Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | October 30, 2022
Habakkuk 1:1-4 & 2:1-4
When I began practicing karate, one of the early lessons I learned was that it hurts when you get hit. I was paired up with a guy who had a third-degree black belt; and he kept hitting me in the ribs in the same spot, over and over. My ribs were sore for days.
When some people learned that getting hit is painful, they decided karate was not for them. I decided that I needed to learn how to block a punch. There is no magic to it. What we do in karate is practice the basics. Over and over and over again – the basic fundamental elements of the art – the martial art; basics such as the importance of a proper stance – of proper movement – of balance – speed – focus. No matter how good one gets at it, one is never too good for the basics. There is always something to be learned.
The outcome is that after a while karate becomes a way of life. A way of mindfulness, so that one does not see oneself as a super ninja warrior who can conquer all, but as someone who can cross the street to avoid a potential conflict.
These times we are living in can seem like we are always up against some assault on our sense of well-being. The personal struggles of health and well-being. Financial uncertainty. The divisions tearing at the fabric of our society. The environment. The threat of war and global destruction.
What I learned in practicing karate helped me to understand the meaning of faith. Faith is not about having more of it; not about knowing some secret formula. Faith is practicing the basics on a day to day basis.
There were many times when I didn’t feel like going to practice. Normally I attended class two or three times a week. I would maybe be tired or busy or just lazy, and I would think, “I can skip a class. I’ve got some momentum going.” But I decided that if I felt that way, then that was when I most needed to go to class. Sure, there were times when I had to miss practice; but in the long run, I was not in the habit of it.
That’s how faith works. The daily practice. One day at a time, for this day at hand. Not some huge project; but a little prayer along the way; a little nod to God’s presence; a little gratitude. And when we are tempted to turn from the course of our faith journey, we can decide that this time, we will go to practice. Maybe that’s to pray, to rely on our friends and family for support, or simply to take that first step in the right direction.
We might wonder why the world has to be in such a mess all the time. The world is as it has always been – a mess of contradiction. Great hope and great despair have always lived hand in hand. People have always wondered, “Why is there so much violence and suffering the world?”
An ancient prophet named Habakkuk wanted to know the same thing. Why didn’t God do something about all the bad people in the world intent on destruction? The world Habakkuk lived in was an unfair place. The rich could trample the rights of the poor because they had the money to buy what they wanted. The powerful could take advantage of the weak because they could enforce their will through violence. The prophet accused God of not listening.
Sometimes it seems that the angrier we become over injustice and the more we cry out to God for peace, the more silent and distant God becomes. If God is all powerful, then why doesn’t God do something to prevent bad things from happening? It’s the age-old question.
Habakkuk decided that if God wouldn’t come out and give him a straight answer that his only recourse was to watch, wait and listen. He said, “I will stand at my watch post; I will keep watch to see what God will say to me and what he will answer me concerning my complaint.”
“I will stand at my watch-post.” These words of the ancient prophet have resonated in me for many years now. These words bring to mind a question I often ask myself. That is, “What does it mean to act like a follower of Jesus?”
If we have not stood at our watch-post when times are good, it will not be a simple task when times are bad. When we neglect our spiritual life, when we take the path of least resistance rather than the consistent steps of faith, then when we need faith, we discover that our faith is out of step with the demands of life.
Finding our way to God is far different from preserving our way of life. We have always told ourselves that we are blessed. We have lived for so long with the comforts that our wealth has afforded us that we have come to believe that such a life is our due; that such a life is our reward for living in a land that ‘God has surely blessed.’ So that our way must surely be God’s way. The challenge is to turn that idea around so that God’s way becomes our way.
The prophet received his answer from God. “Then the Lord answered me and said, ‘write this vision; make it plain on the tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time.”
What is a vision? A vision is not about goals; a vision is about a dream. A visionary is a dreamer; as if when God is dreaming the visionary sees it. It’s there in living color. It’s so clear you can almost reach out and touch it. You see it in your prayers; you can almost hear it in the whispering of the Holy Spirit.
Nine years ago Lindsay and I visited Japan with my karate instructors and four others from the club. In some places groups of school children would approach us and engage us in conversation. They wanted to practice their English speaking. Some of them had questions written down on paper such as, “Where are you from?” and “What do like about Japan?”
One group of high school students asked us questions about our hopes for world peace. When we parted company, they gave us origami cranes – pieces of paper folded into shape of a bird.
The crane in Japan is one of the sacred or mystical creatures, like the dragon or the tortoise. According to legend, if someone folds a thousand paper cranes, their wish will be granted. The paper cranes were given to us by children as a symbol of their wish for a more peaceful world.
We learned more about the significance of the paper crane when we visited Hiroshima. In the center of the city is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. It is where the atomic bomb was dropped on the city on the 6th of August 1945. 70,000 people were killed in the initial blast and 100,000 more died later from injuries and radiation poisoning.
In the center of the park there is a statue of a 12-year-old girl named Sadako Sasaki. She became the symbol for all those who died in the aftermath of the atomic bomb. She was two years old and living about a mile away when the bomb exploded. She was blown out of the house and her mother found her in the rubble.
After the war Sadako’s family stayed in Hiroshima and were part of rebuilding the city. Her parents owned a barbershop. When she was around ten years old Sadako became ill. At first, they thought it was just a cold. She continued to grow and ill and was diagnosed with leukemia.
She went into the hospital for treatment. While in hospital Sadako started folding pieces of paper into the shape of cranes. She hoped that if she folded a thousand paper cranes that her wish to be well would be granted. She used any scrap of paper she could lay her hands on.
100 paper cranes. 200; 300; 600; 1000. But her wish was not granted. She continued to make the origami cranes but became a struggle even to fold the bits of paper. Sadako died of leukemia. She was 12 years old. Her last words were, “It’s good.”
In the Peace Memorial Park there is a statue of Sadako Sasaki holding a golden crane. At the base of the statue is a plaque that reads, “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.”
“For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does it not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”
Practice the basics.