I’d like to begin this morning by telling a story. It’s one that I pulled out a few weeks ago for a sermon, and it has been both stuck in my head and giving me hope ever since. This story is from Sarah Bessey, an author, who has done some ministry in Haiti.
Pastor Gaetan and his wife, Madame, had adopted an entire family of orphans and dreamed of building them a school. The problem? Their land was large enough for a school, but there was a large rocky hill where they would have put it.
One day, a Haitian man in his 60s arrived with a pickax and a shovel. Every day for months, he tackled that rocky hill, shovel by shovel removing the rocks. He had always wanted to go to school, he said later; it was too late for him, but not for Haiti. And so he dismantled that entire hill of rocks over months of hard labor, and at the end of it 150 kids from the neighborhood had a school to go to every day.
Thanks be to God who moves mountains. And thanks be to God for men and women who pick up the stones, one after another, after another, until the mountain moves.Sarah Bessey*
I just need a reminder sometimes, you know? That this Christian life is hard work, and small, one-thing-at-a-time work but also there’s mountains that need to be moved so that we can do good, life-giving work. This world is full of so much suffering that it’s easy to be overwhelmed or despair, it’s easy to stare at it all with shock and have no idea where to begin.
God knows this: for all its talk of faith, the Bible is also full of despair, of angry shouted maybe-prayers and questions and doubt. Habakkuk is one of those books; it begins with a plea to God for answers: why is justice perverted? Why is what’s right never done? Why am I surrounded by suffering; why have you not acted, O God?
Are you listening at all, God?
And boy, does Habakkuk get an answer. In the rest of chapter 1, which we didn’t read this morning, God answers, all right. God says that yes, judgment is coming–you want judgment, you’ll get it, in the form of the Assyrians, who certainly are not soft in their judgments. They will punish Israel for their sins. And that, too, is a source of despair, for the Assyrians are proud and fierce and bloodthirsty, and how will Israel even survive their attack? Where is there hope in this, either?
And then we have chapter 2. “I will wait for God’s answer,” Habakkuk insists. I will wait. God will answer.
And God does answer. God’s answer for Habakkuk is this: write down your visions. Write down all your prophetic experiences so that it can be sent by messenger, so that others can hear what I am doing.
And that’s it. There’s nothing about going to the king, or starting a grassroots reform movement, or going out and preaching a revival. There’s not even anything about how to survive the upcoming invasion. Just… write this conversation down. That’s it.
Just do the next right thing**, God is saying. Here’s the next step; here’s your task, impossibly small in the face of widespread corruption and an incoming invading army. What difference will that make? we may ask, or Habakkuk may have asked.
But our God is a God of small things. We remember the stories that are huge and miraculous, Noah and his ark or David fighting Goliath and winning. There are more stories, though, of small faith: Moses’ imperfect but faithful leadership of the people through forty years of wilderness wanderings; Habakkuk and every other prophet who wrote down their visions one vision at a time, preached them to one crowd of fifteen or thirty or fifty at a time; Lois and Eunice and their patient faith in raising their children to believe (2 Timothy 1:5), and every other unnamed woman of the Bible and beyond who’s done the same; Elijah the prophet, who in a famine fed a single widow and her son (1 Kings 17:8-16). Even Jesus: for all we talk about how Jesus saved the world–and He did, don’t get me wrong or misunderstand me, but most of His ministry was made up of healing one person at a time–one woman with unstoppable bleeding, one lame man, one possessed child at at time–or having one conversation, one meal at a time.
God does huge and wonderful things, don’t get me wrong. We worship the Creator, a God who has not only created the world but also saved it and redeemed it. I’m not saying that we should expect less of God. But maybe expect a bit less of yourself–because God is not asking you to save the world. God is not asking any of us to change the world with a snap. God is on top of that; God has already saved the world, and God is still saving the world. God is only asking us to do the thing that is set in front of us right now. God is only asking us to do the next right thing. God is only asking us to move the rock that is right in front of us, not the whole mountain in one go.
What is the next right thing for you? What is the next right thing that God is nudging you towards? What rock do you need to move today, what love do you need to show? Is there someone you need to tell you love them? A card you need to send? A sin you need to deal with? An important task you’ve been putting off?
Go do the next right thing. Go do the thing that God has put in front of you right now, whatever it may be. Trust in God, who will walk beside and behind you, before and under and with you in every way, every step of the way.
And someday, may God show you the mountains we’ve moved.
*This story is from Sarah Bessey‘s book Jesus Feminist, pp. 139-140. I haven’t quoted her entirely, as I did when I preached, for copyright reasons, but I cannot encourage you enough to go find yourself a copy of this book and read it. She’s the kind of author who reminds me all the time that God is moving in the world and doing good and beautiful things, and that we are called to be a part of that work, whatever it looks like for us.
**This phrase, “the next right thing,” is not mine. It’s from Emily P. Freeman’s podcast, “Do the Next Right Thing.” She talks about how to make the next right decision, rather than getting bogged down in trying to think too far ahead, in short and wonderful episodes, and it’s another resource I highly recommend.