if it wouldn’t matter but it is not. The king who ruled over Jeremiah, one of Habakkuk’s contemporaries, was so upset by what Jeremiah wrote about what he’d seen that he tore it up piece by piece and threw it into his fireplace. Because he knew he could fall just because of what Jeremiah saw in him. The prophets are political because they see.

And that is the kind of political we are called to be as well. It is important for you to know that Phil and I chose this book and these texts back in June. We did not choose a text that cries out, “O Lord, how long?” this past Wednesday morning. We chose it months ago because no matter who won this election or who lost we are called to be political and to see what God is showing us. We are called, not to turn from visions that hurt but to turn toward them so we can call them out.

When Habakkuk would have liked to cover his eyes with his bedspread, he headed for the watchtower instead. He is upset with his own people; he is upset about their encroaching enemies and, most of all, he is upset with God but he refuses to withdraw. Instead he stands at the highest point he can find, determined to get an answer. This standing at the tower, this refusal to look away even though it hurts, this demand for an answer from God, there is a word for it and that word is faithfulness.

Let’s be very honest that some of us in this room don’t understand why people are protesting in the streets today—we certainly don’t want to see them or take real notice of them—and there are others of us who feel like we should join them. There are some of us who wonder what has happened to our country and others of us who feel like we are finally going to get back on track. We disagree on these issues, even here in this room and within our family of faith. And that is ok. That is one of the things that makes us special is that we disagree and we are still family. We can do this because we have the same calling: to look around us and really see. To look at what is difficult for us and take notice of it. To stand at the tower, not cower under the covers. To ask God when he will redeem us, to watch for his presence in what we see, and to wait with patience and confidence believing that his will IS being done. That is our common calling and it is called faithfulness.

Faithfulness—remaining patience and confident even when it is difficult, even when we have questions—it is one of the most difficult things we are called to be. There is an ancient story from the Desert Fathers that speaks of this. Someone went out to meet one of the monks who had sequestered himself away all alone with only his dog to keep him company. He appeared confident and calm and the visitor said to him, “I’ve met many monks and some of them are dispirited and cannot maintain this stand they’ve taken to live like you do but you seem so different from them. Why is that?” And the monk told him this story: “One day my dog saw a rabbit and he began to chase it with all his might. Soon, other dogs joined in the hunt because they heard my dog barking. After awhile the rest of the dogs gave up the hunt when the rabbit could not be found. But my dog never would give up. See, the other dogs were only part of it because they’d heard my dog barking and so they gave up. But my dog had seen the rabbit for himself so he was never going to stop seeking it.”

Are we the first generation to find ourselves divided or disappointed or disillusioned? No. Are we the first to wonder about God’s goodness in the face of difficulty? No. We cannot brush aside the truth that Jerusalem did fall. What Habakkuk was so overwhelmed to look at, it happened. The Chaldeans came in and Jerusalem fell. But that was not the end of the story.  That was not the end of God’s work in that place. The Chaldeans themselves were no more less than 50 years later.

Is this division and mistrust the end of our story? No. In the face of these difficulties we are called to faithfulness. We are called to stand at our tower and watch. To be political in how and what we see. We are called to stand and wait. Not passively but actively and with confidence because we have seen the rabbit; we have seen God for ourselves in his son who has met us and so we will never give up. “Write the vision,” the Lord says to Habakkuk. Write it so big that even a runner can read it: for I still have a plan “for the appointed time…if it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” Amen.