This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Habakkuk 2:1-20
Author: Rev. Ken Gehrels, Ottawa, Ontario
Consider the many haunting screens you may see during on the news.
Police officers gunned down by an enraged man with a vendetta against police. Their lives unjustly snuffed out. Their families shattered for no apparent reason.
Car bombing after car bombing in a war torn part of the world. Families gathered, engaged in a funeral service, mourning a loved one who had been murdered - and there, in the middle of the service a suicide bomber spreads carnage and further death.
Marriage relationships goes sour; vengeance swirls. A father kills his children as apparent retribution against the mother for her attempt to break off their relationship.
Only a few examples.
We could go on.
Yes - we could go on and on in describing injustice, brutality and pain inflicted by people against other people. Each week the news brings us fresh, heart-wrenching examples.
People treated as outcasts.
People whose hearts are broken.
People deeply wounded.
People driven into the ground and walked on.
It’s a reality that Psalm 147 describes in its opening verses.
And it is a reality that the prophet Habakkuk experienced in deeply painful ways. Habakkuk lived around the time of the prophet Jeremiah, sometime around 600BC. Egypt, Assyria and Babylon were the world powers. All of them terrifying. All of them brutal. All of them at one time or another a threat to the safety of God’s people in Israel and Judah.
There was another threat. It came from within Judah. There was rampant corruption, injustice and whole scale immorality to the point where you didn’t know who to trust, or where it was safe. The one with the biggest stick was the winner in those days.
It was an awful situation. An awful situation that seemed endless.
On and on and on...
If you tried to lived right, you ended up getting stepped on or shoved to the side. Those who honestly tried to honour God in their lives were a small minority.
It wounds the spirit of Habakkuk. Finally he can’t take it any longer, throws up his hands in desperation, and lets heaven know exactly how he’s feeling. His painful venting is described in chapter 1 of the prophecy. And then comes chapter 2. Heart broken, he’s looking for an answer from God.
As are many people today.
Crying from their heart about the rampant injustice and brutally inflicted pain that characterizes so much of the world today.
And - what do we make of it?
As Christians, how do we approach this undeserved suffering?
One of the key ideas in the Bible is that of righteousness. Found over 230 times. At it’s most basic level, righteousness means “something that is the way it was meant to be.”
The way it was meant to be - human conduct, social order, nature’s rhythms.
Go to God’s original design, the creation spec sheet and see how He in perfection made things to be.
The right way - righteousness.
There’s another bible terms which goes hand-in-glove with righteousness. This one is found over 130 times.
It means putting righteousness into practice – rolling out God’s design and intent for creation. 3-D action to God’s plan.
Bringing righteousness and justice is what this whole season of Lent is all about. It is what propelled the Son of God to become human and come to earth.
Picking up broken pieces, hope to harried lives, peace to ravaged hearts, new opportunity to disadvantaged people, a future to those trapped in dead-end living.....
God will not remain silent forever.
Injustice and brutality will not be allowed to swallow up and destroy creation entirely. He plants a vision in the heart of humanity - a vision that speaks of the end, and does not lie. A vision that we care called to wait for. A vision that will surely come - that will not delay.
It’s a vision that we are called to hang on to in faith.
The vision is summarized in the call of verse 20:
God is alive.
God is real.
God is in his holy temple.
And there is a day coming when every power and person on earth will have to bow before Him. Better now than later. For He will not be mocked.
Wait for that.
Have faith that it will happen.
2.4 “.....but the righteous will live by his faith.....”
Those of you who study the New Testament some, will probably recognize these words as being the same ones picked up by Paul in the beginning of his letter to the Romans, 1.17, “the righteous will live by faith.”
There are, ultimately, only two attitudes which we can take towards life.
The first attitude says that the only things which really matter, which I will put any stock in and depend on and be satisfied with, are those items which I can figure out. The stuff that makes sense to me I’ll put in my personal inventory. Everything else goes out with the trash.
The second attitude admits that there are going to be mysteries in life. Doesn’t mean I’m going to go through life with my brain shifted into neutral or low. Doesn’t mean I won’t tackle hard questions, or be willing to look at things I once thought to be final. It simply means that I realize I am only so big. My understanding can take in only so much. My vision of the landscape of life goes only so far. Beyond that – well, I’m simply going to have to trust someone or something else.
Eyes wide open. Brain fully engaged. But realizing that I can’t live life on what resources I can muster. I’m going to have to lean on another. Trust another. Depend on another........
