Sunday, August 30, 2009

sermon - Zechariah

Zechariah 7:1-10
Now that we’ve found [home] what are we gonna do --- with it?
That would be my sermon title, if I thought it would bring even a flicker of recognition across the faces of any parishioners. Alas, they are not so familiar with Heavy D & The Boyz.

On behalf of all the minor prophets of the Old Testament I would like to officially welcome you BACK FROM EXILE. This 12-week series on the prophets has taken us through the whole journey. We started, in the beginning of this summer, with the pre-exile prophets who were warning that God’s punishment would come, and as we moved on we spent some time hearing from other prophets about what life when they were punished by being sent into exile… when they got dragged off to a foreign land and sat down and wept by the waters of babylon… remember that? We heard about a lot of oppression this summer. We heard about how they were in exile in Babylon and they were homesick and miserable. They turned to God and stamped their feet and said “God, solve this problem!” And now – we’re back! Problem solved! We made it home to Jerusalem! The last three prophets – haggai, whom we heard last week, and zechariah, for today, and malachi, (whom we’re actually going to skip over – don’t tell my professors) all wrote after the exile had finished and they had returned to Jerusalem. Home again, home again, jiggity jig.
Well it seems like those Hebrew children did get what they prayed for – they were returned safely to Jerusalem, and the foreign powers that now held them in colonial rule even allowed them to rebuild the city and the temple, and to practice their own religion again. They got to celebrate their traditional festivals and to read the Torah again. They were overjoyed and probably assumed this meant the end to all troubles. They probably hoped it was the beginning of the kingdom of God, when the Lord of hosts would directly rule the whole earth from the temple in Jerusalem, and all nations would gather there.
But wait… we know that the story doesn’t end there. The prophets still have a message to deliver. In fact we’re only this far ___ through the bible – there has to be more. Haggai told us last week -- Coming home is not the happy ending. You need to re-build the temple. And unfortunately then Zechariah and Malachi tell us – building the temple is not the happy ending either. They didn’t “all live happily ever after.” Jerusalem was rebuilt, the temple was back up and running, but something there was still a little rotten inside.

So Zechariah had something to say about that. Let me tell you how it happened:
A group of men were sent to ask the prophet Zechariah a question. They went to pray before God and then addressed their question to the prophet: For seventy years, every year in the fourth month we’ve fasted and lamented, to remember when Jerusalem fell. But now we’re back in the rebuilt Jerusalem – we don’t need to fast and pray this year too, do we? (just as an aside – I know the answer I would have hoped for if I were with them – I’d hope God would say – never fast again! Rejoice and be merry and throw parties in the fourth month! God has saved us forever and ever! – but unfortunately I didn’t write the Bible.)
This fasting wasn’t just a little token prayer they said every once in a while. Apparently they would fast four times a year for long stretches of time, wearing funeral clothes, going about in an attitude of mourning, restricting their food and drink. This was serious prayer. And they didn’t want to go through this whole prayer thing if they didn’t “have” to.

So Zechariah brings a word from God to answer these men.
He gave them a little speech on why they had been sent into exile in the first place, and why it took them so long to get out. You might remember the same kind of message from the beginning of the summer, from Amos or Micah or Hosea. God basically said – your fasting is empty! It has nothing to do with justice, mercy, or righteousness! If you pray to me while oppressing your neighbor, I WILL NOT LISTEN TO THAT PRAYER. God gave them a reminder – that the prayer that is acceptable is a matter of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly in the ways of the Lord.
So Zechariah is kind of sidestepping the original question here. These guys asked “should we fast this year?” and Zechariah said “well God wants you to remember that you never fasted righteously to begin with.” Zechariah asks “were you fasting for God? Or were you doing it for your own selves?” They were fasting and praying in order to try to get God to do what they wanted. This is a pretty normal human thing to do – to treat God like a cosmic bellhop, where we can ring the bell, tell him what we want, and wait for him to bring it down from heaven for us. And even though it’s a little silly, it IS okay to pray like this, because it is good to express your needs and desires to God.
But. That’s only part of the story. The REAL, deeper purpose of fasting and praying is to turn closer to God, to learn to live a more faithful life. This kind of fasting and prayer has no season; you don’t turn it on in the fourth month and off in the fifth. Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God are meant to be everyday activities. And the fact that Zechariah had to remind them of this means that they have been neglecting it.

