The prophet Habakuk lived in times somewhat similar to our own, times of war and uncertainty, of a collapse of morality in public life. Such an insight does not necessarily make it easier to bear the difficult circumstances in which we now live. We can, though, derive some comfort in the knowledge that humanity has been here before.
The prophet begins today’s first reading by complaining that God is deaf to his prayers:
‘O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?’ (Hab 1:2)
Such a complaint is common throughout the Scriptures, and is probably best answered by words of the prophet Isaiah:
‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.’ (Isa 55:8)
God’s plans are not always easily understood, at which point we have to trust Him, as is clear from the Lord’s answer to Habakuk:
“Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Hab 2:2-3)
This point is reinforced in the next verse, which states:
‘but the righteous shall live by his faith.’ (Hab 2:4)
Faith, putting one’s trust in God, is how humanity can truly live. Being a Christian can feel hard and difficult at times. It can be very easy to feel as though we are experiencing something of the vision of the prophet Habakuk in this morning’s first reading. The best advice comes from St Augustine, who said the following words to his people over sixteen hundred years ago:
‘“You all say, ‘The times are troubled, the times are hard, the times are wretched.’ Live good lives and you will change the times. By living good lives you will change the times and have nothing to grumble about.”’ (Sermo 311.8).
It can be easy to see bad things happening, but not realise that it is our responsibility to be the change that we want to see. If we want to live in a world filled with love, kindness, and generosity, then it is up to us to do something about it. We need to live out our faith in our lives, making generous love a reality through our words and actions.
Likewise, St Paul’s advice to Timothy to stir up the gift of faith, will help us. God has given us
‘a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.’ (2Tim1: 7)
Self-control is not exactly the most glamorous of traits, but it is crucial if we want to grow in faith. Through it we grow in virtue by the grace of God. It goes hand in hand with the service envisaged by the Gospel passage this morning. We imitate the example of the saints. In Paul’s words, we:
‘follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.’ (2Tim 1:13-14)
By imitation of virtuous examples our characters are formed. We become what we imitate. Therefore we need to imitate Christ, who gave Himself for us, and who comes to us this morning under the outward forms of bread and wine to feed us with His Body and Blood, so that we might become what He is.
In St Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples ask Him to:
“Increase our faith!” (Lk 17:5)
Faith, hope, and love, are all gifts of God, given to us, by the Holy Spirit in our Baptism. While we may feel that we need more of them, God has in fact already given us everything we need. As Christians, we are called to trust in a God who is able to do more than we can imagine or understand. Hence the Gospel image of a mulberry tree being uprooted and planted in the sea. It’s impossible in human terms, but nothing is impossible for God. Our Lord’s advice to His disciples is to serve. Service should not be something that is looked down on. In cafés and restaurants people serve us food and drink, nurses and carers serve the elderly and infirm. Such service is a sign of love in action. Such love, care, and humility, are the foundations of our spiritual life. If we want to grow, then we need to demonstrate our faith in action, through loving service.
Our growth in faith is a gradual process: it takes time, a lifetime in fact, and comes about through God’s Grace. We may long for something instant, but God’s ways are not our ways. Faith is like a mustard seed, it starts small, but in time it can grow into something large. How does this happen? The parable which Jesus tells gives us the answer: through service. Not the most glamorous of answers, certainly, and that’s the point. Christianity is not a glamorous religion, it calls on us to lay down our lives in service and to take up the Cross. At the end of the day, all we can say is,
‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ (Lk 17:10).
We are not worthy. God makes us worthy, through His Son, who dies and is raised for us, and fills us with His love. The work of the Gospel is, at one level, up to us, the Body of Christ, His Church. We have to live our faith out in our lives, relying upon God. Christianity is a way of life. Through humble service of one another, we do our duty, and grow in love and faith, and help to make the Kingdom of God a reality. Part of this service is to give praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.