I need more faith to face the days ahead. As I consider the state of our nation and the world, I am frightened. I fear for our children and their children.
I don’t want to live (nor do I want future generations to live) in a world devastated by war, poverty and global scorching. I don’t want to reside in a nation threatened with terror, corruption, and conflict. Yet this is the current landscape. We live in what the poet Sara Teasdale once described as “a broken field, plowed by pain.”
Our country is a fertile field that has produced many a blue ribbon, bumper crop. It is a land enriched by the blood, sweat and tears of “all sorts and conditions of people.” It is a land cultivated with the best technology and raw materials money can buy. It is a field of hopes, dreams and visions. In the words of singer-songwriter, Pete Seeger, “our land is a good land,” and our people are generally good people.
At the same time, our country is a field that wants attention. Our crops, while strong and vibrant, need pruning. Weeds of plenty crowd out fledgling seedlings. Stones of arrogance, self-aggrandizement, and divisiveness get in the way of the plow. Our precious land is being broken and ripped apart by terrorism, war, poverty, fear, greed, and hatred. Our nation, a land of immigrants, once a beacon of welcome, has turned its back on so many seeking to join us.
Where do we turn for hope?
I turn to the Hebrew prophet Habakkuk. Writing to the Jewish people during the late 6th century BCE, Habakkuk lived in a painful world in which justice never went forth except in what seemed to be a perverted form.
Distressed that violence and injustice prevailed in his land, he agonized over the thought that God would tolerate such evil. And so he prayed, “How long?” and asked, “Why?” He questioned God’s fidelity to the people because God seemed not to listen to prayer or react to the breakdown of society. From Habakkuk’s perspective, the almighty God was not willing to punish those who did injustice and violence to the weak and downtrodden.
In the first chapter of the prophet’s book, God answered Habakkuk’s prayers, cries and questions. But the answer was neither comforting nor reassuring. According to the prophetic response, God would use evil people to punish the evil and unjust behavior of his nation. God would rouse a mighty military force as an instrument to punish the wickedness of his country. They would impose justice, but justice according to their own perspective. In the process of punishing the wicked, innocent people would be killed.
Habakkuk did not understand. It seemed so unfair, so unlike the God of his ancestors, the God of the Exodus, the God of creation. Habakkuk wondered if there were any reason to still believe in God. Maybe God should be abandoned and traded in for a more tangible, more powerful, more relevant idol.
In his anguish and faithfulness, Habakkuk chose to wait for another encounter, another conversation with the Almighty. Eventually, God spoke again, and Habakkuk received divine insight. God answered:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision
for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Wait, be patient, have faith, and act.
God’s vision of justice and peace, and mercy is still alive today. God’s promise of reconciliation and redemption and salvation for all creation is still valid. God has not given up on us.
Therefore, God wants us to have enough faith and courage to “write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.”
Jesus elaborated on this message by calling us to have faith like a mustard seed. Whether growing wild or intentionally planted and cultivated, mustard is more than just a feast for the eyes. It's nourishment for the land and a feast for other crops.
Mustard plants thrive just until their buds break. Then they are turned under to mulch and provide valuable nutrients and phosphorus to the emerging plants, especially grapevines. Ancient farmers carried mustard seeds in a backpack with a hole in the bottom so that as they walked, they sowed and scattered their seeds with abandonment.
This is how Jesus wants us to live. As followers of an itinerant teacher, rabbi and prophet, we are called to spread his good news, through word and action; to have faith that like mustard seeds, our message will be prolific, spreading far and wide to nourish the land.
As the community of faith, we are commissioned to proclaim the prophetic vision for which Jesus gave his life: good news for the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and liberty for those who are oppressed.
As those who promise ‘to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, we are called to insist that God loves everybody regardless of race, gender, nationality, religion, or sexual identity; that God has a place for everyone at the table; and that God doesn't like it when we exclude others from God's love and God's table.
As those who follow the Prince of Peace, we are called to insist that God wants peace and justice, not war and terrorism; and that God wants us to become peacemakers and justice-seekers and to expect the same of our elected leaders.
As those who follow a savior who was born in a stable, lived among the poor and told the rich to share their wealth with the poor, we are called to admit that God has a special affection for the hungry, the homeless, the unemployed and the impoverished; and that God wants us to work on their behalf and vote for their well-being.
As those who love a Lord who raised up, embraced, beckoned the little children to himself, we are called to lift our voices on behalf of all God’s children; and to insist that all God’s children – rich and poor, black, white, yellow and brown, urban, suburban and rural – have a right to a decent education, safe places to live, and enough food to eat.
As those who know the healing presence and restoring power of God in Christ, we are called to insure the health and welfare of the wounded, the sick and the afflicted.
As those who have feasted on the abundant bread of life and have drunk from the ever-flowing streams of living water, we are called to share our abundance with the world around us.
As those who promise “to persevere in resisting evil,” we are called to speak the truth and to insist that our political, corporate, civic, and religious leaders do the same in justifying individual and collective actions.
As those who promise “to respect the dignity of every human being,” we are called to protect the rights of all, including the stranger and sojourner, the refugee and immigrant, and those who live behind prison walls.
As those who were given the stewardship of creation, we are called to protect our environment and to insist that our government and our corporations do the same for the sake of every living being, now and in the future.
Perhaps most importantly, as those who proclaim the risen Christ, who say, ‘We are an Easter people,’ who meet God on a cross and in an empty tomb – we are called to believe that this same God can overcome fear, divisiveness, and hatred; and to trust that God can break down the walls that divide us.
God is not a Democrat or a Republican; God is not a libertarian, a socialist, a communist, a member of the Green Party, or even an independent voter. God is not a member of any political party. Rather, God simply calls the community of faith to follow the teachings of Jesus and the prophets.
We are to use our faith – small as a mustard seed and yet large enough to move mulberry trees into the ocean. God calls us to raise our voices collectively and individually – at dinner parties, at work, at church, at the country club, at the barbershop and the beauty salon, on the street corner, at the grocery store, and at the voting booth. We are called to cry out for justice and peace, for truth and integrity, for respect and dignity for all God’s people, come what may and cost what it will.
In doing so, we will grow hope and new life in the broken fields plowed by the pain of terror, oppression, poverty, hatred, fear, and war. That’s a promise.