Also like a lot of people, I am discouraged about the level of our political discourse and the candidates we have to choose from. As I think about where we are and where we seem to be headed, I worry.
So it was with some anxiety and some discouragement about the direction of our country that I approached our readings for this Sunday and next. And I found comfort and inspiration in what may seem an unlikely place: from the Old Testament prophets.
If you have read much of the prophets, you know they tend to be pretty fierce. They denounce sin. They threaten judgment. They preach about God’s anger at the unfaithfulness of the people. Joel and Habakkuk, our prophets for this week and next, are no exception.
But there is more to the prophets than doom and gloom. Even as they denounce sin and threaten judgment, the prophets offer hope of a better day to come. They promise that sin and destruction are not the end of the story. They preach about God’s enduring faithfulness. They remind us that God has a vision for our world, and that God’s vision will ultimately prevail.
So, in the reading for next week, the prophet Habakkuk begins by lamenting the state his country is in. Habakkuk spoke these words 2600 years ago, but they sound eerily contemporary.
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? … Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise….Justice never prevails….Judgment comes forth perverted.”
I suspect we have all had days like that, days when things seem hopeless.
God answers Habakkuk, and what God says to Habakkuk we can hear as addressed to us.
God does not simply fix the problem. God does not normally work that way. But God helps Habakkuk to live with all the problems of his dysfunctional society, and God does that by offering Habakkuk hope. God promises Habakkuk, “there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie.”
Habakkuk is impatient for God’s vision to come true. So am I. So God adds, “If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come.” In the meantime, God tells Habakkuk, “the righteous live by their faith.” That is a big line. But part of what God is saying is that God’s people can endure even the hard times because we have faith that God remains in charge, that God is trustworthy, that God’s will will be done.
The entire book of Habakkuk makes one main point, and it is really good news. The problems Habakkuk sees all around him are not the end of the story. God’s kingdom is the end of the story. Even when things seem hopeless, God’s people can hope for a better day. That is the gift of faith. No matter how depressing the political situation may be, God’s kingdom will come. That is the vision that God gave Habakkuk and that God gives us.
But—and this is a big “but”—God does not mean for Habakkuk simply to wait around for God’s kingdom to come. God has given Habakkuk a vision of the future, a vision of God’s kingdom. And God tells Habakkuk, “Write the vision.” Share the hope. Help others to see their way to a better future, through God’s grace and with God’s help.
We can put ourselves in Habakkuk’s place. We have our own reasons to be discouraged. We have been given the gift of faith. We have been given the gift of hope. We have been the gift of God’s vision for our world.
And God wants us to write that vision, to share that vision.
And, of course, it is hard. When things seem so out of kilter, it is hard to hold onto the vision of God’s victory, the vision of God’s kingdom of peace and justice. It is even harder to share that vision with a skeptical world.
But we can do it. And that is the lesson of our Old Testament reading for this week.
Speaking in the name of God, the prophet Joel promises a day when “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”
On that day, all of God’s people will be prophets. All of God’s people will receive the Spirit of God. All of God’s people will receive the same gift that Habakkuk received, the gift of God’s vision of a day when God’s will will be done.
Joel looked forward to that day. And that day came.
Shortly after Christ’s resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, the Holy Spirit came upon the gathered disciples. The Holy Spirit enabled them to speak to devout people from every nation under heaven. And when some people questioned what was happening, the apostle Peter stood up and proclaimed that Joel’s vision had come true (Acts 2).
We call that day Pentecost, and we celebrate it as the birth of the Church. From that day to this, all Christian people have a great commission to embrace and to share God’s vision for us and our salvation. And all Christian people have the promise that Christ is with us, even to the end of the age (Matt 28:19-20), and that the Holy Spirit empowers us to do what God calls us to do.
In our time, the “system” seems broken, and cynicism is pervasive. That cynicism is understandable, but it is also corrosive and self-fulfilling. If we believe that the system is broken beyond repair, if we give up on the political process entirely, if we forget about the common good and seek only our own self-interest, then things really are hopeless.
In our cynical time, Christians are called to be voices of hope. We are called to speak out for God’s vision of a better world. We are called to write God’s vision in our own way and for our own time.
It may seem like we cannot do much. But we should do what we can. And we do not act alone. Christ is with us. The Holy Spirit empowers us. Christian people across our nation and around the world share the vision.
So the next time you feel inclined to despair—and who doesn’t sometimes?—I invite you to meditate on Christian hope, on the new life that God is bringing out of death, on the way that God is making out of no way. That is the vision that God offers to us and, through us, to our nation and our world.
And the next time someone complains to you about our dysfunctional political system or our unsatisfying candidates, I encourage you to speak a word of hope. Remember, remind them, that God is good and that, with God’s help, good people can make a difference.
On this day, I pray that we hold fast to God’s vision so that we can be leaven in a cynical and disillusioned world. And I pray in the name of the one who had no illusions about the corruption of the world but who loved it to the end and in whose resurrection is God’s victory. Amen.