Wrestling to See - Reservoir Church
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What Is Most Important

Wrestling to See

Ivy Anthony

Mar 21, 2021


For this week’s Events and Happenings click “Download PDF.”

For this week’s spiritual practice led by Lydia Shiu, How is Your Heart, click HERE

To those of you here this morning, that identify as Asian, Asian American, Pacific Islander – SE Asian, please know that I grieve with you, we grieve with you. Know that our God, our helper is one who grieves with you too.   Is with you. Sees you. You are not alone.  If your grief is laced with rage – that is exactly as it should be.. .and if you are tired and afraid – take rest. And this morning, may the words of the prophet Habakkuk wash over you – in ways that resonate, affirm where you are at today – and may you be loved and held by God.

Today we’ll hear from the prophet Habakkuk. 

Habakkuk is a prophet that raises timeless questions –  about humanity and God –  in a very timely way. He is one who translates the chaos, the violence and un-ending suffering of his ancient time  – to ours – today.  And does so from a platform of faith that is real, fierce and disruptive to the status quo, the dominant culture. This is why Habakkuk and the other prophet’s voices that we’ve listened to this Lent have been so powerful to me – because they do not just offer us ways to treat the symptoms of injustice in our days, but they show us how to wrestle and uproot the foundation of them.  The prophets dismantle – and in doing so – they keep us grounded to the vision that God has for this world – and its people,  which is US. 

The whole book of Habakkuk is 3 chapters.

And it’s a dialogue between him and God.

An honest, emotion-filled, back-and-forth conversation that starts with Habakkuk’s cry and maybe universal question:
“HOW LONG GOD?” HOW LONG?  Will I ask for help – and you will not listen?

Today I invite you to consider what it is you have been crying out to God for.. Keep this at the forefront of your heart – a heart that maybe is broken – weary from the years you’ve been crying out to God – with no God in sight.

And I invite you to re-up with God – as you listen to Habakkuk’s words.  To consider what is most important for you?   What it is you need to inspire, sustain, enliven faith?

These days – like Habakkuk’s – can feel bereft of a living, loving God – a God who is A REAL agent, who acts in this world for good? WHO addresses injustice and suffering – who does SOMETHING about evil and power and oppressors.

Habakkuk’s words are raw, charged, uncovered and red hot. Birthed from a heart situated in reality – and yet longing for the Divine One to show up – Habakkuk  as we’ll see, confronts God, and argues with God – and gets in God’s face and demands that God turn God’s  attention and eyes to him.  

“Let me see you, GOD! Show me that you are listening to me.
Show me that your eyes are open, that you see what’s going on here – and that you see me too!”

Habakkuk shows us how faith hinges on this necessary dynamic.  

Us and God seeing (and listening) to one another.   

And just how hard it is when so much of what we see –  resonates as evil.

Habakkuk like no other prophet – invites us to strip down any notions we have of God – and be energized with new vision for what we find there… and not be afraid of the wrestling it might take to get there. Let’s follow along as Habakkuk “wrestles to see” God. 

Through song, and scripture and the heart of our own stories – we are eager to be with you God, this morning. TO be refreshed in our spirits – that you are a God who speaks to us, cares for us and sees us. .. in all things, in all places. May it be so. Amen.

My Story

From the early days of Scott (my now husband) and I knowing one another – I always bugged him about making eye contact with me – when we were in conversation .. I come from a bustling, large family – and I often found the pace of conversation to be one that was a blur – happening often as we were in movement.  Moving from the table to the stack of books to study, or the coveted spot in front of the wood-burning stove  – or back to the car – one sibling leaving for practice, another returning. I think somewhere inside, I longed for steady connection (really)   – where we could have conversation, looking one another in the eye, and linger there a bit – SEE how that practice went, SEE how it felt to be dumped by that boyfriend (me!) – to listen to one another  – in whatever space we might be in…

You can ask Scott – when you see him again – how often I still do this to this day, ask him to repeat something he’s just said, (even if I’ve heard it just fine) and this time share it with me, while looking at me.  It’s sometimes annoying – or even unrealistic in the movement of life – but when it can happen, it’s connecting, it’s steadying, and there’s a deepening of listening.   It’s through the eye, that I often feel like I’m listened to, and where I can listen to another’s heart that’s speaking.

