Sunday, October 31, 2010

C, Reformation - John 8:31b-32 "Tall Poppies"

When it comes to a balanced belief on how we might be righteous before God, there have been many before us who have also wrestled within.

The struggle between the sinful old human nature and the new Christ-centred nature has been a fight that’s been raging ever since Christ walked the earth and shed light on the reality of the human conscience.

Jesus’ coming into the world, and our lives, did and does things in people, and in us, when one comes up against the holy perfection of God’s own Son. It’s what we in Australia call the tall poppy syndrome. This is when someone seems to be better than us, in some way or another, causing a need for others to chop them down; to bring them down a peg or two; to cut them down to size!

So, from where does the desire come to chop down the tall poppy? It comes from the deepest recesses of our old human nature. A person’s natural desire is to see themselves as the centre of their existence, to place themselves at the top of the pile, as number one. Put simply, the ego says there’s nothing greater than itself. “I am” the source of all things.

But then along comes someone or something which shows our ego to be less than our inflations imagine it to be. So we set to bring down the tall poppy. We see tall poppies only because of our pride. In others we see their pride and ours automatically wants to see if we can conquer it.

There are two ways this happens. Either, the ego seeks to be seen as better by doing better than its competition. Or, the ego knows it can’t do better so it goes about undermining its competition to discredit the perceived competitor of its height.

The end result is the ego can then rise into the dizzy heights of a self-inflated infatuation. All glory to the tallest poppy, to the one whose nature can pop its head up the highest.

But even when standing tall, the ego is worried. Why? Because it knows the truth of how it got its height. The ego knows the ugly reality is its seemingly glorified existence is built on its own darkness and the cut down dead bodies of pride around itself.

Therefore, pride is often found with anxiety, worry, and doubt. Pride and depression are the heights and valleys of the same scene; they’re the two sides of the same coin. Religious or spiritual depression comes as a result of the ego knowing it cannot legitimately climb to the starry heights it thinks it should.

Since world war two, western society has been obsessed with climbing the heights of popularity. Everyone wants to be the “tall poppy”. We amass objects and ideologies to bolster the ego and hide the darkness lurking within. But the end result of our religiously working to be, and have, the best, and hide the rest — is we’ve created the right climate for an ever increasing rate of medical or clinical depression.

Martin Luther was no saint when it came to pride. He was trapped in the same sinful tall poppy syndrome. So much so, Luther was a very depressed man and as a result died at an age we would consider young today. Born on the 10th of November 1483 and dying on the 18th of February 1546, Luther was just sixty-two years of age.

In his early years Luther with many other monks in the monastic life, sought to be one of the spiritual elite through the religious rigours of seeking to be righteous. He belonged to the Order of Augustine of Hippo. This monastic order focused on its adherents devoting themselves to a life of love towards God.

Back in the fourth century, Augustine of Hippo was led more and more to focus on God’s grace throughout his life, because he constantly struggled with his love for the flesh. He found no peace in his life by appeasing his insatiable appetite for sexual gratification and the finer things in life. And so centuries later an order came about where one might look to God and away from the lusts that lurk within.

Luther lived the Augustinian life, he sought to seek out his sin and confess it. If he could do this, then he would obtain the righteousness God required of him. However, the more he sought to examine himself, the more he sought to righteously do the right thing, the more he realised how far short he fell before a God who sought a righteousness which was perfect — indeed holy.

He soon learnt that the more he focused on sin the more he did it. One can only imagine the sin that dwelt in the hearts of young monks seeking pure lives under the vows of chastity. Even if they felt regret for what they did, and demonstrated it before God, as Luther did often by self-flagellation, scourging and whipping himself, it didn’t stop the reality that one was doing things out of a love for the self, the ego, and not out of a love for God and his will.

The monks of the day sought to be the tall poppies of the church but many of them spent much of their time in self-absorbed doldrums. In fact, so common was this experience amongst monks, they had a slang term for it – in cloaca, literally meaning “in the toilet”. So an absurd contradiction existed in their lives, and in Luther’s life too. Monks sought to appear spiritually beautiful, like poppies, but lived lives of horrendous doubt and harsh works.

Are you living in the same contradiction as Luther was with all the religious monks of his day? Is your life absurdly, consistently one lived in the toilet of spirituality? Then Jesus’ word is the word for you…

He says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31b–32 (ESV)

For Luther he delved into study of the word in a quest to find the truth. But rather than the truth being found in his diligent study and understanding of scripture, it led him to focus away from sin and what he thought to be a righteous action to yet again get God’s favour, and over time God’s word did something more profound, it gave him faith and it set him free.

You see when Luther sought to love in the most sincere and godly way, he knew, and couldn’t escape the knowledge, his being was motivated by a love for self and therefore tainted with sin. Luther came to realise that not only did humans bearing the old sinful nature “enjoy the gifts of God”, but sought to “use God” too.

Repentance, prayer, faith, everything we set out to do, can never be done well enough to allow any human to be completely blameless before God. These as works just don’t work. And over time Luther came to realise that trusting in the righteousness of Christ, that on allowing God to focus him on his Son, Jesus Christ, everything was done and was being done, and the Holy Spirit dwelt within being. The Holy Spirit is the agent of action within the shell of the believer’s sinfully prone existence.

Perhaps you are in a toilet of spirituality because of the righteous and religious poppies you’re seeking to grow, while focusing on the heights of other’s growing over the fence. Seeking to do better or to stop doing wrong only leads one deeper into the deception of pride — it appears to makes everyone else’s poppies stand taller, and our own seem shorter.

Like Luther, abide in God’s word. Uphold it, endure in it, dwell in it, and trust in it. Remaining in God’s word also requires sacrifice. One must sacrifice all righteousness and unrighteousness that’s motivated by what we do – your moralism and immoralism; your understanding and misunderstanding; and your emotionalism, that is good and bad feelings being a barometer for your faith.

In allowing yourself to endure in God’s word and letting God immerse you in his word, you will find that no longer will you have to focus on what to do and not to do, but you will know God’s will is being done in you and through you.

Instead of worrying about what God’s word means and what you think about it, God will give you understanding growing out of faith and grace. So simple yet so profound, a child will know it’s true but it will confound the wisest minds on earth.

And rather than beating yourself up mentally that you’re not feeling bad enough about your sinfulness and loving enough towards God, a love for Christ will ooze out of every pore of your being.

Instead of being the tall poppy growing on the failures within and without, let Christ grow you up into faith and love. His grace is sufficient for you, the faith the Spirit places in you can drown mountains of your sin in the sea, at baptism and at the cross. Through Jesus Christ the righteousness we gain gives us a desire to dwell with God in peace.

Standing, remaining, and enduring with this balanced belief, given and sustained by God in his word, is the truth given in his word. And like Luther and many others, it will set you free and your will be free indeed. Amen.

Friday, October 22, 2010

C, Pentecost 22 Proper 25 - Luke 18:9-14 "Being Real Before God"

In Luke eighteen and the chapters preceding it, Jesus focuses on the human conscience in his ministry — as he resolutely marches towards Jerusalem, his crucifixion, and his death. These are the last days of Jesus’ teaching and revelation of humanity’s sin, before he faithfully rides into Jerusalem, and spends his last week, a very holy week, teaching about our end times and turmoil, before he is dragged into darkness and chaos, and is stripped of his authority and life there at the cross.

Good Friday is certainly the hellish day of all hellish days! But in contradiction it’s also the holiest of holy days. This Friday at Jerusalem was full of evil, but then again it was a very good day for you and for me. The reality of Jesus’ death day is also the reality of yours and my upcoming death days. It will be a day when evil and sin find there climax and cause us death. But then again, this day is the cause for much hope and will be a day of unimaginable celebration, as we continue setting our faces towards Jesus’ bitter suffering and death, but also his resurrection and glorification, and ours too!

So what type of a day, do you picture your death day being? It’s a confronting question! Perhaps it’s one which you try to avoid or put out of your mind as you go about busily living your life, clinging to all the temporary things which are passing away. But it’s a very real and sobering question for everyone, young and old, as we all move along the path towards our day of death.

With these things in mind, we hear Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Now the conscience of a sinner is a shrewd thing! We humans are master manipulators always seeking to control our situation to suit ourselves. This parable can be completely misinterpreted, and is, if we think it’s about how we ‘should’ act in prayer. As if we can manipulate God’s will by what we do — by outwardly acting like the tax collector when internally acting more like the ‘holier than thou’ Pharisee.

