Waiting. What’s New Here?

You know those crosswalk signs with increased accessibility? The ones that say,




Wait till it’s clear.

Wait till it’s green.

Wait till you are older.

Wait till tomorrow.

Wait till the afternoon.

Wait until you’re my age.

Wait until you’re 18.

Wait until you are married.

Wait your turn.

Waiting at the doctors.

Waiting for an answer.

Waiting on hold.

Waiting for water to boil.

Waiting for a table.

Waiting at a concert.

Waiting for a call.

Waiting for a text.

Waiting for an update.

Waiting for a diagnosis.

Waiting in traffic.

Waiting for your birthday.

Waiting for a flight.

Waiting at the BMV.

Waiting for school to be out..

Waiting for church to be over.

Waiting for Justice.

Waiting for Godot.

Wait for Christmas.

Wait till next year.

Wait till retirement.

Wait for it.

Wait for it.

As you all have experienced as humans, we do a lot of waiting And for the most part, we do not like it very much – especially, if the waiting is painful. From today’s lectionary text, Habakkuk cries out –

How long, Lord,

How Long must I call for help,

but you do not listen?

Or cry out to you, “Violence!”

but you do not save?

Why do you make me look at injustice?

Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?

Destruction and violence are before me;

there is strife, and conflict abounds.

Therefore the law is paralyzed,

and justice never prevails.

The wicked hem in the righteous,

so that justice is perverted.

Habakkuk is tired of waiting. The Bible tells us close to nothing about Habakkuk – it is even hard to place the time in which he is writing. It seems that he is complaining in this text about Babylon invading.


Good ole Habakkuk whining – “Why do I have to wait to be saved from violence, injustice, and wrongdoing?”

These opening words in the book of Habakkuk often get called, “the prophet’s complaint.”

A Complaint for justice

I do not see this complaining in a negative sense. I am just being facetious with the word “whining.” I think Habakkuk has good reason to complain – he is tired of being treated unjustly. Tired of invading armies mistreating him and his community

Sometimes complaining gets lopped into whining and impatience. However I imagine it a bit more like filing a complaint – like a legal complaint.

Perhaps, if this is not too far, we can imagine Habakkuk suing God.

Imagine an intent to sue letter –

“Dear God –

This letter of intent to sue shall serve as a formal notice that Habakkuk intends to commence a lawsuit against you due to the following: negligence, violence, injustice, destruction, and wrongdoing.”

I am sure many of us wouldn’t mind doing that at times.

I find that there is something comforting about hearing prophets complain about God. It is comforting to know that people for millennia have complained about God – even a righteous prophet in the Bible!

For me, what I see most clearly in this complaint, is a question as to why there is injustice in the world. He writes:

Why do you make me look at injustice?

Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?

Destruction and violence are before me;

there is strife, and conflict abounds.

What is Justice (Why do we seek it?)

And that question, for me, brings up the next question, “What is Justice?” What is this biblical value, justice, that is a constant call throughout the Bible, that the people in the Bible wait for over and over again. This term justice, nowadays is all the rage in liberal churches throughout the country. The tricky thing in defining justice, is that while justice is one of the most common topics in the Bible, it is used in such a large variety of ways.

On one hand, justice is something that can feel so intuitive – kids often have a pretty natural ability to sense it.

Have you ever been on a playground, perhaps playing something like kick ball, or whatever sport you played as a kid, and someone keeps on cheating? Remember that one kid who refuses to agree that he was tagged out? This type of injustice can still make me so mad. Or in a more real life instance, I remember being a kid and going to a major city and seeing people who were homeless on the streets for the first time and knowing that there was something so terrible and unfair about humans being homeless. I imagine that many people have felt this.

On the other hand, as we can tell from our political climate, justice can seem very difficult to get on the same page about. And this generally has to do with how we practice justice. How we respond to homelessness, racial injustice, LGBTQ injustice, death penalty injustice, becomes a more tricky conversation.

Justice, in some parts of the Bible, is about the distribution of social benefits. For instance there is the year of Jubilee, in which the Jewish law called for debts to be forgiven every 7 years and for the redistribution of land and wealth every 50 years.

In some parts of the Bible, justice is about how power is legitimately and illegitimately used. Like in the story of David abusing power and killing Uriah so that he could marry Bethsheba.

In some parts of the Bible, justice is about being treated fairly, like when Paul writes in Galatians about how it does not matter in the body of Christ whether one is a Greek or Jew – all are to be treated fairly.

In some parts of the Bible, justice is about rights, like when Jesus told the children to come to him and for people not to hinder them. Children had a right to be cared for.

This biblical value of justice has evolved over time as faithful Christians have worked hard to apply it to their contexts. And it has existed in our Mennonite history. And because today is Anabaptist/Reformation Sunday, I thought we would explore a bit more as to how Anabaptist or Mennonites have waited for justice.