Scripture, is written from the point of view of those on the margins.  And unlike most prophets Habakkuk is speaking to God on the people’s behalf (in most cases prophets are speaking to the people on God’s behalf).   And he’s speaking to God of all this violence, all this injustice he sees around him -he’s speaking from the point of view, of those in society who were never looked in the eye. never listened to. Who’s lives have been trampled upon. Essentially erased. Invisible. 

So Habakkuk – at the front of scripture here (as you’ll see on a slide) is asking GOD TO SEE THEM!

Habakkuk 1:2 -4

  1:2 Lord, how long will I call for your help and you not listen? 

I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you don’t deliver us.

3 Why do you show me injustice and look at anguish

        so that devastation and violence are before me?

(look at all of this!) There is strife, and conflict abounds.

4         The Instruction (the law, the Torah), is ineffective….

            Justice does not endure

            because the wicked surround the righteous.

        Justice becomes warped.

Justice becomes warped.  Habakkuk stands in Jerusalem and looks at the unrecognizable state of his nation Judah. Everything that should undergird faith, society, humanity – is ravaged. Everything that one’s eyes and heart should be set on – justice, mercy, compassion is nowhere to be seen.

And so Habakkuk protests!  He goes directly to God.  Not to the King of the day – but God.

And he wrestles… which is appropriate – since at least some scholars believe his name means “wrestler.” The name of the river that Jacob crossed before wrestling with God: Jabbok, means “wrestling.” Habakkuk is another form of that Hebrew word. 

Habakkuk wrestles…

To see if and what God’s response will be to him….AND to figure out what he can see of God’s character – the God who he thinks cares about the fact that all of the “righteous are being swallowed by the wicked.” 

So he stands before God and He asks, this question that  Howard Thurman poses in his own commentary of Habakkuk,

Why does the ‘evilness’ of evil seem to be more dynamic and ENERGIZING than the ‘goodness’ of good?”

This is a question within a question, a question to God, about God: Who are you God if  you don’t intervene here – or at least say something!

Because right now it appears that you are the  “God who sanctions or at least tolerates all of this injustice/violence.” 

 Is that who you are God?

In Habakkuk’s dissent, doubt, his crying out, his anger, he is expressing PAIN.

Are you a God who can handle pain?

To “know God “ at this time – was very contractual… IF you obeyed God – then you got God’s blessing.   And if you disobeyed God – then you suffered God’s wrath. 

In expressing his pain (and the pain of the people around him)- AND in his demands to be heard with this pain – Habakkuk is shifting the paradigm of how to see/know God. . He is cracking open something new in this compacted faith… and expanding more of God’s character, That God is not just someone you extend “faith to” , but someone you engage “Faith with,” THIS crack – formed by his own pain –  allows his faith to breathe, allows faith to be a live, living faith… one that responds to present day reality, and all that comes with it. 

Habakkuk – is wrestling and dismantling – this idea that destruction is all there is for society – for the earth – that this misery and injustice will win out. He is challenging that picture – and saying that HE CAN be an effective force in challenging it.

And he’s also dismantling the idea that this is all there is to see and know of God – a distant, removed, transactional God. 

And he shows us that all of this dismantling – starts with the groans and complaints and the crying out of his heart.

The question that still stands for him though – is God listening?

And soon enough we see God’s response to Habakkuk… that God has listened, and God says:

“Oh yes – I hear your complaint – and here’s my plan:” 

I am going to raise up the Babylonians, these cruel and violent people.

They will march across the world and conquer other lands.

And then he goes into detail, with a bunch of images like cheetahs, and eagles, and desert winds, and a bunch of devouring/conquering pictures, to really allow the visual of utter destruction to set up in Habakkuk’s mind. 

So God’s answer to Habakkuk is to deal with the injustice of his people – by an oncoming assault of the Babylonians – an immoral and pagan empire – who are more corrupt and more violent than what is already happening – this will be the instrument of God’s great plan.

Now, A prophet is someone who sees as God sees.

And Habakkuk is struggling to make sense of, to see the vision that God is detailing here.  He’s perplexed and so he goes back to God a second time and says, “Ummm, this is a bad plan.  A very, very bad plan.  It can’t be that you just want to wipe us out, right?”

… God?

And so to try to get a better view – to be as intent as possible in not misunderstanding what God might say in response, Habakkuk does this. 

