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Sermon for October 2, 2016

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 22—Series C)

“Feeling Like God Doesn’t Care”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

October 2, 2016

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament lesson recorded in the Book of Habakkuk.

          The Book of who? Habakkuk? Do we have a Book of Habakkuk? Why yes, yes we do. When was the last time you picked up your Bible and said, “I’m going to read Habakkuk today?” Probably never! And the Old Testament reading is from Habakkuk once every three years and today is the day! So I have provided you the entire Book of Habakkuk with your worship folder this morning because what we heard in our Old Testament reading today is just a small part of the whole, and we need to understand the whole if we are going to understand our text.

          So let’s begin this “Bible study” of Habakkuk with a what we know about this prophet. Habakkuk most like served as a prophet during the last days of King Josiah’s reign and the first days of King Jehoiakim’s reign in the Kingdom of Judah. It was sometime around 605 B.C. Habakkuk prophesied at the same time as two other prophets, Jeremiah and Zephaniah. What makes Habakkuk unique is that he does not deliver a direct message to his people. Rather, he records a dialog between himself and God that centers on two questions and two answers.

          The opening words of today’s Old Testament lesson give us the first of Habakkuk’s questions. It is a complaint. “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. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted”

 (Hab. 1:2-4 ESV) In other words, “Look how your people have fallen into sin! Don’t you care about the evil they are doing? Why don’t you punish them instead of just watching them sin?”

          Habakkuk is troubled that God seems to tolerate sin and wrongdoing. God doesn’t appear to care about the destruction and violence, the strife and contention that are taking place among and against His people. It seems that He doesn’t care because He doesn’t do anything about it. The prophet echoes the sentiments of many faithful people of God who wonder why God doesn’t deal immediately and directly with the evil that surrounds them. Perhaps you have even asked these things. Like Habakkuk, we struggle to wrap our minds around the bad things we see happening in our world. We live in a sinful, violent, evil world. Sin and its results are all over the place. Sin and its consequences affect our lives personally and as part of a wider community. “Why does God idly look at wrong?” Why doesn’t He punish sin and sinner now to make this world a better place?

          “We humans are notoriously impatient. When a question stands before us, when troubles confront us, we want a solution right now. Some are so bold as to tell God what He should be doing in the situation. That is . . . a desire to use God as a puppet.”[1] What right do we have to insist that God should do as we say? That is not the attitude of faith that trusts in the Lord above all things, even the things we don’t understand.

          It is from the perspective of faith in the Lord that Habakkuk lodges his complaint. He wants to know why God is doing what He is doing, even if Habakkuk can’t understand God’s ways. And who could understand God’s answer to Habakkuk? God tells Habakkuk, “I’m doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (Hab. 1:5b). “I’m going to punish the sinners of Judah. The Babylonians are going to invade, and the guilty will receive what they deserve. I’m sending the people of Judah into exile in Babylon.” In other words, “Habakkuk, it may appear that I’m just kicking back and watching the sin and the evil and the bad things that are going on. But I have a plan to execute my judgment and justice against the sins of the people and to punish the evildoers. Just trust me and wait for it.”

          I guess I don’t have to tell you that Habakkuk wasn’t initially thrilled with God’s response. “What? God, how can you possibly use the Babylonians—an even more wicked people—to accomplish Your will? Don’t you care about Your people?” We read in chapter one starting at verse 12, “Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? . . . You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Hab. 1:12-13 ESV). As chapter 2 begins, Habakkuk decides that He will wait for the Lord’s answer to his second complaint. “I will take my stand at my watch post 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” (Hab. 2:1 ESV).

          And God answers His servant. “I will use Babylon and then, in turn, I will punish that nation for their sins. Meanwhile, trust and wait for Me to reward my faithful people.” So we read in today’s Old Testament text, “And 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. Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith’” (Hab. 2:2-4 ESV).

          God urges Habakkuk and those who would hear this Word of God toward patient trust. God would indeed punish the sins of the people of Judah. God’s instrument of that punishment, the Babylonians, would consequently by punished for their misdeeds because they became too puffed up in themselves. However, the Lord declares those righteous who wait for God to do whatever He is going to do, humbly trusting His promises.

          The Lord’s answers to Habakkuk’s questions satisfied the prophet. In response, he wrote a powerful hymn of praise that is chapter 3. “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. . . . You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, . . . I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. . . . Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength” (Hab. 3:2, 13-19 ESV).

          Habakkuk reflects on what God has revealed to Him, what He is going to do in order to punish the sin of the people of Judah. He would then punish the Babylonians for their wickedness while rescuing God’s people again. Habakkuk prays for mercy, quietly confident of God’s ultimate deliverance, even in the middle of great distress.[2]

And the ultimate deliverance did come following the ultimate punishment albeit six-hundred years after Habakkuk. The “head of the house of the wicked” was crushed once and for all as the Son of God crushed the head of the ancient serpent, the devil. Hung on a cross, Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, suffered the full and complete punishment for the sins of Judah, for the sins of Babylon, for the sins of every human being who ever was and who ever will be. Jesus suffered God’s blazing wrath and anger against sin the world over as Christ endured hell and separation from the heavenly Father on the cross. And like Habakkuk, Jesus asked the hard questions of His Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Ps. 22:1 ESV).

Jesus bled and died on the cross for your sins and mine. He suffered and died because you and I fail to always patiently trust in the Lord. We doubt His Word of promise. We fail to trust that God always cares for us no matter what, especially when we don’t understand what the Lord is up to. For those failures to always fear, love, and trust in God above all things, Christ died for us. His shed blood purchased and won our forgiveness. Christ’s death and His resurrection on the third day guarantee both our forgiveness and our eternal life. We are reconciled to our Father in heaven and we have the privilege of approaching His throne of grace and mercy through the mediation of Jesus, our Savior. We read in Hebrews 4, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16 ESV). In other words, as children of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we can boldly approach our Father in heaven with our prayers, with our questions, and with our complaints because God DOES care!

“God accepts, even invites, our complaints—when they are offered in faith that He knows what He is doing, even if we cannot understand His ways. Questions of why? and how long? demonstrate our trust that God really does listen and He really does answer our [prayers]. Even more, such questions show our confidence that His ways are better than our ways. . . . Approaching the Lord with our complaints does not undermine our faith. Instead, it leads us to fervent trust in the Lord, despite the prevailing circumstances.”[3]

The Good News is that we have been gifted the faith that does trust in the Lord. And we are certain that we can ask the Lord anything. He is not afraid of our questions nor is He angry when we ask honestly with faith and trust. But fair warning, you and I might not always understand the answers and we might not always like what we hear in His Word. Nevertheless, we can trust the God who saved us from sin and death even when we don’t understand the things that are happening around us or to us. We look to Christ and His death and resurrection so that we know the love and mercy of our God. We know for certain that He does care for us all.  He does work all things together for our good in and through Christ, according to His good and gracious will (Rom. 8:28).

Therefore, we will live by faith alone. We will humbly trust in the ever-trustworthy promises of God to us in Christ. By faith, we will ask God our tough questions. We will present our complaints to God, trust His will and His ways. Along with Habakkuk, you and I will take our stand on God’s Word in the Scriptures to see what He says to us in order to increase our faith and trust in Him by the power and grace of His Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

[1] Edward A. Engelbrecht, ed. Concordia’s Complete Bible Handbook for Students (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 253.

[2] Edward A. Engelbrecht, ed. The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009), 1510.

[3] Edward A. Engelbrecht, ed. Concordia’s Complete Bible Handbook for Students (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 253.


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