Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Proper 22 of Series C (preached 10-08-07)

The text is Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 (sorry, I should've been putting up the texts for these sermons):

[2:3b] “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read just a few moments ago from the first and second chapters of the prophet Habakkuk. Dear friends in Christ, how often have you cried out to God, ‘O Lord, how long?’ Maybe you are going through a rough time in your life, a struggle with this sinful world that seems to not end. You cry out to God, ‘O Lord, how long?’ Maybe you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a deadly disease, and you are wondering just how much time you or they have left on this earth. The question rises, ‘O Lord, how long?’ Maybe a son, daughter, brother, sister, or spouse is deployed to a far off land, fighting against a deadly enemy. You want them back in your arms, you cry out ‘O Lord, how long?’

But your cries do not stand alone- they echo the cries of God’s people in every age, in many trying situations, when the evil and sin of this world crowds around us like walls. The prophet Habakkuk looked out at the world around him, and saw evil, evil that corrupted the chosen people of God. A prophet usually calls Israel to task for failing to live up to their covenant with God- Habakkuk calls on God to hold up his end of the bargain. Habakkuk knows that sin deserves punishment, that God Himself pledged to carry out that punishment, and He called on God to be faithful. We know exactly what Habakkuk is talking about. We look around us at a world filled with sin, where adultery and homosexuality are praised on TV, where pornography fills the internet, where people can ridicule God as much as they please. The wicked seem to prosper, getting ahead in their jobs, having the attractive spouses, and making the most money. We are persecuted by sin in so many ways, assaulted by Satan, while those who disobey God’s law strike it rich. We cry out with Habakkuk, [1:2-3a] “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry out to you ‘violence,’ and you do not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?” O Lord, how long?

God’s answer to our complaint, to our calling him to honor the promises He made to protect and care for us, is not what we expect. Habakkuk is told that the Babylonians will sweep down and destroy the wicked in Judah, they will defeat God’s promised nation and bring them into bondage. But there is only one problem for this bold prophet- how can a just and holy God use a sinful nation to punish sin? In Habakkuk’s eyes, the Babylonian conquerors will be worse than the evildoers in Judah. And what do we think? The ‘sinners’ in our society are punished by thieves and robbers, they are killed by terrorists. Sin is punished, but often by those who are more terrible than those they hurt. Even the government, established by God to restrain evil, is sinful in itself. To Habakkuk and us, God has not given a solution, He has increased the problem. In between the two parts of out text, the prophet offers a second complaint, one that we echo: [1:13b] “why do you idly look at traitors, and are silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” We want deliverance from sin, we want deliverance from those whom God has appointed to punish sin, we cry out, O Lord, how long?

But neither we nor Habakkuk can be let off the hook that easily. We have complained to God as those ‘poor righteous people’ who are so persecuted from sin. We deserve to be saved from sin by God, because we simply are too holy to stay in a sinful world. In doing this the prophet along with us have ignored our own sin. We too are corrupted by the very evil that fills our world. It cannot be otherwise, because we are human- we are descendents of Adam and Eve, who fell into sin and infected all of humanity since with its condemnation. And not only that, but we commit the very sins we see in others. We may not commit adultery with our bodies, but we do with our eyes. We may not murder, but we hate others in our thoughts and words. We, no more than any of those evil people ‘out there,’ deserve God’s wrath and punishment. We do need deliverance- but not only deliverance from this evil world, we need deliverance from ourselves and our own sin. We need this deliverance because without it we will be swept up in the punishment for sin that is eternal. With Habakkuk we cry out ‘O Lord, how long?’

We want deliverance right away, like the prophet we are impatient. Habakkuk writes, [2:1] “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.” God does answer Habakkuk, and us all, not with immediate deliverance, but the promise that God will punish the evildoer. God answers us [2:3] “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.” God’s deliverance will come, but it will come on his schedule. God’s time is not our time, and so we still cry out ‘O Lord, how long?’

God assures Habakkuk throughout the rest of the book that Babylon will be punished for its sin, that God will honor his promise. And so Judah was taken into bondage by Babylon, just as God promised, then the Babylonians were defeated and Judah returned home, just as God promised. But God had greater deliverance in mind for both Habakkuk and us. In God’s time, on His divine schedule, a baby was born in Bethlehem. God promised [2:3b] “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” For the children of God, the promised messiah was slow in coming, but for God’s timeframe, Jesus Christ came at exactly the right time. This Jesus, true God yet true man, was the only man to ever be truly righteous, to truly ever deserve to ask God, as Habakkuk did, for deliverance from a sinful world. Yet, in a great reversal, the sinless Son of God chose to enter this sinful world and do something about the corruption of sin. This was God’s plan and purpose all along, as Paul writes in our epistle lesson. God delivered us through [9b-10] “His own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light.” Christ died on the cross to grant us the deliverance Habakkuk cried out for, to take away the condemnation of sin from us. Then He rose victorious on the third day, granting life and salvation to all. Now when we ask, ‘O Lord, how long?’ God answers with Christ crucified and risen for the sins of the entire world.

And yet we remain in this sinful world, cleansed and redeemed from the condemnation of sin, but yet still sinning. But Christ has promised ultimate deliverance. God spoke through Habakkuk, [2:3a] “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end- it will not lie.” God fulfilled this promise in Christ, but there is still one promise yet to be fulfilled. At the end spoken of by Habakkuk, Christ will come to bring us all to Himself for eternity, releasing us from this sinful world once and for all. But this deliverance, like the promise to Habakkuk and Christ’s first coming, will not be immediate. It will come on His schedule, in His time. So until that day, we wait as those forgiven by Christ, crying out ‘O Lord, how long?’

How can we do this? How can we simply wait around for Christ to come again? Habakkuk has the answer [2:4b] “The righteous shall live by his faith.” Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are declared righteous, and this declaration comes to us through faith. This faith is a firm confidence in the promises of God, that Christ did come to save us from sin and will come again to take us to Himself. But how can this faith be created, be sustained, when Christ continues to delay His coming again in glory? The simple fact is that Christ does come to us, and He does so to create and sustain faith. In your baptism, Christ came to you and established faith, declaring you righteous by applying His death and resurrection to you. In the Lord’s Supper and the Word of God, Christ continues to come back to you, strengthening your faith so that you can stand firm until He comes again Habakkuk waited patiently for God’s answer: [2:1a] “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower.” We can do the same because Christ continues to come to us, giving to us the strength to ask in faith and hope, ‘O Lord, how long?’

The apostle Paul, as a faithful Jew, waited for the deliverance of God. It came in Christ, delivering him from sin and sending him on a hard life of persecution for the sake of Jesus. Yet in our epistle lesson today, Paul echoes that same confidence that we have in the coming Lord: [12] “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” In the same way, while we may still labor in a world filled with sin, where the cries of ‘O Lord, how long?’ come from our lips, we have the confidence that Christ has redeemed us, he has rescued us from the power of sin to condemn us eternally. And because He has done that, He will come again one day in glory to bring us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. That is the hope that we have, a faith sustained by Word and Sacrament every time we enter this place. This faith, given by Christ, is strengthened by Christ, and as God says through His prophet Habakkuk, [2:4b] “The righteous shall live by his faith.” Amen.

No comments: