Sermon – Pentecost 17 – October 6, 2019
Text: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 – “Live by Faith”
The Old Testament reading for this morning is from the small book of Habakkuk. This is the one time in all the lectionary, for three years, that we hear a reading from this small book which is three short chapters long. So, let’s talk about Habakkuk and this small book.
Habakkuk was a prophet in a rough time of history. The two-kingdoms of God’s people, the Northern and Southern kingdoms, had existed in a tense relationship for a while having different kings who often opposed each other. At this point in time, the northern kingdom had been conquered by the absolutely ruthless and blood-thirsty Assyrians. The Assyrians had been known for their expert military skill and their regular use of gruesome displays to strike terror into the hearts of their enemies. The Assyrians were the people who would impale the people they conquered on spikes for all to see or flay their enemies’ leaders and display their skins on a post just to keep people in fear of them. Absolutely disgusting, and terrifying things were being done by the evil people who had conquered the northern kingdom.
Our prophet, Habakkuk, was fortunately from the Southern kingdom and stood by in relative safety, and uncertainty and fear, watching all this happen. More than this, Habakkuk saw how the Southern kingdom, where he was from, becoming more and more cold, hard, and cruel. The government was becoming more and more crooked, crime was on the rise, justice was not being done in the courts, and worst of all, people were completely ignoring God’s Laws as written in the Torah and, as a result, becoming more and more hurtful and hateful towards each other.
The book of Habakkuk starts as Habakkuk laments to God in prayer about all these things he sees happening around him. He goes into detail about the evil he sees and questions God and essentially saying, “Why are you doing this, God? How can you be a good and just god and let all of these things happen?”
Let us pause here for a moment and look at how what Habakkuk is complaining about is not that far off from what we cry out to God about, too.
In far off countries, like in the African continent, we hear about people slaughtering each other over and over again with so many people there living in fear. We hear about countries where people are starving or don’t have enough clothes to keep warm because a limited few people take all of the riches for themselves and live in their palaces while everyone else suffers and is taken advantage of. We hear about countries where the government is so corrupt it does not matter what is the truth and all that matters is if you have enough money to bribe the judge in the courtroom to rule in your favour. Sometimes we even wonder if our own country is becoming so corrupt in these ways, too. There are so many places where people cannot trust the police who are there to protect them because they are as likely to protect them as to hurt them or take advantage of them. There are countries in our world where this good news of the Gospel that we freely gather to hear is illegal and people are killed for being in possession of it or meeting together because of it.
There is so much violence, injustice, and ignoring God’s Word in our world. At first it might seem like this 2500-year-old ancient text is not relevant anymore to our day and age but the core of what is happening is so similar and the God who is hearing these complaints is still the same today as he was back then.
So, what does this God, our God, do in response to hearing Habakkuk’s lament? God answers Habakkuk’s lament, and the question about if God is really good and just, by saying He is going to take care of this evil. God tells Habakkuk that He will use another empire, Babylon, who is more fierce than Assyria to punish Assyria for their evil and punish the southern kingdom for their evil and injustice, too.
And Habakkuk’s response… “You’re going to do WHAT!?!??” Habakkuk can’t believe that God is going to use an even more evil group of people to bring out His divine justice on the evil in the world. Habakkuk is basically saying “you can’t use Babylon to do this, they’re even worse than Assyria and the Southern Kingdom combined!”
You see, if God’s people had been just and fair and taken care of one another instead of hurting and oppressing each other God would not have used Assyria or Babylon to punish His people for their evil. God’s people needed to live as His people by being like God. They needed to be fair and just and love each other and not hurt and oppress like they had been doing. God’s people needed to fight the injustice that was happening in the world.
This morning, we celebrate a group of God’s people who fight the injustices of our day. The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League-Canada works to help those who are oppressed. The money the ladies collect, their “mites” go toward clothing and feeding people who are unjustly left without food to eat or good clothes to wear. The mites help support missionaries to go into those dangerous places where God’s message of love and forgiveness for them is being kept from them by unjust rulers.
These ladies consecrate to our Saviour their hands to work for him, their feet to go on His errands, their lips to proclaim His redeeming love, their voices to sing His praises, their silver and gold to extend His Kingdom, and their will to do His will.
Wish They Weren’t Necessary
This is all good work that is being done. The LWML-C is a great group of Christian people doing what they can to live as God’s people fighting injustice in the world. But, if we’re being honest, it would be really nice if they were not necessary, would it? They exist to live as Christians and fight injustice, but would not it be nice if there was not any injustice to fight? Would it not be even better if there was no evil in this world? Would not it be better if all governments were completely good, justice was always done in the courtrooms, and we all did the right thing and loved our neighbours?
You see, in Habakkuk’s time, God’s plan to make right injustice by punishing them using another unjust empire was only a temporary fix. The evil in our world goes too deep. God goes on in the book to promise to deal with Babylon’s injustice too after Babylon punishes Assyria and the Southern Kingdom. God’s promise in the rest of the book is to always punish the evil empires in the world. His promise is to always punish the “Assyria’s” and the “Babylon’s” that arise in the world; in fact, most nations eventually become Babylon. God promises to save His people from all evil and injustice.
The promise God has been making throughout the Old Testament right till this point is of a future messiah who will save His people from their sin and be their just king forever after God punished all evil. We know this messiah who is promised to be Jesus. We know Jesus has saved us from our sin on the cross and the punishment we deserve for our evil living as a new form of “Babylon.” The evil empires of Assyria, Babylon, and the Southern Kingdom aren’t something we are separate from; we are a part of these evil kingdoms participating in their evil and injustice in big and small ways, too. We know Jesus has paid for our injustice by His death and resurrection. Jesus has forgiven the times when we do not help fight the injustice as well as we should have or could have.
The book of Habakkuk ends with Habakkuk humbly and boldly proclaiming that even if the earth stops producing food to eat and if all the animals disappear, he will find joy in God his saviour. Habakkuk is proclaiming that even if the world continues to get more terrible, evil, and unjust, he will take comfort knowing that God has promised to one-day deal with all of it and will deliver Habakkuk, and all His people though it and into a perfectly good and just life with Him forever. That is the powerful hope of the book of Habakkuk, and that is the powerful hope each member of the LWML lives with and is motivated by as they are called to serve. This is the same hope each one of lives with too. No matter how bad things seem to get, God will deliver us out of it all, and cleanse us of the evil in us and give us never-ending life with Him. We live by that faith.
May that peace of God, that surpasses all understanding, keep and guard your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus our Lord until life everlasting.