Yesterday’s message …
- Included moments with both a boomerang and a Better Brella;
- Recognized the inevitability and the pain of things you just can’t keep from happening;
- Included a subtle “grace travels outside of karma” reference;
- Pointed out the folly of the “you complete me” thinking of Jerry Maguire;
- Landed at this bottom line: You may be powerless to prevent but you are empowered to prevail.
Have you ever noticed or thought about how many things you just can’t stop from happening? You’re incapable of preventing? Like CCR may have asked Who’ll Stop The Rain?, but the real answer is precisely no one. It’s why outdoor weddings are so dicey because you can control the photographer, the caterer, the florist, the tailor, and sometimes even the preacher (as long as it’s not me), but you can’t control the weather. You can’t stop the rain. Or the snow, when there’s nowhere to go, when you feel like there’s a part of you that’s dying. Or in-laws, but that’s another story for another sermon..
But there are all kinds of things, from the massive to the intimate, from the personal to the international, that you just can’t stop. Hair loss, but thank God for Propecia. You can’t stop, really, what happens with the economy. You can’t prevent, really, the North Koreans or the Iranians from making crazy threats. You can’t stop the great national political divide on issues like, well … everything. You can’t prevent the redefining of sex, gender, and marriage that is overtaking our media and even our schools. I can’t really seem to help the way that the church in the US seems to be in decline or that a lot of committed church families play a lot of travel soccer and softball. All these matters seem so imposing and so forceful and, frankly, it seems like there is little you or I can do to prevent them.
But then there’s other stuff you can’t really prevent either. More personal. Like you can’t prevent your parents. You had NO SAY in that equation. And for some of you that was a tremendous blessing and for others it was and is a terrible burden and for a lot of you it’s somewhere in between. You can’t stop that layoff that happened at your company. You can’t prevent that compulsion that at this stage has a tight hold on your life … you had some say with it early on, but by now you’re utterly powerless. You couldn’t stop it when your mate fell out of love with you and in love with her. Or him. So you and me and all of us, on levels both massive and microscopic, are faced with things the feel inevitable, stuff we just can’t stop from happening.
And, if we’re honest, we wish that a lot of the folks who ARE responsible (or seem so) for some of the bad stuff we see coming would quickly get what is coming to them. We’re MOSTLY Xn here, but to whole lot of us, karma sounds awfully good, as long as it is limited to other people.
And that’s precisely where we find Habakkuk in Chapter 2. Staring in the face of dreadful things he can’t stop while speaking some advance karma on his enemies. By way of reminder, Here’s the situation: he is in Jerusalem in about 610 BC. The Jewish people – a small, almost insignificant kingdom to begin with – were weakened from the inside out and because of that, the mighty Babylonians had surrounded the city and laid siege to it. It was an awful scene in and out of Jerusalem and we know from history that the siege got so bad that ultimately some of the ppl resorted to cannibalism to survive. But we also know from history and from Scripture that the people of Israel were, in a sense getting what they deserved. Although they were the Jews, the chosen people, keepers of the covenant, they had fallen into descending cycles of disobedience. And that disobedience always and forever centered on two things – idolatry (worshipping statues and gods they’d been specifically from worshipping) and poverty (mistreating the most vulnerable among them). So you could ALMOST say that what the Jews in Jerusalem were going through in 610 BC was fair. Karma.
And with this looming invasion and this inevitable destruction before him, under the inspiration of the HS, Hab does the most interesting thing: he becomes God’s mouthpiece as the Lord pronounces a series of WOES, in advance, on the Babylonians. It is as if he is already after the fact. That’s right! He’s taunting them before the invasion has happened, about the downfall they will face AFTER it does! Look at 2:6, 8:
6 “Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying,
“‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods
and makes himself wealthy by extortion!
How long must this go on?’
8 Because you have plundered many nations,
the peoples who are left will plunder you.
For you have shed human blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
READ Ah, so the same way you’re gonna PLUNDER us (take our goods and our girls once you conquer our city) you’re gonna get PLUNDERED. Tuck that principle away. Look at 2:9-11:
“Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain,
setting his nest on high
to escape the clutches of ruin!
10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11 The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.
READ. There it is again! Woe to all who get rich at the expense of someone else … because one day someone else will get rich at your expense! Then skip 2:14 but check 2:15-16:
“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,
pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!
16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed[a]!
The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you,
and disgrace will cover your glory.
Oh, yuk. In our modern terms that’s the date rape drug. Bill Cosby stuff. Take advantage of someone chemically to abuse them sexually. And you, Babylonians, WHO ARE KNOWN TO DO THIS, will have your own nakedness exposed one day. And then the culmination in 2:18-19:
“Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?
Or an image that teaches lies?
For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation;
he makes idols that cannot speak.
