October 30, 2022

The Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost

October 30, 2022
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 119:137-144; 2 Thess. 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10


From the Gospel according to Luke, (Jesus said), “Today, salvation has come to this house.” I speak
to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


One of the lesser known – or at least talked about – prophets of the Old Testament is Habakkuk.
Now that is probably because no one is ever sure if we are pronouncing his name correctly. But the
truth is, his message is always very timely. See, Habakkuk began his ministry in 605 BC - a time of
tremendous pessimism throughout the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Both kingdoms faced
increasing threats of invasion by other countries, but far more disheartening, their governments
and religious institutions had lost sight of their purpose and role in society. Those institutions that at
one time fostered and nurtured justice and fairness throughout the land had, themselves, through
the influence of their own form of today’s “super-pacs” in government, and clergy more focused on
keeping people happy and pews full rather than, preach God’s Word, had become pits of corruption
and backroom dealing at the expense of the very people they were called to serve. They had
forgotten that every human being is created in the same image of God and equal in worth and equal
in their need for dignity, healing, community, and redemption.
Like most prophets, Habakkuk called for national and public repentance so that God’s principles of
fairness and equity – God’s justice – would once again be upheld and fostered in every aspect of
political, judicial, religious, and economic life. But, even as disaster loomed before them and enemy
armies advanced towards their cities, the leaders of both kingdoms (Israel and Judah) were blind to
the errors of their ways, deaf to the cries of their people and prophets, and refused to change.
In today’s reading, Habakkuk is perched high up in a watchtower. He can see the dust on the
horizon created by the advancing Babylonian invasion. He looks down and sees the injustice and
hypocrisy of the people below him. He is very angry and directs his anger towards God. Like Job,
Habakkuk cries out, “How can you let these things happen, God? How much longer must we wait
before you take action?” God responds to his cries saying, “The righteous live by faith.” Say what?
Now, I don’t know about you, but I would be ticked off if God’s response to my pleadings for change
was a seemingly off the cuff comment about faith. There is nothing more irritating than pouring out
one’s heart and soul to a colleague only to have them respond, “Well, keep the faith” or even more
obnoxious, “Just have faith and everything will be all right.”
Well, that is not what God is saying. What God is saying is because the righteous are confident that
God is forever faithful in all things, they choose to be faithful to God’s ways in every aspect of their
daily life regardless of what everyone else around them is doing. And that faithfulness means taking
action when and where one can and should and must. The righteous live their faith regardless of
circumstances. And that was hard for Habakkuk to grasp. I think it is hard for anyone to have faith
in the faithfulness of God when the lives of so many seem ruined by the uncaring actions of leaders
and, even more sadly, by our own inaction in changing how we choose to live and treat our
neighbors.
I find Habakkuk’s world very much like our own today. The findings of a recent Harris Poll [1]  were
released earlier this week and the results were disheartening. Concerns over the Covid-19
pandemic, racial injustice, and political divisiveness now compounded by inflation concerns and
outright distrust in established institutions meant that 70% of responding adults reported they do
not think people in the government care about them. And the list went on to reveal a tale of
dissolution and uncertainty for the future. It is well worth careful review and response because we
need to remember that more often than not, world politics is continuously at odds with the things of
God. If you don’t believe me pick up a newspaper and note how divided our nation is when it comes
to the care of the elderly and our veterans, as well as the sick and the needy, or welcoming the
stranger, or the inaction of those we trust to lead and do what is right. No wonder so many are
pessimistic and angry today.
And yet, prophets like Habakkuk remind us that throughout human history, God’s people have
always been faced with a choice – a choice to not only uphold, but demonstrate God’s ways and
values in the midst of the growing unfaithfulness around us, or walk away. It is God’s people who
are called to foster God’s justice and equity in an unjust and unequal world. The reality for many
Christians this morning is that we will share bread in the midst of an unsharing world - a world
where bread is not distributed equally. Habakkuk reminds us that being faithful to God is always a
choice – a daily choice made in the midst of an increasingly unjust and uncivil society. We choose,
in the words of our own baptismal covenant promises, to seek and serve Christ in every person and
uphold the dignity of every human being. That is God’s vision for society and God says to
Habakkuk, “Don’t give up on the vision of what the world could be like. Remember, I am faithful” -
may you also be faithful.
St. Paul, writing to the Church at Thessalonica, urges a pessimistic and persecuted Church to
remain faithful to the truth of the Gospel – a gospel Paul describes as a gift of God granted to those
who seek to do good to others. So, he says, “Work so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be
glorified in you and you in him.” Everything we do as followers of Jesus must reflect our faithfulness
to all of God’s ways – ways that are often at odds with the world and society in which we live. It is a
struggle but, it is our chosen way of life.
Luke tells of an amazing encounter with Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson. Zacchaeus, a rich and
powerful chief tax collector, despised by the community, finds he is too short to catch a glimpse of
Jesus as he passes through the crowds. In an ironic turn of events, he has to run and climb a tree
in order to see over the heads of others. It’s ironic because, in Hebrew society, men of importance
didn’t run anywhere, let alone, climb trees. And the tree he chose was a Sycamore tree. A tree that,
with its low branches is ideal for climbing, but produces inferior figs: figs consumed only by the
poorest of the poor in society. The Sycamore was the friend of the poor, not the rich. This story
echoes the words of the Virgin Mary, “the mighty have been brought low.” And in Jesus’ response to
Zacchaeus, his invitation to come to the table, to leave his humiliation and shame behind, to come
and be redeemed and made whole again, come and find new life, we can also hear Mary’s words,
“He has exalted the humble and meek.” That’s what people of God do even when others around us,
as Luke says, begin “to grumble.”
Yet, there is more to this story. In Jesus’ lifting up of this now humbled man, in upholding his
dignity as a human being created in God’s own image, in his welcoming him to come to the table
just as he is, Zach’s life is forever changed. He says, “Lord, I will give half of my possessions to the
poor and, as for anyone I have cheated, I will pay them back four times as much.” He has grasped
what it means to truly repent and amend one’s life. He has recognized the importance of seeking
reconciliation with all whom he has wronged. And, in response, Jesus proclaims, “Today, salvation
has come to this house.” Once again, in a simple act of welcoming and upholding an outcast’s
dignity, God’s faithfulness to always grant grace, mercy, reconciliation, and forgiveness has
transformed a human life and brought the world one step closer to realizing that vision of God’s
kingdom – that kingdom we pray will be the world’s reality each and every time we utter The Lord’s
Prayer.
Our lessons this morning urge us to recognize that God’s kingdom – a kingdom marked by
justice and equity – will only become a reality when our own hearts and minds are so transformed
that we not only embrace the promises and faithfulness of God, but actively choose to faithfully live
them: to be, like Zacchaeus, instruments of reconciliation; to be God’s redemptive and caring
presence in this community, our state, and our nation.
Jesus said, “Today, salvation has come to this house.” Lord, may your salvation make a
difference in who we are and how we choose to live. Help us to be faithful to your faithfulness, and
let your promised kingdom be revealed in us, in me, not just today, but always. Amen.

 

1 https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2022/concerned-future-inflation