8/8/2022 9:06:10 AM
The Righteous Live by Faith
Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, August 7, 2022
I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.
It’s a classic story. A young man wanders into a cave and finds limitless treasures…every kind of precious stone and piles of gold all around. But, in the end, he only takes one item; and it’s better than all the rest. It’s a small oil lamp, and I’d be pretty confident that by now, everyone knows this young man’s name. The first time it is accidental, but Aladdin soon finds out that whenever he rubs his hand across the surface of the lamp, he summons a great and powerful genie who has the power and the obligation to grant him three wishes.
Maybe you know that the folks at Disney didn’t come up with the story; it goes back centuries, so far back that it’s true origin isn’t known with absolute certainty. Some people say it began as a middle eastern folk tale; others say it came from India, and still others suggest China. But no matter where it came from, it’s a compelling concept, the idea that a human being could connect and interact with someone so powerful who can do anything. We can’t help but think about what we might wish for, just like someone might take a break from life and think about how they’d spend their money if they won a billion-dollar jackpot with a lottery ticket. But maybe there is a good lesson in the story of Aladdin, too, and it’s one that many of us have heard before: Be careful what you wish for.
Today our focus is on a story that has some similarities with that of Aladdin; the main big difference, however, is that it is true. Habakkuk is a short book, only three chapters long, and the style and content are different from what we’ve seen in the writings of the other prophets. Maybe we have come to expect that, for lack of a better term, God comes out of nowhere, calls a prophet, and gives him a message to proclaim, whether it is to the people of Israel or Judah, or to a foreign nation, or both. But Habakkuk is different. What’s interesting is that God isn’t the one who initiates the conversation with Habakkuk. It’s the other way around.
So the content of Habakkuk starts with a prayer. Habakkuk cries out to God with what most translations refer to as a “complaint.” It’s right away in chapter 1; it sounds like this:
How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? 3 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. 4 Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.
If you’ve been staying in tune with our sermon series, the conditions of the prophet’s culture might sound familiar; those were dark days. If you’ve been living in the 21st century, you’ve seen some dark days,too: violence, corruption, injustice, gross and widespread immorality. We can easily look around and see all of these. Habakkuk looked around, and he felt like he had to cry out to God, ”Aren’t you going to do something? It’s hard to be a believer with all this going on…”
So Habakkuk offered his complaint, and maybe it surprised him when God answered him directly. Not only that. When God responded, Habakkuk probably wanted to take his complaint back. Be careful what you wish for…
God was going to do something alright, although Habakkuk would never have asked for this... God would indeed address the sin of his people and discipline them for it. To do so, God revealed that he would raise up the Babylonian Empire and their powerful army to come in and carry out the consequences of Judah’s sin.
That brings us to Habakkuk’s second complaint. It could be summed up in one word: “Really?!” Really, God? Your plan is to discipline sinful people by sending completely godless people? You would curb violence… with even greater violence? Aren’t the righteous people going to suffer even more at the hands of our enemies than we already do? I know I wanted an answer, God, but I’m not sure I like the one you gave, and I’d like an explanation.
So, the back and forth continues, and God speaks once more. Even though God doesn’t owe any of us an explanation for anything—after all, he’s God, and he gets to do whatever he wants because he’s in charge—God reveals the bigger plan. And the key to it all is the verse that provides the sermon title: the righteous live by faith. God wants Habakkuk and all his people then and now to trust Him and remember that God doesn’t consider anyone righteous because of what we do or don’t do. God doesn’t grade on a curve, as if the worst people go to hell and those who aren’t quite as bad get to go to heaven. It’s a good reminder for any of us who observe the moral decay all around us and use it as a reason to pat ourselves on the back because we can find a whole lot of sins we might never even think of committing. None of us has earned the right to call ourselves any more righteous than anyone else. Instead, the righteous live by faith.
Once again, the message of the prophets fits right in with our other readings. Abraham wasn’t counted as righteous because he sinned less than anyone else or did anything that impressed God. He simply trusted in God’s promise to him. Jesus urges us today (in the gospel reading) not to place our confidence and security in food or clothing or money or anything we might be able to store up; no, we can live without worry because we trust that God is faithful to his promises to provide what we need. Just like Habakkuk witnessed, life is going to have its ups and downs, especially in a corrupt world full of sinful people. But in the end, our hope and our confidence for the future goes well beyond what happens next in our lifetime, whether we choose to call it good or bad. In fact, for those who trust in God and his eternal plans, we know that no amount of earthly hardship, suffering, scarcity or depression can take away what God has in store for us.
That brings us to the rest of the verses of our text. God reassured Habakkuk that everything is under his gracious control and direction, and Habakkuk believed. That’s what gave him the peace and confidence to say all this:
I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. 17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.
That’s what it sounds like to live by faith. It’s what turned Habakkuk’s complaints into a prayer of confidence. It’s the same attitude we live by when we remember how much God loves us and how he proved it by carrying out his plan of salvation in Jesus Christ, just as Paul reminds us in Romans chapter 5: God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since Jesus died to satisfy God’s justice for us and give us his righteousness as our own, since Jesus rose to assure us that life gets even better after this one is over, since Jesus has promised to come back and take us to be with him where he is, we who are righteous in his forgiveness can live by faith, too. Like Habakkuk, every one of us can say “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior,” no matter how much or how little else we might have. Our strength and our security can’t be found in what we call ours. No, 19 The Sovereign Lord is [our] strength, because in his grace and mercy he calls us his. He isn’t some genie who is obligated to grant our wishes; he is a loving Father who gave up his Son so that we could be his children now and forever. He promises to do what is always best for our eternal good. We live by faith in him.
Will that faith be tested? We can expect it. But, like Habakkuk, our complaints turn to prayers of confidence when we hear his word and trust in his plans. So let’s keep hearing it, and responding in prayer, in a constant conversation with the Lord our Strength, trusting that he will work through word and sacrament to strengthen our faith until it is no longer needed because we’ll see him face-to-face.
So we came in knowing the story of Aladdin, but we get to leave knowing the true story and message that God gave through Habakkuk. Praise God for revealing himself through the prophets and fulfilling his promises of righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. May his Spirit ever keep us strong, growing, and living by faith as he works in our lives. AMEN.