On the Ramparts with Mr. H

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4  – The 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, November 3, 2013

“I will stand at my watchpost and station myself on the rampart…” (Habakkuk 2:1)

habakkukIt would have been easy to write about Zacchaeus.

You know Mr. Z’s story, right? He was the height-challenged guy in Luke’s Gospel that scrambled up the sycamore tree to gaze over the crowd for a gander at Jesus. A tax collector, his popularity rivaled a trip to the dentist. And Mr. Z was rich enough to be considered the Warren Buffett of first-century Jericho.

That’s enough clues. I’m sure you recall his story in Luke’s nineteenth chapter, but I decided not to reflect on Mr. Z. Why? He seemed too easy, so predictable.

After years of writing these lectionary ramblings—weekly wondering which of the listed Gospel, New Testament, Old Testament and Psalms verses I’ll choose—I’m happily in a rut. 93.4%* of the time, I’ll tackle the Gospel passage. Hey, I’m a Christian, and follow Jesus, and his ministry first inspired and continues to inspire me. I love to read and re-read Jesus’ parables. I may question the literal veracity of a miracle or healing account, but they continue to fascinate and invigorate my faith. Therefore, I usually discarded the three other weekly lectionary options. Sometimes they seem less interesting than the Gospels. Sometimes my ignorance about (for example) the Psalms or 2 Thessalonians means they intimidate me. Way back in seminary, we only had so many hours to study the Bible . . . a whole mess of the Holy word was wholly ignored. Furthermore, during my years of weekly preaching in churches, didn’t the pewfolk prefer to hear about Jesus than, say, Jael going zombie-hunter on Sisera and pounding a tent peg into his noggin (Judges 5:24-27) or all those prickly laws beyond the Ten Commandments?

And so this week, with a dose of trepidation, I ignored Mr. Z in order to pay attention to . . .

Habakkuk. (Go ahead, say the name out loud.)

Mr. H was a prophet. His eponymous work is the 35th book of the Old Testament, nestled between Nahum (Who?) and Zephaniah (Huh?).

Mr. H was mentioned twice in the entire Bible. And both times the name popped up in—wait, wait—Habakkuk! (Check out Hab. 1:1 and 3:1.) Jesus never mentioned him. Paul didn’t quote or misquote him. I’ll bet if you asked a pastor to give you, quick as she can, the names of any five Old Testament prophets, Mr. H would be absent from her list. Mr. H sure wouldn’t appear on my Top 5 Prophets List: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Ezekiel and Moses. Oops, I can’t count Moses because he wasn’t one of the official “major” or “minor” prophets! Drats! I’ll go with Lamentations, then. Oops . . .

I know so little about Habakkuk.

Nearly anything related to his prophetic role, about his place in the pantheon of prophets, or how he might’ve influenced Jewish or Christians traditions, would involve a cursory, furtive search by me in Wikipedia. Or I’d need to get off my arse to scan my office’s dusty library shelves for TSIHRSS** resources.

And yet I know—believe—one thing that prompted me to embrace Mr. H for this week . . . Habakkuk, chapter 2: I will stand at my watchpost and station myself on the rampart.

Mr. H’s prophetic words came when another rampaging, conquering nation-state attacked Israel. I think it was the Chaldeans, but maybe I’m wrong and Mr. H warned about Babylonians. Does. Not. Matter. What matters is all (I believe) of the Biblical prophets were more concerned about challenging the present reality than making future predictions. I don’t think the higher-profile Isaiah (who was not one person, but several) predicted Jesus’ birth when imagining light overcoming darkness (…The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…Isaiah 9:2). Instead, he called the people in his age to see and trust and do the work of God in their age right now. Please, disagree all you want, but I’m faithfully convinced the prophetic voice was and is more focused on today’s struggles.

I’m also convinced Habakkuk’s “watchpost” was an essential role. In ancient times, those watching at the ramparts were not passive, but represented the first voices to warn about danger, to declare the safety of the new day and to stay alert for events that could impact everyone.

Mr. H symbolized those that stood watch. He witnessed truth. He called out warnings. He cheerleaded for hope. He modeled the power of actively waiting for a dynamic but enigmatic God.

In modest, intimate ways (and maybe stretching the comparison), I’ve tried to follow Mr. H’s calling. Though I can’t pronounce his name, I’ve climbed metaphoric ramparts, seeking to cheerlead for hope. Last August, when my mother lay in the hospital, initially in ICU and then on the oncology floor, I usually arrived in her room before sunrise. I wanted to be there before she awoke. In those first days, we weren’t sure how much longer she’d live, but we all knew she faced a life-limiting illness.

I didn’t want to predict her future, though.

I simply wanted to join her in the here and now, to witness at the “ramparts” in her dark, sterile hospital room when she stirred from sleep. I wanted to welcome her to the new day, and to make sure she first heard words of love.

Where and when have you mounted metaphoric ramparts to serve another?

Has someone been your Mr. H . . . alert to your needs, a cheerleader to welcome you into a new day?

I may not be an expert about the 35th book in the Old Testament, but I know the importance of waiting in active love and watching with active hope.

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*I made this fact up. And thus it joins many easy-to-find, user-friendly, fake facts on the Internet.

**TSIHRSS: The Stuff I Haven’t Read Since Seminary.

(Image digitally hoisted from here.)

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2 Comments

  1. WE PEOPLE ARE ALL DIFFERENT. LOOKING AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR PAGE, I SEE THE DATE …. NOVENBER 3, 2013 AND I CAN’T GET BEYOND THE FACT THAT THIS WAS THE RECORDED DAY OF THE DEATH OF OUR SON. BILL HAD HIS CAR ACCIDENT ON HALLOWEEN MORNING, IN THE YEAR 1981, SO IT’S BEEN 32 YEARS AGO AND YET AT TIMES, IT SEEMS LIKE YESTERDAY. HE DIED SHORT OF DAYS FROM HIS 20TH BIRTHDAY. HE WAS MARRIED AND SO HIS YOUNG WIFE HAD TO DECIDE TO PULL THE PLUG, AS THEIR WASN’T BRAIN ACTIVITY. THE DOCTOR SAID HE SHOULD HAVE DIED RIGHT AWAY, BUT WITH MODERN TECHNOLOGY, HE LINGERED. THEY WAITED 3 DAYS TO SEE IF THERE WAS ANY CHANGE AND WE ALL AGREED, HE WOULDN’T WANT TO LIE THERE LIKE THAT. TIME HAS TAKEN THE AWFUL PAIN AWAY, BUT I NEVER FORGET HIM – I STILL MISS HIM. HE WAS MY FIRST BORN AND HAD A WAY ABOUT HIM THAT COULD MAKE YOU SMILE. I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THE DAY WHEN I GET TO SEE HIM AGAIN. MY BILL

    1. Thanks for your response, Kathy.

      And I get what you mean about seeing something–maybe a date on the calendar, maybe a particular word–and it causes a reaction.

      Who cares what I wrote or said . . . your memory of November 3, of your first born, matters so much more.

      As a preacher, I was very aware that people could easily “leave” the sermon. I might say the word “San Francisco” or “sequoia” and a listener would suddenly, in his or her mind, be transported to a personal memory . . . with my sermon forgotten!

      Thanks for sharing about your son Bill.

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