November 11, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Habakkuk 1:12-2:4, 9-14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Yesterday at the men’s Bible study we spent our hour discussing the Lord’s Prayer, what it means, how to live by it and make it our prayer so our lives reflect it. There’s a short phrase in the prayer that I don’t think we spend nearly enough time thinking about, that challenges our worldview, our internal perspective, and how we approach the world.
It is the phrase “thy kingdom come.” This of course is twofold – in one very real sense the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven has already come with inauguration of the Church. The whole Body of Christ is the kingdom, living, breathing, and seeking to do God’s will. The Church has become a witness for Christ around the world, a city on the hill whose light burns brightly, a place of refuge for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lost, and the wounded. She is there to bring hope to the hopeless.
In one very real sense the Church is the kingdom of heaven on earth. But, it is still made up of broken and sinful people and so hurt persists. Yes, we love Jesus, yes we strive to do the will of God, but because we have not yet been made perfect by the grace of God, we fall and fail and hurt each other, and so the prayer “thy kingdom come” refers not simply to the expansion of the Church throughout the world, but to the aching of the coming of the kingdom of God for all of eternity. To the making of all things right, to the re-creation of the new heaven and the new earth.
So this is the bigger question – do we long for the return of Christ that his kingdom might become fulfilled? Do we earnestly pray for the kingdom? Or is that just a phrase in a prayer that we memorized long ago?
To pray for the return of the kingdom of Heaven can be a hard thing if we are clinging too tightly to this life, it can be a hard thing for our hearts have been corrupted by our sin, it can be a hard thing if our eyes are focused too intently on living the life, if we are searching and aching for our best life now.
Friends, we will not have our best life today, no we will not have the best life possible until the kingdom comes, which is the first of many reasons why we should long for the coming of the kingdom. We know too well the hurts, and pains, the aches, and the struggles we’ve faced in this life. So the joys, the laughter, the fellowship and the love that we experience now, in the kingdom of the church, in our loving relationships, with our friends, with our spouse are but a taste of the joys, the laughter, the fellowship, and the love that we will experience when Christ returns and we finally experience the new heaven and the new earth. When we finally experience the kingdom of Heaven.
In the kingdom of heaven we will be freed from the curse – the brokenness and death of the body and soul, we will be freed and healed from the pains and heartache of this world, and we will be able to enjoy the fullness of life in Christ – we will be able to once again walk with God in the paradise, temple garden. We will know what it is to live in perfect fellowship with Him who created us. Friends, how good is that?
But, here’s the greater reason – another, I think more significant reason that we should long for the kingdom of God to come, that when we pray the Lord’s prayer “Thy kingdom come,” we should earnestly mean it, and long for it.
The world is full of injustice. Even in a safe, secure, and relatively healthy country such as ours, we know this. We need to only watch the news, or talk to friends to hear of examples of injustice. We know that the most vulnerable are taken advantage of. So, the longing for the kingdom is not a cop out from us pursuing justice, but it is a recognition that eventually, one day all will be made right.
Let us now seek to understand this tension. When one has been hurt – unjustly brought low, we are there for them, we seek healing, and we cry out for justice. But it should also cause our hearts to ache, cause our minds to ponder – how long O Lord will this injustice persist? How long will you let your children suffer? This is another example of a both/and situation. We cry out for both, we long for both that justice would be served now, but that the time of God’s perfect justice and mercy, perfect redemption and freedom would come.
We live in this tension – of already Christ has come to set us free from our sins, already are we beloved and rich in His mercy and goodness, already, do we know God intimately, but not yet, the kingdom has not yet come, we have not yet been made free, been made perfect, not yet, do we have the fullest and intimacy of fellowship with God. Already – but not yet.
Now, I want to make a practical note before I dive into the text – the struggle to live this life fully, while longing for the coming of the kingdom can be very hard. I heard something yesterday that helped me flesh this out a bit more. We live with open hands. Each and every gift that comes from God we take, we rejoice about, we become good stewards of them but we hold each gift with an open hands. Our relationships, our responsibilities, the task that are set before us are all gifts from God and the Lord giveth and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
With this in mind, someone said that we are managers of the gifts that we have been given, entrusted to do what is best, but that God can take them back at any time. I was thinking about that in-light of the celebrity culture within Christianity. I wonder how our lives would look, how the lives of famous Christians would look if we viewed our lives not as our own, but as gift’s from God. I wonder how the lives of Christian celebrities would look if they viewed that fame, not as their own, but as gifts from God? How would we be transformed if we lived as though our talents, our skills, all our possessions were simply that – gifts that we have on loan.
If we view life this way it will transform our mindset – let us, therefore, live with open hands, let us live as ones whose lives are on loan. Let us live with that longing for the coming of the kingdom.