Jesus’ word to us in this parable is not about what we do; it’s about what we are — how we like to picture ourselves — and the truth of what God really sees in us! God’s will for us is to forgive us our sin and for us to call on him in prayer.
Although the Pharisee prayed, he prayed a self-righteous prayer, and left God’s presence unjustified. Nevertheless he still prayed, he acknowledged God, and God would faithfully continue to work in him, as Christ did amongst the Jews of his day up until his crucifixion and beyond.

But, the work God does with the Pharisee is a far cry from what the Pharisee thought he needed in his life! God saw beneath his thin veil of righteousness to the pride and darkness within. And God sees what’s in us and continues to endure with us even when we pray those prayers of self-justification, thinking we can manipulate God’s will to forgive towards our will to sin. You know the prayers, ‘Lord just do this and just do that!’ Prayed with a handsome dose of external emotion to seal the deal, and win God over to our way! Acting out ‘just’ prayers in order to justify the self!

But Jesus is the one who acts, and he did act for the Pharisee, and the tax collector, at the cross. It’s in the face of death as a result of humanity’s sin that Jesus sets his sights to the cross to save us and all Pharisees from pride and self-righteousness, which left unchecked, would lead to an eternal, wrathful, hopeless death!

So it’s with the reality of our helplessness in the face of death that we come into God’s presence like the tax collector and seek God’s mercy! This is no act on the part of the tax collector. He was very aware of who he was in the presence of a holy God, and his prayer was a sincere real prayer for mercy, from one who in no way could justify himself past his sinfulness and the eternal death it deserved.

No the tax collector came to the temple with a cup full of sin and exposed his sinful righteousness before God! He was real; he knew there was no need even trying to pretend his cup was full of wholesome goodness. However, the Pharisee was full of himself. He sought to hide behind his righteousness and used it to glorify himself. But ultimately in death he would have been found to be completely empty, hopeless, and helpless.

We also do well to be true to ourselves, and pull the plug on our acts of righteousness, but rather seek mercy from the One who is righteous and full of grace and mercy. We do well to see ourselves in the face of death, and the hellish day Christ had on our behalf on our cross. We do well to understand like Saint Paul we are being poured out unto death — in that Jesus is crucifying the sinful nature within us with the help of the Holy Spirit.

We do well to see our faith in the things of this world is dying with the things of this world, so we might be filled with the faith that leads us to trust in Christ and live in hope of the resurrection joy, awaiting all who are baptised into his death and resurrection. We do well to live our lives as recipients of mercy, with the cross out in front, with all the horror it reveals about our deadly natures.

But we do even better to live our lives in the face of death knowing that just as Christ was crucified, raised, glorified, and now lives — we too will be raised to eternal life with him in glory because he is merciful to those who bear the reality of their sin, and in repentance allow that sin to be left at the cross with Christ. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, continue sending the Holy Spirit into our consciences to expose the sin in us, so it might die, and we might live before God the Father in the true faith, hope, peace and love, which surpasses all human understanding, even unto death. Amen.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

C, Pentecost 21 Proper 24 - Luke 18:1-8 "Shameless Faith"

Luke 18:1-8 (ESV)

And Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8 ESV)


There are two shameless characters in this parable.

There is the judge who doesn’t care one bit about God or the people around him. He’s “the judge” and as far as he’s concerned the buck stops with him. He’s his own entity; no one tells him what to do or how to do his job. He believes he’s got absolute power to decide over the cases that come before him. Whether he vindicates or condemns is of no consequence to him.

One might see him as an arrogant character, admiring nothing or no one but himself. And rightly so, as he considers himself totally blameless being the way he is. He felt no shame in who he was, nor was he ashamed in any way of what he did before God or anyone else.

Then there’s the widow. There could be no greater distinction made between two persons or their social status than between the judge who truly believed he was all powerful and the widow who painfully knew she was nothing.

Although this lowly woman was righteous, her righteousness and need for justice was of no concern to the judge. Her righteousness and call to be vindicated wouldn’t have made much of a stir amongst others who prided themselves on righteousness either, especially those who righteously followed all the religious requirements in a Jewish community.

