Visions of Faith

Monday, November 19, 2012 — Week of Proper 28, Year 2

Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary, 1231

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (p. 993)

Psalms 89:1-18 (morning) // 89:19-52 (evening)

Habakkuk 2:1-4, 9-20

James 2:14-26

Luke 16:19-31

Habakkuk wonders about whether God’s rule of justice is really effective in a world which appears so unjust. In chapter one, Habakkuk issued two complaints toward God. The first complaint is that the national leaders are corrupt, motivated only by the accumulation of wealth and power. God answers Habakkuk’s complaint saying that God will send a foreign army to depose the current leadership. Habakkuk complains a second time after the foreign army, God’s chosen instrument of judgment, has invaded and conquered. They are as bad as the evil ones they replaced. Will God respond? Will God administer justice?

Habakkuk opens his words today: “I will stand at my watchpost, and …keep watch to see what he… will answer concerning my complaint.” God’s answer: “There is still a vision for the appointed time… If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”

Verse 4 seems to speak the core of the message: “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” There is a translation footnote that translates “faith” as “faithfulness.” The Hebrew word means “firmness, steadfastness, fidelity.” The righteous live by their firm, steadfast, fidelity and faithfulness.

From that bedrock of faithfulness, Habakkuk speaks powerfully toward the proud, powerful and wealthy. “Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses… The very stones will cry out from the wall… Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed, and found a city on iniquity! …The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. Alas for you who make your neighbors drink, pouring out your poison until they are drunk… You will be sated with contempt instead of glory… What use is an idol…? Alas for you who say to the wood ‘Wake up!’ …See, it is gold and silver plated, and there is no breath in it at all. But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!”

Habakkuk lives in a time of injustice and the misuse of power. The wealthy pursue their own gain; there is violence and arrogance abounding. Habakkuk speaks judgment to the powerful. He waits upon a firm foundation: His steadfast fidelity toward God.

The other readings invite further commentary on faithful living.

James lives with people who make a show of their belief, but their actions are lacking. “Show me your faith apart from you works, and I by my works will show you my faith… Even the demons believe — and shudder… Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”

Jesus tells of a complacent man, living in comfort and luxury, oblivious to the suffering of the poor just outside his own vision. When he realizes God’s judgment upon him, he cries out in agony.

These are stories and images about faith. When I was growing up, faith was mostly about belief — “faith” was to assent to a particular content with your belief. That is not what faith is in any of these stories, or in most of the Bible. Marcus Borg likes to use four Latin words to expand our understanding of faith: assensus (belief); fiducia (trust); fidelitus (loyalty); visio (vision).

Habakkuk has a vision of trust in God that prompts his steadfast loyalty. James says that faith is a verb, acted out in deeds that are faithful to God’s vision. Jesus gives a vision of what loyalty to God rather than toward one’s one interests looks like. All three of these expressions of faith have practical effect — economic and social impact.

The implication: It’s not so much about what you believe, it is about your loyal, active trust in a vision that belongs to God.

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