Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sermon on Hosea 2:6-23, for Advent 2 Midweek, "The Cost of what is forgotten and remembered"

The readings I selected for this Midweek service are Hosea 2:6-23; Ephesians 5:25-27; and Psalm 78:32-42 spoken responsively.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Last week we talked about the theme of forgetting and remembering, and the tendency of God’s people to constantly forget both Him and His commands, and how God restores our memory, and how He never forgets. Today, we consider what the cost is, both of what is forgotten, and also what is remembered. We look to the prophet Hosea, who lived through a “Silver Age” of sorts in ancient Israel, during a time of great prosperity, which was quickly sliding into idolatry, wickedness, and decline. God’s people had become full and satisfied, and began to forget who was the source of all their blessings. They became complacent and forgot God, and in the words of Hosea 2, they chased after other lovers, not knowing that their blessings came from God. Hosea saw firsthand the cost of what the people forgot, and what God remembered.
God sent the prophet Hosea to call His forgetful people out of their daze, but they would not respond. Hosea compares their unfaithfulness to God to adultery, or marital unfaithfulness. This was because God had made a covenant with them; He had betrothed them as His own. But they foolishly went after other gods. God responded by hedging up their way with thorns, and building a wall against them so they couldn’t find their paths. Basically God closed up all doors and false paths that they were attempting to go down, that led away from God. Instead of finding in them love, prosperity, fulfillment, or anything else—they would find thorns, devastation, and judgment. Throughout the book, the themes move back and forth again from judgment to mercy, and God explains the purpose for His judgment is to make them “acknowledge their guilt and seek [His] face, and in their distress earnestly seek [Him]” (Hosea 5:15). If they do this, they will find mercy and healing, instead of judgment.
When we forget God, when we become full and satisfied and complacent, and turn away from Him, thinking that there is nothing we need from God—our way will be filled with thorns also. In 1 Timothy 6:9-10, we’re warned that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” This shows that our own desires plunge us into ruin, and cravings for money and turning from the faith causes us to pierce ourselves with sorrows. God has ordered His creation in such a way, that just like physical laws have cause and effect—drop a vase and the consequence of gravity is that it will be broken—so also God’s commandments or laws have a cause and effect as well. There are consequences of breaking God’s law—and we will serve ourselves those consequences if we ignore the commands, and pursue evil.
In Hosea’s message, he warned that some of the people thought that God had forgotten what they had done—they thought they were getting away with evil. Bandits, thieves, and adulterers are a few among those who “do not consider that I remember all their evil” (Hos. 7:2). He describes them like bread overheating in a burning oven—as they cook in the consequences of their sin. Here we see the cost, not only of what we have forgotten—but also the cost of what God remembers. God warns that because they have not turned away from their sin, He will remember their guilt and punish their sins (Hos. 8:13; 9:9). And God lays this guilt heaviest against the priests and leaders of the people, addressing them with this charge: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (Hos. 4:6). In forgetting God’s law and failing to teach it to God’s people, the people were now suffering with the consequences of their lack of knowledge. They were stumbling blindly in sin because they didn’t know any better.
Are we any different today? Don’t we live in a time of prosperity that has led to complacency and forgetfulness? Don’t we suffer the destructive consequences of our sin, because of our lack of knowledge? The charge to the priests particularly strikes home as a pastor, because it calls me to fulfill the duty of teaching God’s law, and reminding God’s people of His Word. Particularly startling is that God says He will forget their children. Earlier in Hosea, God instructs the prophet to name two of his children, “No Mercy” and “Not my People”—because “you are not my people, and I am not your God” (Hos. 1:8-9). This is a shocking judgment, because it amounts to God declaring that the covenant He had with them is broken. And it was obviously their sin and unfaithfulness that had broken the covenant.
But apparently this judgment was even too shocking for God—because in the very next verses, He declares that “in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God”…and “Say to your brothers, ‘You are my people,’ and to your sisters, ‘You have received mercy’ (Hos. 1:10; 2:1). Even though His people had broken the covenant, even though they had become like an unfaithful wife to Him, He was going to pursue them and bring them back. He was going to make the forsaken children His own people again. Throughout the book God describes His anger and wrath building up and punishments that will have to befall His people, but then His “heart recoils within [Him], [His] compassion grows warm and tender”  and He restrains His anger and wrath, for the sake of His mercy and compassion (Hos. 11:8-9).
So also God does not delight in leaving us in the consequences of our sins, of seeing how we suffer when we choose the path of thorns and briars instead of the level, open path of God’s Word and commandments. But even when we do it to ourselves, and “sow the wind and…reap the whirlwind” (8:7), God still calls us back to Him, to turn back (14:1-2) and find healing and God’s love (14:4). God calls us to remember that He truly is the source of all that is good, and that to find Him is to find the blessed path.
So God’s extraordinary compassion drives Him even to take back the unfaithful bride, to lovingly and tenderly pursue her and bring her back, as we heard in our reading in Hosea 2. God makes a new covenant of faithfulness with her and restores her through forgiveness. And this remarkable image of God’s love foreshadows Jesus Christ, who the New Testament tells us is the husband who gave up Himself for the Church, to make her as His own bride, spotless, and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27). He came to bear all the guilt and punishment for our sins that mounted up against us, so that He could wash us clean by the water with the word—just like God recommitted Israel to Himself.
This Advent season, we remember the cost of our forgetfulness, of forgetting God and His commandments, and how devastating a lack of knowledge of God is. We remember our waywardness from God, and complacency, that forgets that He is the source of all our goodness and life. And we remember that He also remembers our sins, if we think that God is not watching. But will we be content to leave things that way? We don’t really want God to remember our sins—that would be bad news for us. Instead, we must hear God’s call to repentance, and turn back to Him, so that He might strike those sins from His memory, and forget them by forgiveness, as the Scripture tells us He will.
And God would have us remember, and write anew on our hearts and minds, the knowledge of Him and His Word. As the Psalmist echoes throughout Psalm 119, God’s promise, His Word, and His steadfast love give us life. If lack of knowledge was destruction for us, knowledge of God is life. God reminds us that Jesus came to find us in our waywardness, to speak tenderly and lovingly to us, and make us His again. To join the church faithfully to Himself, so that we would never again run down those false and thorny paths, but rather walk uprightly in His paths (Hos. 14:9). Jesus has fully paid the cost for our forgetfulness, and made it possible for God to forget or erase our sin and guilt, through His death on the cross. And He turns again to you, and says, “You are my people…You have received mercy.” Once again, God remembers His covenant, He remembers His people—in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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