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"There Is Still a Vision"
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

We have so much for which to be thankful. There is so much that we take for granted. In fact, it is difficult to read the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures and empathize with them or with the peoples of that time.

Even when our financial situations are not as bright as we would like; and even when we seem to be going backward instead of forward, we still have so much for which to be thankful.

I read an article several years ago, at about the time of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan that provided a background of that culture.

Part of that article attempted to profile what it must have been like to be a woman in Afghanistan under the Taliban. And some or much of this may still be true today. I have edited this to try to keep it relatively brief.

“A woman in Afghanistan is forbidden from receiving any education at all, and cannot read or write; is forbidden from working; is forbidden from speaking in public; if widowed, must beg for bread scraps since she cannot work or remarry;

“is forbidden from singing or even listening to music of any kind; cannot leave her house without a male family member, cannot drive, and cannot be out after dark;

“cannot be treated by a male doctor, and for all practical purposes has no access to medical treatment of any kind; will be stoned to death if caught in the company of a male outside of her family;

“is likely to be sold in an arranged marriage to a man who already has more than one wife; cannot live in a house with windows unless they are painted black; must wear a burqua outside; has pale translucent skin that has not seen a ray of sunlight in years;

“can be flogged if the holes in the mesh covering her face are too large; will be pregnant three to four times more often than her counterpart in this country;

“will have babies 25 times more likely to die in the first year, one in four of which will not see its fifth birthday; has a life expectancy of 43; and lives in one of the only countries in the world in which women have a shorter life expectancy than men.”

Now, I am NOT going to say that our country is pure and beyond judgment. And there may be many other countries about which we might be able to say many of the same things. The point of this sermon is NOT to pick on Afghanistan.

The point of this sermon is NOT to pick on an Islamic state. I provide this only so that we might have an intense feeling for what it must be like to cry out in desperation to God.

Now, there may be many of you who might say, “I already HAVE intense feelings of desperation!” Okay. Fine.

All I can say is that NOTHING I could every experience in this culture could BEGIN to touch the depths of desperation that are experienced in many other cultures of the world.

So what does this have to do with Habakkuk, one of the minor prophets? In the opening to his book, we read,

“The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?”

There are many oracles in the books of the prophets. In fact, if we were to give Habakkuk’s book a title, rather than to name it after the author, it might simply be “oracle.” This word derives from the common verb “lift up” or “raise.”

In its basic sense, it is a communication brought to public attention. It is a message lifted up. It is a voice raised. And the Hebrew word for “oracle”--massa--bears a very close resemblance to the English word “message.”

But in a sense it is MORE than a message. It would appear to be a message ABOUT a message. When we read “How long shall I cry,” I think we are reading about desperation. The writer is saying, “God, you’ve heard this from me before. Many times before.

“How many times do I need to tell you!” And we hear the suspicion that God is not paying attention. That God is ignoring us INTENTIONALLY. “You will not listen.”

Have we been there? Have we experienced that? I suppose so. And some folks give up. I’ve heard them tell me so. I hear words like, “I prayed to God for years, and God never answered my prayers.”

Folks, God DOES answer prayers. And I have two responses for the folks who do not think so:

One. Sometimes we don’t like the answers.

And two. Sometimes we cannot or do not want to wait for the answers.

Habakkuk continues:

“Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.”

Maybe you’ve heard this prayer of thanksgiving:

“Lord, this has been a wonderful, joyous day. I am SO grateful for all that you have given me. I am feeling SO good. My mind and my body have been energized by the graciousness of your bounty.

“Now, Lord, I’m going to crawl out of bed, and get myself cleaned up and dressed, and I’m praying that the rest of the day will be as wonderful as the day has been so far.”

How often do our days feel like what the writer is bemoaning in this verse? Wrongdoing and trouble and destruction and violence and strife and contention. All we need to do is read the daily newspaper or turn on the news.

And the writer is complaining to God, “Why do you make me look at this?”

Why, indeed? Is there value to seeing evil in the world? I think so. Does this mean that evil IS a value? Or course not. But how would we KNOW good if we did not know evil? How would we know beauty if we did not know ugliness?

