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.