The people of Israel had false hopes for a happy-ever-after, and they needed a reality check. And to me this seems similar to the reality check a family often faces when an alcoholic family member sobers up. Here’s what happens: For months or years, the whole family has their energy focused on one thing: We’ve gotta get little Billy out of the pubs. And everyone assumes that this is the only problem in the family, and that if Billy weren’t drunk, everything would be great and we’d be living happily ever after. The house would be clean, the bills would be paid, no one would fight anymore, and we’d send our friends postcards from our vacations in Hawaii. Everyone keeps pestering Billy about his drinking, blaming him for everything that went wrong. Then one day Billy gets to the end of his rope and checks himself into a treatment program. He emerges clean and sober and smiling, and everybody’s happy for about thirty minutes. Because the house ISN’T clean, the bills aren’t paid, the arguments are louder than they’d ever been – what happened?
What happened is that the people in this story don’t know where their problems really are. Everybody THINKS they’ve identified the problem, and they pray for a specific solution, and they get what they prayed for – but only that solution, and no more. The problem wasn’t only in Billy – it was in all of them.
It reminds me of a saying – wherever I go, I’m there. I can run around in all kinds of circles, getting into and out of troublesome situations, but when I get back to where I started, I’m still there. Sometimes the situations we’re in really AREN’T the real problems – the real problems are in us.
So that’s kind of what happened to the people of Israel. They thought that their troubles were situational, but when they’d gotten in and out of that situation – namely, exile in Babylon – they had to realize that they still had problems, because they were carrying them in their own hearts.
The truth of the situation is: because we are sinful human beings, we can have problems in the best of circumstances, and in the worst… but! By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can also have peace in the worst of circumstances just as we can in the best. So one of the messages we can get here is that circumstances don’t matter. As Paul said, he can live with plenty or in need, they are the same to him and he can do all things through Christ.
Have any of you ever met someone whose life has fallen down around them, and who can still praise God with a heart full of thanksgiving and gratitude? I have met people like that, and not just in the Ugandan orphanage. (this was the children’s sermon).
But on the flip side of that -- on the other hand, have you ever met someone who has incredible circumstances – money, property, prestige – and still does not have peace or contentment?
This is the scenario I want to focus on now, because that’s where the Israelites were, and I think it is the harder scenario. When you have a sick family member, it’s not hard to remember to get down on your knees and talk to God. When you’re stuck in Babylon and you can’t get home, you’re not likely to forget to ask God “what about that Savior you promised us, Lord…”
But what IS hard, is keeping that closeness to God when we don’t have problems forcing us down to our knees. It IS hard for us to remember to pray when we don’t have anything to pray “for.”
The problem is, if we only pray when we’re in trouble, and relax and stop praying when we’re out of trouble… we’re pretty likely to get right back into trouble again. And then we pray – ring the bell – okay God I’m in a mess again – I’d like a large order of salvation with some peace of mind on the side – thanks, God! And if we get what we want, and say “thanks, God, goodbye, see ya later,” we might never grow to have a true relationship with God, with all the infinite blessings God wants to bestow on us.

