Sunday, October 3, 2010


Habakkuk 1:1–4; 2:1–4
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
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.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous —
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

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

2 Timothy 1:1-14
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God — whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did — when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Luke 17:1-10
Jesus said to his disciples, "Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive."

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" 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.

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? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

A Message from the Pastor
As we follow Jesus during his earthly ministry, we remember the author’s comment about Jesus setting his face to Jerusalem and then beginning his journey from Capernaum in Galilee, through Samaria, and then wending his way toward Jerusalem. We have heard many of Jesus’ comments, his parables, and his admonition to people along the way. They are challenging, thought-provoking, and many times bring into question whether or not we can follow Jesus when we hear Jesus talking to us.

Here is some of what we have read. Jesus told the rich man to sell all that he had and follow him. As Jesus was eating with Pharisees, his feet were washed by a woman’s tears and dried with her hair. We believe she was a prostitute. At that dinner, Jesus told those present that he came for the lost. In another dinner meeting with the Pharisees, he suggested they humble themselves by going to the end of the table. Furthermore, he said that we should invite those who can’t repay us – the poor, the lame, and the crippled – those on the margin of society. He told the parable of the Prodigal Son and demonstrated the need for forgiveness. He told the confusing parable of the dishonest manager who used forgiveness to shrewdly take care of himself. And, just before the gospel for the day, he told us of the rich man and Lazarus, instructing us to use whatever wealth we have to serve those in need. Jesus gave us tough instructions if we wanted to be his disciples.

What we read today seems like a group of sayings of Jesus that were inserted because the writer couldn’t find another place to write them down. However, they do have sequential meaning as we read the story of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Luke. Jesus reminded the disciples to beware of letting others stumble because of us. He then provided more instructions on forgiveness when he said we must always forgive those who repent, no matter how often they have sinned.

With all that Jesus said before, and now what he said today, the apostles can do no more than ask Jesus to increase their faith. It is as if they could do what he said by gaining a greater quantity of faith.

Jesus answered, I believe, with a tongue-in cheek response. When you understand the phraseology of the Greek, you would have heard Jesus say, “If you had the faith of a mustard seed, and I know you do, then you can plant this mulberry bush, which has roots sixty feet deep, in the sea, and I know you can’t. I believe he is reminding them that faith is about quality and not quantity. He is saying that through faith, we do what we do in our daily human journey, not asking for accolades or praise. We do what we do because of our faith.

So what is faith, anyway? The best definition of faith I have found is from Hebrews, chapter eleven, beginning with verse one. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Let us return to the first reading to find ourselves an example.

Now, I would not be surprised if many of you could not pronounce Habakkuk. Furthermore, many may not even have heard of his name before today. He was a prophet who lived around 600 B.C. He lived after the Assyrians completely destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel, sending the people to other lands and bringing other people into the territory so that the ten tribes could not be indentified. He lived just before the Babylonians, who had defeated the Assyrians, conquered the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Babylonians were building their war machine to the north. The Egyptians were building their armies to the south. In between was this small nation of Judah.

Habakkuk cried out for help to God but Habakkuk felt like God was not listening. He saw the violence and yet couldn’t understand why God would not save the people. Furthermore, he noticed the injustice in his nation of Judah. The rich were taking advantage of the poor. The rich were using the poor to their own advantage. Habakkuk cried out that the law was slack and injustice prevailed. He wanted to hear from God.

God initially answered him in the section of Habakkuk’s writing that we did not read. God told him what would happen to Judah, how it would be destroyed and the people carried off to Babylon. However, here is what was amazing. Habakkuk did not falter. He did not continue to cry out in despair. He said, metaphorically, that he would go to the watchtower and wait to hear what God had to say. He believed in God.

God did answer. God did say he had a vision. God said that vision was for the end times. He told Habakkuk that even if the vision tarried, he was to wait. There is a suggestion that he might not see the vision in his lifetime. Then, God had the critical comment, “The righteous live by their faith.” In other words, God said to Habakkuk that righteousness is not a matter of doing good, nor a matter of high morals. Righteousness is not what we do; it is relational. Righteousness is to have a personal relationship with God. The righteous, in that relationship with God, live by their faith. That faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

After God’s comments, Habakkuk said that he would continue to put his trust in God, no matter what terrible things occurred and that he experienced.

When we consider today’s second reading we again find an issue of faith. The writer talked to Timothy. Timothy was a bishop of the early church. It appears that Timothy was having a struggle. It could have been a faith issue. It could have been persecution. It could have been other sufferings. We don’t know. We do know that the writer reminded Timothy of his faith. He reminded him of his grandmother’s, Lois, faith and that of his mother Eunice. He reminded Timothy of the blessings he received when the writer laid his hands upon him. He noted that God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. It is through faith, no matter what the circumstances, that we will endure. Again, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Well, we all have been in that place where we cry out to God wondering if God hears us. There are people in this holy space who suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally. There are those of us who have had relational struggles, economic challenges, and other concerns. Furthermore, we know of local issues affecting education and the poor. Nationally, we recognize that our nation is polarized and the economy is weak. Worldwide there is terrorism. Just yesterday we heard that our government has issued a concern to Americans in Europe that they must be vigilant because of the potential for experiencing terrorism. We could easily say, “God, I cry out to you, why won’t you listen?”

Our struggles are all around us. We need to recall the story of Habakkuk and the struggles of Timothy, remembering how they lived by faith each day. We hear God say that the righteous live by faith. We live being assured of the things hope for, the conviction of things not seen.

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