Catch the vision (Do we lament or do we grumble?) (Year C, 30 October 2016)


When Jesus invites himself to Zacchaeus’ place, Luke says (19.7),

All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”

Grumbling must be pretty well universal. We read that Israelites grumbled when they wandered in the wilderness for forty years.

People grumble about all sorts of things: school or work, asylum seekers, the in-laws, slow internet speeds, the Brisbane Lions, their smart phone freezing, politics, kids. And they also grumble about other people who grumble all the time.

When people grumble to one another, they often feel a bit better. Someone else feels the way they do! They feel that they must be right, after, all their friends agree with them!

But you know, despite all that the bible isn’t too fond of grumbling. For example, James 5.9 says

Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

Grumbling is never helpful in church life. No matter how right we feel, no matter that all our friends agree with us.

I must have been a bit of a grumbler when I was a kid; I have strong memories of mum telling me ‘Stop your moaning!’ It’s easy to grumble when things aren’t going right. Right?

I think I certainly would’ve have grumbled if my parents had named me Habakkuk—but you know, the prophet Habakkuk wasn’t one to grumble.

Your  may think he was a grumbler. After all, he wrote

‘O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?’                          Habakkuk 1.1–2

But when Habakkuk said this, he wasn’t grumbling. It might sound like it, but he wasn’t. He was lamenting. What’s the difference between the two? Lamenting?—grumbling?—it all sounds the same…

Let me try to offer an easy difference. When we grumble, we are grumbling to other people, or thinking about how wronged we are. Or we’re just talking to ourselves.

When we lament, in one way or another—openly or indirectly—we include God in the conversation.

That’s about it, really. Lament includes God, perhaps through concern for those made in God’s image, or for God’s good earth. Lament is an act of faith.

Grumbling reflects a lack of faith.

Let’s look at how that works with Habakkuk. When he says,

Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?

Habakkuk is lamenting. He is addressing God: ‘why do you make me see wrongdoing…’

Habakkuk could have grumbled. He could have said to his neighbour: Isn’t there a lot of wrongdoing these days? Why doesn’t someone fix things up? And his friend might reply, You’re right there, Habakkuk! It was much better in the old days. And if you tell the young people today, they don’t believe you…

When we include God in a conversation we show that we have some kind of faith in God. A lot of biblical lament is complaint to God. It is saying to God, What are you doing about this? When will you fix things? Aren’t you interested in justice any more?

Habakkuk had a firm faith in God, but his circumstances were pretty dire. The Chaldeans, the Babylonians, were gearing up to invade. What was going to happen?

Habakkuk isn’t in charge. He doesn’t have the power to do much. So, he laments to God. But you know, including the eternal God in your conversation tends to have consequences. You don’t just hear what you want to hear.

In this case, Habakkuk receives an insight into what is happening. God turns to Habakkuk and says (1.6‒7a)

I am rousing the Chaldeans,
that fierce and impetuous nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth
to seize dwellings not their own.
Dread and fearsome are they…

Hard times are coming for the Jewish people. A dreadful enemy is coming upon them from the place we call southern Iraq.

Habakkuk is being called to watch out for his people, to look ahead and tell them what is about to happen (2.1):

I will stand at my watch-post,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

The Lord gives his watchman a message (2.2):

Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.

I’ve read that the NRSV could have done a bit better here. Maybe this English translation would be better (2.2):

Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that whoever reads it may run.

Where would they run? We don’t know. Maybe they’d run into the hills to hide. But—just maybe—they’d run to the villages all around to warn them of the coming disaster.

I like to think that others would be sharing in the spread of this vision, because Habakkuk says (2.3),

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.

These are big events, events that would shatter Habakkuk’s world. What are you concerned about? I don’t mean personal things, but the ‘big things’. Are they taking too long to come? Habakkuk says ‘There is still a vision…it will surely come.’

Are you hoping for big things like peace in the Middle East?

‘There is still a vision…it will surely come.’

Are you looking for action on climate change?

‘There is still a vision…it will surely come.’

Perhaps you are simply looking for Australian families to be able to go on a ride in a theme park in safety? Or just do their jobs in safety?

‘There is still a vision…it will surely come.’

When you pour your heart out in lament to God, you are able to remember God’s faithfulness in the past—and realise that God is still faithful.

But it may take a long time. So Habakkuk says (2.4),

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.

Of course, ‘The just shall live by faith’ is a good Reformation statement, on the eve of Reformation Day; here, we see what it meant to Habakkuk.

Waiting requires faithful, humble people who are prepared to do what they are given to do. We too must faithfully live by faith.

Now let’s have a look at Zacchaeus. His story is partly about grumbling.

We all know Zacchaeus was a ‘wee little man’. But if people had liked him, they would probably have let him through to the front to see Jesus pass by. He wasn’t liked; so he had to climb a sycamore tree.

When Jesus singles Zacchaeus out and says he’ll stay at his place, what do the people of Jericho do? They grumble to one another about Jesus.

All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’

Do you see that God isn’t part of their conversation? The people are just speaking to one another and as they do they are justifying their feelings and their actions. And they completely miss the new thing that God is doing in their midst.

What else could they do? Well, what may have happened if they had lamented instead?

The short answer is, We don’t know. But we can guess that it may have gone along these lines:

O God, why has Jesus done this? why has he turned away from good people and gone to this man’s home, a great sinner? Why, God?

And one of them may have had ears to hear God say,

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.

But they grumbled, and all they could hear was their own voices. They could have remembered the scriptures, lamented, and been led to welcome Zacchaeus as one of their own, a child of Abraham. But they missed their opportunity.

We’re better at grumbling than lamenting too. But you know, when the big issues of life disturb us—or just when things that happen get us down—lamenting keeps us in touch with God. Because we’re still talking to God about it.

And when we talk to God, God gives us an answer. You know, something like this:

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.
and the righteous live by their faith.

Choose to live by faith in the one who loved you and gave himself for you, Jesus Christ, God’s Son our Lord. Amen.


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