Brief synopsis of the readings: Leaving Amos, we begin today with another minor prophet: Habakkuk. Here he cries out to God: “How long, Lord, am I to cry for help while you will not listen”? God replies that he should be patient: “[T]he upright man will live by his faithfulness.” In Luke’s Gospel his apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith. Jesus replied that if their faith was the size of a mustard seed they could uproot a mulberry tree and plant it into the sea. He then spoke of the relationship between a master and a servant. After the servant spent the day working, the master wouldn’t serve him dinner. Instead he would demand that the servant prepare dinner for the master, for that was his duty.
For those who find Amos’ words uncomfortable, I have good news: we’re leaving Amos and moving to the prophet Habakkuk. But I also have bad news: Habakkuk wrote after the people ignored Amos. They didn’t reform their lives and the barbarians (also known as the Babylonians) were literally at the gate.
For several generations God’s prophets warned that their behavior would lead to their destruction and they ignored it. By the time of Habakkuk they finally recognized that their time was up. And Habakkuk, in his desperation, asked God to save them.
On some level I don’t blame him: I suspect we’ve all made poor choices, ignored good advice, and found ourselves in desperate situations. Then, and only then, we’ve asked for deliverance and divine intervention. And in fairness we live with a faith that promises forgiveness of sins, redemption, and deliverance from evil.
And while we all celebrate this, we also recognize that we can fall into the trap of believing that Jesus’ redemption can fool us into the false belief that God will save us from all of our poor choices.
The same God who resurrected Jesus from the dead also gave us free choice. God allowed us to choose between good and evil, between thoughtful and stupid, between right and wrong. And God loved us enough to trust us to recognize and suffer the consequences of those times when we chose evil, stupid, and idiocy.
That’s where we begin with Habakkuk: By the time he wrote it was clear that the Babylonian army was going to invade Israel and win. On some level we can understand Habakkuk’s plea: save us from the poor choices we’ve made. We promise to do better next time.
But we can also understand how God’s love doesn’t save us from our poor choices. Parents will often recognize that misbehaving children can sometimes benefit from suffering the consequences of what they’ve done. Their children will learn from poor grades that resulted from lack of study, or punishment from fighting with their siblings.
Most of us who spend time in the life of faith carry a long list of jokes. Here’s one I heard a few years ago: a man lived in a city that was being flooded. He stood in his home confident that God would save him. As he stood on his front porch a man drove by with a jeep with large wheels and offered him a ride to save him from the flood. The man waved him off saying: “God will save me.” As the flood level rose he moved to the 2nd floor when another man came by with a motorboat and offered him a ride. The man waved him off saying: “God will save me.” The flood level continued to rise and the man climbed on the roof when a man in a helicopter offered to drop a ladder to save him. The man waved him off saying: “God will save me.” Eventually the man drowned and went to Heaven. He came to God and asked why God didn’t save him. God answered him: “I sent you a jeep, a boat, and a helicopter. What do you want from me?”
We live dangerously when we believe redemption will save us from our poor, selfish, and damaging choices. Let me give a contemporary example: We are all aware of the dangers of climate change and our leaders who continue to pretend that it’s a hoax. And we’re also aware of young people who are calling us with gray hair and power to pay attention.
In the last few weeks we’ve heard from a 16 year old Swedish teenager named Greta Thunberg who calls us to care for a planet in peril where the peril will happen in her lifetime but now ours. In response, Rev. Robert Jeffress, a supporter of President Trump, condescendingly responded by suggesting that Ms. Thunberg should read Genesis 9. In that chapter, after the Noah’s Ark flood, God promised never to flood the earth again.
But God never promised to save us from ourselves. God never said: “If you damage the earth to the point where the polar ice caps flood the 1/3 of the landmass, I will save you from yourselves.”
We can see this through the lens of the Gospel. God wants the best for us, but God wants us to see our faith as active. When the apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith, we can all agree that it’s a good thing. But increasing our faith shouldn’t be a passive thing we can ask for.
We increase our faith when we do something that advances God’s kingdom. We increase our faith when we reach out in kindness to someone in need, when we give food the hungry or drink to the thirsty. We increase our faith when we welcome the outcast or reach our to those nobody else likes.
From time to time I meet someone who tells me that he isn’t a person of faith and envies those who are. He tells me that he wishes he could believe like them.
At the risk of cynicism I don’t challenge them but I want to say this: Part of me thinks that you believe that disciples are foolish children and you miss being a child. To you I say this: stop your nostalgia for your childhood and imagine yourself as part of something larger than yourself. Imagine yourself being insanely kind and ask yourself if this makes faith more understandable.
Don’t just wish for faith: do something about it.