proper 26C: railing into the night

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Gospels / Lectionary / Minor Prophets / New Testament / Old Testament / Pentateuch

Kenda Creasy Dean’s book “Almost Christian” should send shivers down the spine of any person in America (and beyond) who cares about the Christian faith. Drawing from the data of the National Study on Youth and Religion (NYSR) Dean says that America’s youth aren’t opposed to Christianity and the Church at all. In fact they have fond feelings for it.

But, that’s because they think that Christianity is about 1) being nice and 2) feeling good about yourself. The percentage of America’s self-professed Christian youth who see Jesus as a real person who is involved with their lives and who brings Abundant Life and who asks us to live sacrificially as he did… well it’s a small percentage.

Dean is very, very fair – in that she doesn’t take this as an opportunity to slam young people for being godless heathens who just aren’t listening to us. Rather she says that our youth are in fact listening very closely. And they are modeling their faith on the faith that the Church, and their parents, are teaching.

And what the mainstream church has been saying, quite effectively for quite some time now, is that Christianity is about being nice. And feeling good.

Just smile. Pay it forward. Don’t rock the boat. Do this and “Buddy Christ” would be proud.

Obviously this is not the picture of faith in the scriptures. God tests people to the ends of their limit – and then asks them to keep moving.

The God of the Bible is the kind of God who comes to an old man like Abraham and says – move. Go somewhere you’ve never been before. Oh, and by the way, you’re going to be changing diapers in the middle of the night.

Good luck with that.

The God of the Bible is the kind of God who comes to an eighty year old man like Moses – a man who had been quietly minding his own business as a shepherd for the last 40 years – and says: Hey you! Go to the most powerful man in the world, and tell him that God wants him to give up the most valuable economic resource he has. AKA, my people.

He’ll be fine with it. No prob.

The God of the Bible is the kind of God who goes to a little girl like Mary – barely past puberty and not yet married – and says: Good morning. You’re going to have a baby. Everyone is going to assume that you’re a whore. Your husband-to-be is going to assume it too. You could very well be stoned for adultery. Don’t worry about it, you’ll be bringing the Savior of the World into the very world he’s going to save.

… And, by the way, after loving him more deeply than anyone else ever could, you’ll personally watch him be tortured and crucified.

Have a nice day.

The God of the Bible is deeply involved in the life of the world, and the God of the Bible asks great things of his followers. Great and terrifying things.

And, when you have a God like that, oftentimes people tell him NO. Oftentimes people disagree with God. And, oftentimes they say so. Sometimes with flair.

The standard prophetic call scene in the Bible – where God commissions a new representative – has the prophet immediately try and wiggle out of the job three times before succumbing.

No. I said no. I really mean no… Oh, ok.

When God takes all of Job’s children away from him on the same day that he lost all of his earthly possessions, Job manages to hold it together for a while. And then he lashes out with all his might – railing with anger into the night, demanding that someone serve as his lawyer (his go’el or “redeemer”), and take God to court for his injustice.

When the People of God has lost Jerusalem, the Temple, their entire way of life and they were held captive as slaves in Babylon, they prayed in the Psalms that they wanted God to take the infants of Babylon and dash their heads on rocks.

And that little beauty of a prayer made it in the Bible.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that being nice has very little to do with the Bible and the people who fill it up.

There’s very few people who just smile and nod.

And every once in a while there’s someone who wants to lawyer up. Or brutalize their enemy.

Which brings us to Habakkuk, our Old Testament prophet of the day. He looks around at the world around him and he see God’s failures. Why are the wicked doing well? Why do evil people seem to be gaining ground on God’s holy people? Where is God when you need him? Even when Habakkuk calls out his name, he feels like his words are falling on deaf ears.

How long, O Lord?

I have no answers for those great questions. And, if you’re a smart preacher, neither will you.

The point isn’t to find the answers here.

The point today is that it’s ok to ask the questions. An authentic relationship with God means that every once in a while we’re going to get teed-off. Every once in a while we’re going to look around and wonder where’s the Divine? Sometimes we’re going to be standing waist-deep in darkness and the Light is going to feel a million miles away.

And an authentic faith prays about that. It says it out loud to God.

Don’t just smile and move on. There’s no other relationship in your life that you’d do that over and over again. No relationship that’s worth it anyway.

Now, God will be there. The Light shines in the darkness, even when we don’t see it. And in chapter 3 of Habakkuk God is going to show up in a big way and put on a pyrotechnic display of power that puts George Lucas to shame.

But we still have to say it. And sometimes we need to lawyer up.

How long, O Lord?

What dark night of the soul can you share with your congregation this week to mirror the experience of Habakkuk? How can you encourage your parish to pray with honesty and integrity? Is that going to be a hard sell in an age of niceness?