Sermon for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost October 2, 2016

Duane LarsonThe Rev. Dr. Duane Larson, Interim Pastor

Based on Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Luke 17:5-10
And the Lord said, “Write the vision. Make it plain for all to read. There is still a vision for its appointed time; it does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

God’s word to Habakkuk came after Habakkuk had put God virtually on trial. “How long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence! And you will not save?” What moxie Habakkuk had, what chutzpah! It was as if he had taken God by the shoulders and shook God in complaint. Seeing his country whiplashed between the superpowers of Egypt and Babylon, seeing also that the rich were getting richer and the poor getting poorer, and that his own country was decaying from within by the toxins of incivility and corruption, the prophet was concerned for his suffering yet faithful people; concerned too that he was losing his own faith.

And God said, “Write the vision. It will come. The righteous live by faith.”

Those with Jesus learned that they were not by their own lights up to being Jesus’ disciples yet. He had just told them that they must be very careful as his followers never to cause others to stumble in faith. Further, if a fellow disciple sinned against another and repented, then that person must be forgiven, even if she or he were the worst repeat offender and repenter ever. If the same person endlessly sins against you and endlessly turns to you with the words “I repent,” Jesus says we must forgive them…endlessly.

Do you know any chronic repeat offender-repenters? Have you ever been at the receiving end of endless misbehavior followed by endless apologies? Of course you have. Think about this. The disciples had been travelling with each other and learning from Jesus for nigh three years. This was a mobile experience of a Christ the King church adult forum or even a seminary stint that meant homelessness, dusty roads, few baths, and ripe odorous bodies with ongoing argument and jostling for stature with the Teacher. Don’t you suppose that they got weary with each other to the point that some were mouthing off, while others were ready to punch somebody in the nose, and quieter folk were choosing to fall back to the end of the parade for a respite of introversion?

And then to be told that your new life as Christ’s follower was always to be a forgiving life, that you must forgive endlessly those others at least who identify also as Christians with you?

There comes a point when suddenly we realize the cost of discipleship is going to include endlessly forgiving people who routinely push our buttons. There comes a time when we realize that we are called to lives of selfless service on both the public and personal stage that exceed my human capacity, or so we think.  That’s when we grab God’s shoulders and cry, “Lord, I’m not up to this. Please! Increase my faith!”  When we realize that following Jesus means that there is a divine purpose for our own lives and that we are called to live in a certain way as faithful and uniquely gifted people of God, we are compelled to pray that God increase our faith.

For Habakkuk on the global scale and the disciples on the more personal scale, the dynamic is the same. With anxiety and humility we plead for faith. We plead for faith amidst the repentant and unrepentant evil doers.  When images of Aleppo or a vile public figure or violence in West University or a Christian’s expert pettiness or the advertent exposure of our own impatience: when any one or all and more of them ruin our preferred view, we can do no other as faithful people than to confess our lack of faith.

Faith is funny that way. To have faith is also to know that we do not have faith; we ask God for that gift. With Peter we say, “Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.”  If we talk of faith as a commodity, as a quantified “thing” to use for some other usually selfish purpose, we’ve lost it. When following Christ is authentic, we don’t have faith. Faith has us. We just live with and in it. That’s why a mustard seed of faith in God’s geometry is rather like God’s love. Faith, trust, is a verb long before it becomes a noun. It is immeasurable. It just is.

It just is. The righteous live by faith. What do we do when the wicked surround us? “Write the vision. Make it plain for all to read.” Trust what God said God will do. When we see the vision and we “get” God’s love, trust naturally follows. The proud who think their lives are the measure of worth think faith is a tool for their own selfish purposes. But the righteous simply live by faith. The righteous just do what God’s slave-servants do. Though the proudly powerful think that God’s slaves are worthless losers—we just do what we ought to do because we really do not want to do anything other than to live by the glorious vision of the God who has come, is here, and is still on God’s way fully to us, like the largest sign slowly coming into view.

“Write the vision. Make it plain for all to read. It will not delay.” If we look only at our steps we take immediately before us, we will inevitably turn and circle and be lost. But when we keep our eyes on the vision far ahead of us, our steps will go straight. Forgiveness will happen more readily and we will gain better focus on the task ahead. The righteous live by faith.

I’ve spoken only of faith in terms of our experience as individuals. But the disciples pleaded in the plural; “increase our faith,” they said to Jesus. Luke’s own poor congregation in the “wilderness” needed faith to endure as a new movement. We as a congregation pray for the same gift from God, or we should be so praying. What does and what will it mean for Christ the King Lutheran Church to ask God to “increase our faith?”  What then will we thankful servants of God do in and by such faith? What will the vision be that we would publish plainly for the village and the world to read and trust? What will the world and village see when we live by faith? 

Duane Larson
Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, TX