A Homily for Epiphany V
February 10, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Habakkuk 1:12-2:4, 9-14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sigh, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning our Old Testament Lesson is taken from a tiny book called the Book of the Prophet Habakkuk. The only other time in the year that we see this book pop up in the lectionary is when the same lesson is used on the Third Sunday Before Advent, and that is simply because the propers for Epiphany 5 have often been used for the 3rd Sunday before Advent. So as it stands, we could easily forget this little prophet, if we were not attentive to reading the whole Bible as the word of God.
When we read from the Prophets, or even some of the Psalms or histories, it is helpful to know what is going on. Not because it allows us to shrug and think “well, that doesn’t apply to me,” but because it shows us what truth the author is speaking into his culture, and all too often we can see similarities in our, and it gives us context for how to apply it.
A perfect example of needing context in order to better understand a part of scripture is Psalm 137 – which ends with horrific imagery of the author crying out that evil would befall his enemies children. If we did not know that Psalm 137 is written against the backdrop of the recent horrors of the Babylonian exile we might make the mistake of thinking that God condones infanticide. He does not. Instead, with that information we can see this Psalm as a psalm sung out in profound pain, we can see the heartache expressed in the Psalm for what it is, a longing and a calling out, when the darkness of life becomes so overwhelming that it feels as though there is no hope. Yet – even the darkness of this Psalm gives us hope, because we know, for the Psalmist shows us, that even in our darkest of days, even in the days when it feels as though there is no hope that God will still hear our prayers – he is still there – he hears the aching of our heart. He hears us even when the only thing we can do is cry out in anger and anxiety.
Habakkuk is no different – in fact there are a lot of similarities between Habakkuk and Psalm 137, except that it is written shortly before the Babylonian exile, somewhere around the 7th century BC. The Babylonian exile happened shortly after around 586. So, you could say the “writing was already on the wall” that it would occur. Like Psalm 137 the book of Habakkuk is a lament. Yet, the biggest concern for Habakkuk isn’t that it looks as though the southern kingdom of Judah, and Jerusalem will fall but that Judah has wandered so far from the precepts set by God, that wickedness is the way of the land.
This book is less a prophecy in the sense that it is a call to God’s people to come back to the covenant and more a lament for how far God’s people have wandered. The book starts by calling out to God and lamenting the evilness that persists in the land. God’s response is not an exhortation away from fear, nor is it a promise that the people will repent, so just go and preach to them, but God responds that he will send a force to take them from the Land. This is the Babylonians. Of course, to the Jewish prophet this is appalling, how could God all such a wicked nation to come and rule over us? This cry is where we join our prophet this morning.
The second section of his lament, or as the ESV titles it “complaint” starts not with telling God he is being unjust, or making a mistake but affirming God’s sovereignty. From Habakkuk we learn that God is: Holy, that He ordains judgements, that He is firm, he is pure, and he cannot look at wrong or remain silent in the face of wickedness. So, let us take a moment to unpack this, because it is important to understand who God is, so we can know Him more deeply, serve him more faithfully, and glorify Him in all things.
God’s holiness means that he is separate from sin, from wickedness, and from evil. Perhaps the best definition of sin and evil is the rebellion against God. Though we with all of humanity possess sinful natures, and we see wicked acts perpetrated by wicked people, God is the antithesis of this. He has no wickedness in him, rather His Holiness is the manifestation of pure goodness. Likewise, when God calls us to Holiness, God is calling us away from our sinful ways, and by putting on Christ and the endowment of the Holy Spirit we can pursue holiness. We will fall short, but the grace of Christ is sufficient for our failures. So it is that our pursuit of God is the pursuit of holiness, and the fleeing from sin.
Because of this holiness – God ordains judgement – for God cannot sit idly by while wickedness persists. As Christians we have a strong emphasis and focus on God’s mercy – and this is a good thing, for the mercy of God is why we are all here, we have acknowledge that we fall short of the glory of God, that we have rebelled against God, and that we have set ourselves up as our own gods, our own sovereigns, and yet, we have given our hearts and minds to the praise and worship of that same God, we have asked Christ to save us, and that the Holy Spirit would sanctify us. We are not Holy because we are good, we are Holy because God has called us and set us aside for His glory. We are Holy not by our own merit but because we serve a Holy God. Because of this grace we are called to testify to His goodness to the world.
