Throughout our lives most of us pause from time to time to reflect, to question whether we’re on the right track, to wonder what the meaning of it all is. We’re seeking a vision, a calling, a clear plan. In both our readings today, we see people trying to find the vision. We’ve got Habakkuk in the Old Testament, and we’ve got Jesus wandering in the wilderness.
The prophet Habakkuk lived in a time when another country was invading and destroying Judah. He stands on the rampart, waiting for God to explain, waiting for God to offer some remedy, some vision of how this gets better. Perhaps Ukrainian Christians are turning to this book in the Old Testament these days, because it speaks so closely to their situation, affirming that God is still with them and does have a plan, that justice will prevail—eventually.
But for now, I imagine Ukrainians could identify with this prophet when he says,
O God, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—therefore judgment comes for the perverted. …
[And God says,] For I am rousing the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own.
(Habakkuk 1:2-4, 6)
Like Habakkuk, like the Ukrainians who watch and wait and wonder how they got into this random war, we stand at our watchpost on the rampart and wait for God’s response. O God, what is the vision? Help. And we pray: for justice, for compassion, for a swift end to this senseless war in which everybody loses.
Our other reading today is also about vision. Jesus has just been baptized, the heavens have opened, a voice has called him, and he realizes that his life is never going to be the same. But he needs some time apart to figure out the vision, to set priorities and values for his new ministry. If you’ve ever been part of a startup, perhaps you’ve done this, too: lots of time at the beginning discerning this is who we’re going to be, what we’re going to do, and here are the values that will guide how we do it.
Both Habakkuk and Jesus separate themselves from their daily routine and the people with whom they usually spend time. They clear the decks of all other commitments and just focus on this vision.
During Lent, we are invited to do the same: to give up whatever distracts us from our relationship with God, to spend more time in prayer, figuring out the vision. Along those lines, our theme for Lent this year is “Cleaning House, Finding Hope.” We are invited to be intentional about discarding the things in our lives that have just become clutter and distractions. These could be physical things. Personally, I get so swamped with papers that after a while I can’t find the ones I need. So I have made it my goal to spend 20 minutes per day sorting through papers during Lent. Our stuff can weigh us down. Even looking at it sitting there can make our shoulders sag. So we can go through the physical clutter in our lives and clean house.
We can also clean house in our soul. What holds us back from God? What prevents us from committing wholeheartedly to God’s vision for us? Perhaps we allow ourselves to get busy. We are doing the grocery shopping, preparing the meals, cleaning up afterward, working at our jobs, raising children, seeing friends, and so on. But behind all that busyness there may be fear: If I give more time to God, God may call me to give up doing what I love, or ask me to do something I don’t like and for which I feel ill-equipped. I would rather not spend that time with God, because I’m afraid of being asked to say yes to something big and scary. And we think up all the excuses: I’m too busy, I’m too young, I’m too old, I’m too unknown, I’m too out of shape, I’m too comfortable, I’m too … fill in the blank. It’s a way of keeping God at arm’s length. Yes, I love you, God, but don’t ask too much.
Lent is when we strip all those excuses and fears away. We clean house in our soul and put all of that in the trash bag. Here I am, God. This is making me nervous. But I’m listening for the vision.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, has apparently said yes to his vision. Some dismissed him early on because he’d had a career as an actor in a comedy TV series in which he played the president of Ukraine. Surely he was a lightweight, not one to be taken seriously as the actual president of this large country. But since getting elected in 2019, he has been trying to rein in corruption. In recent weeks he has worked to help Ukrainians face the Russian invasion, mount an unexpectedly strong defense despite being outnumbered. He has refused to run away, even though there is definitely a target on his back. His life is in danger, and he lives into the vision of serving Ukraine anyway. What he is doing is so courageous, so David and Goliath, that people are sitting up and taking notice.
That’s the scary thing about visions: they may demand everything, even one’s life. But our lives will make a difference when we say yes. We know nothing about the adult Jesus prior to his baptism. He was just another regular guy, living his regular life. And then … this. Baptism, time to discern the vision. And the world has never been the same.
This is our Lenten journey: to clean house, to declutter our lives and our souls, to spend time listening to God, and see where that takes us.
When we talk about decluttering our physical houses, Marie Kondo comes to mind, with her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I have a copy of that book … somewhere. And if I could find it, I could tell you exactly what she says about the vision, because she talks about that, too.
But what I recall that Marie Kondo says about tidying up is not so much that you start by sorting through all your clothes or your books, but that you start with the vision of what you’re even aiming for. If you could have your home absolutely as clean and organized as you want, how would you move through the space? What would open up in your life because you were now organized and free of all the stuff you don’t want or need? How does unclogging your house also unclog your life? How is your stuff holding you back?
So we start, not with the stuff itself, but with the vision of our lives. And since we, as Christians, are trying to follow God, then we’re going to take this question to our prayer time and ask God for some help. Like Habakkuk, we say, What is the vision, God? Help us out, here.
“Cleaning House, Finding Hope.” That’s our Lenten theme. We may or may not choose to clean our physical houses. We are certainly invited to clean our spiritual houses. You may choose to organize your neighbors to clean your block. Make it a party. We’ve put together a log so we can share what we’re doing around this theme and encourage each other in this work. Take these weeks of Lent to declutter, to clean up, and to find what hopeful space emerges in the process. God has a vision for you, and you, and you, and all of us. May we be watching, waiting, listening for that vision, wrestling with whatever devils try to tempt us away from it. Amen.