CLIMBING UP TO SEE HIM
A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
Habakkuk 1:12- 2:4
LORD, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, you will never die. You, LORD, have appointed them to execute judgment; you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
You have made people like the fish in the sea, like the sea creatures that have no ruler. The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food. Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy?
I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness —
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Things were bad, and they got worse-
And they especially got worse if you were poor, or abused, or oppressed.
They always do. Always.
In fact- if you are poor,
Or abused, or oppressed,
Things are likely to be bad for you BEFORE
They are bad for everybody else.
And that’s the way it was in ancient Israel. Those who gave no thought to God’s manner of relationships lived as they pleased.
They still do.
And when they do, the way they please are generally not helpful to the poor, and the abused and the oppressed.
And then, when things get bad for people who do as they please, they get very bad for those who try to live justly, and faithfully. They do, because there is less in circulation, and when there is less in circulation, it becomes first-come, first-grab.
So, Habakkuk was struggling.
He struggled at his faith, because he saw the poor starving, and the oppressed in despair, and the abused dying, and he saw plenty of not-so-faithful folk doing what they pleased, and they seemed to be doing alright. In fact, they seemed to prosper.
Like we said, they usually do.
But Habakkuk had trusted God. So, Habakkuk wanted to know what was going on, and the only one who could answer that was God.
“Are you not from everlasting? Then what’s going on!”
Why are you silent while the WICKED
Swallow up the righteous?
We’re like creatures, subject to the whim of a fisherman with a drag net.
We’re caught up in something bigger than we are, with no control.
Were brought up, and cut up, and divied out,
We’re served on a platter at a feast that very night!
We’re eaten and digested and discarded.
IS THERE NO MERCY?
Ok God, here’s what I am going to do:
I will climb up in the watch tower,
And I will take my watch,
And I will NOT close my eyes,
And I will scan the horizon minute by minute,
Looking to see if you are coming,
Looking to see if you are doing anything-
About the injustice that’s out there.
I’ll do it, because we are hurting.
Folk, if we call ourselves CHRISTIAN,
Then our JOB is to look out for others,
Whenever we can
As much as we can
As abundantly as we can.
Sometimes that means giving
And sometimes that means changing
And sometimes that means protesting
Until the systems themselves are changed.
That means having it out with God:
“God, we’re making an effort here.
But it’s YOUR job-
We’re just the PEONS
Who are standing watch in the middle of the night.”
And that’s what Habakkuk was doing.
The faithful who are fully mature will always confess
That it’s all up to God,
And they will REMIND God of that,
And then they will go back to work,
Making their efforts
Trusting that God is at work reforming them,
Reforming their neighbors,
Reforming the church,
Reforming the world.
And folk, compared to about 99%of the human beings on earth, I have it pretty easy. But even I know that sometimes it’s hard to trust that God is doing something about anything that’s wrong, let alone everything.
So when it gets REALLY difficult, the thing to do is look:
Remind yourself that ultimately, it’s GOD’s job,
And then set yourself in the middle of God’s road,
And do whatever you need to do to keep on REMINDING God
That there’s something that needs doing.
Because that’s what Habakkuk did,
And God answered:
It will not prove false.
Though it lingers, wait for it;
It will certainly come
It will NOT delay.
In the early 1980’s, the pastor at a Lutheran Church in East Berlin began holding prayer services on Monday nights. They would read the Beatitudes out loud- that’s the sermon on the Mount-
“Blessed are the poor in spirit-
Blessed are those who mourn
Blessed are the meek
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
Blessed are the merciful
Blessed are the pure in heart
Blessed are the peacemakers
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”
They read those words, and reminded themselves that God was on their side, and that the battle belonged to God.
And their numbers grow,
And their meetings multiplied
And they started carrying candles into the street when they left their worship.
And a few weeks ago in Korea, somebody shared the story of how that prayer service grew to 70,000 people who were keeping watch.
And in October, 1989- 27 years ago this month- the East German government gave into God.
The famous last words were these: We were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer.'”
Now then, there is another story about somebody who was looking for God.
His name was Zacchaeus, and he was, well, a collaborator with the enemy.
He was a tax collector, and he worked on commission, and the more he swindled and extorted out of his neighbors, the more he made.
And he had a pretty good life. but something was missing.
He didn’t know what it was, but when he heard what others said about this guy Jesus, he had to see for himself.
Because it was different.
And maybe it was better.
Or maybe not,
But he WANTED to see
And he couldn’t
Because he had a disadvantage of stature.
But Zacchaeus was clever and resourceful
So he climbed up to the top of a tree,
And he watched.
But right there, while he was watching,
The whole story changed.
It took a plot twist,
Right there in the shade of that tree.
Because instead of Zacchaeus seeing Jesus,
It was Jesus who saw Zacchaeus.
All the time,
Jesus is doing something pretty remarkable.
I was watching a BBC film based on the Wallander detective books, and the plot involved a woman who was in some sort of coma in a nursing home, she’d been there since she was a child and she was now in her thirties.
And the detective found her, and learned that her father went to see her every week.
But her brother had no idea he even had a sister. So he asked the detective, “What does my father do when he visits her?”
And the detective answered,
“He sits with her, reads to her, holds her hand.”
And found us,
And prepared a table for us,
A table set with mercy, and love,
And there is a seat at the table for everyone.
And he is waiting to hold our hand
While the Kingdom comes,
Until justice is complete,
And we are redeemed.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.