Sunday, October 30, 2016

Year C Proper 26 2016 "Billboards of Faith"

“Billboards of Faith”
Year C Proper 26, 30 October 2016
St. David’s, Aylett, VA

I lived in Texas for the longest year of my life. A good part of that was Texas. They are a proud people, and they reminded me of Virginians in that aspect. They are proud of their state and their heritage. I guess I did not stay long enough. I totally understood why Virginians are, and I was still looking when I left Texas. But what made it hard was Stephanie, my wife, was back here in Virginia, and I was so far away. During that year, I was on a drama team from the seminary where I was going, and got to see a lot of the state and got to meet lots and lots of people. Whenever I told somebody I was from Virginia I repeatedly got the same thing. I was always a surprise, because to me it was something I took for granted and never once considered. But to Texans, it was a big deal because it was so different.

For the Texans who had been to Virginia, they repeatedly mentioned, “Oh, Virginia, ooh, the trees, I so loved all the trees, and the billboards, y’all put them far off the road, and people can enjoy the view.” After I heard that a few times, I did notice that so many of the billboards in Texas were right on the road, and you have no choice but to look at them. I guess here in Virginia, we put them off in the trees for the most part, and you can choose to look at them or not. Funny to get a compliment on our billboards.

But today, we have a few instances of billboards, yes, billboards in the Bible. They may not have called them that, but that is what they are, HUGE pronouncements that God is God, and God is good, and that all things will be made right. Thanks be to God.

Habakkuk is where the billboard idea came to me. Because what is a billboard designed to do, but to catch your attention when you are going by at a fast rate of speed? And those are the exact words that we have here with that. After the prophet decries the injustice that the good are in trouble and the unrighteous are advancing, God declares to the prophet:
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.
Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

Write it so that a runner may read it! Did you catch that? God said to make it on a billboard. HUGE letters so that even those running in fear, or busy-ness, or whatever, will not miss it. It will surely come.  Waiting for God is sometimes why they call it faith. I have not had opportunity to share with you what brings me with you several Sundays out of the last month. St. Thomas’ where I served in Richmond is a good church, and after a few years of transition it became a reality that they were no longer in a position to have two priests, just one. I had worked hard and well, and the rector had as well, but it was a hard reality and part of the nature of the changing church landscape. But that reality of being unemployed still does not change. I changed my Facebook status to Priest-at-Large in the Diocese of Virginia, as I still have a calling and vocational responsibilities even though I no longer have a full-time paycheck. So how do I deal with this season of being between? Some days I complain. Some days I joke. Every day I pray. I pray for myself. I pray for my family to be faithful. I pray for the parish that needs me, and that God is preparing for me and me for. And I pray to be pruned and fitted for the call of God when God’s timing is right. This in-between is a season of faith. The prophet Habakkuk proclaims to me and everyone. God is God, and God is good, and that all things will be made right. Think about it, almost every movie’s climax is in some way the aligning of EVERYTHING so that it comes out right. We even hear the hero’s voice, whispering, “Wait for it… wait for it… wait for it…” and then Kaboom!, or A Big Kiss finally, or The Roar of the Crowd. Whatever the ending, it is always the same, the journey must come to an end, the planets must all align, and everything must be made complete. These days of faithfulness remind us that God is not done with any of us yet. Thanks be to God!
The passage in Second Thessalonians is another billboard, calling out the same message. Where is God when times are hard? Where is God when the righteous suffer. The theological name for this is theodicy, theo-  from God, and -dicy from the Greek word for judgment or rightness or a court case. In other words we wrestle with the goodness of God in view of what seems to us an unjust situation. This is not an easy task, and different people come to different conclusions. Some people say that God is not all powerful. Rabbi Kushner argues this in When Bad Things Happen To Good People, which was a national bestseller back in the 80s. He said that God was just, just not all-powerful. Other people argue that God is not just. When I was in high school I remember reading J. B. by Archibald MacLeish. He won the Pulitzer Prize on this play retelling the book of Job set in midcentury America. One of the characters repeatedly said, “If God is God, he is not good. If God is good, he is not God.” When you hear those words, you can put the blame on us, that from our perspective then God is not just. But I think MacLeish was saying exactly what we hear with no nuance. “If God is God he is not good.” MacLeish is saying that God is not just or bad things would not happen. But for me, and I believe Paul and Habakkuk would affirm, God is just and God is good, and the Justice of God has not yet come to pass. “We ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring. To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The billboard from Second Thessalonians in words big enough to read once again say: God is God, and God is good, and that all things will be made right.  The justice of God is not always apparent to us as it comes. Our eyes may be blurred by tears, and the path may lead through dark stretches, but the path of faith leads to a place of wholeness and goodness for all God’s people. I believe this. I pray this. If I did not I could not stand before you today.

Luke’s billboard is from a story I have known my whole life. I have been singing about it since I was a wee one myself. I learned it in Sunday School, and Children’s Choir, and probably Vacation Bible School, too. Join in if you know it...
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
And as the Savior came that way
He looked up in the tree, and said
“Zaccheus, you come down!
For I’m going to your house today!
I’m going to your house today.”
So much truth in so few words. As a child I remember thinking that Zacchaeus felt shy because he because he was short. Being taller than most my age being short was not a good thing to me, and so I thought this was about being nice to short people. But as I got older, I heard the nature of the tax collector, like in last Sunday’s parable. They were hated and despised. They cheated their friends, if they had them, and neighbors, and they aligned with the Roman occupiers of their beloved Israel. He was more than just a scumbag, he was a traitor to boot. The Scripture says ALL that saw Jesus choose Zacchaeus as his host judged Jesus because Zacchaeus was such a sinner. All the people grumbled, Luke says. These were the same people who would not let him through to see Jesus coming by.

Being 6 foot 5 I am forever letting people through to see. When I get a group photo made, I always move to the back row. I always have, I always will I am guessing. Zacchaeus was probably just the opposite. He would have elbowed his way to the front, or “excuse me” his way through. But he knew what people thought of him, and headed for a tree. This would have been his only hope to see Jesus passing through. He knew better than to ask for anything from his own townspeople.  But Jesus looked past those around him, sought Zacchaeus out, and brought grace to his house.

Zacchaeus’ response Christ’s Grace was Justice. “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Grace did not come from Zacchaeus paying a price. It came, and the response was righteousness. I assume he followed through, or why else would Luke have included this story?

Jesus proclaimed in another Billboard of Faith. “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” For you see, even though our Billboards of Faith so far have called for Justice for the faithful, Jesus here takes it one step further. God wants to spread his Grace to all. Even though his townspeople may have prayed against him, Zacchaeus as well may get in on this. Because remember, God is God, and God is good, and that all things will be made right. Even us, even the worst of us, can become the faithful, too.

You see, every sinner can have a future and every saint has a past. All are welcome. You. Me. Zacchaeus. The Righteous. The Unrighteous. Because Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Why? Because God is God, and God is good, and that all things will be made right. Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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Blessings, Rock