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.
- Habakkuk 2:2-3
Evidence in the little book of the prophet Habakkuk (some say that his name means, “the best hugger”) suggests that he preached in the years leading up to the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. Habakkuk begins by crying out to God in anger, protesting the violence and wickedness of his homeland. “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and You will not listen?” (Habakkuk 1:2)
God replies to Habakkuk, that He has a plan to destroy the evil rulers of Jerusalem, using the mighty infantry and cavalry of the Chaldean nation (a.k.a. the Babylonians).
God’s response upsets Habakkuk even more: he protested to God, “why do You look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?” (1:13) In other words, “God, why do you allow bad people to hurt good people ?”
Listening to God’s final answer to Habakkuk— the verses at the top of this column— we can sympathize with Habakkuk’s impatience, but we can also take comfort in the certainty that God has a plan that is plenty big enough to bring everyone to justice: “It will surely come, it will not delay.” God gives His people visions of a better world, and we work toward it while we wait.
Perhaps you have heard this 1853 quotation from abolitionist and Unitarian minister Rev. Theodore Parker, which was made famous when Martin Luther King, Jr. paraphrased it: “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” In a 1964 baccalaureate sermon,
Dr. King gave this condensed version of the quote: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
In the United Church of Christ, we work for God’s justice under the motto, THAT THEY MAY ALL BE ONE, which comes from Jesus’ prayers for his followers in the gospel according to John (see especially John 17:11, 18, 20-23). Sadly, obviously, the followers of Jesus twenty centuries later do not have much unity. But some of us keep trying. Our forebears in the Christian Church tradition that predated the UCC held as their first principle, “The Lord Jesus Christ is the only head of the Church.” That would be a strong basis for unity, if only Christians could agree on what the Lord Jesus Christ really wanted us all to do.
World Communion Sunday, which we will observe at Bethel this week, unites many Christians as we obey Jesus’ command to remember him when we eat and drink. In Luke 22:17-19, his wishes seem simple and straightforward: He took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Share the cup. Share the loaf. Can we come together around that ? Imagine Ukrainian and Russian Christians, Palestinian Arab and American evangelical Christians, Protestant and Catholic Christians, Democratic and Republican Christians, Spanish-speaking and English-speaking Christians, all passing the bread and cup to one another around Christ’s table.
If you’re interested, while we are naming things that Jesus clearly told us to do, we might go even farther and try to obey what he stated in John 13:34-35: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
“We are worthless slaves;
we have done only what we ought to have done!” -Luke 17:10