The last five months have been difficult for most of us. Over the last five months, many of us have experienced a trauma that we never expected to experience in our lives. We have undergone different stages of grief because our “normal” lives have been upended. Along with the changes to our “normal” lives, COVID-19 has brought to light inequities that some of us thought no longer existed in our nation. We have been reminded of our nation’s history of racism and classism as some groups of people have experienced lack of medical resources and those who have to work to survive have been shoved to the front lines as essential workers.
Some of us have also experienced personal tragedy during the last five months. Perhaps a family member or close friend has died from complications due to COVID-19. Maybe a loved one has lost a job that has put undue financial stress on the family. Some may have had to say goodbye to a family pet or two during this time. And others of us have struggled with depression or anxiety perhaps for the first time in our lives. Sadly, a few of us have had questions about our faith.
As I was reflecting this morning on the last five months, I felt a weight on my spirit. We are hurting, we are confused, we are lost, we are angry. Some of us are trying to be hopeful, but it is difficult to stay positive when it seems that each day brings another stress or another tragedy. Just this week, millions of people on the East Coast have lost power due to Tropical Storm Isaias, and at this point, many of them will not have power restored for at least a week. In normal circumstances, it can be an irritation to lose power. However, given the last five months, losing power could be the one thing that pushes someone over the edge emotionally and psychologically.
It just so happens that over the last few weeks, my daily Bible readings have come from the exilic period of Biblical history. This includes the Babylonian captivity and the eventual destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. This includes the prophecies of Jeremiah, most well known as the weeping prophet. To put it mildly, the exilic period of Biblical history can be depressing, especially if our focus is on the tragedy and consequences that the people of God experienced during this time.
This morning, my readings moved to the prophet Habakkuk, one of the lesser known prophets of the Bible. Habakkuk prophesied during the time period before the fall of Jerusalem, when the elite of Judah had been taken as captives into Babylon and the poor had been left behind. During the first two chapters of Habakkuk, the prophet calls out for God’s help, feeling despair that God is not listening. The prophet feels abandoned by a God who said “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”
However, in the third chapter of Habakkuk, the prophet is reminded of God’s salvation. He is reminded of God’s goodness and God’s glory. His hope is renewed even though all that he sees around him is desolation.
Habakkuk’s reflection on God’s goodness in Habakkuk 3 is what we need today:
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights.Habakkuk 3:17-19 New Living Translation
Some of us feel as if the fig trees have no blossoms and that there are no grapes on the vines because we have lost jobs, and we don’t know where the groceries are going to come from. Some of us feel like the fields are empty and barren because we have lost loved ones. Some of us feel like Habakkuk when he cries out, “‘Are we only fish to be caught and killed?” because each day seems to bring on a new tragedy, stress, or irritation.
However, today let us be reminded of God’s provision and protection in our lives. Let us be reminded of another exilic prophet, Jeremiah, who proclaims in Lamentations 3, “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!'” (Lamentations 3:22-24 NLT). Let us also be reminded of the words of Hosea, a prophet of Israel who warned the people before Israel’s fall to the Assyrians. He calls to the people,
Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces;
now he will heal us.
He has injured us;
now he will bandage our wounds.
In just a short time he will restore us,
so that we may live in his presence.
Oh, that we might know the Lord!
Let us press on to know him.
He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn
or the coming of rains in early spring.Hosea 6:1-3 NLT
We are not abandoned. We are not destroyed. We may feel struck down from every side, but our God of salvation is with us. Let us rejoice in the Lord though the fig trees have no blossoms and the olive crops fail.