Lots of sermons are a case of the pastor talking to him or herself, of me telling you what I need to hear, and hoping that it makes some sense to you too. Most sermons have at least a little bit of that in it. But today I’ll just go ahead and use myself as an example. I’ve noticed a pattern in my own praying habits. Whenever I arrive in a new place, I pray like mad. And I’ve moved around a lot in my life, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to notice this. My first few weeks here in Lostine I prayed a lot, kind of as the only alternative to talking to my houseplants. I’ve never been used to living alone… I needed to talk to SOMEONE so I talked to God. Then I got the internet set up in the manse so that started to use up a lot of the time I used to spend in prayer. Then I started to become friends with more people, so I had people to talk to, and I didn’t feel the need to talk to God as much. And by now – not only do I have plenty of people to talk to – I have so many wonderful things to do all day long, that prayer unfortunately gets squeezed into the very early morning or right before I fall asleep.
So Zechariah’s question hits me hard: when you prayed, was it for God’s sake that you prayed? or for your own?
When I prayed so much, was I holding tightly to God because I really wanted God in my life, or just because I was afraid of having nothing else going on?
This is a question for all of us. If all our problems were miraculously taken care of, would we keep on praying regularly? Would we keep on inviting God to work in our lives, even when we don’t have a specific problem in mind for God to fix? Would we let God out of the job of our cosmic bellhop, and into a job that is more like teacher, or friend?
Here are some wise words about that from a seventeenth century monk, called Brother Lawrence, who wrote a book called “the practice of the presence of God.”

God has infinite treasures to give us. Yet a little tangible devotion, which passes away in a moment, satisfies us. How blind we are, since in this way we tie God’s hands, and we stop the abundance of His grace! But when He finds a soul penetrated with living faith, He pours out grace on it in abundance. God’s grace is like a torrent. When it is stopped from taking its ordinary course, it looks for another outlet, and when it finds one, it spreads out with impetuosity and abundance.

I think that quote speaks for itself. And it always reminds me to invite God in, even if I don’t have something in mind for God to do… to pray even if I don’t have a request… to keep opening my life toward God and trying to remove the blocks that are in the way of receiving God’s blessings.

The other point I want to make is that even at those times when we feel we are “home,” and blessed, and restored, and walking in sunshine all of our journey – even then, the story is not over. Just as it was not the end of the story for the ancient Israelites when they got back to Jerusalem. There’s still more to come. We are moving toward the FINAL home, waiting for the day of the Lord, a day when God’s will of justice and mercy will be seen all over this earth. It is hard to remember this because, hey, we just got back to Jerusalem, and yknow, compared to Babylon, it’s pretty nice here and we’d like to sit back and relax…
As comfortable as we might get here, and complacent, and just happy to sit around and enjoy ourselves – we know that God is calling us onward and forward. That’s one of the reasons why we keep singing songs like “I’ll fly away…” reminding us that we are headed to a far better place.
and I have another one to sing to you today. This is a song by Steven Curtis Chapman. (yes I did put SCC and Heavy D in the same blog, they’d be mutually mortified if they knew).

To all the travelers
Pilgrims longing for a home
From one who walks with you
On the journey called life's road
It is a long and winding road
From one who's seen the view
And dreamt of staying on
the mountain high
And one one who's cried like you
Wanted so much just to lay down and die
I offer this, we must remember this
We are not home yet
We are not home yet
Keep on looking ahead
Let your heart not forget
We are not home yet
Not home yet
So close your eyes with me
And hear the Father saying "welcome home"
Let us find the strength
In all His promises to carry on
He said, "I go prepare a place for you"
So let us not forget
We are not home yet (chorus)

I know there'll be a moment
I know there'll be a place
Where we will see our Savior
And fall in His embrace
So let us not grow weary
Or too content to stay
Cause we are not home yet (chorus)

Today I invite you to really remember that we are not home, and deep in our hearts we have a longing that nothing can satisfy except God. So set your sights on the kingdom of God instead, and on the fullness of justice, and mercy, and peace that God wants to bring to this earth through YOU. And in the meantime I encourage you - and myself – not to fill ourselves up with temporary things that will not satisfy. Look for the best – for the true blessings that God wants to pour out in our lives.

***** PS: this sermon killed me. I finally wrapped up writing it about 5 minutes before I needed to be at church this morning, with an attitude of, "oh well, this'll probably fall flat." I really struggled with writing and felt disappointed by the process -- that I had not had any of the epiphanies that bring me so much excitement in researching and writing. Most sermons I write long and cut short -- this one I wrote short and cast about wildly for something else to say. BUT THEN, post-partum, I found out that this meant as much if not more than any of the other sermons I'd been more excited about. A very organized and critical parishioner counted it as "one of your better ones" and other folks just swept me up into hugs and "thank you"s. So it's more and more obvious that this is not about me, not about my skills in thinking and writing and delivery - but that in fact I am to be the "hollow reed" just trying not to get in God's way. I am humbled and grateful.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"principles before personalities" meets reality

This morning I very serenely typed in my facebook status entry: I am placing principles before personalities.

