Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sermon -- 20th Sunday after Pentecost (October 2, 2016)

HABAKKUK 1:1-3; 2:1-4

In the name + of Jesus.

      Habakkuk was a frustrated prophet of the Lord.  He was preaching to God's covenant people, but they were not acting like God's covenant people.  They were not being faithful to the Lord by keeping his word.  They even had given themselves over to violence, oppression, and strife.  People did not love their neighbor; they took advantage of him.  Disinterest in God's word revealed itself by indifference to sins.  Each one lived as he pleased, practically defying God to judge him for it.
     Habakkuk had had enough.  He voiced his complaint to God.  “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?  Or cry to you 'Violence!' and you will not save?  Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.” (Habakkuk 1:2-3)  Sin was blatant, and the Lord was idle.  People defied God's word, and God did not seem to care.  Habakkuk was frustrated and complained, “How long, Lord, until you step in and stop it?  When, Lord, will you condemn the guilty?  When will you fix everything that is going wrong?”
     Can you relate?  We are very frustrated too.  We see wickedness go unstopped and often unpunished.  We see people suffer and grieve.  We teach people to honor marriage, but everyone seems to prefer fornication to chastity and cohabiting to marriage vows.  Even churches don't seem to care.  We tell our children to be honest, but we deal with people who regularly lie and cheat.  And they win awards for it.  Sin runs rampant and sinners prosper.  Like Habakkuk, we cry out to God, wondering, “How long, O Lord, until you do something?  Why are you idle?  How long until you step in and put a stop to it all?  How long until you condemn the guilty and fix everything?”
     Habakkuk's frustration finally exploded in a complaint to the Lord, but Habakkuk's complaint was lodged in the right direction.  It was also lodged with the right spirit.  Habakkuk did not presume to give orders to God or to suggest that he could do a better job.  Habakkuk declared, “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.” (Habakkuk 2:1)  This frustrated prophet waited for the Lord to respond.  He knew the Lord, and he knew that the Lord does not turn a blind eye to sins.  The Lord knows that the world is evil and that the people in it are violent and conniving.  He knows that people are filled with jealous thoughts, utter cruel words, and anonymously post mean tweets.  Since the Lord upholds his commandments, the Lord would act.  Habakkuk would wait patiently for the Lord's reply, and the Lord responded to the frustrated faithful.
     “The Lord answered me: 'Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.  For still 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.'” (Habakkuk 2:2-3)  Not only did the Lord speak to Habakkuk, his response was meant for all.  It was to be written on a tablet, and messengers were to run with the word and declare it.  The Lord responds to his frustrated faithful.
     The Lord's response is for you, too.  When the Lord brought you into the kingdom of God, never did he promise you that the world was suddenly going to be better.  He did not say that your life would be without pain or sorrow or frustration or temptation.  Do not blame God if you do not experience heaven on earth.  God never promised that.  What God did do is act so that you would be delivered from a world of sorrow, pain, grief, and death and brought into the peace and joy of heaven.
     The Lord responds to the frustrated faithful.  He says, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)  The righteous shall live by faith.  But we are not righteous.  As the Lord noted to Habakkuk, we are like all men—puffed up.  We consider ourselves to be better than others.  We are frustrated at other people and bothered by their sins, but we overlook our own.  While it is true that the violence of others makes the world evil, we do not improve it either when we exalt ourselves over them.  You are rightly frustrated by the sinful world, but you should be equally frustrated by your own sinful self.  And if you aren't you should be scared because you don't even recognize your sins.  As the Lord says, “None is righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10)  “All have sinned.” (Romans 3:23)  So, where do we find our righteousness?
     The Lord responds to the frustrated: The righteous shall live by faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)  Although we have not done the righteous works God demands, we have a Savior who has done them for us.  Jesus Christ is the Righteous One.  He has kept all the commands of God perfectly.  But he is also called “the LORD Our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23:6)  Jesus gives us the righteousness we need to stand before God.  By faith, we are credited with Jesus' works.  We are declared righteous.  Therefore, we shall live.
     Jesus not only gives us the good we need, he also removes the evil that clings to us.  Just as he has lived for us to save us, so also Jesus died for us to save us.  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)  By faith, we again receive credit for the work which we did not do, but which was done for us by Jesus.  And since Jesus has gone into death for us, we need not fear it.  Having been declared righteous by God, we shall live.  We live in comfort now, and we shall live forever in peace forever.  This is the Lord's response to the frustrated faithful.
     And he gives you even more.  As we had noted earlier, being in the kingdom of God does not make you immune to the problems, pains, and griefs of this fallen world.  When these come, we cry out like Habakkuk, wondering how long God's people will have to endure such misery.  God promises deliverance, and it will come.  If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come... (Habakkuk 2:3)  You are not delivered from frustration here; your deliverance will come at the Last Day, and it will be everlasting.  For the Lord created you to live, to enjoy his goodness, and to delight in serving him and others.  That is hard to do here as we battle a violent, selfish world and our own lazy and selfish flesh.  But deliverance from your frustrations will come soon.  By faith in Jesus, you who have been declared righteous by him, will have everlasting life.
     The Lord responds to the frustrated faithful.  And he promises you all that you need to overcome your frustrations.  He brings you the comfort now of assuring you that you are redeemed.  You have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus and are, therefore, righteous in God's sight.  The righteous have already been judged by God.  He is delighted in you.  By faith, you have been pardoned of all guilt.  By faith, you have been clothed in Christ.  By faith, you do not even have to fear death.  For, Jesus has overcome death.  And since you belong to Jesus, his victory is yours too.  By faith, you are children of the resurrection and heirs of heaven.
     In the midst of our frustrations, we have a Savior.  We are his.  He does not forget us or forsake us.  He continues to console us and encourage us.  And you are not alone in your frustrations.  God has given us each other for mutual consolation, for aid, for prayer, and for encouragement.  The Lord responds to the frustrated faithful.  He urges us to persevere through momentary troubles, no matter how troubling they are.  He teaches us to pray for the glory to come, and to hasten the Lord's return.  He assures us that we will forever be delivered from all frustrations, and we will live in joy with all the righteous faithful forevermore.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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