Yet – God’s judgement is a part of His nature. We need only turn on the news, or even look over the events of our lives to see that there is evil and sin in the world. God will not sit idly by and allow sin to persist forever. The first thing that he did to satisfy His judgement was send Christ into the world to redeem sinners like you and me. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was a manifestation not only of God’s mercy, but also His justice, and holiness. Christ’s death on the cross was a replacement for our spiritual death, Christ died for our sins and in His resurrection, we too are resurrected to new life. Christ’s death – is the ultimate mingling of God’s mercy and justice.
But, let us go even deeper into God’s justice. When it seems that the world around us is failing to give us the justice that we so long for, we can take comfort in knowing that God is just. Last week we talked about being politically involved, how it is a good thing, so long as our political involvement is done with our allegiance to our heavily home, and done in such a way that God is glorified. To follow this up – when we fail, when we see a political system allow for incredible evil to persist – we know that on judgement day that those who perpetuated evil, and remained unrepentant – will have to answer for their crimes. So as much as we flee the evil, and speak out against it – we also have comfort to know that if evil persists for a day, if it seems as though Evil has won that day – God still reigns, and God will have the last word.
Habakkuk tells us that the Lord is firm – the Lord is not wishy-washy and changing at every whim. He is not fickle, but one of the great comforts is that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He will not call us to pursue Holiness today and evil tomorrow, he will not give us precepts to live by, and then say “ah, well, that was fun, but now here are some new precepts.” No, God’s precepts have stood the test of time, and they will never change.
The Lord is pure – the Lord cannot co-exist with evil. This my friends is why repentance is so important – for we must be turning away from our own wickedness. We know that we will sin, we know that we will fall short – that sin is running from God – and it is Christ’s mediation bridges that gap, but if we are satisfied with anything less than Christ, if we are satisfied with the ways of the world. If we do not flee this – how can we expect to reside with a pure and Holy God. So we repent, so we turn from our sin, this is why – every time we are gathered together and we hear those words “let us humbly confess our sins unto almighty God,” and we ask for help in this long process of sanctification – this long process of purification. For we long to one day reside with the holy, merciful, just, kind, and very good God who is our Lord and our redeemer.
Habakkuk’s words give us hope for the dark days we sometimes face – God cannot look at wrong or remain silent in the face of wickedness. The 20th century rocked many people’s faith. Such horrors our imagination could not conjure up came rolling in, in the form of Nazism, yet outside of that we saw communism wipe out around 110 million human beings. This number is incomprehensible to us, I think. Even in our life, we can probably think of some wickedness that personally affected us and wonder why it persisted? Why does that man who was spiritually abusive still have authority in the church? Why did that person who abused me have such a long and seemingly good life? Why are evil laws passed, while good laws mocked? Why did that person who was so clearly unethical get the promotion while I did what was good and right, and I was overlooked?
Whether on a large scale or a personal scale – we have seen darkness persist and it seems incomprehensible to us. Yet – God is not a God of darkness but of light. St. John’s prologue to His gospel makes this imminently clear. To fully answer this question – we must take an eschatological approach – we must recognize that we may not have an answer to this question for 5 or 10 years, or until we fall down in worship of our Lord and savior on that great last day. But on that day – all shall be made well. On that day every metaphorical mountain shall be made flat, and every valley filled – that is to say God’s faithful people will be brought into the recreated garden, into the perfect land of flowing milk and honey – that wickedness will finally be put away and we will experience God’s goodness and purity as we were designed to.
So take heart dear friends – take heart when you see injustice – yes! Speak out against it, but if your words fall on deaf ears – do not be discouraged – do not be sorrowful but continue to pursue our God for He is good – and he will not allow wickedness to persist for ever.
Before we continue with our prophet this morning – I want to pause and give a pastoral thought. One of the things as Christians that we want to do is move from anger – whether it be righteous or not, and to mercy. For God has shown us an incredible mercy. It is helpful for me to think and remember that if God can be merciful to a sinner such as me then His mercy is sufficient for the person who has hurt me the most. His mercy can heal even the darkest of hearts.
