Thursday, July 28, 2005

Sermon for July 24

Faith Moves: Hosea the Steadfast Spouse
1 John 4:7‑12; Hosea 1: 1‑ 11; 3:1‑5

During a wedding rehearsal, the groom approached the pastor with an unusual offer. “Look,” he said, “I’ll give you $100 if you’ll change the wedding vows. When you get to me and the part where I’m to promise to ‘love, honor and obey,’ and ‘forsake all others to be faithful to her forever,’ I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave that part out.” He passed the minister a $100 bill and walked away satisfied. The day of the wedding came, and the bride and groom moved to the part of the ceremony where the vows are exchanged. When it came time for the groom’s vows, the pastor looked the young man in the eye and said, “Will you promise to prostrate yourself before her, obey her every command and wish, serve her breakfast in bed every morning of your life and swear eternally before God and your lovely, wife that you will never even look at another woman, as long as you both shall live?” The groom gulped and looked around, and said in a tiny voice, “Yes.” Then the groom leaned toward the pastor and hissed, ‑I thought we had a deal?” The pastor put the $100 bill into his hand and whispered back, “She made a better offer.”

The relationship sounds doomed from the start. From the beginning of the marriage, the bride and groom show lack of trust in each other. This morning we are going to look at a different marriage. It is between a man named Hosea and his wife Gomer. Hosea was a prophet in the nation of Israel and a contemporary of Isaiah. God tells him to do something unusual – a faith move that will take a lot of courage and humility.

The nation of Israel is in dire straights. The bloodthirsty nation of Assyria is a world empire. Assyria conquers neighboring countries, brutalizes the conquered armies, and reduces the inhabitants to slaves. Assyria’s grip slowly starts to squeeze Israel. Israel’s government is in anarchy. At one time the rulers only saw one way out. They paid money to the king of Assyria as a bribe for protection. Israel gave gold, silver, ivory, and purple robes, and became a puppet government in order to secure their borders. The rulers of Israel get tired of paying off Assyria for their security, so Israel forms an alliance with the their neighbors, the king of Damascus and the king of Tyre. If the three countries can show some strength and raise enough revenue, they hope to get noticed by Egypt and form a political and military alliance against Assyria. Israel is guilty of political promiscuity. The government of Israel goes from country to country, desperately looking for protection. In return, Israel is being led to the brink of destruction. While this is going on, the people of Israel have also turned their backs on the God of the covenant and have given their devotion to the seemingly harmless local gods of the area ‑ the fertility gods Baal and Asherah. God’s people need salvation but they are turning to other gods and other nations to help them. They turn to every one except their Lord and Maker. They worship the gods and rulers of the land rather than the Creator of heaven and earth who demands righteousness, mercy, love, and faithfulness

God decides to use a prophet named Hosea and woman named Gomer to speak to the people of Israel. Gomer is a prostitute, and God tells Hosea to marry her. After giving birth to three children, Gomer leaves Hosea and returns to the streets to sell her body. I can just imagine Hosea’s heartbreak. The woman he loves with all his heart, the women who bore him three children, leaves him to go back to her old life. She thinks her former life, with men giving her nice things and wanting to be with her, is better than her life as a wife and mother.

Then God says, “Hosea, I am going to use your broken, aching heart to let my people know that their actions are like the betrayal of an unfaithful spouse. My people have put their trust in political alliances instead of the Lord. My people have trusted in idols instead of worshiping the Lord their God. I love my people, but Israel has forgotten her Maker.” Then God says, “Hosea, no matter what Gomer does, I want you to stay true to her. Have faith, trust in me, and I will make things right again.”

God uses the symbol of marriage to speak to his people. It is easy to sentimentalize marriage. Life would be easy if marriage was only about romance and red roses, butterflies in the stomach and long walks on the beach. But marriage is more than that. Matrimony has to do with duty, responsibility and commitment. God accuses Israel of being an adulterous spouse who fails to show her commitment to the relationship. When the honeymoon is over, Israel forgets her greatest love. She can’t trust in the Lord when she needed him most, and turned to other lovers instead.

When I began reflected on this text I thought that this story demonstrated the way the world scorns and rejects the things of God ‑ how unbelievers turn away from the Creator. But as I thought about it more I realized that the Lord is not talking to the world. Hosea doesn’t address Egypt or Assyria, Damascus or Tyre. God is talking to his called people, his beloved. The people of the covenant are the ones who have rejected their Lord.

