Date: October 6, 2013 –
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost; St. Michael & All Angels Sunday
Texts: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4;
Psalm 62; 2Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10
Context: We return to the
regular lectionary cycle after last week’s festival readings.
Habakkuk 1:1-4m 2:1-4: Habakkuk
is structured as two complaints from Habakkuk to the Lord, each
followed by the Lord’s response, and the book ends with a prayer of
faith. Little is known of Habakkuk personally, although he is
referred to in a non-canonical added ‘ending’ to the book of Daniel
called Bel and the Dragon. We assume that he is writing right
around 600 BC, after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, and
before the fall of the southern kingdom, Judea.
The first part of our reading includes
Habakkuk’s first complaint – that the Lord is slow to respond to
the cries of his people for help. The Lord’s response (which is not
included in our reading) is that He is about to do something powerful
and amazing, leading Habakkuk towards patience and faithfulness. The
second portion indicates that Habakkuk is going to watch carefully
for what the Lord has promised, and then transitions into the Lord
enjoining Habakkuk to write down the revelation the Lord is giving
him, emphasizing the importance of living by faithfulness and not
just what our eyes perceive.
Psalm 62: This psalm exhorts the
speaker to trust in God. The first two verses express this calmly,
but it rapidly becomes clear that things are anything but calm!
Verses 3-4 outline treachery from what are likely former friends or
associates (who speak well but plot in their hearts, v.4). Verses
5-8 once again reassert the theme of trust in the Lord. With trust
in the Lord, what is the worst that can be done to the speaker?
Certainly we can think of plenty of terrible things, yet verses 9 and
10 contextualize those fears. Life is brief whether rich or poor,
whether the victim of treachery or the perpetrator of it. The worst
things we can imagine are but a blip in history, over almost before
they even appear on the screen. As such, we are led in verses 11 and
12 to reassert trust in God, who has true power, not the temporary
power we sometimes exert over one another. Moreover, God possesses
not just power, but unfailing love. These two attributes will ensure
that those who put their trust in him are not disappointed.
2Timothy 1:1-14: Paul begins his
second letter to his protege, Timothy, giving thanks for his faith –
the faith he received from his mother and grandmother. But this
faith must be nurtured – fanned into flame. It is not a passive
faith but an active one, and the act of fanning the flame of faith
enables us to stand strong in times of persecution. Regardless of
what the world says about us or our message, or does to us as
messengers, is nothing compared to the greater hope we carry within
us, glowing sometimes dimly and other times flaring up into
surprising beauty and strength. What we receive in faith we nurture
and guard, because the world is bent on stealing away that hope, that
flame, or dousing it until the last bit of warmth and light is gone.
Luke 17:1-10: Jesus acknowledges
the challenges of the life of faith, and warns his disciples to be
careful of their conduct. They should be sources of encouragement,
springs of forgiveness – not stumbling blocks through their words
or actions. People will watch and listen to them, and they need to
be strong enough to conduct themselves appropriately.
This means not only abstaining from bad
behavior, but engaging actively in good behavior – even to the
point of pain and suffering. How many of us would consider it
reasonable to forgive someone seven times in a single day –
probably for the same offense? How many of us would be inclined
after the second time to claim that the person doesn’t really mean it
and therefore our forgiveness is not required? But forgiveness is
not contingent on the sincerity or the ability of the offender. As
God forgives us generously and constantly, we must be prepared to
forgive others generously and constantly.
The disciples react with incredulity,
as you and I do. Jesus counters that it is not the quantity of faith
that is the issue, but rather the application of that faith. What
seems impossible without a massive amount of faith can, by the grace
of God the Holy Spirit, be accomplished with what we would consider
almost no faith at all.
If this leads us towards spiritual
pride, we must be cautious. Conducting ourselves so as not to be a
stumbling block to others, but rather being examples of humility and
forgiveness, is not some sort of extraordinary act. It is the basic
requirement of the Christian life. As such, if we expect to be given
special commendation by the world or by our Lord when we actually do
forgive someone who hurts us, we are mistaken. In doing so, we are
only doing what we are called to do. Rather than grow prideful in
our isolated successes (which themselves are empowered by the Holy
Spirit!), we should rather recognize that far more often we fail. We
remember this in order to maintain a proper perspective, to guard
against spiritual pride or against the false notion that we somehow
have done or are doing enough. Our work is not finished until our
Savior returns or we are called to glory.
The active living out of our faith
enables us to confess with the psalmist that what the world might do
to us is nothing compared to what awaits us. It is easy to say that
our treasure is in heaven, but it is infinitely harder to live like
it is, without getting caught up in the drama of rises and falls of
fortune whether personal, familial, or national. But focusing on not
causing others to stumble, and focusing on being active sources of
blessing in the lives of others helps give our faith strength. It
takes it out of the realm of the theoretical and gives it very real
traction with the world around us.
Being engaged in this sort of work
helps us to wait patiently on the Lord’s timing. We develop
spiritual callouses, as it were, that enable us to hold on in
faithfulness regardless of the circumstances that currently surround
us. We can even learn to say that whether we live or die is
immaterial. If we live, we continue to serve our Lord by loving our
neighbor, awaiting our Lord’s return. And if we die, we go to be
with our Lord, with the one who created us and redeemed us and will
make us perfect. Without the actual discipline of applied, daily
Christian living, these nice sounding phrases are apt to fall apart
when our world does.
The Christian faith is not for wimps!
Praise be to the God who enables us to stand strong by his Spirit!