Monday, 07 November 2016 00:00

"All Along the Watchtower", November 6, 2016

“All Along the Watchtower”
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
November 6, 2016
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan penned the song “All Along the Watchtower” way back in 1967.  Think about what was happening in our country back then.

"There must be some way out of here" said the joker to the thief
"There's too much confusion I can't get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line Know what any of it is worth"

"No reason to get excited" The thief, he kindly spoke
"There are many here among us Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we've been through that And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely, now The hour is getting late"

All along the watchtower Princes kept the view
While all the women came and went Barefoot servants, too
Outside, in the distance A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching The wind began to howl

Biographers say that this song is the one that Bob Dylan sings the most at his concerts. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and others have covered it.  It’s one of his more religious songs, although all of them probably have a religious meaning, if we were to scratch them hard enough.  

All Along the Watchtower reminds us that the world is forever compromised and while the outlook is pretty bleak we are to stand on the watchtower and look to the one whom Dylan names the “Chief Commander in this world and the world we cannot see.”

It seems we are often met with a joker and a thief.  And we just can’t get no relief.
The prophet Habakkuk stood on the watchtower and wondered how long will violence, injustice, lies, innuendo, and arrogance last.  We wonder the same thing.  There must be somewhere out of here.

The name Habakkuk means wrestle or embrace.  Either way it implies a closeness that will not let go without satisfaction.  The words Habakkuk uses with God are fightin’ words.  They don’t sound like the psalms, “thou, o God art great.  In your own time will these things occur…” No it is “How Long must we endure this violence, this travesty of justice, this mockery of right living?  How long until you do something about it?”  That’s Habakkuk’s cry to God, his accusation. How long must we suffer in grief? I’ve been standing on the watchtower and I don’t get no relief.

I like the way Ken Sehested paraphrased today’s scripture:

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you, “Violence!” and you will not save?
We pound the doors of Heaven, shouting “Listen! Pay attention! Are you asleep!”
Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
Pull the alarm! Sound the alert! Summon the Almighty!
So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous, and justice is bartered to the highest bidder.
Are we forgotten? Cast aside? Scorned by those of boastful pride?

We are like the people in Habbakuk’s time. We are forlorn. We see candidates go low when we want them to go high. We expect lies and have grown weary of pointing it out.  And all the while, when we are distracted by all of that, the bankers and the bosses are smiling.  We have no energy to challenge them.  And the black snake of a pipeline goes on.  The infection of racism goes unchecked. The despair of the outcast continues unabated. Insurance companies raise premiums and blame the government, all while backing candidates who will keep the focus on the evil government and not the profiteers.
We even worry that once the election is over, we will be in worse shape because of all the divisions.  This bodes well for gridlock, for robbery, for evil to flourish.  We have even stopped asking How long.  Because we assume it will last forever. There’s nothing we can do, so just accept your fate, said the Joker to the Thief.

But then comes the answer from God, again Ken’s paraphrasing:

Then the Lord answered: Stop your whining! Pull yourself together. Your self-pity is embarrassing. Get yourself a billboard. Set a neon sign in the sky. So that even the most harried soul can see it clearly. And this is what it should say:
Don’t let your fears get behind the wheel. Live out of the memory of God’s provision; resist the madness of market forces.
Live by the sturdy Promise, not the ruptured profit. A New World is approaching. If is seems slow, keep on keeping-on.
Shiver no more, for God is not done!  ©ken sehested @

God’s response is that there is a better justice coming. And it’s better than the petty squabble you’re stuck in.  Look at the proud. Their spirit is not right in them.  The righteous, rather, live by faith (2:4) The righteous do not put their trust in wealth or in political power or in houses or castles or walls or guns or insults.  All of those will cause a spiritual, if not physical death. The righteous, on the other hand, live by faith.

I have enjoyed watching Saturday Night Live’s parodies of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  Last night they were at it again with Alec Baldwin playing Donald Trump and Kate McKinnon playing Hillary Clinton.  They played up the caricature of the other candidate that has become so mainstream.  But at the end of the opening sketch, they broke character and said, “you know, I’m tired of yelling at you.”  They then went outside and hugged people on the street.  The Trump character hugged Latino and African American families.  The Clinton character hugged people in trump t-shirts.  And they ended holding hands and celebrating this multiracial and multi-opinioned country.  I truly hope something like this happens this week.

So while we wait for that ultimate justice, the faithful need to live by faith.  How we live our lives matter. How we touch people matters.  How we use our words matter. How we remember others, matters.  Where we lay our heads matters. What church we join matters.

Now what does this have to do with All Saints Day?  Just this: We say all this knowing that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses: those who have gone before. They see the big picture. The big picture is about the elections, but it’s more than that.

It’s about what we study inside the classroom and what we learn outside the classroom.

It’s about how we account for our lives.

It’s about what we make as our priorities.  

It is about how we live in their honor or memory.

It is that we take nothing for granted.

It is that we have power beyond our imaginings.  

It is that we have faith that can move mountains.

It is that we are better than our worst moments.

Stand on the watchtower and look. See the vast totality of our lives. See how God has been there. And see where God is pointing us.  That’s what it’s about. Our forbearers know that there will be some way out of here.  They know that there will be light even after our candidate wins or loses on election day.

"No reason to get excited" The thief, he kindly spoke
"There are many here among us Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we've been through that And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely, now The hour is getting late"

Habakkuk stood on the watchtower and saw a new vision.  What do the saints who have gone before see?  What is clear in their minds eyes?  How can we live our lives to honor them?  How will we account for our lives?      

Get up.  Make your voice known.  There is some way out of here.  Make your calls. Vote.  But don’t stop there.  The voice of the prophet is never comfortable with the status quo. The prophet always wants us to get better.  So does God.  Resist the temptation to just take it.  Be annoyed and get going.  

Here we are along the watchtower.  We can stand there looking at the destruction that is out there and who is to blame. We can obsess about our rage at the machine. We can cry out how long, until even our friends tune us out.  It can be exhausting to be the voice of gloom.

But there is another direction to look when you are standing at the watchtower.  You can turn your eyes toward the on hour later sunrise.

You can see the people coming together with hope and faith.

You can see the clergy gathered at Standing Rock offering peace and hope to a long-forgotten and ignored people.  

You can look at the Wesley Foundation and others who will surround the intimidated Muslim community at the U of M with love and support.  This week at the U, there were anti-Islamic statements on posters and graffiti-marred panels on the Washington Avenue bridge of the Muslim Student Association. So Wesley is teaming up with churches and others to plaster the walls of the Muslim Student Association with hearts and words of support.  They’ll do that this afternoon.

You can look at the energized voters who take to the early voting in record numbers and the ones who will show up on Tuesday.  

You can look to the people across this room who faithfully try to live out their calling with integrity.

You can look at the good work of the missions that we support in Nicaragua.  

You can look at the way we feed the hungry at Marcy Open School with weekend meals.

You can look at the way we care for one another.

You can look at the witnesses that have gone before. The faithless live in constant despair and hopelessness. But the righteous live by faith.  

All along the watchtower Princes kept the view
While all the women came and went Barefoot servants, too
Outside, in the distance A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching The wind began to howl

And so we sit with Habakkuk, with Bob Dylan and with the saints that have gone before. We sit up on the watchtower.  And we remember that we are never alone.  We might not get the answer we want right now. We might be shivering with the biting wind, we might wonder how long.  But we will live by faith.  We will see the path ahead. And we remember that we don’t walk it alone. We are accompanied by friends in this life and friends who have gone before.  It’s the way God made us.  And we are surrounded.  And it is good.