Read: I am an idealistic person and intend to keep to those ideals even when you try to drag me side to side with your drama.

Enact: well, I just expected to get on with my day.
Whoops. God has a great sense of humor. "You really believe that, T? Let's see you apply it here." And whammo here comes a Situation. A Real Situation. A Real Complicated Situation.

Our church gets a request for help from someone who's in the hospital, uninsured, racking up bills, needs help. This person doesn't make a direct request that we pay his bills, but that we "organize a fundraiser" such as we have done for others in the past. Principle of the thing tells me, "go ahead and help." Also the fact that this person is appealing to the church makes it likely for us to help. If we were asked as private citizens we might weasel out of it, but the risk of being asked "in the name of God, please help" gives the situation gravity. It reminds me of Paul appealing to Caesar (presumed just), or the many people in the Old Testament who fled to "the horns of the altar" where YHWH (the very definition of just, even merciful) would protect them.

I do a little fact-checking first, at my supervisor's request, because we are not sure who he is or why he's asking us. We are, indeed, the only tall steeple in town, and so it's true that non-churchers still think of us as "their church." That's great... but we need to know more... is he someone's friend or relative?

Well in my fact-checking I ran into some problems... from an exaggerated claim of kinship to a reputable family in our church... to an exaggerated claim of employment by said family... to eviction notices from his landlord (a friend of mine)... to vicious dogs running loose, a confederate flag on his porch, and general reports of behavior that has offended many neighbors.
i.e. in my fact-checking I found myself tripped up by a Personality... a Strong Personality.

Principles are tricky things. When they are laid out simply, as in "help the needy," sure, fine. But when the scenario is "help the needy person who owes your friend money," really, you have to ask yourself if you help the debtor or the debtee. When the scenario is "help the needy person who has alienated all his neighbors" -- maybe, I might be able to help -- but when it is "help the needy person (in the name of the church), who has alienated all your church members," I'm not sure what the principle would even BE.

Well I'm invoking some "don't be stupid" principles... I am sticking to the "help the needy" principle but declawing it a little. I don't think we can help him directly. We can help him with referrals to other organizations. And we, the church, can have a little prayer time along with Jesus' horrifying suggestion that we "pray for our enemies."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Why I Fundraise

Another September draws nigh, with its back-to-school frenzy. For me, this year, no tuition or lectures are involved, yet I am still anxious about the back-to-school time -- for some children across the world. I fundraise for Children of Uganda, an organization for which I volunteered in 2005 and 2007, and September is one of the most expensive months for them. Tuition must be paid out to several schools where we send older children (not having an in-house high school or vocational training), but even the little ones whom we educate at our own school need fresh supplies of pens and pencils, notebooks, and the other supplies that all add up. I am committing to an effort of raising $3,000 this year, even though my sister and brother-in-law "got" many of our regular donors at their wedding.

So it begins... the facebook messages, status updates, blog entries, mailing and stamping for those old-fashioned types... the Big Push.

And I wonder, every so often, just HOW annoyed my friends get by this effort, and I appreciate the many who have not (yet) de-friended me on facebook, on account of my charitable zeal for the Ugandan orphans.
So, why do I do this?
Risking the cyber-groans and "doesn't everyone know I'm a starving artist/student/CEO/bum and have no money?" ... the feelings of guilt... the i-should-help-but-i-won't-today... and all the other crap I'm inflicting on my friends by the financial requests I send?
I do it because I have seen how far a dollar can go on the other side of the world... how far a donated dress can go when it's handmedowned to five girls, one after the other, and then turned into hankies and rags... and because I have returned home to America and seen how quickly my money flies unwitting out of my pocket. Because I need to keep myself remembering that in more extreme circumstances money does NOT fly away so quickly on chocolate bars and other minor luxuries, but that it can bandage, bind, shoe, feed, and clothe the wounded parts of our world.

THAT is at least somewhat why I spend so much time on the computer facebooking, or at my desk addressing and stamping, or whatever else I manage to do...

It's also because, well, I fell in love with a lot of loveable children, and I'd be willing to bet that you would too if you could meet them. I've been adopted as some kids' "Mummy Talitha" and I feel fiercely loyal to protecting and empowering them. And the bare facts are, school costs money, and you can't get jobs in Uganda without an education. And so! little by little, "slowly by slowly," dollar at a time, we try to help.
Thank you all so much for your contributions and support!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rockjack World Championship

A most auspicious event took place here this weekend: the Rockjack Building World Championship. Yes, that's right, world championship. Some of you may have missed my earlier blog on the Great Rockjacks of Wallowa County, and you may not even know what rockjacks are... the quick explanation is that they are a creative way to put up fence where the ground is too thin or rocky for a fencepost to stick in it. They are a Wallowa County specialty, although they spread to other parts of Oregon and Idaho, but apparently people as far away as Wyoming are unacquanted with their construction. So really, folks, this is the epicenter.
At today's local Stockgrowers' Association meeting/rodeo/shindig, after the cattle branding competition and before the cowdog trials, we hosted the world championship in Rockjack construction. Each of the men began with a single long log, a pile of rocks, and a handful of nails. No power tools were used. They were judged 50% on quality/durability, and 50% on speed (the fastest was - I believe - 13 minutes).
First you split your log, and start constructing a triangle:

then start putting rocks on it:

when you finish you nail your nametag on it:

and i believe the right-most one is the WORLD CHAMPION ROCKJACK, built in 13 minutes or so???! Be amazed, people, stand in awe.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Two contrasting experiences

1) the parents, married 60 years, who are about to bury their second and last child, and are left with no grandchildren or other family. He died after a long struggle with cancer, so they had time to prepare for their grief. But it hurts, all kinds of hurt. Parents should not be burying their children.

2) the newlyweds, both over the age of 60, who got married tonight in what they called a "levi's wedding" although none of the wedding party were actually wearing denim. They clearly are not about to be parents, so the premarital counseling session I sat in on skipped over parenting issues -- but in an interesting turn of events, they are seriously thinking about taking in their elderly parents. They may end up parenting their parents.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Habakkuk sermon - short version

I'm not actually going to re-write the sermon for blogger convenience, but what i WILL do is tell you about the childrens' sermon... since a blogger's attention span is about equal to a young child's! We had two girls, age 10, one a vacationing Granddaughter who has been to church a grand total of six times in her life (four of which were VBS last week), and another who's a bit of a knowitall but still has some gaps in her Christian Education... as you will plainly see...

T: "Has anyone ever taught you how to pray?"
(both shake their heads).
Knowitall: But i watched people.
T: Great. So when you watch people pray, what do they do?
Knowitall (henceforth KIA): they put their fingers like this -- or like this -- or like this -- and they bow their heads.
GrandDaughter (henceforth GD) or they put their fingers like this (demonstrates something I've never seen- possibly a variation of the "church and the steeple" finger game)
KIA: Of course, when they do that, it's because your thumb and your finger make an "L" for "Lord."
T: Oh really! So, is this how you're supposed to pray? is this the only way?
(they both solemnly nod their heads)
KIA: or wait you could also go on your knees!
T: well you know what, I'm going to teach you something different today. I'm telling you that you can pray like this (head bowed, fingers knotted), or like this (face in hands), or like this (slouching backwards) or like THIS (hands on hips standing up: HEY GOD!!!)