19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’
Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver;
there is no breath in it.”
It’s the heart of the matter. Woe to you guys whose god is your own strength to the extent that you make your own gods! Woe to you. We’re powerless to stop your invasion now but I’m drawing some strength from knowing and remembering who has the last word.
And you have felt EXACTLY this way about the jerk who fired you, the girl who abandoned you, the guy who used you, the parent who neglected you, the person who left the church you lead, the former friend who slammed you on Facebook. With the same kind of precision as Hab 2, you’ve wanted those folks to feel exactly what they did to you. Not karma, exactly, but more like a boomerang. Demonstration or video? The ultimate in what goes around comes around and you want it for your enemies and mine.
So that’s Habakkuk. Powerless to prevent but drawing some sort of strength from his realization that there’s gonna be a Babylonian Boomerang. But then, tucked in the middle of all these woes, all this slow roasted karma, all this inevitability, are two classic verses. Check 2:14 and 2:20:
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.
Oh my gosh. These are stunning affirmations of the Lord’s sovereignty in the middle of the world’s chaos. These beautiful tributes let us know that our Last Word Lord really is above the fray. Yes, you’re powerless over a lot of big stuff and even over some small stuff, but in the middle of it is the silence 2:20 commands reminds us of this: You may be powerless to prevent but your empowered to prevail. Yep! Who’ll stop the rain? No one. But in every storm there is an empowering to prevail, to persevere, to stay dry. Like this: OPEN UMBRELLA.
Al Qaeda might attack, we might have another recession, your candidate might lose, your mate might leave but as long as you all your Savior to be the defining reality in your life you will prevail. Not sure WHEN and not sure HOW, but you will. Because one of the greatest lies that any movie ever taught us (and there’s a lot already!) is this one from Jerry Maguire: AV of “you complete me.” No! God forbid! No! Not mate, no love, no candidate, no career, no accomplishment and no new wardrobe will ever, ever complete you. Jesus did that a long time ago, on the cross and through the resurrection and what did he say about the matter? “It is finished” and so it was! If you keep yourself from getting define by the wrong things, you’ll prepare yourself to be an overcomer rather than a victim.
You may be powerless to prevent but your empowered to prevail.
Listen: so much of this comes down to a serious question: do you have a Fast God or a Slow God? Does God work swiftly and dramatically, in great leaps … or does he work slowly and methodically, in well ordered steps? Answer: yes. Often he is fast when we want slow and he is slow when we long for fast. When you’re caught up hating the very evil that seems to prosper, I have found it very helpful to ask that question with exactly those words: do you have a Fast God or a Slow God? Yes, yes, you do. You may be powerless to prevent but your empowered to prevail.
And oh by the way, the confidence here that Habakkuk has for the ultimate justice being done to his adversaries … wrapped up in karma or revenge or however you want to look at it … can we cut through it and let me tell you something? It is OK to pray failure on things and projects and even people. Like for years, a group of us have been praying that Al Qaeda and ISIS would collapse under the weight of their own lies and that God would use all of it to let the Gospel gain a foothold in the Middle East. Closer to home and much less violently, as folks have sought to have Methodism abandon its core, I’ve prayed for failure on those movements as well. So many of these Old Testament prophecies are DESCRIPTIVE rather than PRESCRIPTIVE – meaning they describe emotions rather than prescribing behavior as in “go and do likewise – and so I don’t think taunting is necessarily the Christian way. But asking God to hasten the time when liars and deceivers bear the weight of their own lies and deception – that is.
And along those lines, know this as well. I’ve metioned & joked about karma but here’s the truth. Believing karma KEEPS YOU A VICTIM. Why do you think the caste system still remains in India! It consigns you to a shoulder shrugging, victim loving live. Don’t believe it and don’t buy it! If you believe in grace, which travels OUTSIDE of karma, it makes you the victor rather than the victim! What a difference! Why settle when you can soar?!! It’s awesome when villains collapse under the weight of their villainy and by grace victims turn into victors. That can be you. Define yourself by your Savior and not your circumstances. You may be powerless to prevent but your empowered to prevail.
All of which is why I love what they do in the Russian Church on the day after Easter. They have a Joke Day. Everyone brings the best – and presumably clean – jokes to church and the share. Why because Easter is the celebration of the fact that God played the ultimate cosmic joke on Satan. That he took what looked like Satan’s victory and turned it into the devil’s most brutal defeat. Because whatever else you say about the problem of evil in the world you gotta admit this: God took his own medicine to solve it (AV of Passion & cross). And turned that weapon of evil into his instrument of salvation. The cross won it and the rez confirmed it.
The God who spoke the first word will have the last laugh. In the meantime, umbrellas in tow, we’ll live into the confidence of You may be powerless to prevent but your empowered to prevail.