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"...the righteous live by their faith." "...the righteous live by their faith."

Mustard seeds from Jerusalem in the palm of my hand
Mustard seeds from Jerusalem in the palm of my hand
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"...the righteous live by their faith."

Posted on Sun, Oct 2, 2016

Luke 17:5-10

October 2, 2016

 

20th Sunday after Pentecost

 

Gospel Text: Luke 17:5-10

5 The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’  6 The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.

7 ‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”?  8 Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”?  9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?  10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”’

 

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

The Prophet’s Complaint

2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

 and you will not listen?

Or cry to you ‘Violence!’

 and you will not save?

3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing

 and look at trouble?

Destruction and violence are before me;

 strife and contention arise.

4 So the law becomes slack

 and justice never prevails.

The wicked surround the righteous—

 therefore judgement comes forth perverted.

 

God’s Reply to the Prophet’s Complaint

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.

2 Then the Lord answered me and said:

Write the vision;

 make it plain on tablets,

 so that a runner may read it.

3 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.

4 Look at the proud!

 Their spirit is not right in them,

 but the righteous live by their faith.

 

 

We don't know too much about the man, Habakkuk, his name might be from a Hebrew word that means, “embrace” or “to fold one’s hands,” or an Akkadian (think of the Semitic cuneiform language) name for a plant; but the final line from today’s text, which is the ‘divine response’ that, “the righteous live by their faith,” to Habakkuk’s complaint to God, has influenced people down the years like Paul, Martin Luther and others … “but the righteous live by their faith.”

 

Habakkuk lived in a very difficult time, there was conflict between the Assyrians, Babylonians and even the Egyptians, and as a prophet of God, his responsibility was to be totally aware of the situation, witness the carnage, and still be a mouthpiece of hope to those Israelites lift in Judah.  A prophet is not about telling the future, even though they sometimes did this, but a prophet was there to interpret the truth about the present situation and interpret it through the eyes of God.  And when called upon, speak for God regarding that situation, and let the people know of God’s approval, or objection… even, or especially if it made the people uncomfortable, or were contrary to public opinion, desires or goals.

 

Habakkuk was the honest word of justice in those painful days.  However, was the “wickedness” that he was forced to witness from the Chaldeans or the Assyrians?  Or, as some scholars claim, was Habakkuk upset with the rich Judeans who were oppressing the common people?  The one thing we know is that there was terrible violence and injustice going on, people were suffering because of it, and it was Habakkuk’s responsibility to see it, despite the fact he couldn't see God doing anything to right the wrong…  Habakkuk was angry with God, and God’s apparent silence. 

 

The law was given to protect the poor and most vulnerable, but when Habakkuk saw people suffering everyday from injustice after injustice, without God doing anything to right the injustice, for Habakkuk his beloved Law of God seemed to become more and more meaninglessness, no bite, no authority. Did God care about the Law anymore?  Has its meaning and relevance been diminished?  

 

As I was pondering Habakkuk’s complaints and God’s response, I realized that the world has not changed that much in 2600 years or so… and the complaints that Habakkuk raised because the violence he witnessed day in and day out, sounded like me, and so many people nowadays when we hear about the endless bombings going on in Syria, Afghanistan, and other places. 

 

This week ABC news broadcasted a news report stating 9300 people have died due to Russian bombing attacks from the air. 

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/syrian-monitor-russian-airstrikes-killed-9300-past-year-42467935

 

UNICEF reported 100 children dead since last Friday.  http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/aleppo-hospital-1.3781938

 

Around September 29th US forces killed at least 15 civilians in Afghanistan.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/30/world/asia/american-airstrike-afghanistan.html?_r=0

 

After reading these kinds of stories everyday for so long, I found my own prayers sounding more and more like Habakkuk’s complaints.  2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?  Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?  3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.  4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.  The wicked surround the righteous — therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

 

Like the prophet Habakkuk, I feel helpless before the suffering and cruelty.  What can I do?  What can we do?  What is my role as pastor and prophet?  And as a man known for speaking out about God’s justice and the injustice people were doing against each other, Habakkuk made it clear that he would not walk away from his complaints to the Lord, and held his ground and demand an answer…

 

“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.”

 

 And the question keeps coming up in my mind, what am I to do?  I will do what God tells Habakkuk to do: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.  3 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.  4 Look at the proud!  Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

 

Meaning, like Habakkuk, we are to ‘write the vision.’  What vision, the vision of the way we are meant to live, in a loving and joyful relationship with God, and in the same way, a forgiving, loving and joyful relationship with each other and the world.  Write this Good News so clearly that a runner in the Honolulu Marathon can read it speeding by! Proclaim that the violence and terror we hear about everyday is not the final answer, we are God’s people, redeemed, sanctified and blessed with the promise of Easter.  Sometimes God’s answer takes a while to hear or interpret, but as Israel waited so long for their Messiah, God is faithful and God will hear our prayers.  Do not be fooled by those who may say or do things that may dazzle our minds giving us quick answers, they do not speak for God, only listen to the words of faith that are born of love and the Holy Spirit and proclaims boldly forgiveness, justice, mercy, joy, grace and love.

 

Faith. God repeats to Habakkuk, “the righteous live by their faith.”  It took awhile, but Paul taught us the same thing in the book or Romans and other letters, Martin Luther changed the world through this little phrase.

 

But what is faith?  Can you measure it?  Is it a substance?  What would you do if you could ‘have more faith?’

 

I like what Audrey West, Adjunct Professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, IL wrote of ‘Faithful examples:’ “…faith is not defined primarily by cognitive certainty, nor acceptance of proper theological constructs, nor even by people who consider themselves to be closest to Jesus.  Faith manifests itself in many ways, by a variety of people.  Faith is persistence in reaching out to Jesus (Luke 5:17-26) and trusting in Jesus’ power and authority (7:1-10).  Faith is responding with love to forgiveness received (7:44-50), not letting fear get the upper hand (8:22-25), and being willing to take risks that challenge the status quo (8:43-48).  Faith is giving praise to God (17:11-19), having confidence in God’s desire for justice (18:1-8), and being willing to ask Jesus for what we need (18:35-43).

 

In the face of injustice and even terror, Faith is the persistence in reaching out to Jesus and trusting in Jesus power and authority.  I think the church was born when we began to understand that, through the death and resurrection of Christ, faith is first a gift from God, and it was so graciously and at such a great cost has given to us so that we may live in hope.  The faith God has bestowed on us through Jesus, God will not take away.  Amen. 

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