Pentecost 2016 (PR 22) – “God Answers the Hard Questions!” Luke 17:1-10
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
The text for our sermon meditation is the prophet Habakkuk, Chapters 1 and 2.
“1:1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. 2 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 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. 4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.
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.
2 And the LORD answered me:
“Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. 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.4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.””
So far the reading.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ;
What might be the most annoying question? It has only one word that can be used again and again in consecutive order and will never come to an end. Many times there is no answer that can be given. Many times the answer does not satisfy and it is asked again. If you said “Why?”, then you are correct.
Why do I have to do my homework? Why am I always the one to empty the trash? Why did God let grandma or grandpa die? Why do I always get the dirty job? Why does God let people suffer, or let children starve, or let some people do such horrible things?
No doubt you have asked similar questions or at least thought about asking that question. It usually surfaces when life is a little difficult and you do not want to deal with the problems that came knocking on your door. Sickness, injury, death, financial woes, employment problems are often untimely and disrupt your lives. You may begin to wonder where God is and what He is doing and your mind wanders into the why field.
The prophet Habakkuk records many unanswered question that begin with “why”. He looks around him and sees the way God’s people have abandoned the covenant of God and gone their own way. They have gone in a downward spiral of increased violence and sin, destruction, strife and contention, wickedness and oppression. Habakkuk takes the Lord to task and accuses God of sitting idly by while the righteous suffer under the hands of the evil. Deliver your people he cries out to God. God’s response is “the righteous shall live by his faith.”
What is the faith of which God speaks? The writer to the Hebrews declares “faith is the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen.” Assurance and conviction define for us the meaning of faith for the believer in the true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These words are used in connection with all that God promises us in Jesus. We have not seen Jesus, nor have we seen those gifts which Jesus earned with His life, death and assured us with His resurrection. Yet, we trust that those gifts are real and that we have them stored for us in the heavenly realm. We trust these gifts are real, because God is faithful and does not break His promise. What God offers, He has to give. What God has to give, He freely gives to those who trust in Him.
This is in contrast to what many think faith is. Faith for some people is the same as it was for Little Orphan Annie who sang about tomorrow being better than today. She comforted her heart thinking that if she looked ahead to the next day she would be able to endure the day. Her hope was in tomorrow, but as we know tomorrow does not guarantee everything will be okay.
Or consider those who think that Friday is going to be the saving day for the week. “Hang in there, Friday’s coming!” Or consider the camel who walks around the office asking coworkers what day it is. Wednesday, being “Hump Day,” does not guarantee the rest of the week and week end will be any better than the previous three days. This is no more than wishful thinking based on a false sense of security and baseless blessings.
Such also is the hope of those who believe that all faiths lead to God’s salvation. This belief is the norm for society today. Many people think that all you have to do is believe in God. How many people have seen the “God” sticker, or other items sold by a local jeweler? The three letters G.O.D. are combined in a circle. The letters are an acronym standing for the words Great One Divine. The website selling these items says, “People of faith enjoy sharing and expressing their beliefs.”
Do you see the problem? What faith? This is a generic faith and not a Christian faith. It is universalism. Even more telling is the product is not for faith but for earthly profit. The person selling this is no different than the silversmiths Paul encountered in Ephesus when he preached against idolatry in that city. The people worshiped the goddess Diana and the silversmiths made large sums of money fashioning and selling silver shrines for her worship. We must be careful not to break the second commandment and misuse the name of our living God.
The wishful thinking of the world can neither cleanse the guilty conscience, nor wash away sin, nor grant the sinner eternal life when the Lord of Life returns. Wishful thinking cannot answer the why’s and wherefores of life’s difficulties. Wishful thinking cannot comfort the troubled heart nor give peace to the struggling soul. Wishful thinking is not the key to life. Real life is addressed only through faith in the Living God and Jesus Christ who was sent to redeem us from ourselves. Real life is the gift of eternal life granted to all who believe in God’s Redemption.
St Paul held to this faith. He held to this faith even to the point of giving his life rather than renouncing it. He writes of this faith in his second letter to Timothy.
“7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Note the confidence with which St Paul speaks. He places his trust solely in the Word and promises of the Living God, the Righteous Judge who will grant Paul everything promised through Jesus Christ. This same Jesus Christ took our place under the Law of God to the point of giving His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death for the redemption of sinners everywhere. Paul trust in God as his savior, defender and Lord.
In the closing verses of his prophetic book, Habakkuk expresses a similar faith.
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength …
While we do not always find joy in this world, we can with Habakkuk and St Paul have joy in our good and gracious God. The joy comes from the sure and certain hope God gives us in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. With Habakkuk we rejoice in the strength of God and in His eternal promises given to all who are His children. Our God is a covenant God a keeper of promises and a fulfiller of those same promises.
Habakkuk in a time far removed from the time of Paul was given vision and understanding to see the God He served as Savior. Likewise St Paul sees God as savior. Here in our time we also recognize and trust in God as savior. We are reminded of this truth every time we approach the doors of this building. What reminder do you have? It is the name of this particular congregation placed in bold lettering on the wall outside and in the marquee near the road. What is the name of this particular congregation? It is “Our Saviour” congregation. A congregation founded by the grace of God to proclaim the grace of God and redeemed to have full confidence in the grace of God.
Such grace of God convinces us that there is nothing which happens in our lives that will truly affect the promises God gives us in His Son. With St Paul we are convinced that there is nothing in all creation that will separate us from the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. We trust that we are more than conquerors, literally hyper-conquerors in Christ. As Jesus overcame this sinful world, so we too will overcome all trials, concerns, fears and evil that may befall us.
Why is this so? [There is that why again.] It is so because God put His name upon your life when you were baptized into Jesus Christ. God made you his heir to eternal life and salvation. Just as Paul writes, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
The imprint of God’s name becomes more deeply etched into our lives as we partake of the Holy Supper of Christ’s body and blood. In that holy supper God assures us of His redemption and eternal promises. Scripture tells us that along as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. This is a confession of faith and a strengthening of faith. Through this holy meal God assures us of His grace and that he has covered our sins in the blood of His son. Through this holy meal God touches us with the nail scarred hands of Jesus to quiet our sin-wearied souls and to lift our eyes to the hill from where comes our help. It is in these blessings of God that all our whys are answered and our hearts are satisfied.
This is our confidence and the confidence of which we sing.
His oath, His covenant and blood
Support me in the raging flood;
When ev’ry earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Redeemed to stand before His throne!
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen