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God and Geopolitics (2): I Tremble Within (2017-1029)

. 6 min read

Message video.

29
Oct 2017, Christ Mountain Top
Call
to Worship,
Lamentations 1:1-3, 1:4, 3:21-26
Children,
Luke 19.1-10
Message,
Habakkuk 3.1-19
Last
week, I mentioned that I chose Habakkuk because the prophet is dealing
personally and theologically with a situation that has parallels to our global
anxieties – whether from 9/11 and the war on terror, the recent hurricane
season, or a nuclear North Korea.  The
parallels are limited, but the theological questions he faces are common –
judgment, justice, the end of all things, the clash of cultures, wrath, mercy,
God.
      Going back to 9/11, I remember the revenge
fantasies – why don’t we just nuke ‘em all. I remember the fear of the other,
particularly Arabs, and the pain of my Muslim and Arab friends – who, just like
me, were entirely shocked and appalled by the attacks. Yesterday, Ohio State
fans had their revenge fantasies fulfilled, unfortunately.
      I am amazed by how human God’s Book really
is.  Did you hear Habakkuk say, “I wait
quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us”
(3.16)?  Talk about a revenge
fantasy!  Of course, it is not all he
says, and it is not the end of the matter. 
In the beginning of this short book, Habakkuk makes clear that he and
his own people have some judgment coming, and deservedly so (1.13).  Perhaps that is the source of the wisdom of
Proverbs: “Those who are glad at calamity will not go unpunished” (Pro
17.5b).  So, in this chapter, Habakkuk
prays, “In wrath may you remember mercy” (3.2). 

Much
like the opening section, this passage has Habakkuk speak and God respond.  Unlike the opening section, this ends with
Habakkuk speaking and the middle – God’s response – is “heard” (3.16, 3.2,
“shema”) but not in words.  It is a
vision; in the context of the book it may well be the vision the LORD refers to
in chapter 2: “Write the vision … so that a runner may read it” (2.2).  Today we’ll begin by diving into the vision,
first two images for God and then two places God comes from.
Images:
Warrior and Storm
, overlapping and inter-woven
The
image of God as Warrior is ancient, and difficult (Hiebert).  We have to set it alongside Jesus as Prince
of Peace.  We’re not going to sort that
out this morning.  The Warrior image is
tied to redemption, to the deliverance of slaves from their oppressors, to the
story of Israel, “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11.1, Matthew 2.15).  It can be made self-serving: God likes me, I
don’t like them, so God the Warrior will now destroy them.  The prophet does not fall for that
temptation.  Instead, with humility, he
prays, “In wrath, remember mercy” (Heschel).
      The Storm image (how appropriate for our
recent weather events) is mixed in.  The
arrows of lightning strikes.  Mountains
writhe.  The moon stands still.  Some storm! 
And, the warrior-storm vanquishes the Sea – that ancient image for
chaos, evil, and danger, “Here be dragons!” 
“You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the mighty waters”
(3.15).
      The Warrior image is tied to the drama of
redemption, particularly (in this vision) redemption from Egypt with
“pestilence” and “plague” (3.5).  The
Storm image is tied to the drama of creation. 
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth
was formless and void and darkness covered the surface of the deep, and the
Spirit of God hovered over the waters” (Genesis 1.1-2) … God triumphs over
Sea and brings order out of chaos.
      The two images are rooted in the stories
of Redemption and Creation. These two images are anchored in history (redemption)
or in nature (creation).  God acts in
history.  God acts in the real physical
world.
      And these images remind us that salvation
is not accomplished without justice. 
Sometimes we ask, “Why doesn’t God just forgive us and be done with
it?”  For God, salvation cannot come
without justice – thus the cross.  God
can forgive because justice has been done.
Where
God comes from: Teman and Paran
In
this vision, God is from somewhere, two different places in particular, places
that have quite different meaning and value in ancient Hebrew culture.
      “God came from Teman, the Holy One from
Mount Paran” (3.3).  Teman is a city in
Edom, named for a grandson of Esau, and part of a never-ending biblical family
feud.  (See Genesis 36.11, Jeremiah
49.20, and Obadiah 1.9).  Esau was
jealous of his brother Jacob and vowed to kill him.  Their descendants – Edom and Israel – shared
a border and it was rarely peaceful. 
Paran is the Sinai wilderness, where Israel wandered in the wilderness,
met with God, and received the Law. 
Paran is also important in the ancient history of Edom.  It is the region in which Ishmael was raised
by Hagar (Genesis 21.21, c.f. 1 Kings 11.18). 
Ishmael was brother to favored Isaac and became father-in-law to
Esau.  And, over and over, whenever Paran
is mentioned, whether in connection with Israel or Edom, it is a place where
people go to “get away,” but not as a vacation destination. Paran is where you
go when you do not fit in, Paran is where you go when you are not welcome. There’s
nothing “there” but other wanderers.
      Note that neither Jerusalem nor its
mountains Zion or Moriah are mentioned. 
When the prophet tells the people that salvation will come, he makes it
clear that salvation will come from an unexpected source.  It will not be from Jerusalem, from the
establishment of priests and kings, from the center of Jewish culture and
commerce. 
      Put together, these “origins” tell us that
salvation comes from the “fringe” – from the other person that we’d rather
reject, in the barren wilderness.
      One of the ongoing war on terror has been
conversation between Christians and Muslims, between Arabs and the West.  In many ways, we have accepted the idea of
the “clash of cultures” (see Q interview with Imam Feisel of the “Ground Zero
Mosque”).  The whole idea has problems:
It is often portrayed as Christian versus Muslim, but the USA is not monolithic
when it comes to faith … we Americans are not all Christians.  And, biblically, Christians are to love their
enemies.
      Eight years ago in Memphis TN, a
mosque bought property across the street from Heartsong UM Church.  Pastor Steve Stone and the folks of the
church determined from the beginning that Jesus expected them to love their
neighbors.  So, they put up a sign:
“Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood”.  The congregations got to know each other,
friendships developed.  When mosque construction
was behind schedule, the church welcomed their neighbors to use their space for
Ramadan prayers for the whole month, and church members served as
greeters.  They did not minimize the
significant differences between the Christian faith and Islam.  They just believed that following Jesus means
really loving our neighbors.  And if the
prophetic vision describes God and God’s salvation as coming from Teman and
Paran, then we must not close the door to relationships with those who are
“other”, who are unlike us, whose very presence could make us uncomfortable.
No
wonder Habakkuk responds, “I hear, and I tremble (quake) within (belly, womb);
my lips quiver (tingle) at the sound (voice)” (3.16).  He desires salvation, but it is so
OTHER.  God shows up as Warrior and
Storm, entirely out of our control. 
Salvation comes from the fringe, not from the center.  God runs with the wrong crowd.  No wonder Habakkuk quakes and tingles, no
wonder that – in anticipation – he cries out “In wrath remember mercy” (3.2).
      But this wild vision does something else
for the prophet.  Remember that he is
facing calamity of his own, and calamity for his nation.  And God is not promising an immediate
salvation, a solution that makes me happy now. 
So, what do we do in the meantime? 
How do we deal with the interim between today and the day of salvation?  In chapter 2, the LORD tells Habakkuk “the
righteous live by faith” (2.4).  We don’t
get Habakkuk’s response until the end of chapter 3:
Though the
fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the
olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the
fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, 
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of
my salvation (3.17-18).
That’s
Habakkuk’s statement of faith.  He
chooses to rejoice in God even when there is no cause for joy in his life and
country.  He chooses to celebrate God’s
salvation even though he is still waiting for it.
Resources:
Heschel,
Abraham J.
  1962.  The Prophets: An Introduction, volume
1.
  New York: Harper & Row.
Hiebert,
Theodore.  1996.  The Book of Habakkuk: Introduction,
Commentary, and Reflections.
  In The
New Interpreter’s Bible,
volume VII.
Gabe Lyons
and Imam Feisel.  “The Future of Muslim
and Christian Relations in the West”. 
Conversation presentation at Q 2011.
http://www.qideas.org/video/the-christian-and-muslim-divide.aspx
Smietana,
Bob.  September/October 2011.  “Peace Be Upon Them”.  Sojourners Magazine, 40:9, 16.
http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&mode=printer_friendly&issue=soj1109&article=peace-be-upon-them