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Straight on till Morning
(All Saints Sunday)
October 23, 2022*
By Pastor John Partridge
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 Luke 19:1-10 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
I’m sure all of us have seen it, but in the Walt Disney version of Peter Pan, Peter famously makes up directions as he explains to Wendy how one finds their way to Neverland. And in so doing he says that the way they must go is to take the “Second star to the right, and straight on ‘till morning.” Of course, the original book by J. M. Barrie did not include the word “star” and so folks have argued whether Mr. Disney intended to say that Neverland was in outer space somewhere, or simply wanted to refer to the old seafaring tradition of navigating by the stars.
We see similar conversations about navigation in all sorts of movies and television shows with such dialog as, “Come right three degrees, and full speed ahead.” Navigation is all about checking to see where you are and making course corrections as necessary until you arrive at your destination. And that describes much of the teaching that we will find in today’s scriptures. As we read these passages of scripture, let us consider where we are, what direction we are going, and how we might make the journey to our destination. We begin this morning in another book that we seem to rarely visit. We begin with the words of the prophet Habakkuk in Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4.
1:1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.
2 How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
2:1 I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
2 Then the Lord replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a heraldmay run with it.
3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.
4 “See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.
Habakkuk cries out that God is silent and is not answering his prayers or the prayers of his people. There is violence, injustice, wrongdoing, destruction, strife and conflict, the law of their nation is paralyzed and doesn’t do anything and only codifies, institutionalizes, and perpetuates the injustice so that the wicked always win and persecute the righteous. But, even in the face of injustice and all these other things, Habakkuk decides to stand at his watch, to do what is right, and continue to do his duty regardless of the wrongdoing and injustice that surrounds him.
And God replies that this is the right choice. Habakkuk is told that God’s word is coming. It may wait longer than expected but it is coming. But until then, God’s command is to continue, to hold fast, persist, endure, persevere, and to live by faithfulness. How often do we find ourselves in the middle of difficulty, suffering, or pain, worry, discomfort, confusion, uncertainty, or other unpleasantness and wonder why God isn’t answering our prayers? How often do we witness injustice and a failure of our government, our church, our employers, our schools, or the people around us to do anything about it? And God’s answer is that Habakkuk has made the right choice. Hold fast, persist, endure, persevere, do your duty to God, and live by faithfulness until God’s answer finally comes.
But what about the people who have wandered from their faith? What about the people who have become so married to the problem, so far down the rabbit hole, that they themselves have become a part of the problem? And for that answer, we turn to the familiar story found in Luke 19:1-10 where we hear these words:
19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short, he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Zacchaeus was wealthy and some, or even most, of his money had come from his employment as a tax collector for the empire of Rome. Tax collectors were given a license, a franchise, to collect taxes. They had certain… deliverables, targets, or quotas that they were expected to return to the Roman treasury but aside from that, they were permitted, and expected, to collect what they needed to pay for their salaries, the salaries of their employees, which may have included bodyguards, if necessary, plus all expenses. Some tax collectors were more honest than others and some were notoriously corrupt and enriched themselves by collecting far more than necessary.
Zacchaeus was well-known in that place. Everyone knew who he was and what he did for a living and as we saw in this story, he was automatically condemned by his job description and his association with the Roman government, and considered to be a sinner, an outcast, and a traitor to his country because of what he did. But after Jesus invites himself, and all his friends, to his house for dinner, Zacchaeus proclaims that he will give half of all that he owns as well as four times the amount of anything that he did dishonestly.
What we hear in this proclamation by Zacchaeus, I think, is him standing in front of Jesus and swearing that he had done his best to do his work as honestly as possible, and to oversee his employees so that they did their work honestly as well. If Zacchaeus had been in the business of being deliberately dishonest, as some tax collectors were, then doing what he said that he would do, would not only bankrupt him but would wipe him out financially. Zacchaeus stands before Jesus and desperately wants to do what is right and in doing so, Jesus sees his heart and proclaims that “Today salvation has come to this house” because… the mission of Jesus Christ was, and is, to seek and to save the lost.
Most of us learned the story of Zacchaeus before we were in grade school. and we’ve always used it as a story of rejoicing as one of God’s lost children returns to the kingdom. But if we look a little deeper, if we look at Zacchaeus as someone who was not being deliberately dishonest, as I think his proclamation to Jesus would indicate, then the story isn’t just about the lost being saved. It’s about Jesus rescuing someone whose heart was in the right place, a person who always loved God, and who always desired to remain faithful, but was lost because the church, and its people, threw him out. Zacchaeus was lost because people didn’t like his employer, or his employment. Zacchaeus was lost because no one believed that it was even possible for tax collectors to be honest. Zacchaeus was lost because his politics didn’t align with his church.
But Zacchaeus was saved because he remained faithful despite the criticism and ostracism that he experienced from his friends, countrymen, and his church. Zacchaeus endured, persevered, and remained faithful, Jesus saw that Zacchaeus’ heart was in the right place, and he opened a door to let the outsider come back inside.
And those were exactly the things for which Paul praised the church in Thessalonica as he wrote them a letter in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 and said:
1:1 Paul, Silas,and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul thanks God for the church in Thessalonica because the faith of its people is growing and because the love that they all have for one another is increasing. Paul boasts to his other churches about the perseverance, faith, and endurance that the Thessalonians have shown in the face of trials and persecution. And so, Paul, Silas, and Timothy pray for the church, and for the people, of Thessalonica regularly and constantly, praying that God might answer every prayer for goodness, and bless every action that was motivated by faith, so that the name of Jesus would be glorified.
But the three passages that we read today are all quite different from one another. What is it that connects them? What is it that we can take away from our time together today? Let’s review and see what we find. First, we learned from Habakkuk, that God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way that we would like him to nor as fast as we think God should. Life doesn’t always go the way that we want. Our government doesn’t always do the right thing. Our legal system and our church do not always find justice the way that they should. But we are called to do our duty, to remain faithful, to do what is right, to persist, persevere, and to endure because God is coming. Although we may not live to see it on this earth, there is a day coming that God will bring justice.
Second, we learned from the story of Zacchaeus that sometimes even the church gets lost. Sometimes people and institutions get so caught up in politics, culture wars, the pursuit of wealth and power, and other things, that they forget the things that are really important and chase out people who are genuinely faithful and who are doing the best they can. But as the followers of Jesus Christ, our mission is to do what Jesus did. Our calling is to remain faithful even if our church loses its focus and gets lost. Our mission is to find the people whose hearts are in the right place, find the people who lost heart, and find the people who couldn’t find their way to God because the church was such a poor example, and then open the door so that they can find their way back to God.
And third, although this echoes the first two, is that the focus of our ministry, the focus of our lives on this earth, is to be guided by our faith in Jesus Christ so that our faith and love for one another grow, and that our actions are led by our desire for goodness, and our deeds prompted by our faith so that the name of Jesus Christ is glorified by what we do, by who we are, by how we love, and by the grace that we show others.
No matter how difficult life gets, no matter how lost our culture, our government, and even our church may be, as the followers of Jesus, our mission is to remain faithful, to seek out the lost, to invite them in, and to have the grace to hold open the door even to people that other people threw out. Our goal is to be like Jesus, to love others like Jesus, and to lead others toward Jesus, until it’s our turn to join the saints in that final journey. And, although our destination isn’t Neverland, we might imagine that the last directions we hear as we leave might be to take the…
“Second star to the right, and straight on ‘till morning.”
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.