Saturday, November 9, 2013

Seeing the Vision, Hearing the Voice

Scripture for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost includes Habakkuk 1:1-4 and 2:1-4; II Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

Our snapshot of the prophet Habakkuk catches him at his watchpost, on the rampart, the walkway up top of the fortress wall, where a sentinel can keep an eye on approaching enemies.

Our video clip from Luke’s Gospel shows a rich tax collector, Zacchaeus, up in a sycamore tree, perched above the crowd that has gathered to hear the itinerant preacher Jesus deliver his latest parable.

You might say that neither of these fellows has his feet firmly planted on the ground. Each has climbed to gain advantage. Each earnestly, urgently, needs to see what’s next in life. Habakkuk and Zacchaeus are on a mission to reconnoiter the future. Until each man sees and hears the reward for his vigilance, his openness, his courage, he lacks the guidance he needs to put one foot in front of the other.

These are stories of people being honest about their needs, being proactive to meet them, and finding God immediately responsive. These are great readings full of encouragement for all of us who feel drawn to work on our spiritual practice!

I can so easily relate to Habakkuk. Everywhere he looks, his nation is on the skids. They feel stuck in a God-awful paralysis of leadership. Wrongdoing is everywhere. Everything they’ve counted on is shutting down, falling apart, in trouble. Hear his frustration—feel his helplessness: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?”

Habakkuk is the right prophet to have on our ramparts as we in this country anticipate the next bout of partisan tantrums, the next season of threats to pull the plug on government. “Why must we see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before us; stife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.” It’s as if Habakkuk watches the same evening news you and I watch!

Instantly, God answers the prophet. Well, not quite instantly: first, Habakkuk must climb to the ramparts. Wallowing in the kvetching around the campfire won’t help him: he must choose to gain perspective. Up he goes, and it’s there—and I’m going to say that that watchpost is prayer—there God answers the prophet, honors his honesty, encourages his failing courage.

“Write what you know is true. The vision: make it plain, tap it out on your tablets so everyone sees it: write it as you blog, tweet it to your followers. “For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie.” Imbedded in this universe is the heavenly demand for justice on earth, that God’s will be done here as there, ancient wrongs be set right, the jackasses be held to account for their actions, peace to all through all of good will. Take courage! It’s worth waiting for—it demands working for. And that work starts within each of us: let the righteous live by their faith, let their spirit be right within them.

This vignette from Habakkuk’s experience speaks volumes about God. God is less than a heartbeat away from our struggles. Closer than breath itself, to our longing for vision. Ready to honor honesty, reward patience, encourage climbing to a place of perspective, and there appear and answer. Habakkuk’s story is all about prayer, not prayer as escape but prayer as engagement.

Let’s catch up with Zacchaeus. He too has climbed to a place of perspective. Honesty, patience, and courage describe him, too. We can imagine a verse of our psalm on his lips: “I am small and of little account, yet I do not forget your commandments.”

Of all the personalities, of all the professions, of all the powers-that-be there on the streets of Jericho, Jesus chooses to invite himself to the home of Zacchaeus. Jesus will not be put on display as a token guest at a fancy dinner party in the home of a pious churchman. He will sit at Zacchaeus’s table,maybe just the two of them, the Son of Man and the tax man, or maybe on their way home, they’ll attract a whole tableful of dissident, subversive, open-minded, open-hearted people—the type that won’t hesitate to climb a tree, that will dare go out on a limb, to see and hear, and to speak and do, what is urgently needed.

Jesus chooses well. He knows who he needs (though it’s pretty clear that he needs everyone) and he knows how to call all sorts, from all walks of life, to follow and to lead. In this befriending, Jesus learns what no one else had guessed: despite the stereotype of the tax collector, Zacchaeus stands ready to help people generously. He has little to do with organized religion, but his spirit is right within him, and he’s ready to demonstrate that rightness by bold and gracious sharing of what he has.

This is a great Gospel for a day when we’ll gather-in our pledges to support the life and work of St. John’s in the world. Plus we even have the tree!

Zacchaeus climbing his tree reminds us of Habakkuk climbing to gain perspective, to see the big picture, to recapture the vision; so we might relate to Zacchaeus’s story by recognizing that the tree we’re called to climb is prayer—honest, patient, open-hearted prayer.

And with today’s in-gathering before us, the tree we’re called to climb is also stewardship, the sharing God calls us to do to express the love that answers the love of the answering God. As prayer releases us from our own grip, to receive God’s love, prayer also frees us to practice generosity. It’s worth noticing that the sermon Jesus gives, right on the heels of meeting Zacchaeus, is based on the parable about the nobleman who entrusts some of his wealth to his servants, to invest for profit while he is gone.

If there is one more truly important height from which to gain perspective—in addition to Habakkuk’s rampart and Zacchaeus’s sycamore-- it is Alexander’s precious perch in the arms of his parents, his grandparents, his Godparents, and this church community where he will be baptized in just a few moments. Foundational to his trusting that he is held close to the heart of God is his being held tenderly, firmly, faithfully in the arms of those who are privileged to care for him. Nothing will equip him better to have a place of perspective to climb up to in later life, than being treasured as he is now. Nothing will orient him better to having his feet firmly planted on the ground than his gaining the twin gifts by which the vision of God is seen and the voice of God heard, the gifts of roots and wings, which an old saying insists are the lasting gifts parents can give their children, the lasting gifts their church can give them, as well: roots and wings.