Habakkuk 2:1

2:1 I will take my post;/ I’ll climb up this watchtower

        I will position myself on the fortress.

        I will keep watch to see what the Lord says to me

        and how God will respond to my complaint.

Habakkuk says, “oh I’m waiting  GOD – I am waiting for what your next big, fantastic plan is!”  I’m staying close to you.  I’m watching you.”

And this is an interesting posture.  Habakkuk’s intention was to be with God, as he waited for God’s reply. A good posture – because the vista he’d gain of the land around him, as he climbed into a physical watchtower, increases his sense of desolation – later in scripture it says that the

       fig tree doesn’t bloom,

            and there’s no produce on the vine;

        the olive crop withers,

            and the fields don’t provide food;

        the sheep are cut off from the pen,

            and there are no cattle in the stalls…

For as far as the eye can see…there is no evidence of truth, beauty or goodness – sprouting up on the horizon.  The earth itself appears absent of God – this great nothingness- barrenness.

And yet – being in the watchtower close to God, with God – in the vastness of all of this nothingness, Habakkuk discovers that there is something with God.

Let me circle back to this in a moment.

Going back to my great value and joy of being able to see Scott’s eyes (and/or any of your eyes really) when you are sharing something,  I’ve realized that in this pandemic, we’ve all had our hand forced a little to look into one another’s eyes a lot more.  Right?  We are wearing masks – and if we are really trying to listen to one another, really trying to understand and connect to one another, we are watching each other’s eyes in a more intense manner. To listen to what our hearts are saying, when our facial expressions can no longer convey it fully.

I went to visiting hours of someone who passed away this week.  I didn’t know the person who passed, but I know her son.  I had prayed with and listened to the son, on the phone in the weeks leading up to the death and I knew it was so hard- painful, and sad. Death is always a rupture – a violation.  And it was even harder to walk into a funeral home.  With masks on, and protocols, and lines – and there felt like a vastness/vista of sorrow – to traverse, and I was having a hard time trying to see/locate God.

Until I finally got to the son – behind this big rope and above his mask line, I found his eyes – saw his grieving heart – and I found God. 

So whether it’s being on a physical watchtower or in an intentional watchtower posture w/ God, in what is real – hard – pain and encompassing nothingness – you might discover a sacred nothingness. 

For Habakkuk there was nothing good left of humanity, nothing fruitful of the earth, and in the watchtower he found that there was nothing between him and God’s eyes. 

Everything is stripped away.  It’s just him and God.

Just you and God. In the watchtower. And it’s where you find what is most important again – a God who is with you.

When God looks into your spirit  (in that sacred nothingness) what God do you see?

At those visiting hours – I saw a God who grieved with this son who had just lost his mom.  I saw a God who was angry at death, I saw a God who was tender and got it – all the swirl of emotions, who was far from judging any of them and close to pain. 

Wrestling with God, perhaps allows us this perspective as if from a watchtower.  Somehow seeing the heart of God anew – and taking on the eyes of God.   It’s how we anchor ourselves from letting the “evilness of evil” to seep in and take over the  “goodness of good” within us.

We still doubt (humanity and God), we still wrestle – we still long and are passionate about all that we want to see better. We stay in our real lives – and by that we activate faith – we give it just enough oxygen to ignite.

Faith is a storehouse of reality.   It is the nexus by which we dream, doubt, rage, shout, wrestle and live with God on this earth – here and now – with everything this earth gives us.  Habakkuk shows us that faith is the co-partnering of us and God. Something that we can not craft on our own – and something that God cannot move within us – without our willingness and welcome.

Faith is born from where we are stripped down to eye-level with the ones around us and God – where we are asked not to deny what we see (not be separate or turn a blind-eye – even from the horrors, what most disturbs us ) – but to respond to what we see, to act on what we see – and to also believe – hope even, that all of what we see – is not the totality of the kin’dom of God here on earth… that it is not the end, the final word. 

Ida B. Wells an early leader in the civil rights movement – who battled sexism, racism, and violence her whole life says that

Faith and doubt were bound together, with each a check against the other – doubt preventing faith from being too sure of itself and faith keeping doubt from going down into the pit of despair. With faith in one hand and doubt in the other – we can contend against the evil in our day.”

THIS IS HOW WE CONTINUE TO SEE and dream and vision as GOD does for the future of our lives – our world (The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Cone, 131).

