Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
The Prophet's Complaint
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you "Violence!"
and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4 So the law becomes slack,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous;
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
1 I will stand at my watchtower
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what God will say to me
and what God will answer concerning my complaint.
2 Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
3 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.
4 Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faithfulness.
Reformation / Pentecost 21
Reformation Day is October 31, the same day as Halloween or All Hallows' Eve. Martin Luther reportedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church because the church door was the town bulletin board, and with All Saints on November 1st being a holy day of obligation when people were required to attend Mass, he knew everyone would notice his list of grievances against the Roman branch of the church. When October 31 isn't a Sunday, the church celebrates Reformation on the last Sunday of October.
Synchronicity is so fun! Since I'd recently blogged about Jeremiah 31:31-34 that's the first reading for Reformation every year, I decided to visit the first reading for Pentecost 21—from Habakkuk. One of the twelve books sometimes referred to as Minor Prophets because of their length, and not because of their content or import, it doesn't feel as familiar as Amos or Hosea. However, Habakkuk 2:4 contains a primary Reformation text and concept. The Apostle Paul included it in Galatians 3:11 and Romans 1:17; Martin Luther claimed faith or dynamic trust as the key to our relationship with God. Given that the Revised Common Lectionary is a 3-year cycle, it was providential and synchronous to find this passage scheduled for this Sunday.
It doesn't take long on earth to learn how important communication is to any relationship. We're very familiar with God speaking to us through scripture; most of us have more than one hard copy of the bible, and many visit different bible versions online, but easy access to scripture hasn't always been the case. Although presses with static type had been in existence at least since the ninth century (the history of type is three millennia long, but you need to define and describe each step along the way), Johannes Gutenberg's innovation of moveable type made it possible to quickly print bibles, tracts, catechisms, and other "print media."
In this ecumenical twenty-first century, it may feel unfriendly to observe the Reformation that split the church and restored the gospel, but despite differences and distinctions, contemporary theology and practice of most Christian traditions and denominations – including the Roman Catholic – align with Luther's insights and demands for change and renewal, so why not a special day for the Reformation, and also for a church that's always reforming? The phrase Ecclesia semper reformanda attributed to Karl Barth, became one of the catch-phrases of Vatican II.
But let's not celebrate Martin Luther! Don't celebrate Jan Hus, the Czech reformer whose life bridged 14th and 15th centuries (Luther said he stood "on the shoulders of Jan Hus"). Don't celebrate renewers of the church John Wesley and Pope John XXIII. Celebrate God's grace and freedom in the love of Jesus Christ. Celebrate the church's mission and future. Celebrate the first fruits of the new creation in the reign of the Pentecostal Spirit of Life.
Today's First Reading
I've heard Habakkuk pronounced with accent on the first syllable, and with accent on the second. Take your pick. Researchers haven't yet unearthed much of anything about this prophet.
At ease with God and deeply trusting God, Habakkuk begins with complaints to God against God! Notice he "saw" the oracle. In 2:2 God instructs Habakkuk to "write the vision." Words usually can be read aloud and heard, but before that happens, we first need to see them. And dense as humans sometimes can be, we often need to see the word writ large enough that someone running past them still will notice and read (and heed?) them.
Habakkuk becomes a sentinel at the lookout point that starts chapter 2; he has decided, "I will keep watch to see what God will say to me and what God will answer concerning my complaint." Watching to see God's words. What do you make of that?
In continuity with much of Isaiah, similar to Jeremiah's new covenant promise, God answers Habakkuk's How Long? complaint with counsel to wait for the newness that will arrive (4:3 "at the appointed time" – what we'd call kairos rather than chronos time), because death, violence, and injustice never lasts; God's final answer always is resurrection and newness.
Where We Live
These days few people obsess about sin the way Luther and his contemporaries did, but in many ways our context is similar to the Reformers'. New science and technology, social change, tumultuous secular and church politics, natural disasters, *even* a pandemic that killed more people than Covid has (so far). Since the Reformation the Western world has experienced the Enlightenment, American and French Revolutions, a production-related industrial revolution, an ongoing digital revolution … a comprehensive list probably doesn't exist.
We may not take sin and hell to heart as seriously as Luther did, yet in this ultra-rationalized world, even those of us active in church and synagogue make careers of adding up our achievements, comparing ourselves to others (or to our own potential), chasing the best life and technology upgrades. Wondering if there's any way we can help even a little to heal creation even a little.
We may not take sin and guilt as seriously as Luther did, but at least as much as Luther and his cohorts, we can trust the word of righteousness and life in Jesus Christ God declares to us and for us before God does anything in us: it's assuring to know the faith that saves us first belongs to Jesus Christ and not to us. And then, good works of service and of presence, generated by grace, become our response. Like all people everywhere, we need to know life first as gift, existence as graced.
To paraphrase a commentary I read, today's reading from Habakkuk is about God in the long run, God in the longest run. As it was for Abraham, for all of us it's about the journey. To walk by faith means trusting God as we keep on keepin' on putting one foot in front of the other even though we can't see the destination.