“The World Stinks but…”
October 30, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 Luke 19:1-10
It doesn’t take a genius to know that our world seems to be seriously messed up.
This week we continued to watch the train wreck that is our presidential election (and there really is no need to elaborate on that) but we also saw two dramatically different legal rulings that both seem to twist the meaning of the word “justice” in directions that seem difficult to understand. First, a group of ranchers and other folks who, by force, took over and occupied a federal game preserve in Oregon, and then threatened federal law enforcement officers have been acquitted of nearly all charges that the government brought against them. And second, on nearly the same day, the courts ruled against the American Indian tribes who are peacefully protesting a pipeline that will cross through sacred burial sites and under a river that provides all of their drinking water. As a result, many of the protesters are being arrested, beaten, attacked by dogs, and even shot despite being on private property that lies on a reservation that is recognized by our government as a sovereign nation. Almost every day it seems like we hear news stories about out justice system not working the way that it should or even in ways that seem unjust altogether.
And whenever we see and hear these things we pray that such misfortune will not fall upon us.
And as bad as things sometimes are here at home, we read stories about the inhumanity of ISIS, the persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East and other places, and our conclusion is obvious.
Sometimes, the world stinks.
Not surprisingly, this situation isn’t new. Sometime around 600 BC the prophet Habakkuk complained to God. This was not just a private prayer, but probably an expression of the thoughts and feelings of many of God’s people in Judah. The world seemed broken, unfair, and unjust and God seemed to be unconcerned and uncaring because he did nothing about it. (Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4)
1:1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.
2 How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
2:1 I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
2 Then the Lord replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.
4 “See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.
Habakkuk cries out to God that the world is unfair but, at the same time, says that he will remain on his watch; he will stay at his post and be faithful, until he hears an answer from God. And when God’s answer comes, God agrees that the world is messed up. The enemy thinks a lot of himself and the desires of the enemy are unjust but relief is coming. God is already planning his response to the injustice that Habakkuk and his people are complaining about. But until God’s judgement arrives, the righteous are called to be patient and remain faithful.
And in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12, Paul reminds us, much like Habakkuk’s message, that God does not always rescue us from difficult circumstances. But in those times when God does not rescue us right away, there are still things that we can learn.
1 Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
First of all, in both Habakkuk and in Thessalonians, we find that despite hard times, we should never give up talking to God. Keep the lines of communication open. Keep praying. But, at the same time, as we struggle our way through the hard times, we can learn perseverance and strengthen our faith through the persecutions and trials that we endure.
But more than that, when we read Luke 19:1-10, we also begin to understand that our trials and suffering should probably teach us to be compassionate toward others as they experience their own.
19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Although nearly all of us are familiar with the story of Zacchaeus, we often don’t think of the story in terms of trials, empathy and compassion but that is a key part of Jesus’ message. Just at the moment when people start to complain that Jesus, a respected teacher, has stooped to associate, and even eat, in the home of a tax collector and sinner, Jesus reminds them that as bad as he is, Zacchaeus is still a child of God and a part of God’s covenant with Israel. Jesus concluded by reminding everyone that his mission on earth was to seek and to save the lost.
We really should wrestle with that more than we do.
Jesus is criticized for visiting in the home of a known scoundrel, cheat, and rip-off artist. Tax collectors had a contract with Rome that authorized them to collect the taxes that Rome levied, and so that Rome didn’t have to pay salaries, they were allowed to collect extra to pay themselves. How much extra, was often not defined. They were essentially given a license to steal as much as the market would bear and their theft was enforced by the swords of Rome’s occupying army. Tax collectors were outcasts from Jewish society because they were considered to be traitors to their people and to their nation. But Jesus’s response to his critics is to remind them that he came to rescue the lost.
Think about that and consider the context, the time, and the place of what he said.
What Jesus is saying is that you can’t catch fish if you don’t go to the lake.
By saying what he said, and by reframing the argument, Jesus argues that it should be obvious that he should do this. It is like criticizing the Coast Guard for getting their boats wet and risking their lives by going out to sea in a storm.
Jesus essentially says:
You can’t save the drowning if you don’t go out in the storm.
It seems so obvious when we understand it that in this context. Jesus’ mission was to seek and to save the lost. His compassion for their suffering and trials, past, present and future, without God, drove him to go to the places where the lost lived. To invite himself into their homes, if necessary, so that he could pull them back into the boat and save them for eternity. What’s challenging to us is that we have inherited Jesus’ calling. The mission to seek and to save the lost became the mission of the church when Jesus ascended into heaven… his mission, is our mission.
But we are not just driven to obedience out of a sense of duty.
God understands that out world is broken. God understands injustice, unfairness, suffering, struggle, persecution and trial. But God’s message to us is twofold. First, we must understand that our God is a god of justice. Wrongs will be made right. The guilty will be punished. Injustice will be set right. But although it will happen in God’s time, it might not happen right away. Second, as we endure hardship and trial, God expects us to learn to have empathy and compassion for others as they experience similar circumstances. Our trials should make us sensitive to the trials of others and compassionate for those who do not have the comfort and understanding that is to be found in our faith in Jesus Christ.
Because of that, we should be learning to be more like Jesus: To love others, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to rescue the lost by whatever means necessary. Jesus went into the homes of scoundrels and ate with them; he was widely criticized by people in his church for associating with sinners, rebels, fanatics, and prostitutes. But that criticism never slowed him down because it was absolutely necessary to accomplish his mission.
You can’t catch fish if you don’t go to the lake.
You can’t save the drowning if you don’t go out into the storm.
We are called to be fishers of men and rescuers of the lost.
Each and every one of us should live our lives so that we are criticized for our compassion.
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