Now, what has this to do with the little book of Habakkuk?
Habakkuk is one of twelve books included in a section of Scripture called “the minor prophets.” This book is a mere three chapters, but packs a heavy theological punch. We must remember after King David things went downhill in Israel, the nation bounced from one bad king to another, became divided and eventually in their sinfulness God sent the Babylonians as a judgement upon his people. It was not meant as a permanent judgment but a corrective one, one to call his people back to faithfulness.
It would seem that the coming of the Babylonians was imminent, though the fall of Jerusalem had not happened. The premise of this little book is a faithful man of God crying out to his Lord with two questions – first – how can the unjust, such as Babylon go unpunished. God and Habakkuk wrestle with his in the first chapter of the book, and then it shifts towards the end of the first chapter to the question of how God can use wicked people as tools of judgment and punishment upon those who are much less wicked.
This second question is where we pick up today. Now, there are two truths here that we need to understand. First – while it is very good to give thanks to God for the good gifts that he has given us. It is good to cultivate a heart that is grateful for all things, the rain and the sun, for it is unrealistic to expect that every day will be sunshine and roses. But we are also allowed to ask God questions, tell him when we struggle.
This does not mean that we are permitted to become grumblers, to be constantly unhappy either. No, we are a redeemed people, our hearts are being made new, we have as it is, much to be thankful for. But when life does crumble and fall, when life does seem hard – we have permission to cry out with Habakkuk “Are you from everlasting O Lord my God, my Holy One?” Like Habakkuk, we do this with the reverence that God deserves, we do this as finite creatures approaching an infinite God, but we are permitted to pray what is in our hearts, we are called to give the good, the bad, and the ugly to God, and called to let him sanctify it.
Secondly, we are reminded of God’s sovereignty in all things. Habakkuk is careful not to say “you’ve lost control God!” Rather, he affirms that God’s hand is in the coming judgment from Babylon. He recognizes that God is ordaining and orchestrating that. He writes “O Lord, you have ordained them as judgment.” His question isn’t therefore, “what in the world is going on?” Or “where are you God?” No, his question is “why them?”
In many ways we can ask God this same question on a much smaller scale – we see the success of others and wonder “why not me?” I notice this within myself when it comes to friends who have successes in ministry that I haven’t had. I see this with friends who are getting married and having kids, while I feel lonely, and if I do not check my heart, I can wonder “why not me?” But, I also know these same friends have wondered the same thing about the gifts I’ve been given.
I have so much to be thankful for, I know that I would not trade my life for anything, I know that God is my sovereign king and Lord. I know that he can use even most darkest sin and greatest virtue, and dumbest mistake and hardest work, my deepest heartache and highest joy, my strongest disappointment and my sanctified goals to His glory. I know he has brought me to a good place, and what glory that is! I know all this – and if we are honest with ourselves we each know all this, whatever our struggles and joys are – but, if we do not take care, it is easy to think that life is greener on the other side of the fence and wonder what God in his sovereignty is doing.
It is even more tempting to wonder why the unjust can flourish, to wonder why someone who is known for shady business dealings can get away with so much. This latter thought, is the question Habakkuk wrestles with on a much larger scale. We do not have a massive nation rolling down upon us, rolling down to act as God’s chosen judgment, but we do see injustice and wonder “how long O Lord, how long?
For Habakkuk, it seems to him that the good and perfect God of the universe is idly watching this happen, he writes “you who are of purer eyes than to see evil, and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors, and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?”
Though Habakkuk recognizes the moral failures of Israel – he sees how much more wicked Babylon is, and they were.
He uses a metaphor of fish and a net. He compares Babylon with that of a fisherman who scoops up his fish with a net, who collects his prey with ease. But this fisherman worships the means of victory over the fish. The charge Habakkuk lays against Babylon is twofold – they do not trust the sovereign Lord of the universe, and they trust the means of their victory, not the creator.
There are two things to remember here – first we are not called to trust in anything except God. We must hit this point again and again, because our hearts are fickle. It is easy to be given to trusting ourselves and the things we’ve been given. No, we will trust the Lord. Secondly – it reminds us of how horribly ugly idolatry is. For it worships the created not the creator. It ramps up lust until we want more and more and more, and there is not enough to satisfy ourselves.
So Habakkuk cries out “Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?” In other words, how long O Lord? How long?
Habakkuk then says “I will take my stand at my watch post .. and look out to see what he will say to me.” In other words, having now expressed his hearts woe and pain – Habakkuk waits for God to respond, he waits to hear from the Lord.
