Faithfulness to the Vision – Special Election Season Sermon

[RCL] Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 119:137-144; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

How might we as followers of Jesus faithfully respond to an increasingly contentious political season? We find light shed on this rather contemporary issue from an ancient source in the little studied biblical book of Habakkuk. The prophet tells how God meets out justice at a national and even global scale and the part that then leaves for you and me.

Habakkuk is shoe-horned in to the back of the Hebrew scripture along with eleven other slim books known collectively as the Minor Prophets. The Minor Prophets  are called Minor as the books are shorter, but no less important. Through Habakkuk, we learn more about God’s and the little book packs a wallop because the prophet has some things to say about God’s justice that are not so easy to hear.

Habakkuk is what you get when you cross a more traditional prophet like Amos or Isaiah with the not-afraid-to-complain-about-God-to-God’s-face character of Job. Like Amos or Isaiah, Habakkuk is righteously indignant about the moral decay of the world in which he lives. Habakkuk looks at the utter unfairness and sometimes downright evilness he sees all around him and he cries out to God with words that sound like they come from one of David’s Psalms of lament. The prophet says,

“O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.”

Habakkuk is sick and tired of being sick and tired at the status quo he sees in Israel. Habakkuk wants God to shake things up, stop the violence, and make a dramatic stand for the poor and the oppressed. Then we get God’s reply to Habakkuk. God answers saying,

Look at the nations, and see! Be astonished! Be astounded! For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told. For I am rousing the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own.

God goes on with a typical response to a prophet. God tells Habakkuk that the Southern Kingdom of Israel, which sees itself as invincible, will fall in battle to the Chaldeans. The people pervert justice and promote strife and contention. The people have turned their backs on God. So God will let a great enemy overtake the people. This is the type of judgment we read in other prophets, major and minor.

The difference with Habakkuk is that this time the prophet gets mad at God’s answer. Habakkuk hears that God’s justice will come in the form of the Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar and the rest of his barbarous hoard out of Chaldea. Habakkuk says this is no justice at all.

God says he will rouse the Chaldeans against Israel. That would be like telling people during the Cold War that God will rouse the Russians to sweep across America, taking it in battle. In fact, this is probably as scandalous to Habakkuk as claiming that God’s justice was coming to America through the work of terrorists.

What kind of justice is this? The prophet wants to know and he is not afraid to challenge God for a better answer. Habakkuk changes his approach saying, “why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?”

God doesn’t make the peeved prophet wait for long. Habakkuk writes,

“Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.”

God says that there is a greater vision of justice still coming. We have to wait for the greater justice. In the meantime, the righteous are to live by faith. But the translation faith is not completely right. Faithfulness is another translation more in line with the meaning of the Hebrew. Faith is agreement to a belief. Faithfulness is the practice of being faithful. More than just head knowledge, faithfulness comes with action.

Let’s stop to see what Habakkuk learned. God metes out justice on a global scale in two ways. The first is that some justice is hard-wired into creation. You cannot oppress your people forever. If you have an unjust nation, that nation will fall. It’s just the way the world works. As Habakkuk finds out, the unwanted side effect is that the nation that replaces the unjust one is often unjust as well. This fact of how the world works has been proved again and again through history. Great nations rise, become unjust and fall only to be replaced by yet another unjust kingdom. It’s a fallen world and any political system falls short of the peace and justice for all creation which God’s promised kingdom will bring.

That brings us to the second form of justice. God promises that the future will bring an age of perfect peace and justice. God says that even if this vision seems far off, to wait patiently for it. There is a better way coming. We have to hold fast to that vision even when what we see all around us is an unjust world.

Habakkuk shows us that while we are not responsible for the great world events that can swirl around us, we are responsible for being faithful. Just as Christians were called to faithfulness when the Roman Empire in which they were citizens wanted to persecute them. We are called to look to the coming Kingdom of God, say our prayers and vote for the candidates who we hope will come closer to helping that vision come to pass. Christians will say their prayers and come to different conclusions. This has always been so. The coming justice that is the Reign of God does not depend on us alone, or even us primarily. God is bringing justice both through the way the world is wired and through the coming kingdom. That greater justice is God’s concern, not ours.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to faithfulness in how we treat others matters even more than how we vote. We do this by respecting the dignity of those with whom we disagree. God’s will shall work it’s way toward justive even if we select the evil of the lessers for any given office. For the justice we long for can work through our votes, but the reign of God does not ultimately depend on any given election. What does depend on us is our own faithfulness in the meantime. How do your conversation and your social media posts reflect your faith? How might you better live in to Jesus’ call not just to love God, but to love your neighbor as yourself?

We are challenged by our faith in Jesus to find work toward a way of living that is different because we have glimpsed God’s vision for our world. Even with little bits of faithfulness, we might see our world transformed to something closer to God’s vision. If all Christians would muster the faithfulness to see Christ in others, especially those who favor a candidate we loathe, those wave of internal changes could turn back the angry tide. While I can’t change others, I can at least seek to be faithful, trusting God to handle the larger issues of justice. Amen.

Written by The Rev. Canon Frank Logue. Logue is the Canon to the ordinary of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. He serves on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church and on the Advisory Group on Church Planting. Frank blogs at http://loosecanon.georgiaepiscopal.org.

Download the election season sermon for Proper 26(C).