Deciding to Keep Our Eyes Open

On December 3, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Deciding to Keep Our Eyes Open Sunshine Cathedral First Sunday of Advent Habakkuk What a joy to be back at Sunshine Cathedral and see many familiar faces, and many new faces—including the wonderful windows in the sanctuary! It is especially lovely to be with you on this first Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the Christian […]

Deciding to Keep Our Eyes Open
Sunshine Cathedral
First Sunday of Advent
Habakkuk

What a joy to be back at Sunshine Cathedral and see many familiar faces, and many new faces—including the wonderful windows in the sanctuary! It is especially lovely to be with you on this first Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the Christian liturgical year.
I grew up Southern Baptist in Louisiana and we didn’t do Advent. We did do Vacation Bible School in the summer. [slide 1] And I am proud to say that I am a Vacation Bible School graduate! Are there other folks here today who went to Vacation Bible School (VBS)? I have to confess, I almost did not graduate. We had to memorize the books of the Bible to pass. I didn’t have a lot of trouble with the New Testament, but when it came to the Old Testament, those twelve little books at the end with all those names you can’t pronounce or spell, almost did me in.

In the Hebrew Bible these books are lumped together and called The Twelve. I wished I had known that back then. It would have saved me a lot of time and anxiety. Instead of memorizing the list: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. [slide 2] I could have just said, “and The Twelve.”

Habakkuk is one of The Twelve. He was a prophet during a very tumultuous time in Israel’s history. We heard it described in the reading from chapter 1: Destruction and Violence! Strife and contention! The law becomes slack and justice never prevails! Sounds like today’s headlines, doesn’t it? Habakkuk also asks, where is God in all this? How do we as God’s people, live in this tumultuous time? The answer comes in the second installment we heard from Habakkuk today: “the righteous live by their faith.”

What does it mean to live by faith in the face of injustice, violence, and anarchy? What is faith? [slide 3]
Some might say faith is what we believe about God. Churches and denominations often formulate their beliefs into a “statement of faith.” Others might say faith is about trust in God. Rather than trusting in a set of statements about God, one trusts in God. But as Habakkuk has asked, what do we do with our trust, when it is uncertain that God is listening?

Novelist Doris Betts [slide 4]claims that faith is not synonymous with certainty, rather it is a “decision to keep your eyes open.” Faith is a way of seeing. Did you notice it in Habakkuk? He asks, “Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?” He decides to keep his eyes open by saying, “I will keep watch to see what God will say to me….There is still a vision for the appointed time.”
Faithful living in tumultuous times requires being present to what is. Too often we want to numb out, ignore or deny the destruction, violence and injustice in the world. Faith as a way of seeing doesn’t avoid harsh reality.

Living by faith in this season of Advent will have an apocalyptic dimension to it. That doesn’t mean we see harsh reality as signs of the end of the world. The work apocalypse means, “unveiling or lifting the veil.” Movements such as [slide 5] # BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, Time’s Up, and the Migrant Caravans challenge the faithful to make a decision to keep our eyes open. They are a “lifting of the veil,” an exposing, of the heresy of domination. Habakkuk said, “I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what God will say to me.” Faith is a way of seeing that looks for God in the ebb and flow of life. The faithful and apocalyptic message of Advent is that Jesus has “unveiled God” and the possibility for our participation in the divine life.

Habakkuk continues, “there is still a vision for the appointed time…if it seems to tarry, wait for it.” According to theologian Marcus Borg,[slide 6] faith is seeing the whole, and our response to it. Have you ever noticed in the New Testament when a healing encounter happened with Jesus, he often said to the person who was healed, “your faith has made you well.” Jesus saw something in them and responded—faith was that act of opening which released a flow of divine energy that made the healing possible. What I am suggesting here is that faith is not so much something we have, as something in which we participate. It has a generative quality about it. Jesus’ statement, “your faith has made you well” is an acknowledgement of the power of a transaction that occurred between him and the person being healed. A mutual recognition took place. The Hebrew word used for faith in Habakkuk is emunah which means “firm action.” When we can behold others with compassion and respond, we participate in a flow of divine energy that can bring a different kind of world into being.

Borg says faith is not a matter of the head but a way of the heart. This heart space is in the deep level of the self—deeper than our conscious self, below our thinking, feeling, willing, intellect, emotions or volition.

So how do we participate in this kind of faith? How do we cultivate a seeing of the whole with our heart? How do we stay mindful, present to reality with a compassion that releases divine energy into the world?

The best way I have found to do that is through contemplative practices and I want to talk about two of them this morning. The first one is, Pray the News. [slide7] Everyday we are bombarded with headlines from the news. They bling from our smart phones, ticker across our television screens and blare out from our radios. Praying the News is a way to cultivate faithful living by being present to what is. The way we do this is to make time everyday, to be present to the news. After viewing, hearing or reading the news, spend a moment of quiet reflection, letting your heart absorb the news stories you experienced. Let your heart direct you to a particular story. Spend some time praying for the people, circumstances and events of the story. Your prayers could certainly include people, nations, and nature involved in the events. Pray also for the “principalities and powers” the systems and structures that perpetuate violence, fear and injustice. Rather than praying to God about these events, be with God in these events. This kind of praying according to Walter Wink, believes a new world into being.

The second practice I want to mention is meditation. There are many ways to engage this practice. What is most important is that you spend time everyday dwelling in the heart space of your deeper self–deeper than your conscious self, (as Borg says) below thinking, feeling, willing, intellect, emotions or volition. Centering Prayer [slide 8] is one way to enter into that space. Find a quiet place to sit for 20-30 minutes everyday (twice if you can find the time). While you sit, choose a sacred word to focus your attention. The word might be “love,” “peace,” “grace.” As you settle into the quietness let your word be a symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within. If you find your mind wandering, gently return to your sacred word without any kind of judgment. You might want to imagine yourself at the bottom of a lake and wandering thoughts are like boats drifting by on the surface of the lake above you. Simply let them go by, do not attach yourself to them. Over time, this practice will expand your heart space for fuller communion with God and open compassionate seeing within you.

Habukkuk’s words about faith have had powerful influence over the centuries. The apostle Paul quotes them in his epistle to the Romans and when Martin Luther read them 1500 years later the Protestant Reformation was born. The writer of Hebrews quotes Habakkuk and lists the names of that great cloud of witnesses who have demonstrated such a faith, and I am sure we can add the names of those we remembered on World AIDS Day [slide 9]who lived such a life of faith. On this first Sunday of Advent, the “New Year’s Day” of the liturgical year, let us join our lives to their memory and say with Habakkuk, “I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; God makes my feet like the feet of a deer and makes me tread upon the heights.”

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