So, I think it is helpful to pray for those who have hurt us the most. Pray that they would know the joy that we have in the mercy of God, pray that they would repent from their wickedness, pray that God would help us to forgive them. C.S. Lewis writes about praying for the heart to forgive someone for 20 years – and suddenly one morning he realized he had. I’ve experienced a similar thing – where from time to time I find I need to pray to forgive a person who wounded me deeply – but even now, it’s much less than every day and more once or twice a month. For me it took two or three years to go from pretending everything was fine, to recognizing my own hatred for the person, to repenting from that anger, to genuinely praying for him, to the point now where I want to see him repent, I want to see him turn away from his wickedness, because I see it for what it is.
This is a hard thing I am asking you to do, but I think it is good for your soul. For the devil wants our hearts to be hard – but the grace of God softens them. If God can redeem a sinner like me, he can redeem you, and he can redeem our worst enemies. So, although we know that those who are unrepentant, those that cling to their wickedness will face the judgement, I do not think we should delight in that – but rather pray that they too will find the forgiveness that we enjoy.
Now, back to our dear prophet. At the beginning of the second chapter – Habakkuk proclaims that he will stand at his watch post and look out to see what he will say, that is Habakkuk will wait patiently, wait dutifully to hear God’s response. We are often prone to want an answer immediately – we are prone to call out to God, and when nothing happens grow despondent. But by his example Habakkuk calls us to wait on God, we are called to know that he will answer, but sometimes the timing of his answer is slower than we would like. So wait dear friends, wait until God moves, know that he will answer your lament, for he is not a cold and distance God but he is mighty and imminent, he is holy and yet near.
Continuing into chapter two we get the comparison between the proud and the faithful “behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by faith.” One of the definitions of the first sin with Adam and Eve that I particularly like, because I find it so helpful is that their rebellion against God, stemmed from a desire to be their own gods. This reiterates that. For pride says “I can do this on my own, I don’t need God,” yet God calls us to faithfulness.
As Christians we are called to be fully dependent upon God, through faith in Christ, by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. So, we are to live by faith, for we cannot always see what God is doing. We cannot always perceive what his will is, but we do know Him and we know Him intimately, so do not be puffed up, but live by humble faith, in the presence of our good and living God.
Our reading ends with two woes and a point of hope – woes, if you couldn’t tell from the reading are severe warnings against some wickedness. Today Habakkuk warns us against two very specific things – gaining by performing evil acts and building comfort and security by shedding blood of the innocent.
We must strive to live in a just manner, strive to live in a way that glorifies God. So often there is an easy way that is unjust – there is a way that tramples others for our own gain, but Habakkuk provides us with a stern warning – that the ease of this will not end well for us. So we are called to live to a higher standard.
Our reading this morning ends with a note of hope “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as waters cover the seas.” What a beautiful reminder of the eternity that we look forward to!
In the temple period the glory of the resided in the Holy of Holies – and in Ezekiel we see this chariot leaving Jerusalem – the description of it is wild, filled with colors vibrant. This is the glory of the Lord departing from the presence of the temple. It is a judgement on God’s people who have forgotten him. Ezekiel describes the fall of Jerusalem, but promises that God’s glory will be restored to them.
Habakkuk is describing a similar time period as Ezekiel when a small portion of the glory of the Lord has departed, but then he makes this amazing promise – the knowledge God’s glory will fill not only this small section of the temple but the whole earth! This is the promise of Revelation as well. That one day – there will be a city of God in which his people will be invited to reside!
We are in the beginning phase of God’s glory being seen through out the earth, the kingdom of heaven is being established, around the world, in underground churches in Saudi Arabia, in out door churches in Africa, in hovels that barely resemble buildings in Central America, in glorious cathedrals in England, and in our humble church here in Prescott and dozens of others around town, faithful members of the kingdom of heaven are gathering together to hear and sing of God’s glory. So, we with all of them look to the day when God’s glory will be fully manifest, we look forward to the day when we see his glory covering the earth like water does the sea.
It is our final hope that we will bask in this glory – that we, knowing the sinful way we’ve left behind, will rejoice to be in the eternal service of the good and holy Lord, the pure Lord who cannot do wickedness nor reside in it. It is this hope that we will know what it is to sing and rejoice for the goodness of God, and so let us give our hearts and minds to that task every day from now, until when the kingdom comes. Glory to God in the highest.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.