Being quiet in our own pain is often the hardest thing. We want an answer now. We want to know, and if we can’t know we want to run around and fix something, because at least we’ll be doing something! But sometime we need to sit, be quiet and do nothing. Sometimes, waiting on the Lord is all we can or should do.
And the Lord answered him.
God affirms Habakkuk’s observation about Babylon, responding “His soul (that is Babylon’s soul) is puffed up, it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”
We are reminded again and again today – live for God, live by faith, live for the things of eternity. If we are not living for eternity it is far too easy to become puffed up, to aggrandize oneself. Earlier this week I was reading something and this idea of self-aggrandization came up – the author was basically saying that we all desire to be little gods. That as a result of the fall, our hearts want to be gods of our own little kingdom to do as we please.
However, if we are to live by faith, if we are to live for the kingdom of Heaven, then we live humbly, we live as ones who are under authority. We live – not to our glory but the glory of the kingdom of heaven, we live to the glory of God. So live not for your own glory, not as your own god, but live as one who serves the sovereign and good Lord, live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
Now we turn to the last section of our lesson. One commentary calls this section the “taunting woes” – in our reading today we meet two different kinds of people whom Habakkuk is addressing: “the plotter,” and “the promotor of violence.” Now Habakkuk lists more than these two– but, alas, we haven’t the time to go into an entire treatise on the book of Habakkuk as interesting as that might be.
The two antagonists in the narrative certainly must sound familiar – I suspect – if we’ve lived longer than the blink of an eye we’ve met plotters, and promotors of violence. I also suspect that we’ve all struggled with being a plotter or a promotor of violence from time to time as well.
The point of Habakkuk isn’t to simply warn against bad behavior – though I think we certainly want to check ourselves – the point is to say – these sins – they will not persist. These sinful people, without repentance, will be put to rest.
We have already talked about the great tension in the Christian walk is to find contentment with what the Lord has blessed you with in the here and now – but still look forward to his coming. This past summer we finished up a study working through the Revelation to St. John. If you think injustice will persist – woo – take a read through Revelation again. It will not. Christ is coming. Our hearts ache for that day. We long for the day when we don’t have to cry with one another over the wickedness done to those whom we love, when we don’t have to offer friends our sleeves because the world is so broken, and when that which our heart longs for is completed. But in the interim, it can seem hard.
Now – to Habakkuk’s antagonists – the plotter. The plotter is one who sought gain through unjust means. Nowhere in scripture does it say that gain is evil or wicked. No, if you work hard, and do well, glory to God. But if you are slothful and you plot how you can get more, how you can rob from your neighbor, how you can take advantage of the meek – woe to you!
The King James puts his crime in a rather graphic way – the plotter has sinned against his soul! The ESV says that this person has forfeited his life. For those who unjustly seek to aggrandize themselves – all that they have will testify against them.
The promotor of violence – again and again in scripture violence begets violence. For those who live violently their end will often be violent. Christ goes further to describe hatred of a brother as the same act of murdering your brother. In the New Testament ethic – hatred is violence. It is easy to hate those who hate you, it easy to allow your heart to become bitter towards them.
We as Christ followers are called to love well, not to hate, not even our enemies and certainly not our brothers and sisters in Christ. No we are called to love all and pray for all, to forgive, and to care.
So we flee actual violent life styles, but we also flee the mentally violent life style as well. Those that live in violence will die by violence, will be eaten up.
Habakkuk goes on to describe four more who will be judged that we didn’t read about today. However, as does this he grows increasingly more hopeful. Our reading this morning ends with the following phrase “for the earth will be filed with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the seas.”
Though today may seem a struggle, though we may cry out with Habakkuk we are reminded of the coming of Christ, we are reminded of that day when we will dwell perfectly with the Lord. Throughout scripture, we have this eschatological promise of the coming glory of God. So we do not lose heart, but persevere. We long for that coming, we hope for it and pray for it. And what of the mean time?
This morning, our call to worship came from five verses later in Habakkuk – “the Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him” was proclaimed as we started our worship. This is our posture for the meantime, we are reminded that God is sovereign, that God reigns, that God is good.
There is a little conjunction that the prayer book leaves out but is found in scripture, the actual verse reads “BUT the Lord is in his holy temple.” That is to say – despite all this – despite all Habakkuk’s complaints, despite our doubts and fears, despite the aches of our bodies, and the longing of our souls, despite the injustice we see, the Lord is in his Holy temple, let us come before him in awe and reverence.
Let us, therefore, dear brothers and sisters, live as ones who know our king is on his throne, let us live as one who have reverence for God, let us live as ones who long for the coming of the kingdom, let us live every day to the glory of God, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, remembering the He was, and is and always will be enthroned in His holy temple. Alleluia and amen.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. (Mt. 6:19-20)