T: Now when they do that, what do they say?
KIA, with great authority: Dear Lord, and then they go on to say whatever else.
GD: Sometimes you could also say "Dear God."
T: And what do they say?
KIA: oh, thanks for something, or please do something, or whatever.
T: Right, those are all good things. I was wondering what you think -- can you say a prayer that is angry at God?
KIA looks a little confused, but definitely leans toward a head-shaking "no."
GD (super-glad to have the answer first for once, speaks with great authority) No, you have to be nice to God.
KIA jumps back in nodding: Yeah! You can't do that.
T: What! I guess that's something that a lot of people believe. But I'm going to teach you something different today. You can pray when you're angry, you can pray when you're sad, you can pray no matter WHAT you're feeling like, and God will always hear your prayer.
GD: like if God told Mother Nature to make it rain, I'd be angry at God.
T: and you could pray an angry prayer, and God would still love you. Could you pray just a happy prayer, too, when you're not asking for anything?
KIA (back on track after her brief upset) Yes definitely.
T: you're right - it can just be like talking to friends, where you can say whatever you need to say and God will always listen.
KIA: That's good. so what's this? (my necklace)
T: a compass necklace and I'll tell you about it later. Right now we have to say a prayer and move on with the rest of church!

OH THOSE KIDS. They get you every time!

Stomping on the Promises of God

“Stomping on the Promises of God”

Habakkuk 1:1-4 and 1:12 - 2:4
NT text: Luke 11:1-13

In our summer series on the minor prophets we have arrived at the prophet HubAkkuk. This is an obscure guy whose name I didn’t learn to pronounce correctly until I went to seminary, and whose name I didn’t learn to SPELL correctly until last week when I searched an online source for articles on Habbakuk with a double B, and came up with nothing. No, Habakkuk – h-a-single B – a – double K- u –k – three K’s in all. Habakkuk.
Anyone know anything about this guy? If you could describe him in one word what would you label? Well, you might say “obscure.” And you’d be right – his name is only mentioned this once in the entire Bible. We don’t know his family origin or his professional history. You could describe him as “minor.” Or call him “Habakkuk the prophet.”
But if I had to give him a one-word nickname it would be “complainer.” Habakkuk complained. He boldly spoke out great tirades against the Lord God Almighty. He demanded, he challenged, he criticized, he pleaded, he protested, he grumbled, you might even say he whined. And he went down in history for this! How amazing is that? In the Bible we’ve got Abraham the faithful, David the victorious, Mary the humble, Paul the evangelist, and Habakkuk the complainer.
Isn’t that great? Habakkuk set himself up against God, gave his argument, shook his fist at the sky, yelled “are you not of old, O God?” and “how long, O Lord, must I cry?” – and instead of being chastened for his ingratitude, he goes down in history and in the Bible as a bold and faithful prophet.

