Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 1The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. 2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted. …. 2I 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. 2Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3For 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. 4Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
Psalm 37 1Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,
2for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
3Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
4Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
6He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
7Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
8Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
2 Timothy 1:1-14 1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3I 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. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I 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.
6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 8Do 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, 9who 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, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and 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. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Luke 17:5-10 5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The 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. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would 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’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So 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!’”
Good morning, St. Matthew. We gather on this morning in Itasca on the unceded tribal lands of the Kickapoo, Peoria, Ka-skas-kia, Potawatomi, Mya-a-mia, HoChunk, Winnebago and O-che-thi Sakowin nations, acknowledging that hard past and praying our way into a better future.
And so let us pray.
Lord, we gather this morning as a people who often feel like we have no power at all. That all the things we try to do and all the dreams we want to bring to life just fall apart and crumble to dust in our hands. It is a hard and barren place we occupy – a desert moment. Yet when we come to you with our ears that yearn to hear, your word comes to us and tells us – now. Now, my child – now that you are empty, now that you can no longer work in your own power – now is the time when you are ready to receive the power that flows from me to you. Now you are ready to receive the Holy Spirit and to begin to understand that the power to bring life was yours to cultivate, never yours to control. Help us, Lord, to receive this as good news, to open our hearts and minds to your leading and to cultivate and to care for the seeds you have planted in our lives. In your Holy Name, we pray, Amen.
Today we have the great joy of expanding our vision and be reminded that in the Kindom of God, we humans are not the only creatures God called into existence. We get to recall that ALL creation – from ants and worms to eagles and doves, from babies to puppies, from humanity to beasts – is born of God. It is easier to forget this than one might think. We humans get so caught up in our own stories that we tend to lose track of the other stories that are constantly swirling around us. In all our lessons this morning, there are powerful reminders that we are not the ones who initiated the story but rather have been invited to be a part of the story. Those reminders are really important for coming to terms with what the Lord is speaking to us today through God’s word.
In this sermon series on a Faith of DARING: The Dreams We Dare to Dream, we have lifted up D for debts, A for access and now we come to R for receiving. It is vitally important that we recall that the faith we live is NOT one of our own creation, nor is it one focused on, or defined by, our priorities. This faith we hold is one we are given by God – that is the whole focus of a grace-filled belief; we cannot earn, decide or control this faith – we can only receive it. Now that doesn’t make us inactive in the process – because in receiving, we are called to respond. God has given us the freedom of will to make that response – and that has been given to no other creature! – the choice to say yes or no. So our receiving is a mighty living act of faith – a faith that asks us, not demands or threatens us, but asks us to receive and respond.
The prophet Habakkuk demonstrates for us that we often receive our faith with difficulty. Again, God is willing to listen to our complaints but at the end of the day, we are told that the timetable for faith is not in our hands – we are the receivers of the promise and therefore are waiting for the action of God. And yes, that is sooooo very hard! We holler at God – look at this mess! How come you aren’t cleaning it up? How come we are still stuck? And the word comes back to us, we are the receivers, we are the ones waiting on God’s action. Yet we must be ready to respond when God does act:
2I 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. 2Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3For 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. 4Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
What does it mean to live by faith? To live in loving relationship with God? To trust that God will act and that we will to be ready to receive? On this day when we are celebrating the blessing of the animals in our lives, perhaps this illustration will help. The story is told of a veterinary doctor who went round to visit his friend. The friend was deeply down; reversal after reversal had plagued his life and he was just about ready to give up. Nowhere he looked could he see any hope. The vet spoke to him of God and faith, and the friend snapped, “God! Pft. How do you know if God is even real?” The vet paused for a moment and asked his friend if he might bring his dog in, who was waiting out in the yard. The friend said sure. The vet opened the door and whistled. His dog came running, bounding in and joyfully snuffling his master. Even the grumpy friend smiled a bit at the dog’s enthusiasm. Once the dog calmed down and settled at his master’s feet, the vet turned to his friend and said, “I have a question for you. Has my dog ever been to your home before?” “no,” replied his friend. “And yet, because he knew that I was here, he came bounding in, full of joy – wanting nothing more than the chance to be with me. The setting and the circumstances didn’t matter to him – what he wanted was the relationship.” The friend nodded. The vet continued, “I try to live my faith in just the same way – not looking to the circumstances of my life for certainty but searching instead for the joyful relationship with my Maker that will sustain me no matter what the circumstances are.”
