The Good Treasure by Vicar Atticus Zavaletta
Updated: Oct 6, 2019
Proper 22C 2019
St. Luke’s Dundalk
Today is not about what faith does--whether that’s to uproot trees or throw mountains into the sea, or be saved from all harm and disease--it’s about how it makes you live.
We’re used to prophets telling us what God says. “Thus says the Lord” is a really familiar one in our religious vocabulary.
But Habakkuk opens not in the usual way for a prophet, speaking the word of the Lord. Instead, he opens by addressing God: “How long, Lord?" How long.
The background here is that Habakkuk sees the destruction coming to his community-- Babylonian forces are all around ready to plunder their people and their land. In a sense, the prophet is speaking on behalf of the community to God.
And when he doesn’t hear back from God, Habakkuk announces his resolve, “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.”
Habakkuk shows us that faith involves both asking and waiting. He refuses to settle for easy answers, and he also refuses to abandon God. So he will keep waiting for an answer to the question, “When are you coming to save us?” I think that asking the question helps Habakkuk to live in a different way. In living with that question, something of God’s saving is breathed into the present.
We didn’t get there in the readings today, but at the end of the book of Habakkuk, we hear what faith is really like:
“Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines
Though the produce of the olice fails,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock is cut off from the fold,
And there is no herd in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
And makes me tread upon the heights.”
Faith is not what gets you answers! Faith is the way you live in the midst of not having answers.
I love the part where God finally responds to Habakkuk: Write the vision on tablets and make it plain enough so that a runner can see it.
Not too long ago, St. Luke’s did the same thing with a beautiful sign out front that Greg Husey made, except it was made so that runners and drivers could see it.
What is your vision?
My vision for my community includes enough food for people, it's people being cared for and having what they need to thrive, it's people feeling their own dignity and worth. My vision is everyone having a role and playing a part in God’s justice.
My vision for myself is also to be a parent, it's to have a voice, to be part of a community of people who love each other and care for each other and who value all our differences.
What is your vision for your life? What is your vision for our world?
Is your vision inspired by your faith?
Every Thursday at 4 PM, I’ve been having a Vicar’s meeting the block. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the people on our block and have been very humbled by their openness and getting to hear their stories.
Last week at our meeting, I brought some Little Cesar’s pizza and placed it and a poster and some markers on a table outside. Friends came over and eagerly wrote down prayers and hopes, needs and concerns, and thanksgivings, on the poster, as we all got to know each other better. I was so struck by the feeling of community between these folks. They all knew each other well. Most of them were experiencing homelessness, some of them struggling with some form of addiction. But they were all taking care of each other.
At the end of the day, I saw Mike, an elderly, frail man, take the hand of Tina, who has trouble walking. He led her by the hand all the way back to their encampment, where they live in the brush. It’s just a few blocks away. They had to move their camp to the bushes after they were kicked off the lawn just across from us on Dundalk Avenue.
I offered to help walk with them and steady Tina on her feet. I could not stop myself from thinking of the verse in Hebrews, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Watching Mike care so tenderly for Christina, I thought, I think this is what an angel looks like.
We got Tina into a chair, and looking around and seeing the incredible need these people had, they live in battered tents with no access to running water or any other modern amenity, I asked Mike what things they needed most. He said they needed Blankets and pillows and canned food. But then his attention switched to focus on me.
He thanked me, looked straight into my eyes, and then he said, “This is what it’s all about. God is with us and God helps us every single day. Thank you for coming here.” Do you know what he said next? He said, “I want to bless the Lord because he blesses me.”
And then he asked if he could pray for me. We bowed our heads and I swallowed my tears as I basked in the presence of God and angels.
Mike and Tina have a harder life than many of us could really ever imagine. And yet they are giving thanks. They are elderly, sick, frail, totally forgotten by the world, and despised by the cars that pass them as they beg for change. And yet... they are sure of God’s presence with them. They know they can open their mouths and speak God’s name, and be met by the knowing and loving regard of the universe.
Mike is guarding the good treasure entrusted to him. He told me its name is Gallante or Tsisa. He explained, “That’s Cherokee for ‘Jesus.’”
Like the disciples, we don’t seek deeper and more powerful faith in order to brag. We seek it because it reorders our lives.
When Jesus says if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you wouldn’t believe what you could do, he’s saying that when you have faith, you don’t live the same life you would have lived without it.
Joy J. Moore, Professor at Luther Seminary, says that it’s less about the quantity of our faith, but about the quality of who God is. And among the many things that God is, God is involved with us. From wrestling with Jacob and bestowing a mighty blessing on him, to giving Miriam a song to sing when he released the Hebrews from their captivity, to walking with Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, to cooking fish for his beloved friends on a beach, God is with us.
Faith means believing that God is involved. It doesn’t mean having answers, it doesn’t mean knowing the end of the story. It just means believing that God is involved with us.
Now we are not going to gloss over the fact that here the New Testament seems to treat slavery as if it was just a regular part of life, it doesn't necessarily contest or protest its existence as a cultural institution. Jesus talks about slaves too as if they are a part of how the world works. It makes me wonder, if even Jesus failed to question some cultural assumptions that were harmful and damaging to people, what is it that we are failing to question about "the way the world works."
Perhaps many of us have accepted in late-stage capitalism that homelessness is a part of life, it’s a normal part of the way society functions. I think that if we accept this, the devil has won the battle. In fact, it’s so much a part of the reality that we experience everyday here in Dundalk, that you might be numb to it by this point. Or you might be asking questions. As one St. Luke’s congregant recently asked, “I KNOW God must have a plan for them, but what is it? How can they be helped?”
Living by faith means living like we know we are important to God. It also means living like every person is important to God.
May God grant us such a faith, may God grant us such a vision.