Go, Make the Vision Plain!

October 6, 2019 – World Communion Sunday

Lamentations 1:1-6., 3:19-26, Ps. 137, Habakkuk 1:1-4,2:1-4…

When I looked at the assigned texts for Oct. 6, I was tempted to depart from the weekly lessons. After all, it is World Communion Sunday, one day when the Church gathers in some form or fashion to receive the bread and wine in Jesus’ name. And, the Hebrew Scriptures seemed to offer little that was hopeful. “Well,” I thought, “you only get one or two shots at Lamentationsand Habakkuk. Let’s give it a try!”

First we see great despair: “How lonely was the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.” (3:19)  “The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!” (3:21)

Then we come to the “But.” Karl Barth taught that the little conjunctive word “But” was the most powerful word in the Bible. It is the hinge that swings the door from despair to hope. “I once was lost, BUT now am found, was blind BUT now I see.” “BUT this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. (3:22) The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end….” 

So now we are getting somewhere. OOPS, there blocking the way is Ps.137. “By the rivers of Babylon we hung up our harps…how could we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” And for a moment, the prophet just loses it. “Oh, daughter, Babylon you devastator, happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock.” We can’t preach that! BUT old Habakkuk might yet save this sermon: “I will stand at my watch post, and station myself on the rampart, I will keep watch to see what the Lord may say to me…Ah yes, write the vision, make it plain on tablets…for there is still a vision for the appointed time it speaks…if it seems to tarry, wait, for it will surely come.” 

Walter Brueggemann, in his teaching of the reading of the Psalms, speaks of the Psalms’ revealing of the threefold movement of life. There are happy psalms of new orientation; they make one feel good. There are sad psalms of dislocation; the bottom falls out of life. There are joyful victorious psalms of re-orientation (3:23); they speak words like “new every morning thy word; great is your faithfulness.” Or, I think we can make it now.

These days it would seem like we as a church are stuck in dislocation. As an old preacher who has been through this threefold movement a number of times, I can only say that our foundation is still the solid rock of Christ – our place to stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

And I am so encouraged to witness how some of the young ones, especially the women in ministry, are standing at the watch post on the ramparts, keeping the vision alive. I wish to shout, “Go, Anna, go!”

I am also reminded of William Tyndale, born Oct. 7, 1304, a quiet Cambridge scholar, aware that the scriptures were not available to the common folk, who translated the Bible from Latin to English. He was strangled and burned at the stake by the ecclesiastical authorities for making the Word available and plain.

One thing I know for sure, Jan and I will go to church on Sunday, Oct. 6, join a moving line, take a bit of bread and taste of wine, and head out to do what we can with what we have to make the vision plain.

“God, for many of us your Bible collects dust on a shelf. Forgive us, but it is hard to imagine that its power was such as to make even the church fearful. But I should have known, for today, in many countries, just to own one is reason enough to be arrested for treason and killed.” Amen  (A prayer by W. Paul Jones in honor of William Tyndale, An Eclectic Almanac for the Faithful, p. 344.)

The Rev. Bill Cotton of Des Moines is a retired clergy member of the Iowa Annual Conference. Together with friends and colleagues, he produces the weekly “MEMO for Those Who Preach,” delivered by email.

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