Texts: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Luke 17:1-10
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Listen to the sermon here.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Justice” is a word you hear a lot today. People are very concerned that the injustices they perceive get righted. Can you think of a recent injustice many feel needs to be corrected? We live in a world which cries out with Habakkuk, “How long, Lord, will you be deaf to my plea?” We realise that there is injustice, and we attempt to fix it. Sometimes it works. Often it doesn’t. Our best solutions are temporary fixes. We encounter wrongdoing, violence, strife, and discord erupting, justice being perverted or denied to many, and the poor being ignored and forgotten. When we see all that, we can start asking, along with the prophet, where is God? Why isn’t God doing something about all this terrible injustice? This morning, we’ll look at what God has done about it.
What is Faith?
There is a universal human longing for justice. We all know things that are out of kilter. Just go to any school or playground where children are old enough to talk. Pretty soon, one child will say to another, or maybe the teacher: “That’s not fair!” Things aren’t always right in the world, our country, our neighbourhoods, and our families. If I were to give you all a blank sheet of paper and ask you to write down the names of people who’ve done something wrong, I don’t think we would have a problem filling up the page. If we’re honest, we might even be able to list some people to whom we’ve done something wrong. Something isn’t right – something needs to be done to put it right.
Part of the reason we see injustice in the world is that God has given us a particular set of responsibilities. He made us. The Creator God has the right to tell us what we are to do. His commandments cover every thought, word, and deed of every minute, hour, and day of our lives. We see God’s concern for justice in the Ten Commandments. We are to not despise or anger our parents and other authorities but honour them, serve and obey them, and love and cherish them. We are not to hurt or harm our neighbours but to help and support them in their every physical need. We are not to steal but help others improve and protect their possessions and income. We are to defend and speak well of everyone. And, insofar as we do this as our various stations in life allow us, we are, in some small yet imperfect way, extending the justice of God into the world.
Yet, no matter how hard we try to live up to the ideal, we fail in ways that sometimes create more injustice. In the face of the relentless injustice we see in the world and our incapacity to bring lasting justice, Christians believe we to look for justice elsewhere. Eternal justice will never come from humanity. In the face of such persistent injustice, the prophet Habakkuk says that those who are just live by their faith. But what can faith do against wickedness, oppression, and injustice? If Habakkuk says that even though we see great injustice, we must live by faith, what exactly does he mean?
Faith is not something that we do. Faith cannot put God in our debt because we owe him our faith as it is. When you place your faith in God, God does not owe you anything. It isn’t your part of a two-part bargain. Even if we were to do everything God expects of us and have complete faith in him, we could never say, “Now you owe me something.” He would answer, “You have only done what I told you to do. This is why I made you. I owe you nothing.”
If faith is not about what we do, what is it? Faith is trust in what someone else has said they will do. Christians place their faith – their confidence and trust, in the Creator God because he deeply cares about justice. This point is fundamental. We have A strong echo and longing for justice inside us, yet God is justice. God’s justice is complete and perfect. This Creator God has given us his Word that he will set all things right again. God will take this broken, messed-up world and restore it to how he intended it to be.
Faith is trust in an almighty God who can do incredible, impossible things. In our Gospel reading, Jesus is not giving a command about how to transplant a tree by wishful thinking. He emphasizes how much even a little faith can accomplish. But it isn’t about the faith. So, he says, “Don’t worry about the size of your faith. It’s not great faith you need; it is faith in a great God.” God does impossible things, and faith is trust that our Great God is doing impossible things.
The God who does the impossible
So, what impossible things have the Creator God done to fix the injustice in this world? The hope the Christian faith offers is the knowledge that God won’t allow injustice to have the last word. Yet, Christians do not leave God’s restoration of all things for the distant future. No, we have faith that he has already begun to make right all the injustices in this world! If the just will live by faith, this faith involves recognising that God is decisively at work to fix the World through Jesus. God’s plan to restore the world to its original order has been launched through the Son of God and Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. All the cries for justice find their answer in Jesus. Jesus himself was the victim of injustice. Jesus’ death is the moment when injustice is defeated. That means, if you are looking for justice to be done, Jesus’ bloody death is where you will find justice. Jesus stepped forward and answered for all the injustices in the world. Jesus himself bore all the accumulated consequences of every injustice. Despite being unjustly killed, Jesus cries, “Father, forgive them.” In the resurrection, there is the start of a new creation, where all injustices are gone. Christ died and rose again so that God’s plan to set the world right again may be implemented. Our Lord has abolished death by his resurrection. In the end, all tears will be dried, and the world will be filled with justice.
After hearing what Jesus is teaching, the disciples in the Gospel lesson ask for him to increase their faith. Faith is not something they can work up in themselves. God has to give it, and that’s what Paul says in our Epistle. God gives us new life, resurrection life. This new life, though, isn’t something all humans automatically possess. It is a gift of God’s sheer generosity and power. Your faith results from something that happened to you during this present life. God does incredible, impossible things through preaching the Gospel and the sacraments. People are given new life when Jesus is proclaimed, or the sacraments are administered. They are summoned to trust in God rather than anyone or anything else. The Gospel creates faith.
So, living by faith and trusting that God is at work, setting all things right through Jesus, we have access to God’s boundless forgiveness. God has promised that even our acts of injustice will be forgiven. No matter how many times you have sinned, nor how often, nor how bad, if you come to God in repentance and faith, he has promised to forgive you. God does this only out of his good pleasure. Our Great God does impossible things: he offers you forgiveness without limit because of his Son’s death as your substitute.
We are called to be Christ’s hands and feet as we love and serve our neighbours. He empowers us to do this through the Holy Spirit given through his Word. We help our neighbour because we ought to, true enough. But we also serve others because God has done the impossible for us in Christ. God has been utterly faithful to his promises for us. He has forgiven us, given us new life, and promised justice and peace will abound when this world experiences the same resurrection life we began to enjoy. God sends us into the world to fight for justice as we are able.
So, as Christians, we live by faith that God, through Jesus the Messiah, has already begun the great undertaking of restoring justice to the world. He starts that undertaking by forgiving the sins of those who repent. Faith is not something which makes God owe you. Faith sees that God is at work in the world through Jesus. Because of God’s mercy towards us, our job is to be faithful and responsible in our vocations and seek justice as we can. We may have small faith, but it is faith in a Great God who does impossible things, and he does them for you in Christ.
May, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.