Saturday, October 2, 2010

Habakkuk 1.1-4, 2.1-4 - Sermon for 10/3/10

Let us pray.

Our Lord, we see our times, and we know you see our struggles. We look at our world and we see evil all around us. We try to live a life of holiness, as we know we should. Yet we confess we fail. Take our lives, take our disappointments, take our filthy rags and turn them into your robe of righteousness, working in and through us according to your will, as we pray that your will should be done on earth as it is in heaven. This we pray through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The prophet Habakkuk speaks at a very hard time in his nation's history. He is at the crossroads between Assyrian domination and Babylonian domination. He speaks to a people who have been defeated, broken, cast out of their land of promise. And to the people of Israel, the promise of an inheritance from God is tied firmly to the promise that they will inherit the land of Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey, the place promised to their father Abraham. What are they to do when evil enemies invade their land? What does this say about the children of promise? What does it say about the God of promise?

Before we look at Habakkuk's answer more, maybe we should ask what this prophet, some 2600 years ago in a different culture, on a different continent, could have to do with us? After all, many times we think that these people in the Old Testament don't have much to do with us. That's especially the case with the minor prophets. Sometimes I don't begin to understand what they are talking about. For that matter, I can hardly find the book in my Bible. It's so small! Of course, these are called "minor" prophets not due to their importance but because what they wrote is pretty short. They are minor in size. That's why they only last a couple of pages in the Bible. So let's look at what's happening now. Let's see something that seems more relevant to our own time and place. Then we'll see if all the threads tie together.

Have you heard this? I have, many many times. Jesus came to live and die for me. He came to make all things new. By believing on him I am a new creation. The old has passed away, all things have become new. And the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing in our midst. God has not stopped speaking. His mercies are new every morning. This new wine of the Holy Spirit is being poured out on us. We have to find new wineskins, no, we have to become new wineskins to hold the new wine of the Holy Spirit. And as that happens we find that we are truly new creations. We are the righteousness of God in Christ. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Yes, that's the message. And in many church congregations if I were to go on like that, someone would be saying "Amen." Several people would be raising their hands to heaven. And some 25 years ago, in the setting where I was ministering to people, a bunch of people would rise to their feet, rejoicing and clapping for God's goodness. It's all right if you want to do that. It's also all right if you act like good Lutherans and do it inwardly but just smile a little bit.

When we are confronted with God's mercy to us in Christ we should be glad. We should rejoice to see the deliverance prepared for us. We should look forward enthusiastically to our heavenly home, our eternal rest, the resurrection to eternal life in the presence of God. These promises are true promises that our Lord has given us. And we who believe are recipients of the promise.

So I have a hard question. What do we do when life doesn't seem to be working out according to God's promises? What do we make of those hard providences that we see? What do we think when illness, even death strikes? How do we see our Lord's provision when we are unemployed? What do we make of God's promise of an abundant life when we wonder which bills we can pay and what will happen if we don't pay some of them this month? How do we deal with chronic illness, chronic pain? Is there something wrong with us? Is there something wrong with God? Maybe we didn't believe well enough. Maybe we didn't commit every part of our life to the Lord. Maybe we raised our children wrong, or maybe we were raised wrong ourselves. Maybe, just maybe, we think, God isn't really for us. Maybe we think our Lord doesn't really love us like he says he does. Maybe we wonder if the Lord has some sinister will to punish us for some reason, or even for no reason at all.

Does this bring Habakkuk to life? I think it does. Like us, Habakkuk is living at a time when God's chosen people are in distress. They have been confronted with their sin. They have been confronted with their failure. They are being persecuted by the unbelievers who have invaded God's promised land. They face ruin and despair. And the evildoers who have come against them are ungodly people, the worst sort of tyrants.

What hope is there for God's people in distress? Jesus said we will receive all the promises of God in him, including a promise of persecution. He freely acknowledges that we are living in a fallen world. Our world, even in this age of the Church, is coming apart at the seams. We endure the curse of God against sin, which is passed on from generation to generation. If we suffer it is in one way or another linked to Adam's sin, to the fall from grace. We toil at our jobs. We labor fruitlessly to fight against poverty, against unemployment, against disease. Every time we find a cure for one ill we are confronted with another ill in this world. Like Habakkuk, we call out to the Lord, wondering if he really hears.

I have great good news. God hears. He has known our plight. Even before the foundation of the world, Jesus, the Lamb of God, was slain for your sin and for my sin. He came, as promised, to show himself to us, Emmanuel, God with us. He is acquainted with sorrows. He understands our grief. Our Lord knows what it means to endure hardship. In his state of humiliation he suffered on our behalf, as one of us, knowing what it is to live in a sin-cursed world. There is nothing about our plight that our Lord does not know.

So how does this help us? We in the 21st century seem to be going into yet another century which ranks high on the persecution scale. Christians around the world are imprisoned for their faith. The Christian faith is against the law in some countries. In other countries it is severely restricted. Believers are being seized and tortured, even burned alive. It doesn't look too good, especially in some other parts of the world.

Let me ask another question that will help us focus. Just what did our Lord do after he completed his time in the state of humiliation? After he died and was buried? That's when we start seeing good news. That's when we start seeing the victory that our Lord promises us, each and every one. That's when we start seeing Jesus as the savior of the world. Because that's when he descends into hell and proclaims his victory over death, hell and the grave. Our Lord showed his victory to death itself. Then by rising bodily from the dead he showed his victory to his apostles and to many others. Our Lord has risen victorious from the grave! Where is the victory? Death is swallowed up in life. And we who believe receive the promise that no matter what happens to us, no matter what ills come upon us, no matter what kind of attacks we sustain, even to the point of being tortured and killed for our faith, our Lord has risen from the dead and promises that we will rise as well. Ultimately there is no one who can rob us of the life our Lord has given us. In the words of the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 8 (ESV) "we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

This is the hope that we are given in Scripture. This is the promise of which we are partakers by faith. And even when we don't think the Lord is answering our prayer, even when the Lord seems far away, we have been given a sure and certain promise from our Lord. We walk by faith, not by sight. We are not responsible for creating God's blessings on us. We are simply partakers of them by faith. And this statement, "the righteous shall live by his faith" comes up again and again in the Scriptures. The author of Hebrews draws our attention to all the saints who have lived by faith by quoting this passage. Paul quotes it in Romans 1.17, the touchstone of Luther's reformation. He also quotes it in Galatians chapter 3, reminding these saints of God's enduring promises to them. we are recipients of the very same promise. We live by faith.

Let us rise and turn to our Lord in prayer.

Our Lord, we confess that you have risen from the dead, defeating death, hell and the grave. We know from your resurrection that we too, by faith in your name, have victory over all the ills of this world. Grant us faith to appropriate the promises that you have given us, perseverance to live for you in this world, and an earnest desire for your heavenly kingdom, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

1 comment:

Ken Symes said...

Thanks for posting your message from Habakkuk, I happened upon while Googling and researching for my own blog post on Habakkuk.

You'll probably like this quote from Peter Craigie which I included: "Faithfulness requires a continuation in the relationship with God, even when experience outstrips faith and the purpose in continuing to believe is called into question."

If you wanna check it out or if anyone wants to read more from Habakkuk, please visit:
How can we be faithful in a world like this? (Habakkuk)

Thanks for posting your message,