However, the widow, unlike the religious righteous, shamelessly goes before the judge to plead her case over and over again. She fights to preserve the most basic essence of righteousness, a righteousness most took for granted. This was a righteousness of common decency where one could expect right defined from wrong in the most basic distinction and preservation of human life. So in a bid to save what little honour she has, she puts every scrap of basic dignity aside to shamelessly plead her case before the judge

The widow approaches the judge, and we might expect her to. Why? Well, because she has nothing to lose. She has no standing, no greater righteousness to uphold. And so she pursues the judge for this most basic righteousness. But one which will label her a justified widow!

For the other righteous people in the community to approach a judge that cares nothing for their righteousness would be completely shameful. It would mean their righteousness was lacking, that they too would have no standing before the judge. They would have been perceived weak and lowly like the widow before a judge who had no fear of God or respect for those whose strength and position was measured by their righteousness – what they did or didn’t do.

We must notice a difference here between the widow and others who considered themselves righteous. As Jesus relates this parable to his disciples, he teaches them to be shameless like the widow, rather than conceited like the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. He wants the disciples to pursue a righteous outside themselves; a fundamental righteousness which gives ultimate justification. But unfortunately this righteousness is lost on most of humanity because we are led to believe in a righteousness that comes from how much one can get right.

The religious righteous sought to do the right thing, and for the most part they did a very good job, they were very righteous! In fact, Jesus says elsewhere, For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20 ESV)

But Jesus calls the disciples, like the widow in the parable, to shamelessly do something better. And we who are called to see this difference too, are called to shamelessly do something better.

Jesus tells this parable to his disciples just after he speaks about the coming of the Kingdom of God. He encourages the disciples to not lose hope as they wait. He calls them to a posture of prayer; to approach God with persistence and persevere in prayer; to endure as the widow did before the judge. His call is to lay aside any pride which has grown from a righteousness of doing the right thing and pursue a righteousness that justifies them before God.

Like the judge in the parable God is shameless. But unlike the unrighteous judge in the parable God is compassionate and merciful; he is shamelessly righteous towards those who trust him enough to cast off their righteousness and look to him to be vindicated and set free from their adversary.

So when Jesus returns will he find faith here on earth? Will he find faith amongst us? Do you trust God? Are you prepared to throw off your righteousness and trust his righteousness? God is calling all of us to come home and be freed from the adversity of sin and death.

God’s will for you, is for you to allow your heart to be softened and daily moulded into truly righteous people; people that possess the life-changing power of God! People that persevere and endure hardship in this life in the known hope of something much better to come. He wants your heart to be transformed, moulded and moved, and made one with his heart.

God calls you to shamelessly lay aside the things of this life and the limited power we possess in ourselves and call on his name in prayer. He calls us to join in with Christ, to participate with him in his work of prayer, just as he does right now before the Father, and as he did while he was here on earth as he walked to the cross.

Let God’s faithfulness and righteousness justify you before him. Let your hope lead you away from a righteousness that gains status before men, but into a righteousness that truly justifies you before God.

All of us are shrewd enough to perform in a way where our actions are righteously dressed in the appropriate churchy garb, but are you shameless enough to cast it off and seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness? Are you prepared to trust God, uphold his actions, what he did for you on your cross? Are you shameless enough to admit it is your cross, and allow him to vindicate you and continue letting him fulfil all righteousness in you?

It’s not about what we do – good or bad? Either can be as bad as the other when we allow them to be in the middle of what we’re about. God cares little for us striving to do good. But also thinking we can do bad just demonstrates our thinking is completely wrong.

God calls us to be shameless enough to focus on what Jesus, our true brother, has done, and what the Holy Spirit is doing today. This is the good that God seeks; this is the faith Jesus wants to find when he returns; and this is the righteousness into which the Holy Spirit continually leads.

Let Jesus stand in the centre, he is in the middle. Being Christ centred is the only way; this is the truth; this is the life to which you have been called. Be shameless in a way that surrenders anything you do, be it good or bad, and hold onto him who truly justifies you.

Let the Holy Spirit mould and move you into something new, each day, and every day. Don’t give up hope, Christ is coming.

When he comes will he find you faithfully looking to him, repenting, seeking his righteousness? Will he find faith, like that of the widow, which selflessly shamelessly longs to be in the Father’s eternal presence?

Definitely - yes! Definitely – Amen!

