October 6, 2019
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 29, 2019
Br. Juan Charles Valles, CG
Lessons: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2-4, Psalm 37:1-10, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10
“Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.”
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Oracle. Despite the thousands of words we’ve already used this morning, this word really stands out to me. Oracle. For me, it conjures up images of science fiction and otherworldly, metaphysical fantasy. I think of amulets and crystals, sorcerers and magic. Just to remind myself of what the word actually means, I did a little googling. First, the word does have a metaphysical twist to it: it describes a sometimes ambiguous answer given in response to a question posed to a god, often in a temple or other sacred place. It sometimes refers to the person who utters such a response. It can also mean divine communication or a “person who delivers authoritative, wise, or highly regarded and influential pronouncements.” (Thank you, dictionary.com.) I feel like we’re getting somewhere.
Habakkuk, living about six hundred years before Christ, is considered one of the minor prophets in the Hebrew tradition, but despite his being a “minor” prophet, his message should deeply and loudly resound with us today. Habakkuk was writing at a time when the Babylonians had imposed harsh rule over the Jewish people: Habakkuk is writing of the despair and frustration and anger the Jewish people were experiencing. “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.” You can hear the desperation in these words, and it’s no surprise that these people felt that God had abandoned them.
For those of us who call St. Mark’s home, you probably know how these people feel. Remember, the Jews were God’s chosen people: despite exile, hardship, and oppression, they continued in the law and the prayers. They’d done everything right, but they never seemed to be on God’s good side. This is the complaint that I hear in my own head when I think about St. Mark’s. Our doors are open, we welcome, we feed, and we love. People walk through those doors, and we offer them a home no matter how damaged they might be. We’ve done everything right and, hopefully, pleasing to God: why are we struggling? And, in talking to many of you, I know that you sometimes share this internal dialogue.
For most of us, it would be easy to quit St. Mark’s and find a more robust faith community. But, what is marvelous and possibly even miraculous is that we all keep coming back. I know we talk about feeling a certain loyalty to one another and to this place. But, I think it’s deeper than that. And maybe here’s where the true oracle lies. After Habakkuk laments, the tone of the first reading changes: God instructs Habakkuk to write down what he’s about to reveal. I like how the Good News Translation puts it: “Put it in writing, because it is not yet time for it to come true. But the time is coming quickly, and what I show you will come true. It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place, and it will not be delayed.” In other words, faith is the antidote and the answer.
Now the faith I’m talking about isn’t the stuff of Hallmark cards. It’s not the cutesy mugs and crosses we so often see at mall or airport gift shops. This brand of faith often conceals an inclination to be inactive; it can also be nothing more than a sign of unexamined smugness when everything is going right. This is not what Paul is talking about in his second letter to Timothy. This faith is the kind that takes guts. It takes patience and fortitude. Or, as Paul puts it, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
In a culture where immediacy reigns supreme, this all sounds so ridiculous. Investing in something that is invisible and intangible seems ludicrous, but it’s exactly what we’re called to do. The faith that Paul talks about calls for strength to resist the internal temptation to envy, cheat, and to push to the head of the line. But, it’s also about the strength to resist the outside world’s pressure to give up and give in. Even Timothy seems to have succumbed to some of this pressure: Paul reminds Timothy to “rekindle the gift of God that is within you.” But, how? Without saying as much, Paul reminds us that such deep, hard faith can thrive only in community. Paul goes on to tell us that it was he who’d brought Timothy to the faith. And, Paul reminds Timothy that his faith is shared with his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. Timothy’s faith — our faith — cannot survive without the support and guidance of others.
Paul, despite some of what might sound like pie-in-the-sky rhetoric, is pretty pragmatic. Throughout his many letters, including today’s epistle, Paul makes it clear that faith is no easy task. This provides the perfect segue into today’s Gospel lesson: the apostles are impatient, clamoring for Jesus to make them even more faithful. Jesus provides the perfect retort: he instructs his followers that they don’t need monumental faith to be saved. All they need is the smallest amount of trust in God in order for mountains to be moved. What’s more important is to remain faithful, even in the smallest amount, and keep the course.
Doing what we have to do all while allowing our faith to take root is enough. We won’t be given accolades or kudos. Again, in our society and economy, this may seem to be absolutely foolish and a waste. But, we know – us here at St. Marks’ in Downey, California – we know that this is the formula. In the face of adversity or God’s perceived silence, all we need to do is tend that small kernel of faith and keep on keeping on. With one another’s strength and support, we will have the courage to persevere. And, we already know what the reward is. From our collect of the day, “You are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve. Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask.”
My prayer this morning is that we ourselves become oracles. And, I pray that we each find oracles all around. In the face of a society that ridicules faith and self-control, I pray that you continue to be the wise mouthpieces of a God of abundance, grace, and mercy. I pray that you see in one another the face of God and hear in one another the voice of God. Together, bound by Christ, we can and will run the race set before us. Amen.