Text: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Date: Pentecost XX + Proper 22 + 10/2/16
Dearly beloved, I pray that God working through His Word before us today will give you not only an increase of faith but also an increase of great peace, patience, calmness of heart and mind even and especially in the midst of all the various challenges before us.
It seems to be the way with God that He would plant the most important words in the least likely place. For the words of the second half of the fourth verse of the second chapter of the prophet Habakkuk end up not only being quoted in the New Testament three times (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38), but that these words form the main theme of St. Paul’s entire epistle to the Romans as well as the heart of Martin Luther’s awakening, the righteous or the just shall live by faith.
This, of course, is the key to the Lutheran Reformation which we will celebrate as the 499th anniversary at the end of this month. But it is the key to the entire Gospel itself, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel,” writes St. Paul, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Faith is essentially trust. But of course the main issue is in the object of faith, in what or whom does your faith rest. For a friend or coworker may say to you in some difficult circumstance, “just have faith.” Often these words mean little more than a blind faith, a hunch or hope that things may work out okay, maybe. But when the Bible talks about faith it is not faith in “maybe,” but faith in the sure and firm promises and actions or works of God.
This, of course, applies first of all to the question of salvation. By faith you are saved. But it is not just that you have faith that saves you as if faith were some meritorious work or secret password to get into heaven. You are saved by faith in the promises and work of God, as St. Paul said it today, faith in “the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10). Saving faith is in Christ, in God’s promise of salvation worked out in the holy life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus His Son our Lord. Jesus is the content and the center of saving faith because of what He has done for us, for you.
Having said that, we with the apostles of the Lord in today’s Gospel are sometimes concerned about the weakness of our faith. When Jesus told them that they were to endlessly forgive your brother, “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” But that’s not the issue, the size or weight of your faith. “If you had faith like a” little, itty-bitty “grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” The point is not the amount of faith. And why is that? It is because, as we said, it is not the faith itself that saves but the content of faith, that which the hand of faith grasps. It’s not your faith that uproots trees or moves mountains. It is God who can do and has done that. Do you believe that God can bring answers and mighty deliverance to you when it seems the future is impossible?
Let us look at this prophet Habakkuk. You see a picture of a marble statue of him on the first page of your ordo. What details do you notice? You might notice that he appears to be bald. Some have called this statue a “pumpkin head.” But the most important detail is that he is standing! This is our first clue as to what it means to live by faith.
The prophet was complaining to God in his fear of what was all around him. And it sounds a lot like the front page of our newspapers today. “Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.” Boy, does it! It seems that God’s punishment is coming from within his own people as “the law is paralyzed,” is ignored is not proclaimed so that there is no justice for anyone. Secondly this is followed by the further threat from the surrounding nations, “the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”
In reading this cry for help you can think of your own experiences of things that challenge, even frighten you. It may be a threat to your own health and even the fear of death. I can’t help but think of our current situation in our country with the upcoming presidential election. There are so many people, on both sides, that are very, very angry with and critical of those on the other side. Many people, myself included, cannot see any very positive outcome or future for our nation no matter which side wins. What to do? Shall we join in the anger? Shall we despair over our fears of what may be coming?
Remember that picture of the prophet. Habakkuk had the right answer, the answer of faith when he said, “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower.” That’s what the marble statue depicts. “I will look out to see.” To see what? “To see what he, the Lord, will say to me.” He may have prayed what we prayed in today’s psalm, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.” We are not to trust in anything or anyone, be they of high or low estate, for in the end all princes, even candidates for high office “are but a breath, a delusion, in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.”
The increase of faith the apostles were looking for, the faith that you have by the work of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word and Sacraments, that faith expresses itself most of the time in waiting in silence, waiting for the Lord to act.
Your hope is trusting in God’s healing and deliverance from illness and death. In many
and various ways you may have experienced God’s deliverance and even healing in small or in large ways in your life. Even our fear of death however is calmed as we wait in silence for that deliverance from pain and fear, the gentle sleep of being carried by God’s angels into the joy of His presence. In a similar way, you can vote next month, in fact you should. But faith is greater as it learns to wait for God’s help, His arrangement of events, His sure and certain promises of peace, patience and endurance even in the face of persecution or difficulty.
The righteous shall live by faith. You who are baptized into Christ, you who believe in Christ are the righteous ones because God has made you to be righteous, one of His own dear children. You, the righteous, shall live. You shall live even in the face of death, much less anything else. You shall live through the threat of death which Jesus’ resurrection has turned to be but the gate of heaven. That’s the truth. Trusting in God’s work, God’s word, God’s promise to you, you shall live. And as for what will happen in the near future, faith believes,
“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.”