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Festival of Homiletics preacher: ‘I wasn’t sure what God wanted from me this time’

The Rev. Lenny Duncan uses Habakkuk text ‘to mourn the world we find ourselves in’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Lenny Duncan

LOUISVILLE — Saying he’d been dreading preaching as part of the Festival of Homiletics, the Rev. Lenny Duncan nonetheless did just that with precision and panache during a sermon broadcast Thursday — even though “I wasn’t sure what God wanted from me this time,” as he put it.

Duncan recently became mission development pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Vancouver, Washington. A co-pastor had this insight regarding the pandemic: “All it took for all of us to find the creativity we needed was to get all the pastors out of their buildings.”

Still unsure what to say to the Festival of Homiletics’ online crowd, Duncan turned to a favorite prophet: Habakkuk 1:1-4 and 2:1-4, which includes this command from the Almighty: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” That’s in response to what the prophet had told God: “I will stand at my watch post, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.”

“That’s why I chose Habakkuk,” Duncan said. “I often scan the horizon for what I think might be coming.” He said he has “long, protracted conversations when I take the Almighty to task. I use this text to weep with people” so we can “publicly mourn the world we find ourselves in.”

COVID-19 has “scattered and scared” people, Duncan said, “sent to flee by the wolf, and the shepherd appears to be nowhere around.”

But from this collective trauma, “we are left with the strange and ancient stories of love defeating death, a man from Nazareth who was executed and somehow lives. We proclaim love as the answer to death.”

“This whole ministry thing, the whole church thing — it just feels so fragile right now,” he said. What may be most needed in the present moment is rewriting “all the rules of the church, to do the most loving thing possible — not gathering, and not just for weeks.”

“The months ahead will challenge us in ways many of us did not sign up for,” he said. “I just want to take a moment to lament that with you.”

Faced not only with the horror of the pandemic but the sin of, for example, white supremacy, Christians might rightly question, “God, just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?” and “God, don’t you love us anymore?” and “Didn’t you say you’d be with us until the end of time?” and “How long until anything happens that seems like a win?” Duncan asked.

“That’s what makes Habakkuk so intriguing to me,” he said. “I will keep my watch to see what he will say to me. The prophet demands an answer: ‘Are you even real, God? Do you even care, God?’ This same God answers, ‘I am.’ That is the simple hope of Habakkuk. We worship the God who answers.”

Duncan admits he has “dragged unaddressed issues I didn’t want to work on into quarantine. But I know this: I worship a God who answers, and like you, I await the answer in faith. Not a Pollyanna faith — a faith in all the uncertainty and ugly rawness that’s been revealed about this country, myself, and just how ragged we can be.

“I await the God who answers. Amen.”

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