Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost + October 3, 2010
Habakkuk is one of the twelve Minor Prophets, called minor for the most part because all twelve are short books. This three chapter book begins with a conversation between the prophet and God. He wants to know why bad things happen, why the Israelites are suffering from wicked foreign invaders. The prophet whose name means embrace, embraces his complaint and brings it to God, God answers, he complains again, and again God replies.
God’s people are in trouble. They have been unfaithful, and another nation is making war against them. Habakkuk takes this for granted. People in his time believed that misfortune of any kind, whether individual or national, was deserved punishment for sin. The book focuses on the trials and tribulations of a wicked nation and was most likely written when the Babylonians were a world power.
The people of Judah were being abused by the bully Babylonian warriors and surely wondered and whined about their plight. Ultimately God tells the prophet that God will deal with the wicked on God’s time, and will take care of the faithful. So the people waited for God to intervene sometime before the fall of Jerusalem before 600 BCE. The people who waited for God then are no different than oppressed people and nations who have suffered and waited throughout time.
What is interesting about this prophet is how challenged he is by God allowing Judah’s punishment at the hands of non-believers. Habakkuk is irate that God has allowed what has happened and made them wait. He complains that God does not answer his cries of lament, that the wicked seem to be winning and injustice is allowed to prevail. The prophet and people throughout time have wondered…
- Why should the bad believers be punished or suffer at the hands of worse non-believers?
- Why would it appear that God allows or strengthens the unjust and the wicked?
- Why has the suffering and punishment gone on so long enough?
While this prophet embraces the complaints of the people and stands-up to God. He breaks new ground in his demand of God for a response for all that God has let go on, God responds, but in God’s time. And so even as people of the promise, even as people of faith, even as people gathered and loved by God, we wait.
So how do you wait…
- Are you calm, or impatient?
- Do you wait quietly, or grumble loudly?
- Sit still, or pace back and forth to pass the time?
- Find something to occupy you, or fixate on what is awaited?
Although we usually don’t have a choice when we have to wait, we do have a choice in how we wait. Some people patiently wait out a difficult time while others loudly kick and scream, and others give-up as waiting goes on and on.
Those who do it kicking and screaming focus on how unjust their circumstance of waiting is often become angry and bitter, even with God. You know these people, they’re not hard to identify. Their glass is always half-empty, rather than half-full. They point out all of the evil and wrong in their lives and the world around them. These folks lament, sometimes silently while others lament loudly sharing their dark negativity with anyone who will listen.
Those who wait by giving-up may not be obvious as they quietly live going through the motions. These people may over time seem okay but often lose their purpose, perspective and faith. Many become cynical as they wait and trudge through most days. They become indifferent to others, their circumstances, and even with God. Sometimes they give-up on relationships and think God is somehow punishing them by making them wait.
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But there is another way to wait. Waiting on God through dark and even difficult times in our lives can be done patiently and in a spirit of anticipation. The prophet Habakkuk points us to this way of waiting. The righteous wait is marked by being focused, alert, and expectation. The righteous anticipate God keeping God’s promises and stand at the watch post in faith, knowing and trusting that God provides everything.
God provides all that we have. God the prophet writes hates the proud, the selfish, the wicked. God loves us and reminds us in Habakkuk that those who live in God, rather than merely in the blessings God gives are righteous. God loves us and reminds us that those with a heart that rejoices in God the giver, rather than merely in the gifts of God, are righteous. God may not provide on our terms, or in our time, but God provides all that we have.
- God provides the faith that we have.
- God provides prophets and runners and you and me to reflect the promises and blessings of God.
- God provides the vision and light that the world waits and longs for.
- God provides God’s Word to dwell in, to read and live and shine for all to see.
- God provides light to brighten our days and reflect God as we wait and watch whether we live in success or suffering.
- God provides, no promises, and makes us righteous.
In WorkingPreacher.org Rolf Jacobson shares that righteousness, according to scholar Jerome Creach is not primarily a moral term. Rather, it is a relational term because the righteous are those who are dependent on God. The righteous in Habakkuk’s time (and you and I when we are honest about who is really in control) know they were dependent on God, so they trust God and follow the law. The wicked (and you and I when we are honest that we want to be in control) do not follow the law because they don’t trust or rely on God.
So Habakkuk points to a life of faith where one lives trusting in the promise received from God, even when all is not right with the world. God has also promised a vision for the righteous… so we can trust in faith that it will come on God’s time. It will come even when we suffer, even when the wicked surround and seem to overwhelm us. It is because of our relationship with God the giver of faith, and those righteous God gives us in our lives who form and nurture us, that we can persevere through the suffering, evil, and wickedness of the world.
Paul points to these caring relationships with Timothy, who had caring and nurturing people of faith in his life, grandmother Lois and his mom Eunice. God gives us faith and blesses us with others who help faith flourish in us, because we cannot do it alone. As Luther writes about the 3rd Article of the Apostles Creed:
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with gifts, made me holy, and kept me in true faith, just as the Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith.
God provides, in God’s time and ways…
- Light of a new day, even when the darkness of night seems to go on forever.
- Light filled possibilities and shiny new beginnings, even when we feel broken and tarnished.
- Light of new life through Jesus Christ, even when we seem stuck sitting in the shadows of grief and despair.
It is this God of promises who is our light, the light of the world and the light which radiates in and through all believers. This God of promises has…
- Written God’s self on our hearts and breathes life into our darkness,
- Given God’s self as light for a wicked and weary world,
- Sends the runner with God’s vision to help our unbelief,
- Shares the divine beneath water and the word, and in bread and wine,
- Sustains the seeds of faith in us so that our faith may abound,
- And calls us to reflect God’s light, life and blessings so that we might shine.
Shine righteous people of faith in the present, regardless of if it is a time of plenty, or a time of wait and want. Shine and share all that you have and are, all that is the gift of the One at the source of all life and light, the One who calls us to live by faith. And when your life of faith is done, in realms of clearer light you will see God as God is, with full and endless sight.