Complaining to God is something that the ancient Hebrews did a lot more than we do these days. Some scholars even say that there is a whole genre of prayers that should be classified as complaints. That this was one of the things you could legitimately do when you prayed – to set a case against God. It was set up almost like a legal case; it was your ultimate appeal, if human courts had failed you. So you (the pray-er or the prophet) would start out by establishing your innocence or righteousness – or if you were arguing on behalf of a people, by saying that the people did not deserve the wrongs done to them – and then go on to call on the previous promises of God. So the formula was “God, we are innocent, but we have been treated unfairly. You made promises to us. So, God of Justice, what are you going to do about this? I demand an answer.”
This is something we need to remember today because God is still our ultimate source for justice. We forget this sometimes, because we have a decent legal system here in America. It may not be perfect, but we have the right of appeal as well. But imagine being in another country where “justice” is completely reliant on bribery or personal connections, and where poor people without connections simply languish in jail never getting a trial. Many of the nations of this world cannot count on justice from human sources. Those people are not likely to forget that we have to appeal to God.
We ALL should remember, however, that there are things that even a wonderful legal system cannot set straight. It is unfair for a father to spend all his family’s income on useless things, but a judge or jury can never force someone to be responsible with money. The Holy Spirit, however, can speak to that person in their heart. A legal system may be able to give someone money for the injuries they received wrongly – but only God can give the victim true healing and peace.
Even thought it is limited in its power, we should not give up on legal justice. We are called, as Christians, to stand up and speak out for justice everywhere. I’ve heard of an interesting new form of Christian charity, where instead of sending teachers and nurses to third-world countries, they send lawyers to make cases for those who cannot afford their own legal defense. It’s called the International Justice Mission ( It makes sense – what good does it do for us to feed, nurture, and educate an orphan child if they are going to grow up to be cruelly forced into a life of prostitution or worse without legal protection? Our God is a God of justice, who calls us to stand up and protect people from oppression wherever we can. We need to be on God’s side, especially when it is in our power to truly make a difference for someone.
But the other lesson we can learn from Habakkuk is that sometimes it is NOT in our power to stop injustice – and so the question comes up: how do we react to that? Habakkuk teaches us to pray boldly for God to take action. He called God out on the carpet. He got up in the watchtower of his beseiged city and shook his fist at God. He reminded God of the promises made, and he said “what are you going to do about this?” Habakkuk wasn’t just standing on the promises of God: he stood there, and he stomped his feet.
At the risk of comparing us to prophets I am going to ask a serious question: Can we pray as boldly as Habakkuk did? Can we take that great risk and shake our fists at God? Or as Jesus said, can we pray as fervently as if knocking on the door of a sleeping friend, asking for bread? I think we SHOULD have that boldness, but there are several things that might get in our way.
One problem is complacency. Sometimes we think that that the world is going to continue as it has always been, and God isn’t going to do anything about it. We think the way it is is how it’s meant to be. We might look at a problem and sigh, and instead of looking for a solution we look for a way to deal with it not being solved. We look for a band-aid instead of a cure. Why do we do this? Do we not believe that God wants to heal us and set us free? Or do we think that God has completely given up on this world, so we should just let it all run down to trash and put our hope in heaven? These are dangerous thoughts. They are half-truths. It IS true that our ultimate hope is in the next world. But it is NOT true that God is forgetting about this world. As our Lord taught us to pray, we always say “thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” And God’s will on earth is for people to be set free from sin and injustice. It is dangerous for us to get complacent about this. We need to have faith that God does care.

Another problem is when we, personally, don’t believe we deserve it. We don’t believe that we are important enough or “good enough” – as if there were such a thing – to ask God to personally show up in our troubles. God is too busy to be bothered, and we are too insignificant to deserve anything.
Have you ever gotten stuck in this trap? Where you are given an extra heavy load to bear – an unfair load – and you say “well I guess God just wants me to shoulder this” without even stopping to ask God if that burden was meant for you?
I have a friend who told me a little bit of her spiritual journey this way: she says she used to go around with a heavy, guilty heart, asking God “please, God, could you throw me a crumb? Just a little crumb and I promise I’ll be good…” and that was her attitude for many years. <> “Please, God, can you throw me a crumb?” And I don’t remember what she said was the shift in her thinking, but something shifted and she stood up straight and said to God, “I’m tired of looking for crumbs! God, please, I want you to give me the whole cake!”
Her new outlook, after her attitude adjustment, was the same kind that Habakkuk the complainer had. When foreign armies came in and trampled Judah, Habakkuk didn’t run away into a cave apologizing. He said right out loud to God, “Are you sure we deserve this? Are you sure it’s okay for the wicked to swallow up the righteous? Because that doesn’t sound like the kind of God I thought I knew.” My friend was able to say to God, “I believe that you are a good and generous and loving God who wants to bless us, and I am telling you that I want those blessings. All of them!” When she stopped asking for little tiny crumbs she was able to open her hands and receive much larger blessings.

Another thing getting in our way is the opposite attitude – some of us believe we deserve too much. We have a false sense of entitlement that muddies the waters. It puffs us up with pride, and distracts us with things that are not in God’s will for us. We might actually have a cake in front of us, and still be shaking our fist at God asking for a bigger cake. Those kinds of complainers are not the kind that will go down in history. These are the types that also tend to complain to other people, to have a negative attitude about the blessings they actually do have, and to get lost in the details. They are not praying for “God’s will to be done” but for their own will.
If this is our problem, we’re lucky to find out that we can do a little check beforehand. Are you going to ask God for a winning lottery ticket? Feel free to find a Bible verse to challenge me, but I don’t know where in the Bible it says we need scads of money. Are you going to ask God for a happily-ever-after husband or wife? Surely the Bible has love stories like that – however – God doesn’t promise everyone a fairy tale. Love still involves compromise and hard work. Are you going to ask God for your neighbor to stop bothering you? Well, first you’d better check to see if you are actually in the wrong. Are you going to ask God for peace? Now THAT is a promise God makes to us – not necessarily that we can ever experience freedom from all conflict – but that we can have peace in our hearts no matter what conflict happens around us. That is in God’s will for us.