Mennonites have waited for justice.

In 16th century Europe, the early Anabaptists’ faith compelled them toward the belief that baptism is something that one chooses, and as a result many of them were killed for choosing to get baptized a second time as an adult – an action that defied the church and state. The early Anabaptists thought this should be a decision you make as an adult and something that should not be forced on you as a child. A right to choose one’s faith. Like Habakkuk, I imagine they were crying out “how long, O Lord,” as they watched their family and friends die for their convictions, and as they waited for justice.

Mennonites have caused others to wait (a-political… but are they?)

While there is a history of Mennonites experiencing injustice and waiting for justice, they have… we have… also been a part of making other people wait for justice. People throughout Mennonite history have been looking at the Mennonite Church, and saying like Habakkuk, “How long, O Lord.”

I imagine that the indigenous peoples who were pushed off their hunting land, to make a Swiss Settlement that would later become Bluffton, were crying out similar words as Habakkuk. “We cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save.”


Martin Luther King Jr. ‘s speech writer, Vincent Harding, was a Mennonite for a large portion of his life until he left, partly because of his disappointment with Mennonites. Harding talked about how Mennonites failed to show up during the civil rights movement. Harding, who was Black, thought that the peacemaking Mennonites, because of their history of non-violence, would be interested in being a prophetic witness to the United States on the issue of racial justice. But they did not. Where were the peacemaking Mennonites during the civil rights movement? Not wanting to ruffle feathers? Wanting to remain peaceful? The Mennonites, by not participating, showed their preference for civil rights to wait. To wait. “How long, oh Lord?”

Why do activists have to be so pushy and annoying? Why are they whining? Complaining? Why can’t they wait?

Well, it seems like activists are acting like Habakkuk. Crying out “Violence!” and waiting for justice. And I, for one, hope that the church does not have much patience for violence and injustice either.

(Why we seek justice) Mennonites no longer waiting

Ervin Stutzman in his book, From Non-resistance to Justice, writes a history of the evolution of Mennonites and their peace stance. Stutzman shows how the Mennonites in the 20th century headed from an orientation around ethics of non-resistance and peace, towards an ethic of justice. In the early part of the 20th century, Mennonites, who have historically been a pacifist group and have chosen to abstain from violence and war, remained quiet in the land, keeping themselves from the politics of the early 20th century. However, a shift occurred in the 20th century.

Mennonites, who have for centuries been agrarian pacifists, began to dabble in the environmental movement in the United States and take interest in the protests of the Vietnam War in the 60s and 70s- two easy and active steps toward working towards justice. It was difficult for Mennonites to deal with the fact that the secular anti-war movement was more active than the historical peace church’s witness – what did it mean that Mennonites were not a strong public voice for non-violence?

Over the 20th century, a shift has occurred within the Mennonite tradition – Stutzman’s thesis is that because of the failing of the Mennonite peace stance to create change in the United States, Mennonites began focusing on another Biblical value – justice.

Justice in the Bible is not inactive. It is not non-resistance, but active, working to make change for marginalized people. Non-resistance and pacifism do not promise justice.

Inclusion does not promise justice. It is easily possible to be included and mistreated – like being picked last on the playground- you are included, but it doesn’t mean people treat you well. It doesn’t mean anyone is going to pass you the ball. That is because there is no inherent demand for justice within inclusion.

I have had many conversations with LGBTQ folks who named the dynamic of going to churches who claim to be inclusive, only to be included, but not celebrated, for the gifts they bring as human beings. To be included but not celebrated for the virtues that they bring as part of the LGBTQ community. They have been included but picked last, not passed the ball. That is not justice. That is not human flourishing.

Instead, so many LGBTQ Christians are told to wait – and I know many have found a community in which they thrive outside the church. Good for them for finding a community that celebrates them. It is very sad for the church to have lost such beautiful members. “How long, oh Lord?”

I bring LGBTQ justice up today because I hope to share with you all why we talk about issues of justice in the church, and to help us remember on this Anabpatist/Reformation Sunday, where this value of justice comes from within the Bible and the Mennonite faith.

Throughout the Bible, and throughout history, people have cried out like Habakkuk, “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” And we, the manifestation of the Body of Christ, the church, are being asked the same question from many people around the world who are experiencing injustice. “How long, oh church, the body of Christ.” A complaint is being filed toward the Mennonite church. Marginalized people have waited far too long. A metaphorical lawsuit is commencing. Will we be faithful to these prophet’s calls?

As we sing the following song, I believe there are at least two ways to consider its words that come from this Habakkuk text. Perhaps some of us need to file a complaint to God. “How long, oh Lord.” Perhaps. Another approach is to try to be open to the complaint that is being filed towards us. “How long, oh church – the body of Christ.”