“Faith as a Way of Life”
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, December 2nd, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
First Sunday of Advent, Light the first Advent candle – Hope, Communion Sunday
“Hear now these ancient words from the writings of the prophet Habakkuk concerning living with faith.”
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
1:1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. 2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous – therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
2:1 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. 2 Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3 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. 4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
“Having heard these prophetic words with our ears let us now open our hearts as we seek to grasp their meaning in a modern time.”
“Faith as a Way of Life”
Faith is a precious and available gift; all you need to do is ask for it and believe in the God whom offers it; then nourish it, practice it, and cherish it! Easy words to say; easy instructions too; yet, very difficult to grasp when there seems to be little or no hope! This is what the prophet Habakkuk was working with. The people he ministered to where filled with hopelessness. Habakkuk, in his prophetic voice was trying to speak for and to the people of God. His words still speak to us in our present time.
There are plenty of situations, events and circumstances which do leave many people feeling hopeless! The homeless, the missing and the families of the deceased victims of fires in California; and now the pending mudslides yet to come. Refugees fleeing their homelands now stuck in that lonely in-between place… with little hope, and uncertainty in their future. Loved ones suffering due to cancer, heart problems and a long list of other life-threatening issues. Some have lost a loved one and still feel the pain, the loss of losing their beloved from their lives. Others have lost a job or their home, and they now feel the isolation and loneliness of being left behind while it seems that everyone else is doing ok. Yes, I think we all understand what it means to feel that hope has failed us.
Faith, of course is something we Christians discuss a great deal. Pastors, Priests and Rabbis all speak of and preach about it. Jesus often spoke of faith, especially when speaking to people whom he had helped, those whom he had healed of something that afflicted them. He is often quoted as saying: “your faith has made you well.” I can find no reference to Jesus being quoted as saying someone was healed because of what he did; although most of us believe this to be so. Yet, faith seems to be in the mix of things frequently when we hear of the mystical healings through Christ. There are numerous miracles, healings, of which different people have told me about over the years. Many of them are astonishing and even unbelievable. Yet, what I have found utterly amazing, as I have listened to others speak of these miraculous events, is their undying belief and faith that it did happen! Who am I to say it didn’t! I must confess, I have been in-between the power of God’s healing Spirit and that of the recipient a few times. No, I did nothing other than pray or bless someone on these occasions. Yet, the unbelievable has happened in my presence. I have no excuse for not having faith.
Once we have accepted God into our lives and have come to believe in the overpowering Love of God, it becomes our responsibility to nourish that faith and cherish it in our lives like no other possession we have! Then, as our journeys continue, we will find life events can diminish or bolster our faith. Making it weaker or stronger as we journey along the pathway of life. This is what makes it so important that we belong to a community such as ours ‘to build up our faith’ through the fellowship of others or be the one whom offers their faith to strengthen someone else. It is a two-way street. As a faith community it is our responsibility to share our faith with others and especially to others in need. As a result, we serve meals at the ‘Daily Bread soup kitchen. For that reason, we have the ‘Angel Tree’ as we try to offer kindness through our generosity at Christmas. Therefore, we also have a Shepherd’s fund… to help others!
A contributor to a commentary series which I read, remarks: “Faithfulness to God is the willingness to choose to live life a certain way under God, even when the “vision” may be far off in the future, and the present circumstances are bleak and barren.” /Dennis Bratcher/ We are being told that we need to keep the faith even when all seems lost. Examples of this are all around us. Consider the tireless resolve in getting the mortgage paid off, having faith and persevering even after the first deal fell through, a few years back. Ironic isn’t it? The deal that fell through was less than half as beneficial to the financial stability of this institution. Interesting to note; then when things seemed to be their bleakest, it was in fact a resetting of opportunities. Through the faithful determination of all those involved in the process a meaningful conclusion came to be. At one point in time, such an ending would have seemed impossible. Perhaps it was a miracle after all!
Listen again to what the prophet has written. “For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie.” /Habakkuk 2:1a/ Waiting for the miracle is the hard part. “Wait for it; it will surely come.” “If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” /Habakkuk 2:1b/ Worthy of repeating. Of course, there are many things which do not seem to go our way; at least when we want them to. How many of us have told a friend, or a friend told us, not to worry? But they, or we… worry none the less. The timing of things is frequently outside our control and influence. Perhaps we have lost sight of God’s vision.
There was a time, the preceding years before I entered Seminary. It was the late 1980’s. That decade after the Vietnam War, which the United States lost, were turbulent economic years. I was working in the high-tech industry in sales and marketing. I was laid off three consecutive years in a row. From companies that were not supposed to fail, for they had been at the top: Tandon Disc Drives, Diablo Printers, Wang Laboratories, each had been at the top of their perspective markets, yet when the economy is in turmoil… nothing is sacred and for many… visions seemed to be shattered. By the year 1990 I was working for some small software company, it wasn’t ‘my cup of tea.’ I had been turned down for health insurance. Seems that they only wanted to insure people with zero health issues. The days of working for large high-tech firms with unlimited benefits including health insurance was over for many like myself. Then, out of nowhere, God gave me a new vision, that of being an Ordained Ministry. The next day my boss and I had different opinions on how to proceed and I was unemployed. I had to give my red sports car back to the bank. My credit cards were maxed out. But with new and reinvigorated faith I followed God’s vision for me. Here I am twenty-eight years later, having been ordained Twenty-four years now. I own a house and drive a late model car and my bills are all paid on time. A miracle!
Miracles don’t just happen. There needs to be faith, at least faith in the vision. There needs to be faithfulness. A vision without follow through is worthless. Jesus said: “your faith has made you well!” The Dean of students at Andover Newton Theological School, he believed in my vision. But that didn’t change his next statement to me. He said: “now figure out your financial situation and get your education, your Masters of Divinity degree.” It took tenacity, determination and committed resolve. I had to keep that vision in front of me. When others, whom did not understand, ridiculed me for what I was doing I needed to stay faithful to the vision. I needed to remind myself it was God’s vision for me; not another foolish choice I had made. Faithfulness in a new vision, a new dream or idea, needs to be developed and cared for. My ‘calling’ to serve God’s church, sounded foolish and irresponsible to those who did not believe as I did. Therefore, I needed to fellowship with like-minded people whom believed in the same principles and the same God as I did. The journey had its rough spots, but my faith carried me through.
Habakkuk was ministering to a broken people whom were finding their faith failing and their vision fading. It was his responsibility to rekindle that vision of hope for the future. It was his duty, his ‘calling’ to re-energize the faithfulness of a people who longed for hope to be restored in their lives. He was reasserting what every person of faith has come to understand: ‘one must be faithful to the journey; faithful to God whom has a vision for you and for me.’ When we fall and break a few bones, it hurts, and we get discouraged. We are only human, and things happen to mortal humans. Yet, as we mend and get back on our feet, we must set our sights on the vision, the dream, and the prophecy of things yet to be! With a faithfulness to the God of Moses and Abraham; with belief in the saving grace of the child, born in poverty and oppression, being the Messiah… we shall overcome our hardships and our loses.
Our parents, spouses, even our sons and daughters, may pass on into the next life long before we are prepared for their departure, and we shall grieve. At such times as these, we need to cling to our faith communities; leaning on the shoulders of those who believe what we believe. Allowing them to nourish us as we reconnect with God’s vision for a faithful people. There is always hope! Hope never dies unless we turn our back on the love of God. Amen.