What does the prophet Habakkuk have to tell us about fairness and justice and how we can speak to God? And how can we follow Habakkuk’s example? This sermon explores these questions.
Habakkuk 1 & 2; 1st reading Habakkuk 1:1-2:1
Have you ever said ‘it isn’t fair?’ It isn’t fair what’s happening, it isn’t fair that they got that and I didn’t. It isn’t fair. I think most of us have said it, or at least thought it at some stage. And, if not, then I’m sure that we’ve heard someone else say it. It isn’t fair.
And quite often, it isn’t. Not always, but quite often whatever is happening isn’t fair. Well, that was certainly Habakkuk’s complaint. ‘It isn’t fair’. Or, as he puts it:
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
How long, Lord? Why are you not sorting things out? Why are things still so bad? Why am I suffering like this? We may well have thought this ourselves from time-to-time!
Habakkuk was a prophet. He prophesised after the destruction of the kingdom of Israel and before the Exile of the kingdom of Judah. A brief reminder of the history of Israel. After the kings David and Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split into two. And just to confuse things, after they split, the northern part was also called Israel. This bit was conquered by the Assyrians and destroyed. That left the kingdom of Judah in the south, including the city of Jerusalem. But, even after the destruction of Israel, people in Judah carried on in the same way. So, amongst others, Habakkuk saw how bad things were in the kingdom of Judah at that time. People were acting unjustly, people were not worshipping God.
So, the book of Habakkuk starts with a complaint. Well, more than a complaint. A lament. Expressing sadness, doubt, anger, pain, despair or similar. And this is your periodic reminder that lament is allowed! We’re allowed to talk about our sadness, our doubts, our anger, our pain, our despair. We’re allowed to talk to God about them, and to each other. In the Bible this is often through a psalm, through song or poetry. That’s not compulsory though! But a lot of the psalms are laments. Quite a few of the prophets wrote laments as well. So, if you’re feeling in a lamenting sort of mood, then you’ve got lots of material to use.
And, as we heard, Habakkuk isn‘t afraid to hold back! ‘You’re not listening God’ ‘You’re refusing to save me’”. Habakkuk is honest with himself and with God. He doesn’t sanitise his doubts, struggles, or feelings. So neither do we. Habakkuk is honest about how he is feeling: “you will not listen” “you will not save”! That’s strong stuff!
Habbakkuk isn’t afraid to tell God how he feels. He isn’t afraid to talk about what he thinks is wrong. He complains that justice doesn’t prevail, is perverted. Things are unfair, not just for him, but for many people in his society. So Habbakkuk tells God about it. And it’s only after Habakkuk’s complaint that God speaks to him, telling him what is going to happen.
But it’s not very comforting. God tells Habakkuk essentially that things are worse than he thought, so the remedy is going to be equally drastic. Habakkuk’s people, God’s people, are going to be conquered by the Babylonians.
Which doesn’t exactly please Habakkuk. ‘You what? How is that going to help?’ is basically his reply to that! And then he tells God that he’s going to watch and see, to wait and hope for a better answer. And this is God’s reply to that.
2nd reading: Habakkuk 2:2-20
Habakkuk doesn’t get a better answer. ‘This is going to happen’ says God.
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.
But, God warns Habakkuk that even though the Babylonians will conquer and destroy that is no reason to follow their example. They too will be destroyed in turn.
So God goes on to reassure Habakkuk that there will be justice and there will be mercy. That there is hope and there is a point. God tells Habakkuk that “the righteous live by their faith.”
The righteous live by their faith. There is more to things than we can see. What we see, how we feel, what we think is only ever part of the story. There is more going on than we recognise. And, God promises Habakkuk that
the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.
And we have seen the start of the answer to this promise. God’s kingdom is coming, has come with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and is continuing to come. Jesus comes and sends out his followers to start filling the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. His death and resurrection reveal that glory. And we are the front-runners of that coming, part of the filling of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. Because one of the wrong ways we can sometimes think about heaven is that it’s over there, up there, separate from earth, an escape from earth.
Because that’s the start of the promise that God made to Habakkuk. It’s the start of filling the earth with the glory of God. God’s kingdom is coming, has come with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and is continuing to come. We are the front-runners of that coming, part of the filling of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.
And in our service we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven”, which sums up what this is about, what Habakkuk is asking for and what God has promised will happen. We’re asking God to bring his kingly rule onto earth, to fill the earth with his glory, for earth to become a part of heaven. God’s kingdom is about God’s rule, God’s healing of the wrongs and damage, God’s restoration of all that is good. And the promise of God is that this is happening now, and is happening on earth, through God’s Holy Spirit. And we’re invited to get involved in the adventure of working with God for that to happen.
And so in the third and final chapter of Habakkuk, Habakkuk worships God, which we are going to look at next week. But in the meantime, I want us to think a bit more about what those first two chapters have to tell us. Because it can sometimes be a bit tempting to skip ahead to the good bits. But, unfortunately, we can’t really do that in our lives. We live in the midst of uncertainty and worry and pain at least some of the time. And we certainly live in the midst of injustice and pain and suffering of others.
So, then, how should we live? What should we do? Habakkuk isn’t afraid to bring his challenges to God. It’s only once he does so that God talks to him, notice. It’s only after Habakkuk has been honest about his situation, about how things are and how he’s feeling that God responds.
Of course, that isn’t an automatic link, but relationships need to be based on trust and honest, and that includes our relationship with God. Habakkuk isn’t afraid to say what he sees isn’t what he wants to see or expects to see. Habbakkuk isn’t afraid to remind his hearers, including God, that he isn’t seeing God’s glory and that he knows there will be hard times, unfair times, ahead.
All of which is an encouragement to us to do the same. To be honest to God, and to be honest to one another. To pray about the injustice and unfairness that we see. To complain about what is going wrong and isn’t right.
And then not so much to have greater faith, but to have faith in a greater God. Faith in a greater God, who lovingly welcomes us, who lovingly forgives us, who lovingly transforms us. Faith in a greater God who lovingly welcomes our anger, takes our pain, draws us deeper with our questions.
Faith in a greater God who encourages us to be part of the answer to our laments and prayers. Because we too are sent out. Not in the same way as the first disciples. But we’re still sent to the people around us. We’re given skills and gifts to serve, like the first disciples. And we’re able to serve because of God’s help and because of the support of each other, our brothers and sisters here in Hartshorne, and further afield.
It’s noticeable that Jesus always sends out his disciples in pairs. That’s something that we can sometimes forget. We’re not called to do this on our own. We are called to work for God’s glory, but with God’s help and with each other’s support. To pray about specific things, or specific places in twos or threes or in larger groups. To work in twos or threes or larger groups on the things that God has placed on our hearts. To give, not least as a church, to those organisations who will transform in some way some of the problems that we see.
We say it’s not fair and we’re often right. But we’re called to have faith in a greater God who will make the future better than the present. And we’re called to get involved with that greater God, and be part of the answer to our complaints and prayers.
But before Habakkuk’s final response in chapter 3, God ends by saying this:
The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.
So, we’re going to do just that. We’re going to spend a bit of time in silence before God. And as we do so, let us bring to God whatever we need to. If we need to listen, then listen. If we need to lament, then lament. If we need to bring our questions or pain, then let us do that. If there is something specific that is burning on our heart that we need to pray about, ask God for, that let us do that.
But let us be silent and know that our holy, loving God is with us.