So, let’s not think about “Them” for a moment. Let’s think about “us.” After all, the church is called the New Israel, the people of the new covenant. We could all probably say, “I know a Christian person who ______ . . . fill in the blank with your sin of choice. I know a Christian person who cheats. I know a Christian who is a pain in the rear end. I know a Christian with a mouth like Howard Stern. I know a person who sleeps around. I know a Christian who’s self‑indulgent. I know a Christian who acts holier than thou but is rotten to the core.

What is usually our response to these people? Do we throw our arms around them and say, “We love you?” Can we really hate the sin but love the sinner? Do we take every opportunity to reach out and demonstrate that these people belong to God? I wish we acted this way. It seems that more often our first impulse is to judge and condemn. Maybe we feel betrayed and back away. Maybe we look at their situation and say, “Better them than me.” Maybe we say to the offender, “I’ll pray for you,” and that’s the end of it.

This is not Hosea’s reaction to Gomer. Hosea is committed to the restoration of his marriage. He knows that he can’t abandon his wife. And because Hosea is steadfast in the midst of betrayal, he knows that God will neither reject nor abandon his people.

God is in love with his people. He is in love with you. He is in love with his wayward children who have taken a detour in their spiritual journey. Friends, God is not going to let you, or them, or any of his covenant people go. The past few weeks we’ve been talking about faith moves. Well, here’s where I think the faith move comes into this story. God says to Hosea, “Go show your love to your wife again, even though she is used by another men. Love her as I love Israel.” Hosea finds her at the prostitute market, and buys her back. You have to understand, law and emotion prevented a husband who was publicly betrayed by his wife from renewing his marital life with her. It was bad form to chase after a promiscuous wife. Because of Gomer’s unfaithfulness, the marriage should have been over with. But God’s love is greater than custom and emotion.

God says, “Hosea, forget propriety and etiquette. Don’t listen to your betrayed and shattered heart. Go and get Gomer, and bring her home, and love her.” The name Gomer means “complete.” In the Bible, a person’s name says something about one’s destiny. I don’t see a woman who was forced to come back to a husband and lifestyle she hated. I imagine Gomer as a woman who is brought back with more love than she thinks she deserves. Gomer realizes that she is right where she needs and wants to be. When Gomer returns to Hosea, she is complete.

Isn’t this is exactly what God has done for us through Jesus Christ? We are all Gomers. We all have moments when we are tempted to wander away from God. We all get ourselves in places where our choices redirect us away from a relationship with God. We are all Gomers, and God paid the price to make us complete. The cross is the proof of the everlasting, sacrificial love of God. God loves you. God is serious about not wanting us, his people, to succumb to the effects of our faithless desires. God is so serious about completing us, that he placed the punishment for sin on his Son as atonement for human rebellion. Through Christ, God says, “I’m buying you back. I love you because you belong with me.”

There’s an appropriate response to such great love. 1 John says it best. “Let us love one another, for love comes from God.”
If you have ever been touched by the hand of God,
if you have ever caught a glimpse of God’s wild affection for you,
if you have ever felt free because of God’s forgiveness,
if you have ever felt restored, or healed,
or saved by the power of God Almighty,
then you should love in return.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? It’s harder than it sounds. This is our faith move ‑ bold love. I’m not talking about wimpy love ‑ that mushy, gushy, warm fuzzy love. I’m not talking about love as some philosophical ideal. I’m talking about bold, audacious, determined, faithful love toward those who are unlovable. Love, as a faith move, is about reaching to those who have betrayed us. It’s extending the open hand of companionship instead of the fist of judgment. Bold love is our attempt to graciously embrace those who have sinned against us. It offers restoration to those who harm us. Bold love reclaims the potential good in another person, even at the risk of self‑sacrifice and loss. Love means using our lives to reclaiming the kernel of good in those who are lost.

God loves his people, and he will not let any of us go. That’s God’s commitment. He demonstrated that to Hosea, he proved it to Israel, and he is still dedicated to us today. Let us commit ourselves to loving everyone, with no strings attached, as our thankful response to God’s faithfulness.

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