How would we know the truth if we did not know the false?

Of course, you know the cliche: “You don’t miss the water until the well runs dry.” And you can fill in the blanks for all the things you have come to appreciate because you were without them or values you have come to honor because you have experienced their opposite.

Habakkuk continues:

“So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous--therefore judgment comes forth perverted.”

The New Internation Version says “the law becomes paralyzed.” Which strikes me as a whole lot more than “slack.”

But when Habakkuk speaks of the righteous being surrounded, we hear implications of severe restrictions and limitations placed on the freedom of victims of corrupt regimes, in those times usually the poor and the marginalized being controlled and manipulated by the rich and the powerful.

Power is abused. Justice is absent. And the law becomes of no effect and useless.

We could all probably come up with examples of judgment coming forth perverted. But then, we might also end up yelling at each other in disagreement. So, to keep things simple, and calmer, let’s find some common ground.

Like the trial of Jesus. Which we might as well call a kangaroo court. We know who had the power, and it was NOT the common people. And those with the power were threatened by Jesus.

Pilate, in a legal position to condemn, refused to do so; but he also refused to uphold his word as the final word, and corrupted justice by turning Jesus over to the priests and the Pharisees.

“Judgment comes forth perverted.”

But jump ahead to the second chapter. We find a different attitude. Hear Habakkuk’s words:

“I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.”

Cities in those days were walled. And the walls were guarded. The walls were for the purpose of defense, to keep enemies out.

But look at Habakkuk’s attitude: “I will stand...and station myself...; I will keep watch.”

In the first chapter, we heard, “I’m tired of waiting! What is keeping you?” But now, the writer seems to be saying, “I am content to wait. I’ll find a place. I’ll settle in. And I will wait.”

And listen to the FAITH of Habakkuk. He does not use the word “if.” For Habakkuk, it is not a matter of whether, but it is only a matter of when: what he will say to me...what he will answer.

Easier said than done, right? Hey, I’m more likely to say “how long shall I cry” than I am to say “I will keep watch.” But where do we find our answers? Where do we find our rewards? Where do we find God’s truth? Scripture tells me, and my own experience tells me, that it is only human to despair, to cry out, “how long shall I cry.” But it is in keeping the faith, in keeping watch, that we find our answers.

“Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.”

So God has an answer. Not an off-the-cuff answer, but one important enough to get down in detail in writing, one important enough to share with others.

The New International Version takes a different slant on this that I think is important. It reads, “so that a herald may run with it.” So Habakkuk is to make the vision plain on tablets so that a messenger might carry it to the people.

Sometimes the most significant difficulty in preaching is making a message plain enough, plain enough that a messenger might deliver it, plain enough that you might be able to share it with someone else.

“Write the vision. Make it plain.” And God may have been saying, “Make it plain enough that a messenger will WANT to deliver it.” Or, he may have been saying, “Make it so plain that you will not need to accompany a messenger to explain it to the people.”

I’m not sure that there is such a thing as a vision that is instantly plain. And if a vision is that which is seen, is it possible for a multitude to simultaneously see the same identical vision? I have my doubts. But I think a multitude can see the essence of the same vision.

And God assures Habakkuk:

“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.”

I hear God telling Habakkuk, “I know you’re getting impatient. I know you’re wondering if this wait is worth it. But believe me, there IS still a vision for the appointed time.”

And that is what we need to get straight in our souls: the appointed time. We want control over time. We want everything to run on our schedules. We have difficulty turning time over to God.

I don’t know of too many times in the Bible when God really gets concerned for our flagging patience, really shows sympathy for our getting tired of waiting. But here, God does.

Listen again, how God speaks of the vision:

It speaks of the end, and does not lie.

It it seems to tarry, wait for it.

It will surely come, it will not delay.

Those are words of assurance and words we need to hear. I can hear God saying, “I know it’s tough, but hang in there. It will be worth the wait.”

And then God says, “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.”

So we have the question and we have the answer. In the second verse of the first chapter, the question is raised, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help?” And God answers, in the third verse of the second chapter, “There is still a vision for the appointed time.”

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