By the Rev. Thomas Nibbe
Sunday, August 23, 2020 @ 11:00 a.m.
“Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:20)
“…and so God condemned sin in sinful men…” (Romans 8:3c) [i.e., God didn’t condemn sinful men…]
“…for the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and the weakness of god is stronger than man’s strength…God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong…” 1 Corinthians 1:25, 27)
Dear Lord, this morning we would like to praise you for those in our midst who have put themselves “on the line” for the our benefit and the benefit of others, many times, at the risk of their own lives and their individual welfare. There are so many who have given so much, especially, in the present situation — the health workers, the firefighters, the media personal, and the women and men who have just gone out of their way to make our lives easier or, indeed, to help us to survive. In the midst of selfishness, greed, and self-interest, we want to thank you for your servants who just go ahead and literally become your divine hands, your feet, your heart, and your intellect. May we learn from their sacrifice in that Christ-like presence of mind and purpose…to follow suit…to be more compassionate, more willing to help, more dedicated to be there for those in need. Thank you for your message in the Holy Scriptures that free people like us from guilt regarding our shortcomings and encourage us to know we are loved and valued by you. We are your grateful people. Guide us and encourage us today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Is there anybody out there feeling the way I am feeling today? We are in the midst of the greatest pandemic of our life-time. We have been confined to our homes for over half a year. We look like a community of bandits with our masks on. When we seek an outlet to watch a sports-event on television…attempt to go to the movies… enjoy a play or a musical performance…or whatever…we can be assured that it’s probably not going to happen. We are strangely changed…and then to add to this…the threat that we might be endangered…caught unaware…our home destroyed by local wild-fires…What a time to live through!
The so-called prophet of the Old Testament, Habakkuk (approximately 605 BC) is a source of wisdom…or rather, should I say “shock”…and as well, insight for us as he writes in Habakkuk 3:17-19,
“…though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails, and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen, and no cattle in the stalls…yet…I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God, my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength, He makes my feet like the feet of a deer…He enables me to go on the high-places…”
What is about to happen to Habakkuk? He doen’t know what will actually will happen to him, but he is going to know eventually how he will react. History tells us — he will be prepared for the worst to come in the best possible way. Let us journey with Habakkuk as we find out…
The quote is from the very end of this book in the Holy Scriptures. There is a Spiritual journey that is necessary for Habakkuk to take in order to make his affirmation. It is not an easy journey for Habakkuk. Initially Habakkuk is a proud, intelligent young man. He thinks he can figure out anything by himself. In the words of Simon and Garfunkel, he is “a rock and an island”. He’s going to deal with things on his terms. Indeed, the Book of Habakkuk is not really a book of divine prophesy, but rather, a book about the “making of a prophet”, or a spokesman for God. It is my purpose today to share with you the journey of Habakkuk, because it is the journey of a person who spiritually exemplifies the majority of our people in the twenty-first century of our present era…
“…the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned…” 1 Corinthians 2:14
At the beginning of Habakkuk’s journey we find that he is a “skeptic” about life, in general, and the existence of God, in particular. In the first chapter he asks three classic questions…these are questions I hear every single week in counseling or in conversation with those in trouble who contact me. The questions are:
FIRST QUESTION: How long is it that I have to cry out to God, but He does seem to listen? WHY is this? (Habakkuk 1:2)
SECOND QUESTION: If indeed You are God, and indeed if you exist and, if indeed, you are in control of all things in heaven and earth, WHY do You tolerate wrong? (Habakkuk 1:3)
Destruction and violence go ever before me…there is strife…and conflict abounds! WHY do you allow it…Is it that you, God, are too pure and holy to look upon it…and yet…you allow us to live in the midst of it?! In other words, are you too holy to get down and get dirty? (Habakkuk 1:3, 13a)
Habakkuk not only questions God and His wisdom, but kind of “Sticks it to the Lord” with outright sarcasm…As we used to say in the Marine Corps, he not only stuck the bayonet in, but also twisted it a quarter-turn…
THIRD QUESTION: WHY is it that You are silent as those who are bad swallow up those who that live righteous lives?(Habakkuk 1:13b)
Well, we can all understand these questions. The key point that we get to later in the text…is that we can continue to ask the question WHY — and we will get no-where! It’s kind of like knocking your head up against a brick wall in order to get what you want. Who or what wins…your head or the wall? There are no given answers for the most pertinent questions. Yet, those questions are often quite reasonable. With some of the great questions in life, it is important to rise beyond “reason” in order to gain understanding and then overcome. The answer is found, not in the pursuit of reason, but rather in adopting a “mindset of faith”…
As we get into the book of Habakkuk we discover an astounding fact. You know, in fifty years of ministry, I have never heard any preacher, Catholic, Protestant, or Evangelical, speak on the content of the book of Habakkuk. Nonetheless, note that the entire thrust of the theology of the New Testament is based upon one single verse found in Habakkuk. Let me share that verse with you. In Habakkuk 2:4b, Habakkuk writes, “…but the righteous will live by faith…” On this verse alone, the 16th Century Reformation took place and became the cornerstone of the restoration of solid bible scholarship and Christian vision. I am fascinated at how important Habakkuk was to Saint Paul, as he reviewed what he had learned prior, now as a Christian.
