Monday, February 29, 2016

How Long Will We Let Them?

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-5
Children’s Sabbath 2016
February 7, 2016
Chatfield UMC

I received word this week that an organization that has been working on behalf of children in faith communities throughout MN is ceasing to exist. iCAN, interfaith children’s advocacy network will be folded into the work of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition. iCAN has been struggling because of lack of funding and therefore, lack of personnel. 
I am nostalgic about this because it was through this organization that I became aware of Children’s Sabbath.

Over 20 years ago I sat in a room at a Jewish synagogue in Minneapolis surrounded by strong women and a few men who were passionate about the struggles of MN children. We did what we could through congregational networks to make sure Children’s Sabbath was observed in as many places as possible.
As an aside, this is where I first met some of the UMWomen who would become beacons of faith for me. And I wasn’t even UM, yet.

Since those meetings, I have advocated that every church I serve, every organization that I work with and, even, the seminary at which I was staff, observe or support Children’s Sabbath.

I know that it is symbolic at best. I know that observing Children’s Sabbath once a year does very little to change the horrible statistics that reflect the lack of well being of our nation’s children. I know that one worship service a year will not stem the tide of poverty, violence or lack of health care that plagues our nation’s children.

Yet, I believe, with all my heart, that one hour on a Sunday morning, consistently observed year after year, can melt the hearts of one or two people who will make a change. I believe that one-hour on a Sabbath day observed throughout the US year after year, can influence the collective will of people of God. I believe that if even only one hurtful policy is changed, one decision maker is influenced towards a heart for children, one teacher or social worker or parent or policymaker is affirmed for their work on behalf of children, I believe that if even only one child’s life is changed for the better, then the yearly observance of Children’s Sabbath has made a difference.

As we see organizations like iCAN struggling to find the funds necessary to continue, and our nation’s children continue to struggle with lack of services and support we must cry out with the words of Habakkuk: We must be the voice that cries out with the words of Habakkuk: How long? How long?

On the steps of the Capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama, after the conclusion of the Selma march fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., recognized that the question, “How long?” remained in the hearts of the faithful but weary children, youths, women and men spanning race, religion, age, and geography who gathered there. Dr. King, near the end of his remarks, said:
“I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ Somebody’s asking, ‘How long will prejudice blind the visions of men?’ I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth pressed to earth will rise again. How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because you still reap what you sow.....How long? Not long. Because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. How long? Not long, ‘cause mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord....His truth is marching on. ...Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him. Be jubilant, my feet. Our God is marching on. Glory, hallelujah. Glory, hallelujah. Glory, hallelujah. God’s truth is marching on.”

Dr. King also echoed Habakkuk’s voice, the divine voice of the prophet as he answered: It will not be long.

Dr. King believed as Habakkuk and all the holy prophets of God believed: God’s justice was inevitable. God’s justice was just on the horizon. God’s justice was ready to roll down like the waters, baptizing the earth with the righteousness of God’s ways.

Yet, today, the question from Habakkuk and Dr. King and all the prophets of God continues to echo through the generations. How long O Lord, how long?

And I answer the question with a caution: that depends. That depends on how seriously the people of God hear the word of God. That depends on how seriously the people of God want to find the answer to the question.

That depends on how seriously the people of God are willing to stand up to their neighbors and say: enough.

Enough. It is no longer acceptable that we claim to live in a Christian nation yet do not heed the word of God. It is no longer acceptable that we claim to be people of God, but do not do the Word of God.

Steven Colbert has famously said: “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that Jesus commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it.”
If this is going to be a Christian nation. Well, that is beyond my circle of influence; however, I can, you can influence that place that we live. That place where we live that is given, by God, to us to influence.

Habakkuk writes with urgency that compels us to stop standing or sitting around. To stop reclining on our sofas of apathy. To stop putting our feet up on our footstools of indifference.

Habakkuk commands us to: “Write a vision, and make it plain upon a tablet so that a runner can read it.”
This little verse can mean one of two things, or both, actually. Write the vision you have for justice so big that a runner running by can read it. Or write it so clearly that you can read it while you take the vision out into the streets at a run.

Either way: whether you are the runner with the vision of justice, or the person running by reading the vision of justice, either way we are not doing the work of God sitting around on our recliners or sofas, we are in the running. We are getting out and about and doing it.

How long will it take for justice to roll down like waters? It depends on how long we sit around doing nothing. It depends on how long we wait for someone else to get up and start running with the vision.

How long will our children struggle with poverty, lead in their water, insufficient health care, violence in their homes, inadequate and antiquated classrooms? How long will our children live with injustices that we can do something about?
It depends on how long we are willing to let them.

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