And the righteousness of God which surpasses all human emotion, understanding and righteousness keep our hearts and minds centred on Christ Jesus our Saviour. Amen.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

C. Pentecost 20 Proper 23 - Luke 17:11-19; 2 Kings 5:1-15; 2 Timothy 2:18-15 "Infections of the Skin"


2 Kings 5:1-15, Psalm 111, 2 Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19

A Change in Life

The girl lay in bed it was just another boring school day. It was the first year of high school and the excitement of moving from primary school to the new school had worn off. There was no need to spring out of bed; there was nothing exciting to look forward to, it was just books, teachers’ looks, and the crook of homework assignments keeping her bound from the more exciting things in life.
However life was about to change forever, little did the girl know that when she rose from her bed, something would change in her life of boredom and monotony, something would bring her more attention than she would have ever expected, something that would bind her as one with all her peers.

Pimples and Leprosy

And then it happened! She hopped out of bed and wandered into the bathroom. It had been a quiet normal morning until then, but the cool morning air was broken with a shrilling screech, ‘Pimple!’
It was big, it was fat, it was right out there on the end of her nose, it was red and swollen, and it was full of puss. This glowing beacon on the end of her nose was going to bring her so much attention in all the wrong ways. It didn’t matter to her now, that she was good at sport, it didn’t matter that she had friends who suffered at the hands of the same injustice, it didn’t matter that her parents said they still love her just the same. No! She was now an outcast, this blemish was not just a zit on the nose, it was a mark of separation; she had lost her youthful complexion forever!
When one is struck with pubescent pimples or even some other kind of infection, self-imposed exile is often the norm in a bid to save face – literally in the case of pimples. In fact, she wasn’t separated at all, but she had become a part of a community; a community of teenagers similar in complexion. The attack of acne not sparing many; academic brilliance, sporting genius, the quiet achiever, both sexes, the shy, the bold, the struggler – all identify as a community of teenagers going through puberty by the common pimple.
Ten lepers were in a similar, but much worse predicament. Their skin was white with leprosy but unlike pimples, this skin infection was contagious and it kept them in exile from everybody. But in the same way teenagers’ pimples identifies them as a community of peers, this infection identified the group of ten. They lived in an area identified in the text as on the border between Samaria and Galilee, but these ten men are only identified by the stigma they bear on their skin.

The Universality of Sin

Leprosy is a direct result of sinful humanity, as is all sickness, all suffering, all imperfection, and all things that lead to death. So these ten lepers can be seen as a picture of all humanity suffering because of sin. All people, ten out of ten, are sinful. We are one because of our fleshy human natures. No matter whether we are Australian, city people or country folk, paupers or princes and princesses, all are sinners and all live with the knowledge of death as the closing chapter of life as we experience it.

God’s Great Love for Sinners

But the sinful existence in which we live is only temporary. Like pimples, this condition will pass for us. As we confessed in the Psalm, we have a God whose works are great, whose righteousness endures forever, and whose nature is gracious and compassionate. And the greatest work he has done directly for a community of sinners is the gift of his own Son to atone for our sins. And this atonement came at the expense of his death, even though he live as a human in the flesh, susceptible of sin, but without ever sinning.

God’s love in the Ordinary Things

We know of God’s great love for us through our baptism and through the teaching of the church; here in church, in the home, in Sunday school, confirmation class, and RE in schools. The baptism we received might seem in our eyes quite ordinary ­– using ordinary words and the very ordinary element of water.
But as we heard in the Old Testament reading, God works through the ordinary things of this world: through the not-so-extraordinary witness of an Israelite servant girl who told her mistress about the God of Israel’s power in the prophet Elisha. And even the seemingly lacklustre attention of Elisha himself when he sent Naaman to go and wash in the tranquil waters of the Jordan. And Jesus’ simple command to the ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priests, seemed to be overly simple too.
But as simple as these actions may have seemed, they were very powerful actions. We know that once Naaman was convinced to wash in the Jordan he was cured of his leprosy and once the ten left to present themselves to the priests, they too were healed. So we can rest assured that in our outwardly ordinary baptism something very powerful happens too.