In short, the primary focus of the follower of Jesus Christ is not upon the demands of divine law, but rather upon trusting in God above all things. Hebrews 11:1 makes clear what faith is, “…now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…” This does not dismiss the Ten Commandments or any other ordinance God has given us. It does mean we do not focus upon our self. Whether we have been a good person and have a great reputation…or whether we have been less than perfect (making a fool out of ourselves and putting other people out), we neither focus upon our righteousness (apart from God) nor upon our guilt, shame, and regrets. Focus upon “self” is out. We take care of ourselves for sure, but we do not dwell upon ourselves. We don’t “pat ourselves on the back” nor do we cower in the shadows of former life.
I like Saint Paul’s affirmation in 2 Corinthians 5:16, “…so from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view…therefore…if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come…” We don’t dwell upon ourselves, but we do celebrate “life” as extravagantly as possible.
Returning to Habakkuk, we turn to the second chapter. Habakkuk can’t find answers from his neighbors, so he seeks out beyond the world he knows. In a sense, he reaches out to his “Higher Power” as a member of a 12-Step group would. He stands at the “Watchtower” peering out beyond the city walls. Habakkuk stops talking about God philosophically and starts talking to God…and he gets a response. Hmm!?
Will wonders never cease?!
God (Yahweh) tells Habakkuk to write down the insights he gets and the experiences he will have. Indeed, he will in truth receive answers (revelations, in fact) for his inquiry. He consequently receives the revelation that becomes the cornerstone of what will become Christian theology, “…the righteous will live by faith…” (Habakkuk 2:4b)
[Note the influence this will have upon Saint Paul six centuries later…Romans 1:17, Romans 3:28…whereinSaint Paul credits Habakkuk, a spokesman for God. [“…just as it is written…”]
In the second chapter, Habakkuk starts to give God praise for His mighty works instead of questioning the person and efficacy of the Almighty. What is happening here? What happens with Saint Augustine later happens to Habakkuk in the text…a softening of the heart…an understanding…an open door to God…
“…for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God…the Lord is in His holy temple. let all the earth be silent before Him…” (Habakkuk 2:14, 20)
Finally, we arrive at the third chapter. Habakkuk has changed. God (Yahweh) has become very real to him. In his new-found knowledge and awareness of God, Habakkuk has become respectful. It may well be true that Habakkuk thinks this present relatedness is all there is in the Spiritual life with the Living God. He has another lesson to learn. He has one more thing to experience. That experience finally occurs in the third chapter at the sixteenth verse, related as follows:
“…I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound…decay crept into my bones…and my legs trembled…”
Regarding this verse, Jesus, six hundred years later, in John 3:3, 3:6, will say, “…I tell you the truth…no one can see the Kingdom of God unless that person is born again…flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit…” Indeed, Habakkuk in the Old Testament became “born again” in same sense as Jesus will have come to mean it in the New Testament. Habakkuk indeed had been an “inquirer” and a “speculator” in spiritual matters…and now…he had become a spokesman for God, a Prophet. He had acquired a personal relationship with God. He has received the “mindset of faith”. Now he is ready anticipate all and to allow anything that might happen to happen willingly in his life…and yet…praise God for the circumstances.
Saint Paul, reflecting upon the spiritual insight of Habakkuk through the Holy Spirit, wrote, “…and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose…” (Romans 8:28)
In addition Saint Paul also writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident unto all. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)
“…my chains fell of…my heart is free…that’s getting the Gospel right…” Tim Keller
The reason I chose to write this message this morning is to encourage you, the reader, to understand the “mindset of faith”. This mindset does not deny the reality of the outrageous nature of living in a real world God does not exempt His “faithful ones” from the struggles and tragedies of life. Similarly, the person possessing the mindset of faith does not become paralyzed or impeded by fear, regardless of the situation. Saint John writes, “…perfect love casts out fear…” When our hearts have been conquered by the love of Christ, we do not become fearful as others do. We are in God’s loving, caring hands. Although it doesn’t always seem that way, the Lord is involved in the give-and-take of events of life. All situations have their divine purpose and we volunteer to become involved in its eventual goodness. That is the practical basis of true faith. Mere religion is different. Bad things happen to punish us. We will pay for what we have done… God is our righteous judge. He will give us what we deserve. This kind of ideology does not fit into the life of a genuine Christian. Within our “real world” we live by faith and trust in God’s goodness. Romans 8:28
That’s why the Gospel is so important, even for a lapsed generation, ignorant of the importance and power of the Bible message. God doesn’t excuse us from life, but in Him, we receive the best support we could possibly receive. Tim Keller is right in suggesting that our chains fall off and our hearts are free. It doesn’t come from the latest “catch-all fad” or from mere religion…but from the God grounded in our reality through Christ…with the message that we are more than conquerors through Him who has loved us (Romans 8:37).
As we “…walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (Psalm 23) with the Covid-19 pandemic…a crushed economy…concerned about basic security and providing for our family…dealing with issues of justice and equality…and very much aware of impending disaster with local wild-fires next door…we remain mindful of the experience of Habakkuk. We understand his ascendency to faith in God, and not depending upon reason alone. We take on the challenges of the realities about us, but nonetheless, we have the assurance that God will make things right for us—and those we are concerned about—and we will participate fully in God’s plan to demonstrate His love for all of us, not in spite of, but because of the scary things that keep us on our toes. We are in the world, but we are not of the world…we don’t turn our backs to the facts, but are graciously given the human courage to face the difficult times, because the Lord would not allow it, unless it were part of His perfect plan for this world that He loves.
God bless you and yours.
(The Rev. Thomas Nibbe is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Pacifica.)