Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: Habakkuk 2:2
Old Testament: Habakkuk 2:1-4
New Testament: Hebrews 12:1-3
Hundreds of people pass by our sanctuary each day. Where are they going? What do they want? What’s taking them by us, but not joining us?
All around us are thousands of people. They’ve come to Bellevue for a purpose. They’re from all walks of life. Every race and social class walk by us to a destination that isn’t this church.
Buses, cars, and trucks pass by on Lincoln Avenue. Behind us, before us, around us, are skateboarders. We’re surrounded by movement – people young and old on their way from here to there – wherever there is. They’re using their God-given gift of freedom to not join us in worshipping God.
People are on the move, seeking something they don’t have. We’re Americans. People of this nation have always been on the move – running to somewhere from their place of origin.
Colonists and pioneers – on ships and Conestoga wagons. On railroads and jets – Americans have goals beyond their immediate reality.
When we can’t physically move, we buy devices to help us mentally leave where we are for somewhere else. We want to see something other than where we are. Video technology covers our walls or is in our hands. It whisks us from our reality to somewhere in the world or even outside the planet. All of this is possible by an inventor’s imagination.
We can leave our personal life for another person’s imaginary story. We use our freedom to escape reality for a fantasy world of the imagination. That fantasy is created for us to run from what doesn’t satisfy us about our own lives.
Running. Running. Running.
If life is about anything, it’s about movement. It appears that life is about people are running to flee something they don’t like with the hope they will find something that will satisfy them. Only to discover that once they reach their destination, they want something else they don’t have.
Oh, the things we run after to find peace.
Here stands the Church beside a highway of perpetual movement. We sit in a great bastion of continuity, stability, and security. Here stands a structure that presents a vision of peace given by one solitary person who loves human-kind. This grand building stands for the vision of Jesus Christ to save the world from its relentless running.
His vision isn’t of flight or escape. His vision isn’t imaginary or delusional. His vision gives peace. His vision secures peace. His vision inspires peace-making. His vision ends our running with the blessing of peace.
Yet the peace He gives is misunderstood. It’s more than the absence of conflict. It’s not passivity and a retreat into yourself. Nor does it come at another person’s expense. Too many times one man’s peace is another man’s injustice. Such a peace is delusional. No true peace comes for people from a vision that fails to offer peace to all people.
This week especially our national headlines reminded us that America is not at peace. We are an unsettled people, threatened by one another. Cries of injustice fill the air.
Can we just run away from life’s injustices?
Running. Running. Running. Running – right by Christ’s vision of peace, represented by this house of worship, on this street, in this community. We worship God among a dissatisfied people who can’t reach the goal of peace.
Our national pride thinks we have social structures to give us peace. We have a Constitution to which we swear allegiance as citizens in the land of freedom. We have a government we say we respect in the land of freedom. We have courts we believe insure justice in the land of freedom. We have an educational system, built on an educational philosophy meant to give all people peace in the land of freedom. We have a Church we believe is a partner in peace-making in the land of freedom.
Yet we find ourselves like Habakkuk found himself in the sixth century B.C. The God-given gift of free will runs amuck in discontent. We are watching respect fall for the institutions, the laws, and the beliefs we envisioned would give us peace. Rhetoric of conflict and disdain fill the airways. Cries of corruption and incompetence in our highest levels of national leadership vie for our allegiance. Fear-mongering fuels the race for public office.
And people pass by God’s house. Not just here, but everywhere. What was once the center of American community life silently watches millions run right be its doors. Is America running to flee our responsibility for the fall of our great national institutions?
You and I sit in our pews and stand in this pulpit, awaiting America’s blessing from God with laments. Many of us cry out, like the Psalmist in chapter 11, verse three, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
Righteous, faithful men and women from the mountains to the prairies defend the lands’ social foundations with reason. The righteous in cities and on farms resist the deconstruction of trust that is needed for the nation’s peace.
Yet, nearly two decades of teaching toleration in public education hasn’t brought peace. Seventeen years since Columbine, bullying hasn’t ended. Our nation’s adults were taught in the classrooms of their youth not to do what we are seeing from adults in our streets these past few weeks. Appeals through reason are failing.
For decades medical and educational health experts taught the dangers of chemical addiction to children. Yet, national and state leaders are legalizing one of the most addictive chemicals that destroys life. These public officials were taught better in their churches and homes, their schools and hospitals.
Yet here we are.
Generations of Christian women have stood against the dangers of alcohol. Many of them and their children have been victims of its abuse. Yet alcohol’s economic power continues to spread its disease in families. The state is to protect us from external threats. Yet alcohol’s limited sale on the Lord’s Day of worship is now legal. Where is there respect for God’s peace?
Generations of Presbyterians stood against gambling and its addictive power. Yet, civic lawmakers embrace games of chance as a revenue-generator to balance public budgets. And the Church is powerless to stop it.
For nearly 300 years, Presbyterian lawmakers and church members protected the Sabbath and Sunday worship. Yet, two generations of law makers who were raised in churches have legislated the collapse of Sabbath day worship across America for the demands of commerce.
Is it any wonder that people run by God’s sanctuaries and don’t come in?
The vision of peace and prosperity God gave His chosen people is being lost across our land. The covenant of peace He offered in the founding of this great land is being abandoned by adults who were taught God’s covenant in their childhood churches.
