Sermon 30 Nov 3014, 1st Sunday in Advent: “Can Anything Good Come Out of Ferguson?”

Text: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-4; 3:17-19

I have a question for you this morning: “Can anything good come out of Ferguson, MO?” If you watched the news this past week, the grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the death of 18-year old Michael Brown.  And the decision has escalated an already tense situation that’s existed in the St. Louis, MO suburb since August.  Protests.  Police in riot gear and equipped with tactical weapons.  Riots, burning buildings, violence leading to injuries on both sides. Or, does any of it really matter to us?  Ferguson, MO is 927 miles from Portsmouth, VA…half way across the country.  It’s not our problem, right?  None of that stuff affects us….we don’t have issues with violence; we don’t harbor attitudes of fear or hate towards others based on their race or social class.  We don’t think….all blacks are thugs and all cops are pigs.  Or do we?

The prophet Habakkuk speaks at a time when the nation of Judah was sandwiched between two superpowers: Assyria and Babylon.  Judah was caught in the middle…..in a struggle for control and ruling power.  I think about Ferguson, MO – for us who aren’t living in the middle of it – it feels like we’re caught in between.  We’re caught between Michael Brown & Darren Wilson; between protestors and police; between black and white. As I read this week’s text from Habakkuk, I couldn’t help but think of Ferguson, MO.  And I know it’s a touchy subject across the nation.  Frankly, I don’t want to talk about it.  I want to avoid what’s going on 927 miles away and avoid all the issues that come into play with it.  But as you listen to the reading this morning….I believe the text won’t let us.  You will hear Ferguson, MO in its words.  The text again jumps around, so I’ll break up the sermon a bit, providing commentary in between the reading.  But as you listen, ask yourself: “Can anything good come out of Ferguson, MO?”

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted. ~Hab. 1:1-4

I think for so many of us – I include myself among them – Habakkuk’s lament is ours.  How long is this going to go on?  How long will you let this drag out God?  And what does justice look like in Ferguson, MO?  Most of us have our opinions, and we’re quick to express them – I see as much in the news and on social media – but I think we’d rather not talk about the underlying issues.  Race is a touchy subject.  Crime and police relations are a touchy subject.  Justice and judgment are touchy subjects…..it’s best left up to the courts.  Let the law decide.

Such a passive notion of justice…..is not how God’s justice works.  Because God’s justice is active.  It is a justice that delivers, that saves, and frees.  God’s justice is a justice that doesn’t turn its back, indifferent to the violence and suffering and injustice of the world, of God’s people.  God’s justice is a justice that asks why these things exist in the first place; it asks us to examine our own attitudes and hearts.

And for people of faith like ourselves, we have to understand justice this way.  To be honest, I don’t know what justice looks like in Ferguson, MO.  But I do know we can’t look away.  We can’t simply leave issues like race and violence up to the courts and wash our hands of it.  To do so, is simply….a perversion of God’s justice.

Then the Lord answered me and said: 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. ~Hab. 2:2-4

“It it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”  As you’ve heard me say before, God’s promises come, but so often not in the time or the ways we expect.

And that is the life of faith – a life not of easy answers and instant solutions to life’s problems, but rather a way of life that expectantly waits for God’s promise to come in its fullness.  Such waiting….waiting for a future God has promised, a known future in Jesus Christ – as Christians, we call that HOPE.

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, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights. To the leader: with stringed instruments. ~Hab. 3:17-19

“Can anything good come out of Ferguson, MO?”  In a desperate situation….I HOPE SO.  I hope so in the midst of what seems like nothing good can come out of it.  I hope so in the midst of tensions between black and white, protestor and police, Michael Brown and Darren Wilson that still exist in the small suburb – that still exist in our nation, and inside each of us today.

On this first Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of hope.  It is the light that symbolizes the One we expectantly wait for – Jesus Christ – our hope. Christian hope is waiting expectantly for a promised future – a future that comes in Jesus Christ, a future that only God can bring in its fullness. But Christian hope also is for the present.  We wait, but in that waiting, the hope of Christ’s coming changes how we view the world and those living in it.

It is a hope that urges all to look for glimpses of the Kingdom of God shining through in all places, in all people……not to look past black & white, protestor & police, Michael Brown & Darren Wilson, but to see Christ present in and standing with the other. And that kind of hope challenges notions of justice that only work for 50% of the population most of the time.  It’s a hope that challenges a world in which we still stereotype and profile people based on the color of their skin or the job they do.  It a hope that urges us not to live in hate & fear of each other that leads to endless and senseless violence and loss of life.

It is a hope that gives courage – to seek justice alongside peace.  To talk about issues of race and class and policies and law without being labeled as racist, a bigot, or “unAmerican.”

“Can anything good come out of Ferguson, MO?”  As people who live by faith, waiting expectantly for the One who is our Hope, Jesus Christ, we believe…..absolutely.  Amen.

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