Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:2-4, 3:17-19 

This message must be short and sweet.  The children are listening. They know when we aren’t telling the truth, they pick up on the nuances of our voice tones. My children know when I’m stressed and they worry for me. I want to preach hope. But truthful hope.

cop-boy-hug

This picture is so awesome. It is an absolutely fantastic story. This image was taken by a freelance photographer, a Portland college student, (Johnny Nguyen) at a Ferguson demonstration in Portland this week – on Tuesday the 25th.

Emotions were running high. How could they not be? Protests have been tentatively scheduled for the day of the grand jury announcement or the day after for weeks. In Portland it was the day after. The story goes that this Sgt Bret Barnum, a Portland Police officer with 21 years experience, noticed a young man, whose name is Devonte Hart, a 12 year old, with tears in his eyes holding a “Free Hugs” sign among a group of people.

So he approached him  and the two started talking about stuff, school, art and life, the day. And when it was over, he then he pointed to the young man’s sign and asked, “Do I get one of those?” This picture makes me cry. It is everything we need to see, hear, and be.

To say this image went viral does not do it justice. Because I think the words we use matter. And viral may be what the kids call it, but this image soothed. This image healed, this image created conversation, facilitated grief.

God I needed that good word. Because it is instead images like this that that I see everyday, in a thousand stories. Not just Ferguson. But this was the sort of image that stung me, wounded me, pushed me over the edge into a dark spiral of sadness, anger, denial, bargaining… grief work. I wept for this world this week. There is no other way to describe it except I felt so deflated. Weary. Uncomfortable with my Comfortable lifestyle here in Eugene, removed, enchanted. It’s not just Ferguson that reminds me. It’s just that Ferguson is so close to home. And not even that close. Just because this happened in Portland does not mean I know his pain, as young black man. Just because his mother is white does not mean she and I have the same experience either. And it’s not JUST Ferguson. Pain and anguish exists in Syria. Palestine.   It is difficult for any of us on the outside of an issue to fully grasp the complexity and the hurt of those from a different background. This is true of a friend who is suicidal. True of a transgendered homeless person. We don’t know that life. It’s also true for a foster child. And true for Michael Brown’s family. And for Darren Wilson’s family.   For Bret Barnum’s family and Devone Hart’s family.

#StayWokeAdvent by Micky ScottBey Jones

So often Advent is explained as a season of hushed, joyful, expectancy, like a child waiting to open shiny presents under the Christmas tree. Yes, there is darkness, but it is mediated by twinkling lights and shiny wrapping paper that makes it okay. Just be patient, and soon you’ll get the goodies.

 “We acknowledge the darkness, but try to scramble past it for light as soon as possible.”

I think this is how I live my whole life. Acknowledging darkness but running to the light.  But this week? This week darkness ate me for lunch.

And I could not tell myself this week to suck it up. But I was carried through this grief and absolute frustration with America, (and I include myself) by the prayers of the people around me.  I am so thankful for every single person who has preached a word of hope to me this week. Clergy, laity, George Takei. Harvey Milk. Sarah Hart, Devonte Hart. College friends, church friends, family friends, Martin Luther King, Jr.  Oh my God! Did I need that good word this week. IT is their prayers, their thoughts, their words of hope that I speak today. Their words of hope – eternal, cosmic, hope like, deep breath, full hearts, can’t lose hope. The actual quote is “clear eyes, full hearts can’t lose,” but since I cried through every moment of prayer this week I can’t say my eyes were very clear.) 

Adventis the time to stay alert…to “stay woke” one blogger put it…to your senses, your mind, your body, your feelings, your spirit to where to Spirit is stirring and leaning. Stay woke….to the impact your life has on others…Stay woke…to the injustice that we either contribute to or diminish…Stay woke….to the groanings of the world…Stay woke…to the humble, radical, empire-upsetting ways of Jesus…Stay woke…to the darkness…Stay woke…to the light…and to the sacred and profane in both.

If I needed that good word this week, how much more so must  Michael Brown Sr, must Darren Wilson’s wife, must Devonte Hart’s mother?

One voice that has been speaking this word of hope is the prophet Habakkuk. I can’t tell you hardly a thing about him. Not enough to go on. Certainly not enough to help us feel like we know him or knew what life was like for him. But let’s listen to him. 

Habakkuk 1: 1-4, 2:2-4, 3:17-19                    THE MESSAGE:

Chapter 1

The problem as God gave Habakkuk to see it:

God, how long do I have to cry out for help
before you listen?
How many times do I have to yell, “Help! Murder! Police!”
before you come to the rescue?
Why do you force me to look at evil,
stare trouble in the face day after day?
Anarchy and violence break out,
quarrels and fights all over the place.
Law and order fall to pieces.
Justice is a joke.
The wicked have the righteous hamstrung
and stand justice on its head.

(black slide)

Have you ever been stuck in a dark place with only a sliver of light or no light at all? You know those times waiting for news that could bring just as much struggle as it brings resolution? Remember the times of waiting and waiting, not knowing when the answers will come? Times of anticipation, of unknowing, of darkness before more light. They are not always joyful, peaceful, or even largely hopeful. These are his times. These are our times. These are times of struggle, times of wrestling, doubting, mourning, crying, yearning, times of staying alert to the signs that light may be coming, that things are changing. Let’s continue with Chapter 2:

Chapter 2

And then God answered: “Write this.
Write what you see.
Write it out in big block letters
so that it can be read on the run.
This vision-message is a witness
pointing to what’s coming.
It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait!
And it doesn’t lie.
If it seems slow in coming, wait.
It’s on its way. It will come right on time.

“Look at the man, bloated by self-importance—
full of himself but soul-empty.
But the person in right standing before God
through loyal and steady believing
is fully alive, really alive.

There’s this thing about “God’s time”, I really do not like that phrasing. I try very hard to not use it when counseling others. Because I have been on the receiving end of “oh, things will work out, in God’s time” and it was not helpful.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t true.  We crave quick answers. Things take time. Things take effort. And waiting sucks. Just ask a kid. But what I do LOVE about Habakkuk’s concluding prayer is this idea that if you have faith, if you can continue to hope, if even a little, you. will. Live!  

SO, in Chapter 3

Habakkuk prays:

Though the cherry trees don’t blossom
and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheep-less
and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to God.
I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.
Counting on God’s Rule to prevail,
I take heart and gain strength.
I run like a deer.  I feel like I’m king of the mountain!”

There is a vision we’ve agreed on and we still believe it can come to pass. We believe in the love of God for all people. We delight together in what God is doing through us to bring healing within brokenness, unity within diversity, joy within grief, and power within weakness. We believe God has called us to be a light to the world from the Heart of Eugene.

Can you speak that good word to yourself – to someone else? Write it down. Post it note on your mirror so that when you come to look at yourself in the morning it’s written across your face.  Make the good word so simple that “it can be read on the run”. Within the challenges of life, within the struggle for justice, amongst the weary, war torn, ignorant, inside our racist system and our sexist institutions and our classist structures of this world there is HOPE.

Hope is where we begin to tell the story of our God. Our God, who comes as a child, tears in his eyes, giving away free hugs.

Hope is how we begin to love. And we must love each other for our very lives depend upon it. Hope is first candle light that pierces the dark. May this Advent season be your re-awakening, and may hope be your strength, and your refuge.