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Habakkuk - Authenticity in Chapel?

Thanks to Jim Gordon's loan of an excellent little Habakkuk commentary, I have now got a couple of ideas for preaching on this short but powerful text.

Although I'd notionally planned on four sermons - and I'm sure there are four sermons in there - I've ended up deciding to have two and then pick another "minor" prophet for the other two weeks. 

In a departure from my usual quasi-expository approach, I think I'll be talking about themes that emerge: week 1 the theme will be "authenticity" - something that is haunting me a bit at the moment - and week 2 will be "theodicy" (or in plainer language, the defence of God, specifically, where is a good God when bad things happen?).

Firstly, authenticity, which, along with something about 'the word became flesh' that I have to preach on first, is rattling around my brain.  The commentary suggested that Habakkuk has echoes of psalms and wisdom literature hinting that it may include or have been a piece of liturgy.  This is quite challenging for us in our nice western Baptist churches, not only do we not do liturgy, we don't do much of this brand of authenticity either.

What do I mean be this?  It seems to me that when we hand in our brains at the door of the church, the token we get in exchange is the 'smiley Christian face.'  Yes, I know both are a parody, but how often do we in our worship do what the psalmists or Habakkuk did?  Just suppose the 'vicar' stood up at the start of the service and said 'dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to rant at God about the unfairness of life.'  We'd assume he/she had flipped because we don't come to church to do that.

On the one hand coming to church is meant to be about worship, so we focus on God's greatness and fidelity, we sing songs/hymns of praise and remind ourselves of eternal promises - we want to be positive and upbeat about faith.  On the other hand, I think it's utterly wrong that we don't express our struggles and questions, because we suppress/repress the realities of lived experience in favour of jolly smiley lies.  Surely there ought to be a place for both?

Playing hunt the hymns (I have to hand them over this Sunday because I'm away for the fortnight immediately preceding the first Habakkuk service) has been a salutory experience - it is mainly in the Victorian hymns that I have found the tension that I want to see expressed. 

In 'O Love that will not let me go' is this poignant verse

O joy that seeks for me through pain

I cannot close me heart to thee

I trace the rainbow through the rain

And feel the promise is not vain

That morn shall tearless be


Of the contemporary songs, the two I think best express some of this authenticity are Matt Redman's "Blessed be Your Name" and from the Nick & Anita Haigh of Northumbria Community "Kyrie Eleison" (Empty, broken, here I stand) which emerged from this couple's horrendous experience.

When my faith has all but gone, Kyrie eleison

Give me strength to carry on, Kyrie eleison

When my dreams have turned to dust, Kyrie eleison

In you, O Lord, I put my trust.


The whole thing about the authenticity theme in Habakkuk is the people of God are called to faithfulness - the 'even though life stinks, yet I will believe' attitude, perhaps expressed best by Job - and a God who is faithful even when seemingly absent.

To go with this means two things - firstly, we can't settle for the smiley Christian parody, which, if this is the token we swap for our brains, means we can't check them at the door either.  This is as well because if we are going to take theodicy seriously we need our brains as well as our experiences... and when I get that far I may post on it.

In the meantime, I am contemplating handing out paper tear drops in the service and asking people to write/draw/symbolise the pain they bring with them to church and which they need to be open about with God.  If we could then start to be open with each other...

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