In his commentary on the gospel, Francisco Garcia, Ph.D. Candidate at Vanderbilt University Divinity School writes of Jesus’ challenge to the disciples to develop their mustard seed faith:
Jesus, ever the teacher, creatively shares the essentials for cultivating a strong faith …. Faith does not increase like magic. It is felt and known through lived experience. This can only come through practice, in those challenging moments when faith is put to the test. … that you move forward with a concrete step in the justice-seeking and peacemaking way of Jesus, with a discerning heart, regardless of uncertainty, worry, or fear.
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. exemplified this when he described the fear that overcame him when he began receiving death threats during the Montgomery bus boycott in the mid-1950s. One night after a particularly troubling phone call, King found himself exasperated, unable to sleep, and ready to quit. While offering a humble, desperate prayer, King says that he felt the presence of God like never before and heard the words speaking to him in the depth of his soul, “Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever.” As King notes, “the outer situation remained the same, but God had given me inner calm.”
The point is that in receiving God – we are not always going to receive changed circumstances – but we will receive a loving relationship that will allow us to meet those circumstances certain that God is going to love and sustain us no matter what. In her commentary on the Habakkuk text, Rachel Wrenn, of Trinity Lutheran Seminary, writes:
The fact that the Holy Scriptures preserve Habakkuk’s words testifies to the nature of our God: God not only entertains human laments but makes room for human anger—even anger at God. Speaking our anger at God is part of what it means to be righteous, the book of Habakkuk suggests. How (she asks) might you invite your people to engage with their anger at God as an integral part of the righteous faith by which they live?
So – are you angry? Are you looking around at the few numbers we have here at St. Matthew’s and asking God what on earth is going on? Well, God has room for that. In fact, being able to bring that anger to God is evidence that you are in fact in relationship with God. Most of us get the most angry when we are most afraid. It is only when you’re safe, assured of a constant and loving relationship that all of you can come out, that you can know and be known. And guess what – exposing the negative is part of being known! Anger and fear can be laid at the feet of God because God offers relationship to us and in that relationship, we receive grace but only if we acknowledge our need for it. And our need begins in those places where we are not perfect, where we have emptiness. It is only there that we may receive. Paul reminds Timothy and us:
For this reason, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 8Do 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, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.
We receive the power of God when we respond by naming our needs before God. Telling the Lord that we are struggling opens us up to receiving the Lord’s healing. Animals don’t worry about trying to tough it out or having too much pride to ask for help – I have seen videos of whales caught in nets and polar bears with cans jammed on their tongue coming to ask for help, and surely if they can acknowledge their need despite their great power – we can do the same. If we want to be more, to do more, to love more, then we let’s acknowledge our need for the more and ask God to open us up to the more!
The disciples make the mistake of saying to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” But they aren’t asking to actually receive more faith – they are instead asking for more personal power. And Jesus sees that misstep and tells them you already have available to you all the faith and power you need – because to receive the power of God, all you personally need is the faith of a mustard seed. Let God work through you; that’s when the miracles are released. Stop trying to do things in your own power, because you do not have creator power – you have receiver power! If you let me activate your mustard seed, and pray as I have taught you – Thy Will Be Done – then you will have mighty trees birthed in you. Cultivate them, care for them but never forget they are given to you.
So this morning – are we focusing on our limited personal circumstances or on our unlimited relationship with God? The answer to that will tell the story of how we receive the seeds God is planting in us.