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SERMON
19 Pentecost - Proper 22
October 7, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
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for weeks at a time. I was complaining toward summer’s end and into September that we
were in a really “down” period – lessons week after week filled with doom and gloom that
were really no fun to hear, much less to preach about.

Then we had a bit of a break, beginning a few weeks ago, with a couple of weeks of more
up-beat lessons and themes. Two weeks ago I put aside the lessons, completely, in favor
of revisiting, for two Sundays, the events of 6 years ago, and my meditations on those
events at the time.

And now we’re back to discover, “here we go again:” last week, this week, next week!
Some real downers, as we used to say!

The downtrend began last week, it seems to me, with the Gospel parable of Lazarus and
the Rich Man – the Rich Man, dead, burning in torment, calling across the great chasm to
father Abraham, begging for relief and being denied! It’s an unpretty picture, at best, but
made worse by our natural tendency to try to literalize everything we read in the Bible,
turning the parable into a warning about hell for the unfaithful and that old promise of
“pie in the sky, by-and-bay” for the long-suffering.

Today’s first lesson continues in a similar vein – worse, if anything, I think! And it’s not
only another “downer,” it’s also very difficult to read!

It’s from the Book of the Prophet Habakkuk, who is definitely Not one of my favorite
Prophets, and so hard just to follow, let alone understand, that I actually wish the book
had not been included, at all, in the lectionary! Bible study of a book as complex as this is
one thing – reading short excerpts as lessons is another. Just too difficult; too confusing.

The book is only three chapters long – a very Short book – but the shortness is
complicated by the fact that the three chapters were Not all written by the prophet
Habakkuk – if, in fact, there even was such a prophet.

The Book was written by three different people at three different times – that we can tell
from its style and references – but even the way it’s written down and presented is
confusing! This first chapter is in the form of a dialogue between the Prophet and God –
confusing, as it’s written, because the presentation, here, doesn’t always distinguish
between the two speakers – first Habakkuk, then God! Indeed, the fact that God’s words
at the very end of this reading are set off in quotes only helps obscure even more the
first part, where they’re not!

Nevertheless it’s clear that this writer is united with the other two writers of Habakkuk in
their one theme: all asking “Why, O Lord? Why do you leave your people desolate; why do
you doom them to suffering?”

Habakkuk asks the question, just as it is asked in so many places in the Scriptures; as,
indeed, it’s asked so often in all times and in all places – even today!

As Christians, of course – as followers of Christ – we know the answer as Habakkuk did
not. We know that while it may seem as if God leaves us desolate, in the end we find he
hasn’t. Rather he has sent his only Son to live and die and rise again, for us, to save us
from the desolation, to end the suffering.

Unfortunately, though, while that is certainly true, we manage to forget the rest; we
manage to delude ourselves into thinking that’s all there is, all that matters. But it isn’t
that simple.  

It is true that without the grace of God, without the saving grace of Christ, there is no
deliverance from the suffering and desolation of death, and it is true that his death and
resurrection have saved us from all that.

But there is also suffering in life, and from that Christ’s sacrifice does not save us – but…
neither does he leave us desolate. Rather, the comfort he leaves for his suffering people
is…Us!

Christ delivers us from the sufferings of death, but for the sufferings of life, We are his
instruments! We are the answer to the desolation of his people on earth!

“Put your trust in the Lord,” this morning’s Psalm says, “and do good!” That’s the answer.
Just as simple as that! If there is to be relief from suffering for God’s people, it must
come from God’s people! It is through his children that God cares for his children, works
to relieve them, tends them. Through us, caring for those in need!

And we are to care for the children of God for only one reason: because it’s the right
thing to do, Jesus tells us in the Gospel. We are to do it, not because it’s the heroic thing
to do; not so we can be proud of what we’ve done; not because We will be rewarded, in
this life or the next, but we are to do it because it is the right thing, and because it’s our
job; because it’s our calling! “So you also,” says Jesus, “when you have done all that is
commanded you, say,…‘We have only done our duty.’”

And what, exactly, is our duty? As ever, it is, as the Prophet Amos tells us, to “let justice
roll down like the waters, and righteousness as an everflowing stream.” And it is, as
Jesus tells us, to care for the poor, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to house the
homeless, to heal the sick, and to visit the sick and imprisoned. It is, as we are told right
from the beginning of the Book of Genesis, to recognize that we are our brothers’
keepers, and our sisters’. It is to care for our brothers and our sisters – to care for all
mankind.

A tall order, it seems; a big job, and indeed it is, because as the Lord also tells us,
elsewhere, the poor we have always with us – and so with the sick, the downtrodden – so
there’s always more to do! But having done all we can, we are entitled to say no more
than, “we have done our duty!”

I have always been amazed by the great contradictions of the faith as we have professed
and lived it through the ages. We believe and teach that mankind is saved by faith, alone,
and that God in Christ saves us by his grace, freely given. Yet Christians seem always to
be so concerned with all the little nit-picky things we think we ought not to do – as if, by
“being naughty” we might lose this free gift so dearly won for us. We elevate our awe and
our fear of the Commandments, and the very words, “thou shalt not,” almost to the level
of idolatry, and live our lives as though the faith were nothing more than a list of things
we mustn’t do – “naughties” to avoid.

But our faith is much more concerned with telling us what we Should do – what we should
do for one another, what we should do for the least of God’s people – than with what we
should Not do! And, in fact, one could say exactly the same thing about all three of what
are called the “religions of the book,” those religions based initially, at least, on the Bible
– Judaism, Christianity, and Islam!

All three recognize the one God, the creator and sustainer of the world; all three
understand that God requires, first and foremost, the same “charity”, the same caritas,
the same love between God’s people; between the followers and lovers of God and the
least fortunate of God’s people.

And it most amazes me that so many of those who claim to be followers of the God who
proclaims himself to be love could not only ignore those same unfortunates but even
insist in society that they need to make it “on their own,” or it’s just too bad for them.

We do believe and we do know that Christ died and rose from the dead to win for us
eternal salvation, but we know, too – we must know because he has made it so
abundantly clear in His Word – that he has other concerns, as well.

It Is God’s concern, too, that justice flow down like the waters, and righteousness like an
everflowing stream; and it Is God’s concern that the hungry be fed, the poor cared for,
the homeless sheltered, the naked clothed, the sick ministered to, and the imprisoned
visited; and it is God’s concern that those who profess to love him see to all those things!

He expects Us  to be his hands, his feet and his heart, in doing all these things, caring for
all these people. And he expects, as well, that when we have devoted our lives to doing
all  these things, as he has called us to do, we will acknowledge, afterward, simply that
“we are unworthy servants; for we have only done what was our duty.”

In his love and in his name. Amen.