We are racing along a route that was run by Israel long ago, during the life of the prophet Habakkuk. We have come today to worship God like Habakkuk. We stand at our watch post on Lincoln Avenue. We are watching to see what God will say to our concern for the culture around us. We are waiting to hear His Word about the vision He has to redeem our land, our community, our families.
This is His Word to us, “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.”
What does this mean for us at this point of God’s salvation history at Bellevue United? What are we to do in response to His Word?
First, it means God’s vision is simple enough for a runner to see. Only a simple vision reaches people who are running in their dissatisfaction.
Yesterday several of us were on the front lawn of the church. We watched men, women, and children run up Lincoln Avenue in a 5K race. They were exhausted. They were hot and sweaty. No doubt several runners wanted water.
Their physical discomfort was no doubt what dominated their thoughts.
A complex message wasn’t something they were about to remember. A complex message couldn’t compete with their need for their misery to end.
What they were looking for was the finish line – an end to their discomfort.
Only a simple vision about ending people’s discomfort reaches runners. God’s vision helps people see the end of their discomfort.
A nation of dissatisfied people on the run needs an end to its discomfort. A world of dissatisfied people on the run needs an end to its discomfort. Addictive diseases, empty fantasies, and false promises aren’t about to end people’s discomfort. What ends human discomfort is peace.
Habakkuk calls people to God’s promise of peace. Jesus Christ calls people to God’s promise of peace. Bellevue United Presbyterian Church is to call this community to God’s promise of peace.
A society watching its philosophical and political foundations crumble amid violence and bloodshed needs reassurance of peace. Peace isn’t found at the expense of one group of people for another. Peace comes through reconciliation.
Jesus Christ came to reconcile dissatisfied people. The Church represents Christ’s reconciliation of dissatisfied people. Our first goal in Christ’s mission is to reconcile dissatisfied people with each other.
God reconciles us to each other through Jesus Christ’s mission!
Write it so a runner can read it!!
God reconciles us to each other through Jesus Christ’s mission!
Write it so you read it!!!
Write it so Christ’s vision for peace brings an end to our running with dissatisfaction! It’s a simple vision that a runner can see to end discomfort.
Second, God’s vision for peace uses peace to make a community. God’s vision of peace needs bloodshed to stop. God’s vision of peace comes, when people of peace use peace to overcome bloodshed. God’s peace overcomes fear.
Bloodshed is the iniquity of a community that has lost the vision of God’s peace. In Habakkuk 2:12, the prophet admonishes Israel, “Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed, and found a city on iniquity!”
God’s peace relies on love. Love is the great force that overcomes fear. Love is the great force that resolves injustice.
Love and compassion help adults remember that people we fear were born as powerless babies in this world. Some were blessed to be surrounded by caring families. Others weren’t. Some were blessed to be surrounded by compassionate friends. Others weren’t. Some were blessed to be born into the privilege of love. Others are strangers to it. They never experienced God’s standard for love.
God’s love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It has confidence that God’s steadfast love triumphs amid the injustice we’ve gone through in life.
God’s vision of peace is found in the testimony of Jesus Christ’s love. “Pray for those who persecute you. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Write it down for the runner to see.
“Pray for those who persecute you. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Write it down for you to live.
This is God’s vision of peace. Jesus Christ is God’s handwriting of love for the world to see. Imitating Christ’s life is the tablet of peace for the world to see!
Finally, God’s vision of peace is the only worthy goal towards which to run. We can’t just sit in the watch tower on Lincoln Avenue waiting for God’s vision to come. We have plenty of evidence that it hasn’t arrived.
We shouldn’t be sitting with discontent as watchers, or running to things that fuel discontent. We should be running to God’s vision of peace. God isn’t calling us to be passive in Christ’s mission, or Christ’s ministry. We can’t just be watchers of a dissatisfied world that’s filled with violence.
God is calling us to be runners – runners who pursue the goal of God’s kingdom of peace. Our efforts, our mission, is to run the race with perseverance whose goal is God’s peace. Don’t give up running for Christ’s blessing of peace.
God’s kingdom is a kingdom of peace. Freedom can be an elusive fantasy that fails to satisfy you. Throughout history, dissatisfied people have justified terrible atrocities in the name of freedom.
Germans launched World War II to gain economic freedom from their enemies. The French destroyed their government and its leaders as well as the Church in the name of liberty. The Russians murdered millions of their own people in their utopian vision to be liberated from economic classes.
Each of these nations considered themselves to be Christian before they turned violent.
God’s vision of peace sent Europe’s people from the land of their birth to these shores. God’s peace was the goal of the Constitution. Our colonial ancestors wanted peace from government tyranny. We wanted peace from public officials who failed to respect God’s sacred blessing of each person.
We wanted peace from religious conflict. We wanted peace from personal conflicts. We wanted peace that comes from being united as God’s children who are reconciled to one another. We didn’t want sin separating us. We wanted to sit together at the same table in love.
Christ’s communion table was the Godly vision driving Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin. Christ’s communion table is the vision that drives us to worship on the Lord’s Sabbath Day. Christ’s communion table represents our love for one another despite the injustice we see around us.
We want America to resemble Christ’s communion table. Write it so a runner will seek it as the goal of the race.
Christ’s peace motivates us to do more than be watchers. It calls us out of this great sanctuary out into the street and to engage the people passing by us with the message of hope in Jesus Christ. We are concerned for the salvation of our community. We are committed to the salvation of our people. We are inspired by the vision of Jesus Christ that’s written in His life.
Write His vision upon the tablet of your life as a testimony to His victory over injustice! To Him be all glory and praise! Amen.