There’s another problem here, another thing that may keep us from praying boldly. That is the danger that perhaps when we make our bold request, we might be answered – and that we might be part of that answer. We might complain to God that it is wrong for a certain person to go hungry – and it is wrong! but God might answer by telling you to bring them food. We might ask God for peace on earth – which is a great request! but God might answer by sending us to talk to our enemies. The Rev. Mark Labberton tells it well in a story about a parishioner. He says: “One day a man came to my office looking for help in making sense of the nightly conversations about Christianity he was having with his newly converted wife. He made it clear he was very busy, very successful, and didn’t really have much time for this – just some bullet points, now, please. It would have been easy for me to hand him some books or pamphlets. And while those can be good, instead I said, “I can see you are a busy and successful person, so I don’t think what you’re asking for is a good idea.” Frustrated, he asked why. “because,” I explained, “if I were to give you some bullet points, and you were to really understand them, they would have such a significant way of working into your life that it could really mess things up. You would have to rethink the meaning of success, of time, of family, of everything really. I don’t think you want to do that, do you?” // “no,” he said. // “Exactly,” I replied. // “Well, at least, I don’t think so…” he stammered. “Maybe that’s what we need to talk about first.” (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, p64)
If we really approach God with boldness, God might change our lives. We know that God will only change our lives for the better – but sometimes we are still afraid of going through with that. Now what happened to Habakkuk is that when he complained to God, he was given an answer to his complaint, but that he was also given instructions with that. He was sent to proclaim this message to others, to write it large on tablets, to shout it and make it plain to the people.
What was Habakkuk’s message? “look at the proud – their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by faith.”
What is that word, Faith? It’s such a “nice” “pretty” “happy” little church-word that we are likely to forget what it’s really about. Faith is a good thing, yes. But sometimes we forget that faith is hard. It is holding onto something invisible – putting your neck out in danger – refusing to back down. Faith is being persistent to the point of embarrassment, knocking on your neighbor’s door all night until he comes out and gives you what you need. Faith is standing up in the watchtower with your hands on your hips saying “God, I really expect you to do something here!”
The words of encouragement from Martin Luther are famous: “sin boldly but love God more boldly still.” Faith is not afraid to make a mistake, or say the wrong thing, or to be impolite. We can approach God with boldness.
(Altar call) WHERE ARE YOU TODAY? What is keeping you from praying boldly? I’m going to ask you some questions and please think about whether you identify with any of them.
Are you looking for crumbs? Are your hands clenched and your eyes focused so tightly on the crumbs you want to pick up that you cannot stand up and ask God for what you want and need?
Are you looking for more cake than you can eat? Are you chasing after whatever looks good, accumulating all the false things you think you should have, and forgetting what God DOES want to give you – justice and mercy and real blessings?
Or are you looking for anything? Have you given up thinking that God would actually DO anything in your life? Have you gotten used to the band-aids covering up real problems?
Where are you today, in your walk with God?
Are you ready to be in an honest relationship with God? Christ Jesus says “ask and it will be given, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” God has infinite treasures to give us. The wonderful riches of a life growing ever closer to Christ are always open to you.

Are you ready to risk your dignity by praying boldly?

If so – we are going to close with a prayer, as Jesus taught us. It is the Lord’s Prayer which I think most of us know by heart, but if you don’t, it’s printed in the bulletin. And we are going to do something risky – we are not going to pray quietly and politely with our heads bowed. As Jesus taught us, we ought to pray with the persistence of someone knocking on the door asking for food. We are going to stand up and lift our heads and SHOUT this prayer. We will do it in repeat-after-me style, and I’ll lead you. Be Bold. Let us pray!