SCRIPTURES – Ps. 119:162-167; Habakkuk 1:1-4 & 2:1-4; 2 Tim. 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10
“The vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Hab. 2
“There is nothing new under the sun,” wrote the Teacher in Ecclesiastes almost 3,000 years ago. Boy, how true! Over 2,600 years ago the prophet Habakkuk complained: “Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.” He could be speaking about the paralysis and injustice on display right now in our country because of the strife and contention between the members of Congress and with President Obama!
This morning’s Scripture readings are not happy ones. The prophet Habakkuk complains that God is looking idly at the sin, violence, strife and contention that are all around. He sees, but is doing nothing. Paul in his second letter to Timothy is more positive, but he writes from prison. In chapter 2 he warns:
“In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Tim. 3:1-4)
Again, it sounds like he is describing our day! And then there’s Jesus, who sounds really fed up. “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” He says. The Gospel reading ends with Him saying, “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” In other words, don’t expect any credit from God for obeying Him and doing what is right. That’s what you’re supposed to do!
Depressed? Well, welcome to life in this world. It is often depressing. But, we’re God’s people! Aren’t things supposed to be different for us? After all, St. Paul says that “God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” (2 Tim. 1:9) In Christ we have been set apart by God. Doesn’t this mean things will be different for us? Well, yes; and no. Yes, things will be different for you who believe in Jesus – when He comes again from heaven. He will then “abolish death and bring life and immortality to light.” We will all be made new, made like Christ Himself: holy in body and soul. He will then create a new heavens and a new earth in which only righteousness will dwell, and will live in it forever with His holy people. How different everything will be for Christ’s holy people!
But, that time is not yet. For now, we live as God’s holy people in an unholy world, a world in which there is much strife and contention and violence. They impact us, also. As we remember and rejoice in the fact that we have been “saved and called to a holy calling” – and how we need to remember that! – we also realize that our calling is “not because of our works but because of [God’s] own purpose and grace.” God has a purpose for our lives. This is what it means to have a holy calling. The word “holy” means “set apart.” God has set us apart for His purposes.
Part of His purpose is that our lives be like everyone else’s in this world. “Temptations to sin are sure to come” warns Jesus. Troubles and pains and hardships also come. We Christians are not exempted. What should you do when they come? What should you say? Should you blame God and question Him, as even the prophet Habakkuk did?
You have not been set apart to do that. It is easy to blame God. For, if He is truly almighty, then He can prevent strife and contention and violence, and also pains and hardships! But, blaming God is the easy way out. It does not take seriously our own sins, and God’s hatred of sins and promised punishment of them, as the cause.
- Why was there such strife and contention and violence in Israel in Habakkuk’s day? Because the nation’s leaders had turned away from the true God to false theologies and false gods. Some, such as King Manasseh, had even sacrificed their children to them. The prophet Isaiah declared: “Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts.” (Is. 1:23) And, the people? They were focused upon making money and having clothing and jewels, but did not want to listen to God
Is. 3:16-23: “The Lord said: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty and walk with outstretched necks, glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet, therefore the Lord will strike with a scab the heads of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts. In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves; the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; the signet rings and nose rings; the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils.”
No wonder the law was paralyzed, justice was perverted, and destruction and violence were all around! We should not be surprised to see such things in our society. After all, our government has for years now refused to protect babies in the womb but allowed them to be slaughtered through abortion. For decades our legislators have so wantonly and wastefully spent our money that we now have an enormous, crippling debt hanging over our heads. Such sins not only cry out to God; they also cause great corruption and the perversion of the soul. This is the world in which we live.
Thanks be to God that He has “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” To confirm His call He has given us His Holy Spirit to dwell within us, the Spirit “not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Tim. 1) You who put your trust and hope in Jesus may suffer because of the darkness of this world, but you are not left alone in your sufferings. You are not in darkness. You have the light of Christ with you, and so are lights in this dark world. Let His light shine, even when you, like Habakkuk, are burdened with questions and complaints.
How can you shine when you are burdened and depressed? Ps. 119:166 tells us: “I hope for your salvation, O Lord, and I do your commandments.” We have hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, a hope which no power in heaven or on earth can prevent or take away. His eternal salvation will come! In fact, His eternal salvation is present now in His holy Word and Sacraments, for in them He forgives our sins and gives sinners His Holy Spirit. Hang onto this presence of God. Seek it and let it fill you.
And then, proclaim and bring God’s kingdom in the simple works that you do in obedience to His commandments. As we love God and love and serve our neighbors as ourselves, God spreads His help and hope and peace and comfort. His kingdom comes. His goodness and love is made visible, to bring help and hope and peace and joy.
This is the blessing we have as Christians, the purpose for which God has set us apart in Christ: to in word and deed shine as lights in this dark world. For this Christ has given you His Holy Spirit. By this faith we live, and by this faith we do God’s holy commandments. “Great peace have those who love Your law,” says Ps. 119:165. “Nothing can make them stumble"