Have faith in another.
Some time ago a pastor flew to St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was late May, and typical St.John’s weather - bit of snow mixed in with cold rain. Biting wind. And fog. Thick fog. The plane circled the airport. At least, the passengers thought it did. They couldn’t tell because the fog was so thick. Eventually the plane began to descend. All the passengers could see were the banks of mist rushing past the windows. Everyone buckled in. The plane kept going. At about 50 or so feet off the tarmac it came out of the fog and into the rain..... boom. Down onto the ground. Reverse thrusters. And it pulled up, safely, to the terminal. That was a white knuckle experience for all on board, including the flight attendants.
The only reason that plane ever made it safely to the ground was because the pilot – fully trained, intelligent, sober individual...... at least they hoped he was sober at the time –
The pilot depended on, trusted..... had faith..... in his instruments and the instructions from St.John’s flight control centre.
They could see what he couldn’t. They knew where he was relative to the ground, the runway, the terminal. They could tell his speed and angle. Just by looking and trying to figure it out himself, he’d never be able to do these things.
The pilot flew.... by faith.
The Lord says to Habakkuk – I want you to put faith in me.
The rest of chapter two faces the issue of injustice and evil head-on. The Lord tells Habakkuk that’s He’s not lost control. The reins of the Cosmos have not slipped out of His holy hands. He’s still on course.
You may not understand it, Habakkuk.
You may not see the full picture.
You’ll have to trust me on this one.
And so the call comes to us, too, believers.
As we shake our hands in bewilderment at the scope of injustice and atrocity that we witness far too regularly.
Have faith that God still is in control.
That His sovereignty remains intact.
That the final word still belongs to Him.
Have faith as you consider the cross of Christ.
It is the great sign given to us that there IS something greater than injustice.
It is the victorious power of the God who loved us so much that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will NOT perish but have everlasting life.
Will NOT perish.
Evil and injustice will NOT have the final word over their lives!
Evil, the Devil, does NOT have the final word over Creation either!
For the saving power of Christ, the extent of His victory on the cross and through the empty tomb, not only saves individuals, but will in time restore all Creation. It will bring into being a new heaven and a new earth.
WILL annihilate Satan.
DOES bring hope to our lives, and to this world.
Because of the cross, where Christ defeated evil and death,
there is hope -
refreshing, bright, renewing, life-giving hope.
Which is how we are called to act -
As people who live with the cross at the centre of their lives, their faith, their hope and their love.
Called to live as people who bring refreshment, renewal, and life where others may willfully work for injustice, domination, and oppression.
Again and again in the pages of scripture God calls His people to watch out for, to care for, to help the poor, the widow, the orphan, little children.
Again and again and again and again and again......
Jesus himself laid claim to this mission –
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. (Luke 4)
Jesus - Coming to bring justice — to roll out righteousness.
A participant in a profession of faith class said it very well when the class was talking about what it means to be a church, to be that group of people known in the bible as “The Body of Christ.”
This participant said:
- “When we act, it is Jesus who is acting. When we speak, it is Christ who is speaking. When we serve, it is the Lord who is serving.”
So - even as our hearts ache for justice and mercy, what are our hands doing?
Let me offer just one small place to start.
Imagine with me three tables. (The reader of the sermon may want to actually set this up in church and refer to it) Table one has 72 cups, 72% of the world's population, representing what we sometimes call the third world. Another table, Table 2, represents Europe, Australia & the former USSR. 22 cups. 22% of the population. Table three represents us. North America. 6 cups. 6% of the world's population.
Then imagine three boxes of cereal. These three boxes represent all the world's basic resources, especially food. Now think about how it is distributed. (Or, watch how it is distributed.)
About one quarter of the cereal goes into the 72 cups.
Or (put about 25% in 72 cups;)
About one third of the cereal goes into the 22 cups
Or (put about 33% on 22 cups; )
And the rest, or 42%, goes in the six cups
Or, (put the rest in 6 cups)
In the Old Testament God gave a beautiful model, a paradigm for how He wanted communities to live. It was found in the ancient people of Israel as they journeyed through the desert living on manna, the bread sent from heaven. God instructed them to take what they needed. Those who needed more, who had more dependents, could take more. Those who needed less were to take less. If anyone took too much manna and tried to stash it away, the stuff began to rot and stink.
Folks, there is an awful lot of stinking manna in North America!!
In this world, every 60 seconds, 30 people die from hunger and related diseases. That's the equivalent of 300 jumbo jets crashing, without survivors, every single day.
