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Posts Tagged ‘Hosea’

God’s Call

God speaks through the Prophet Hosea: When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.  2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.  3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them.  4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.  5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.  6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes.  7 My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.  8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.  9 I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.  10 They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.  11 They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD. — Hosea 11:1-11

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The Apostle Paul writes: So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,  3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).  6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.  7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.  8 But now you must get rid of all such things– anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.  9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices  10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.  11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! — Colossians 3:1-11

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god-is-calling

Today we’ll be looking at both our Old Testament lesson and our New Testament lesson and the focus will be on the common ground between the two.

The prophet Hosea and the apostle Paul lived about 700 years apart, give or take a few decades. They weren’t born or raised anywhere near each other: so it is remarkable how much their messages amplify and support each other. Hosea focuses mostly on how very much God loves us; and Paul encourages us to love God back. Let there be a two-way relationship between us, and let us be confident that even when we fall short of God’s perfection, God’s love and compassion are always there.

God also reminds us throughout scripture that God’s people were called out of Egypt – out of slavery – and into freedom. Israel’s experience in Egypt is not just history; it is also a parable showing us what it means to be in bondage to sin and separated from God. Without God we find ourselves trying to satisfy people and powers who are not God but would like to take God’s place in our lives. These people and things can become idols, and we may find ourselves trapped: giving our best efforts and the very best of our minds and abilities to something that isn’t God. In every time and every age and every nation, our loyalty is to Jesus. Jesus came to set us free, and he died and rose again to bring us into God’s eternal kingdom.

But I’m getting ahead of myself! Let me back up and start with the reading from Hosea. Hosea was a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel shortly before the kingdom fell. He lived in a time when the people of Israel had been living in the Promised Land for a few hundred years. They had made themselves at home, and now they’re forgetting God (who brought them there) and are chasing after the Baals – the local false gods. They have forgotten what God did for them in Egypt; and when Hosea talks about a “return to Egypt” in verse 5, it has a double meaning: (1) that the people are taking themselves spiritually back into slavery by disobeying God, and (2) that Israel at that time was negotiating with Egypt to help them fight the Assyrians who were attacking from the north. God is warning them that their alliance with Egypt will fail. In the end, Israel doesn’t listen and the Northern Kingdom falls. But at this point in time the Northern Kingdom is still standing, and God is pleading with the people to return to the one who loves them.

2 kingdoms

In the book of Hosea, chapter 1, God gives Hosea a very unusual to begin his prophetic task: God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute and have children with her. This is meant to give the people of Israel a living picture of how God feels, being the God of a people who are always chasing after other gods. The fact that this illustration doesn’t even touch the peoples’ hearts tells us how far gone the nation is.

But in chapter 11 God changes approach: God opens his heart to the people and speaks in a way that many theologians have said is “like a mother”. Our God is of course beyond gender and has qualities that could be described as either or both. So as we read these words, we can hear God’s words spoken as either a mother or as a father would speak them.

God says to Israel:

“From the very beginning I called you. I taught you how to walk… I took you in my arms… I led you with human kindness, with bands of love… I lifted you like a child to my cheek… I bent down and fed you… but you refuse me; and as a result you will lose your land, and Assyria will be your king.”

As we hear God speaking from the heart it may remind us of other children we know – children of loving parents who have turned away from their families. We know the pain it causes. It may lead the child into danger, poverty, addiction, sometimes even death. We know that any loving parent would do anything to save their child, would even take the child’s place, if only their son or daughter would come home. This is how God is feeling towards God’s rebellious people.

But Israel won’t hear it. They keep on worshiping Baal and other false gods.

Moses had warned if they did this, God would have to act in ways that would bring great tragedy on the nation. This may not seem very God-like to us today, but as CS Lewis pointed out in the Chronicles of Narnia, speaking about the God-figure Aslan, “Aslan is not a tame lion but he is a good lion.”  Likewise our God is not tame, but good.

In this situation with Israel, God must act, or the covenant with Israel will be broken. God could bring down on Israel all the curses Moses warned about. But God says to Israel in Hosea 11:8:

“How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? My heart draws back, my compassion grows warm and tender…” And finally God says in verse 9: “I will not act in my fierce anger; I will not destroy the people; because I am God and no mortal.”

God, being God, will find a way where from a human standpoint there is no way.

In verse one of this chapter God says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”  That’s how God will do it: God will fulfill the law of Moses and still spare the people. In the New Testament, the apostle Matthew quotes this verse to identify Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy. This is how God will do it – through Jesus!

Our God refuses to get stuck in binary opposites. God does not get caught in either/or reasoning the way we often do. From our human point of view it often seems like every issue that comes along boils down to one of two positions: left-right, red-blue etc etc. God is not limited by this kind of thinking. To give just one example: when the Pharisees said to Jesus, “We just caught this woman in adultery – what should we do? Look the other way, or do what Moses said and stone her?” Jesus avoids the binary and he answers, “whichever one of you is without sin cast the first stone.”