Reassurance in the Word

Don’t believe because I say so; believe because God says so. Hear what he says in Ephesians 1:13&14:
And you were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
And also what he says in Titus 3:5–7:
…he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Also in our baptism, we are taught of God’s action in our lives, and in the teaching of the church we are taught to remember these things. The epistle encourages such remembrance:
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory… Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:8-10, 14-15)
God wants us to remember the gospel into which we were baptised. He places a deposit on us, he marks us as one of his in our baptism, just as a explorer stakes his country’s claim on a piece of land when he plunges its flag into the ground. He wants us to remember our baptism and the gospel because we are sinful every day of our lives, and a lack of remembrance will result in backslide. In fact, because of our baptism, and the Holy Spirit he has placed in us as a result of baptism, he causes us to remember so we might continue in hope of eternal life. Just as a group of teenagers are identified by their spotty complexion, which clears, as they move into adulthood, we are identified as sinners living under the grace of the deposit placed on us in our baptism, which will one day result in the loss of sin and the gain of eternity with our Lord.
Let me conclude by repeating the trustful saying Paul spoke to Timothy, which serves as both warning to our sinful natures and comfort to us who have been made one in the blood of Christ, ‘If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (2 Tim 2: 11-13)
Don’t disown the gospel God has planted in you. God died for you, so let him live with you. He endured for you, now let him lift you up in endurance so you might reign with him. And know that he will always remain faithful to you in this life, the door is wide open for us to have our hearts filled with the food of the Holy Spirit, God’s holy word and Christ’s holy body and blood. And with these things in us, God will never let us go, no matter how leprous or pimply with sin we might seem. Amen.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

C, Pentecost 19 Proper 22 - Habakkuk 2:4 "His Faith"

In these days of sporting finals there will always be winners and losers. Who will win the prize? The wait for the answer to this question brings out all sorts of stuff in people at the game.

Sporting sidelines are the place of many a sporting conspiracy theory. Parents patrolling the sideline caught up in the emotion of the moment. In the grandstand amongst the colours sit a team’s jury judging the referee and the other side guilty. And in the lounge rooms and pubs of the nation one’s sense of justice causes the crowd to cheer over victories and cry foul over failure to win.

But after the day is done; the ground is deserted; the teams have gone home; and the emotion of the fans subsides — all will agree there’s a winner as well as a loser. Regardless of the reason or the conspiracy behind the win or loss, there’s a single fact all have to come to terms with; there will always be a winner and a loser.

Winners and losers are two sides of the same coin. Without one the other doesn’t exist, lest there be no sporting competition. Similarly, we might understand that without bad, good might not be as well known, and vice versa. Also righteousness is clearly obvious against wickedness just as light is against darkness. Both help define the other revealing their differences, so we can identify their properties. Two sides of the one coin, without a loser can a winner exist?

The prophet Habakkuk lived in a time of great turmoil. It seemed destruction and violence had won out over every part of faithful Jewish life. Things were not as they should have been; justice and righteousness were the losers.

Judah was in a mess some six hundred years before Christ. The Judean king of the day had led the Jews away from the Law into grave sin against God. Where order should have grown, perversion of justice made life increasingly hard to live.

It seemed as though anyone who sought to follow God were losers while the oppressors flourished as they dispensed destruction. It was if those who sought to play by the rules were penalised, while others literally got away with murder.

Habakkuk pleads, “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 paralysed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV)

But God’s response was not the answer a faithful Jew would have wanted to hear. Because of the Judean king’s unwillingness to yield to the Lord, exile of the people was imminent at the hands of treacherous Chaldean raiding parties from Babylonia. We hear God’s reply to Habakkuk’s complaint…

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.” (Habakkuk 1:5-6 ESV)

Consequently both faithful and violent Jews were going to be exiled and separated from their land and God’s throne in Jerusalem. God was about to hand Judah over to judgement. And now both the righteous and unrighteous would know violence and destruction, being paralysed by the dreaded and fearsome Babylonians.

Habakkuk then complains to God again, “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof. 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? You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. He brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so he rejoices and is glad. Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?” (Habakkuk 1:12-15, 17 ESV)

But God replies to Habakkuk’s outcry with what has become the catchcry of the Christian Church. God says, “Behold, his soul is puffed up (that is the Babylonian’s soul); it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV)

One can imagine this must have come as a bit of a riddle to the Jews, as their nation balanced on the cusp of exile. How were they to live when all seemed lost to destruction, violence, strife, and contention? How on earth were they to live righteously, separated from God, his temple in Jerusalem, and their inheritance. And to live by faith; faith in what?

