Sermon: Pentecost 17

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-10; 2 Tim 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

The reading from Habakkuk is so right for the times we live in, isn’t it? Perhaps you disagree with that statement, but if I apply what Habakkuk saw to what I see happening around today then the Earth is full of what Habakkuk laments. Our focus, if we’re not careful, will be on what is going on around us.

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?

Strife and greed and violence are all around. Most recently the radicalised Muslim in France who killed at least four in just seven minutes.

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.

We have our worries about the government of this country and wonder how the prime minister can stay in power with all that has been said and done.

So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

The twisting of the facts, the falsifying of the truth, the distortion of what’s really going on. The continual evolution of news. The split second it takes to judge based on nothing more than a twisted fact allows some to walk free while others languish due to conflicting orders from on high.

The reading from Habakkuk today is in two parts. Firstly, we have part of the lament. Where, we assume it is Habakkuk, is depressed, downcast, sorrowful, beating himself up. He’s going about in a grump. 

Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.

Time and time again the phrase ‘do not fret’ comes up in the psalm. Do not mither. Or store up complaints. Or get depressed over things which we cannot change. 

We have the news at our fingertips and available through different media and it can be so easy to become absorbed into always needing the news that it becomes our focus. It seems as though we can do nothing but fret over the words and images that are constantly fed to us. But we’re told starkly, that fretting leads to evil. How stark a statement. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.

On the one hand, there is a need to know what is going on in the world so that we can pray about it, and into those situations. But we don’t need to be bombarded with it 24/7. We’re told that nothing good comes of that. 

Wrongdoers will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.

Our focus, we’re told should be on the Lord. And the psalmist doesn’t stop there, but goes on to say what the consequence is of the action:

Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday. Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;

The focus of the psalmist is on the Lord. And in chapter two, which is the second part of our reading from Habakkuk, we find the same:

I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what the Lord will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

Actively changing one’s focus moves one from a place of inward despondency to one of positive outcome. I will stand I will keep watch… these actions do not allow for fretting. Any intention for evil has gone, to be replaced eventually by trust and delight

This sounds like a really hard call, doesn’t it? One that is quite possibly naïve, after all, we cannot go about our business as if God’s got it all in hand and all we need to do go on the way we have done, for hundreds of years, using up the resources God has given us. One could say that it’s mindless, reckless and destructive. Which, of course, it is.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land.

Once again, the psalmist, like Habakkuk is asking us to change our focus from the negatives of life to the positives. He’s not asking us to stop thinking about the destruction or violence, but he is asking us to refrain from anger and forsake wrath and delight themselves in abundant prosperity. 

If we do this, we stop the inherently destructive cycle of destroying one another. We step outside of the circle of vengeance and our heads will clear, and our minds and bodies will relax, and we can begin to focus anew on the abundant life around us. I’m not talking about a prosperity gospel, nor would I endorse such a thing, but the prosperity here comes from giving up the anger, the wrath, the lashing out, the keeping score.

But how do we do this?The apostles even said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord says all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed. The mustard he talks about in Luke’s gospel is not the mustard we’re used to. It’s a weed and once it’s in a farmer’s field he can’t get rid of it. It’s like having couchgrass. The seeds are infinitesimally small, and the Lord is likening the amount of faith we need to something we can hardly see with our own eyes.

The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

He’s saying that we just need to believe. But of course, the era of enlightenment has done its work. We can no longer just believe, because we have been taught to think logically and rationally. It’s been embedded in our psyche through our culture and our education system. As has the culture of expecting food to land on our dinner plates without any thought as to where it has come from and who has slavishly worked in a manner most of us would find demeaning.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 

Who would turn around to the person who worked so hard to ensure the leaves of salad one finds in a packet are crisp and fresh and say, come to my table – eat with me? 

Throughout our readings today we see the anxiety and worry and anger that comes of not keeping our eyes on God. We see the expectations that come when we walk in the ways of the world – vengeance, hurt, strife. We’re asked to do something different. To stop walking in that circle of continual destruction – not just of the Earth, but of one another – the continual judgements and slander.

We’re asked by Jesus to uphold the downtrodden, the poor, the weak. We’re asked to free the captive and the slave. 

Trust in the Lord and do good; He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday. That justice is what we would ask for in God’s name. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.

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