Sunday, October 06, 2013

Sermon; Proper 22C; Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Luke 17:5-10

As you listened to these readings from Habakkuk and Luke, did you hear a connection? How many of you forgot about listening for connections until I start preaching? So . . . what connections do you hear?

This one is difficult. On the one hand we have a reading from a minor prophet that cobbles together eight verses from two chapters about justice. And on the other hand we have a short gospel reading that touches on faith and the place of slaves. What is the connection here? Let's go look.

As with Amos, Habakkuk speaks out against abuse of the powerless by the powerful. The law becomes slack. Justice does not prevail. Judgment is perverted.

One of the things I came across was a little word play. Our reading comes from the NRSV and it uses both justice and judgment. Justice never prevails. Judgment comes forth perverted. One of my commentaries pointed out that where the NRSV used two words, Hebrew uses only one. This passage could legitimately be translated as, “Justice never prevails; justice comes forth perverted.”

It is into this mix of perverted justice that Habakkuk speaks. He complains to God about a defective and abusive system and, of all things, God answers: “Write a vision of justice. Write it plainly for all to see. Announce that this vision will come and it will bring down the haughty. Announce that it will come in the appointed time.”

Habakkuk speaks this prophecy and writes this vision. And he is stuck in the middle. He is forced to live within a system of injustice and perverted justice while at the same time also living in anticipation of the fulfillment of a vision of justice at the appointed time.

Our gospel reading for today is sort of an odd choice. Not that the gospel is an odd choice, but it's odd that verses 1-4 weren't included in the reading. Today's reading begins, “Increase our faith!” but there's no context for that request. The context comes in verses 1-4.

In those verses, Jesus is talking to the disciples and gives them a set of demanding instructions about their behavior. First, do not be the cause of another person's stumbling. People make mistakes and stumble, that is to be expected. But if you are the reason for someone to stumble . . . well, then . . . millstones and oceans come into play.

In other words, if you preach peace, gentleness, harmony love and forgiveness, then don't go to a football game and scream obscenities at opposing players or ask for the head of the referees on a platter.

Second, you must forgive those who sin against you. If someone sins against you seven times a day, but repents and asks for forgiveness, you must forgive them seven times a day.

These are the demands Jesus places on his followers; to which the disciples reply, “Lord, increase our faith!” They make this request because they, like we, know these things are difficult to do. It is difficult to continually live a life under scrutiny. It is difficult to continually forgive people. But that's part of the job description.

Jesus answers this request by saying, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.”

If you had faith. Most of the time we hear that as a negative: if you loved me, if you were a good student, if you were a better driver, if you had your act together.

But this can be put into a positive context: if Jesus is our Savior, if God created the universe, if the church feeds our souls, if you had faith like a mustard seed.

Jesus' statement isn't a condemnation for a lack of faith; it's an affirmation of the faith they already have. It is also an invitation – an invitation to live into the full possibilities of that faith.

If we read this as a positive statement, how could it transform us? If we see ourselves as having the faith of a mustard seed, what would we be able to accomplish? The apostles were told they had the faith of a mustard seed and were eventually transformed in a way that changed the world.

Our faith can transform us and those around us if we are willing – if we are willing to let go of our own desires, if we are willing to listen to God, if we are willing to trust the Holy Spirit. If we have the faith of a mustard seed, and we do, then our whole way of perceiving and responding to God's creative justice is changed.

Will our faith allow us to overcome our sense of pride and have our eyes opened to the many injustices in the world? Will our faith allow us to see that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere?

I sometimes wonder if it's not so much that we think we don't have enough faith as it is that we are afraid to tap into the faith we have. What would it look like if we really believed there is no more Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, gay or straight, white or black, rich or poor, us or them? What would it look like if we really pursued God's call of hospitality to the stranger, or if we engaged the stranger around us on their own terms? What would it look like if we really loved our neighbors as ourselves?

I think it would look like the kingdom of God.

As it is, we are stuck in the middle between believing we have too little faith while refusing to tap into a faith so great it scares us.

And there's the connection between the readings from Habakkuk and Luke: We are stuck in the middle. Habakkuk points out that we live in a time between injustice and/or perverted justice, and the appointed time of God's justice. And in Luke, we are made aware that we live in a time between an unsure faith and the time of complete faith.

We are stuck in the middle between the world as it is and the fulfillment of God's kingdom. The challenge these two readings present is this: How can we live out a faith that uproots the tree of injustice and drowns it in the sea?



First time comments will be moderated.