One thing was clear. The Law had failed; they were losing their inheritance, once promised to Abraham ­– the land of Canaan. And they knew why! They had failed to keep their end of the bargain with God, which they promised to do so when Joshua first led them into Canaan across the Jordan. Therefore, Canaan was to become the property of the Babylonians, and the Israelites were to be once again taken into slavery, just as they had been in Egypt.

Nevertheless, despite what was about to come upon them God promises the righteous shall live by his faith. “His” faith! So the question goes begging, “If adherence to the Law was continually failing on a corporate level, by the nation of Israelites, and individually, but those who sought, but couldn’t be righteous, where and how was this faith to come from?”

In fact, what is righteousness? What is faith?

We know from God’s interaction with Abraham that God considered him righteous. Righteous is being able to stand in God presence without suffering the consequences of sin — namely, death. Righteousness before God allows one to live with God in peace. And to live before God one must be holy as God is holy, lest God be not really holy.

If unholiness could defile God’s presence, he would lose his identity and being as God. As black and white as there are winners and losers, holiness must stand separate from everything else, lest it loses its purity. So God cleansed Abraham so he could live with him. God was faithful to Abraham and Abraham responded in faith trusting God, and God credited this faith as righteousness.

So to be righteous, is to be righteous before God. This is to be guilt-free, untroubled, blameless and cleansed. What’s your righteousness like before God?

And now we turn to faith! “The righteous will live by his faith”, Habakkuk reports God as saying. And this is easier said than done, especially in Habakkuk’s and the Jew’s context. Perhaps even in your context too!

We know trust and faithfulness have always been problematic from the point of view of humanity. From the days of Abraham to Habakkuk, the Scriptures constantly report humanity’s failure in their faithfulness towards God. Yet, what we do hear is God’s constant faithfulness towards the Israelites, despite their sin.

We could hear “his” in “the righteous will live by his faith”, as a person’s own internal faith workings, but to be righteous before God surely it must begin with God’s faithful work toward us first!

Habakkuk had been given the ability by God to see and hear the tragedy before it came. God showed him what was about to unfold at the hands of the Babylonians, yet we hear from the final chapter of the book of Habakkuk, he praises God saying…

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. (Habakkuk 3:2 ESV)

Habakkuk acts in faith despite knowing what was about to unfold. Why? Because of God’s faithfulness. He hears God, trusts him, and he lives by what God says. He lives by his faith, his promise, his Word! Habakkuk’s faith is God’s faithfulness towards him.

We are called to live by his faith too. This is the great Christian mantra! Saint Paul says to the Romans…

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, 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.” (Romans 1:17 ESV)

Again, he says to the Galatians… Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11 ESV)

And the writer to the Hebrews also quotes Habakkuk saying… For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:37–38 ESV)

Just as there are winners and losers in sport, there are two sides of faith too! The Holy Spirit, the administrator of faith, enables us to truly believe we are open-grave sinners; that our nature is bound to sinfulness and death. And yet he also shows us the faithfulness of the Father and Son and carries us to the foot of the cross — to life despite death. You and I are losers in sin, but winners only in Christ. This is the simple two-sided fact made clear in faith, by faith, with faith, through faith, and from faith.

From Abraham, led from his homeland; to Habakkuk, on the verge of exile; to the coming of Christ, the Righteous One who was faithful even unto death; to Paul, on death row; and now to us — we live in harsh times. There’s no doubt about it! Regardless of drought or destruction, chaos or contention around us, now is the time for faith.

If you’ve been trusting in yourself or in the things God chooses to give, be it favourable weather, good government, or peace in your family and community, now is the time to turn from self to God himself — and trust in him alone.

The fact of the matter is this: You have been buried with Christ in baptism so continue letting him raise you in his faith, his faithfulness. (Colossians 2:12)

Let faith show you your sin crucified and let God’s grace continually resurrect you in faith. If God can raise Jesus from death, he will be faithful towards you in this life until he chooses to take you into his eternal home.

God has made you righteous through Christ. Continue living in him, letting his faith, his faithfulness, be your enduring faith. Amen.