UNICEF estimates that global giving of $25 billion per year could control the major childhood diseases, halve child malnutrition, reduce child deaths by 4 million a year, bring safe water and sanitation to all communities, provide a basic education for all children, and make family planning universally available.
To put that in perspective, $31 billion was spent last year on beer. $50 billion on cigarettes in Europe alone. $32 billion on toys and sporting goods.
How can we respond? As people who have been given SO incredibly much - physically, socially, spiritually -
As we live our lives before the face of God, how can we respond?
Let me offer a few suggestions:
1. Manage our lifestyle
Let's reign in our spending. How many of us don't fritter away a lot of our resources in insignificant ways? Perhaps budgeting carefully, or tracking what we spend can help us gain better control. Let's also evaluate our wants and needs. There is a real difference between “want” and “need.” Which runs our lives?
2. Share The Wealth
Remember the slogan: "Think global. Act local."
We can share the wealth here in our community. That's why we have regular food drives and diaconal offerings. Thank God for those privileges!
On a wider level we can give to Christian Reformed World Relief - today we are helping 100,000 families with 300,000 children conquer hunger & poverty! You giving supports Christian community development projects in more than 30 countries world wide. Thank you so very much!!
3. Lend A Hand
Consider getting involved as a:
- volunteer at a food bank or a soup kitchens or a local Mission
- short-term volunteer work with CRWRC
-WARNING: this could prove to be life-changing. One person who was a chronic complainer, dissatisfied with just about every area of his life began to help out in local welfare hotel with a church drop-in centre, giving caring attention and a listening ear to those that society ignored. Quickly, the satisfaction factor in his life went way up and complaining way down.
Another gentleman, a marginal church goer, went overseas for a short-term stint with CRWRC and came back a changed man. He was talking much more freely about his faith; more generous; happy and helpful.
And don’t forget to pray for justice.
Don’t forget to contact your elected representatives in government and make your views known to them.
Do these things in the name of, and as a representative of the One who won eternal life and freedom for you.
Remember these words from the Bible, James 1:
"Anyone who sets himself up as religious by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world." (Jas 1.27)
We who have lived in our affluent, capitalistically-driven society for any number of years can't help but become affected by it. It begins to influence the way we look at life- at others, at ourselves.
May the Lord heal us from that. May He give us eyes to really see; to see our neighbourhood, our nation, and our world through the lenses of faith; to see our world biblically, as God would see it --
-- and to act accordingly!
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Use hymns that are fitting and known in your home congregation.
Those suggested here come from the Maranatha! Praise (3rd ed) - MP
Psalter Hymnal - PH
Sing! A New Creation - SNC
The service is structured in four main movements, from gathering the community to heading out in service.
GATHERING IN WORSHIP
Liturgist: The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ the love of God the Father and the shalom of the Holy Spirit be with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
Liturgist: Come, let us worship the Lord.
Congregation: We lift our hearts to the Rock of our salvation!
Hymns: “Hosanna”-MP163, “I Will Call Upon The Lord”-MP 180
Communal Scripture Reading - Psalm 147 (alternate verses between liturgist and congregation)
Hymn: “Let All Things Now Living”-PH 453
Communal Statement Of Faith - Nicene Creed
Hymn: “Lord, I Lift Your Name On High”-SNC 157
GROWING IN GOD’S WORD
Prayer For Illumination
Scripture: Habakkuk 2:1-20
Sermon:In The Face Of Injustice
Hymn: “Bring Forth The Kingdom”-SNC 123
Prayer Of Intercession
Hymn: “There Is A Redeemer”-SNC 145
LEAVING INTO GOD’S SERVICE
Prayer Of Dedication (recited by all)
All: Grant, we pray you,
that what we have heard
with our outer ears and eyes
may, through your grace
be so grafted in our hearts
that they will bring out in us
the fruit of good living
to the honour and praise of your name,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. (a 5th century prayer)
Parting Blessing - from Ephesians 3:16-17, 20-21
May God our Heavenly Father strengthen us out of his glorious riches with power in our inner being,
That Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.
And may we be so rooted and established in His love
and effective in Holy Spirit-directed service
that to Him would be all the glory in our lives
Now and forever.
Hymn: “We Will Glorify” - SNC 21
Leader: The peace of the Lord Jesus go with you.
Congregation: And also with you.
(Congregation is then invited to leave, extending a hand to each other and passing the peace of Christ.)