With God there is always a third way. God does not get trapped in human dichotomies. God says, “I am God and no mortal”– and God finds a way.

As an aside, while I was writing this I saw a quotation which I thought was helpful.  There was a seminary professor who wrote, “Too often, contemporary Christian [thought] accepts the false… dichotomy between the “Old Testament God of wrath” and the “New Testament God of love.” Hosea 11 gives us a picture of God that includes both anger and love. God is the same throughout the Bible. God doesn’t change. When we turn away God hurts. God is a God of holiness and a God of mercy.

Which brings us to Paul’s letter to the Colossians. The Colossian church got off to a good start – one of their leaders was Philemon, who wrote one of the books of the New Testament. But after awhile false teachings started to slip into the church. The exact nature of these false teachings is lost to history, but we know in a general sense they included some asceticism (that is, harsh self-discipline and refusal of pleasure); and also human wisdom, tradition, and “secret knowledge.” Back then this ‘secret knowledge’ was often called Gnosticism, but today we have similar things: for example the recent QAnon phenomenon, where people were claiming to have “secret knowledge” about how things “really are” and lead people away from God.

Back to Paul’s letter: so far Paul has talked about things like God’s heavenly throne room, where Jesus is seated in victory at God’s right hand. Paul tells the Colossians to stay focused on this vision of the throne room, and to keep on doing justice, and to keep on remembering that God’s people are safe and at peace in God’s kingdom.

throne room

Paul also reminds us to listen to the Holy Spirit so we can see beyond appearances. The Holy Spirit lifts the veil from the false pretenses of the world’s powers and authorities. To give just one small real-world example of false pretenses from our own time: when we go to the store these days we are getting less for the same price: boxes of Kleenex are the same size but have fewer tissues in them. Bags of cat food are the same size bag but have less food in them. Bottles of medicine are the same size bottles but contain fewer pills. These are just some of the lies told by the powers of this world. Real truth and real freedom, come only from God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

As Paul continues his teaching, he says people are created to be in relationship: first with God and then with each other. As the old saying goes, “no one is an island” – we are all interconnected. Therefore, what we do with our bodies and minds and hearts has an effect on others and on the world around us. That’s why God must be #1 in our lives, so that God’s goodness and God’s kingdom and God’s truth can enter our world through us.

A good summary of this passage from Paul might be, in the words of the old hymn, “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness”. The Greek word for “seek” – zeteo – means to desire, to want very deeply. It’s not “eh, I can take it or leave it”.  It’s more like how Jesus described the widow searching for her lost penny: she puts all her effort into it, and when she finds it, she calls all her friends to rejoice! In the same way we should seek for and find and rejoice in God’s kingdom.

So whatever we say or do, we say or do in Jesus’ name and to Jesus’ glory. In this passage, Paul gives as examples (not as a complete list) a list of things not to do – most of which are of a sexual nature – but I find it interesting that Paul includes “greed” in this list. Idolatry comes in many forms, often brought on by being dissatisfied with what God has given us.

So big picture, Paul is dealing with the same issue that Hosea is. God has called God’s people, and God’s people are turning away.

Paul says “since we have been raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Jesus is, where God is.”  As God’s people, our lives are hidden with Jesus in God. We don’t know yet what we will be when Jesus comes. But we do know when Jesus comes, what we really are will be revealed. So our goal is to live in God’s direction, moving toward Jesus. As Paul says, we need to “put away what is earthly” – get rid of anything in us that might hold us back or that might harm what God has created in us.

One commentator puts it this way: the time of the Roman Empire was a time of “insatiable consumption” – sounds a lot like our world today! And Paul calls this “idolatry”.

We need to take off the old self and put on the new self. Anything of this world that comes between us and God is an idol and needs to be gotten rid of. That might include, but is not limited to: unfaithfulness, greed, anger, slander, abusive language, speaking lies or half-truths – these all are forms of Baal-worship.

God calls us away from serving what is ‘not God’ and into worshiping the one and only true God. False gods – as with Pharaohs – only imprison and enslave us. Paul talks about putting on new clothing for our souls; he talks about “being renewed in the knowledge and in the image of our creator.” In God’s kingdom we are no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, black or white, children of different nations: we are all ONE in Jesus. As Paul says, “Christ is all and in all.”

We won’t ever see this perfectly in this life. But in Jesus we make progress… which starts now and continues into eternity. In the meantime we trust in the passionate love of God that Hosea talked about. God loves us so much! God is faithful; God will do what God has promised; and God will never let us go. God will find a way. AMEN.

God Will Make a Way

Preached at the South Hills Partnership of United Methodist Churches, July 2022

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