A prophet is one who sees as God sees. One who can articulate God’s vision for a world still to come, a world as it should be – Habakkuk’s prophetic ministry is to nourish, nurture and evoke a consciousness – that is counter to the dominant culture of the day…  so that such a vision can be carried forth. 

And this is exactly how God responds to Habakkuk from his watchtower posture….God says

Habakkuk Scripture 2: 2-3

2:2 Write a vision, and make it plain upon a tablet

    so that a runner can read it.

3 There is still a vision for the appointed time;

            it testifies to the end;

                it does not deceive.

    If it delays, wait for it;

        for it is surely coming; it will not be late.

And then in a bunch of verses to follow – God goes on to just make sure it’s clear that plundering, murdering, the violence – the hoarding of wealth and corruption, and cutting down of forests.  The efforts for self stability and the idols that are formed and shaped, carved – are not where we find the vision of God. 

And then he ends it all by saying, 

20 the Lord is in God’s holy temple.

Let all the earth be silent before God.

So what’s the vision?  What does Habakkuk write down?  What do we write down and where? Where’s the holy temple?!

My guess is that the answer to those questions was different for Habakkuk than it is for us today.

But the beauty of prophets — IS that they speak to us today.. That they translate and reframe these same questions for us in our context now.

And my guess is that Habakkuk says….

“Your hearts are where you write this vision down”

“And the temple is the Spirit of God within you.”

THE VISION  – is for you to fill out – actively write – as you live.  As you call out injustice, as you see and listen and love your neighbor.    As you engage both the Spirit and your heart – then the imprint, the inscription of God’s vision will always be seen, visible to anyone passing by.

Can we embody this vision?

Ocean Vuong (vong)- this Vietnamese poet and professor at Umass Amherst – is one who has asked this question of me as well… I read his book this summer – the only book I read cover to cover in one sitting, it’s entitled “On Earth We are Briefly Gorgeous”.. And in it there’s this line that keeps coming back to me, it says,

the human eye is god’s loneliest creation. So much of the world passes through the pupil and still it holds nothing.”

This is the challenging and jolting reality.  How much of the world – the people that inhabit it – pass by our gaze – without recognition.  

Habakkuk says, “We are in a time in history where we need to listen to the prophetic hearts all around us – the marginalized, oppressed and one’s who have been kept silent.  They are speaking, continuing to cry out and asking to be seen.

As is our earth, our natural resource – it is groaning from our mistreatment;   

We are in a time in history – evident this week – where the LGBTQ community once once again is messaged that their lives are invalid.  

It is a time where black and brown people are continuing to die – pinned under the knee of white supremacy.

It’s a time where Asian siblings – like those named by Lydia at the top of this service – suffer and die from erasure, imperialism and immigration laws.

it is a time in history where the deadly impact of white supremacy overflows- and can no longer be unseen.

Unless this is the vista we want to see – barren of God’s image.

AND THIS  – this to Ocean Vuong’s point is where we must acknowledge that we HAVE seen. That we have seen, and seen, and seen, and seen  – the markers of racism, capitalism, and misogyny for so long –  and let it pass through our field of vision- without a blink of an eye.

Write this on your hearts – let this be a vision to you – that these people who die violently – those who suffer, who have been left unprotected by society.  They bear the burden of all the world’s actions (and inactions). They are prophets,  – in their crying out –  they seek to break the hold of injustice and open our eyes to see God in them.

We would do well to see and listen to what these prophets among us – speak to us today – even beyond the grave. 

It’s a lot. It’s too much sometimes. But as Habakkuk teaches –  don’t give up, hang in… continue to wrestle God into view.  Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly – with your heads up and eyes open. And may we be stripped down in our watchtowers with God, to what is most important – and what  Ocean Vuong reminds me, that

“I want to love more than death can harm.”

I want to love more than death can harm.

Prayer: God this morning, as we pause to listen and be with you – cast your loving gaze upon us – may it energize us for the stretch of days ahead. And may we feel it as known as the radiance of sunlight, as sweet as the birds calling outside right now – and hear it as clear as our neighbors, “hello.” – Amen


Inspiration & Resources

Walter Bruegemann, “The Prophetic Imagination”

Howard Thurmann – always

Megan McKenna, “Send My Roots Rain”

Ocean Vuong, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” and “The Weight of Our Living: On Hope, Fire Escapes, and Visible Desperation.”