Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sermon for June 7-8

The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
June 7-8, 2008
Text: Hosea 5:15-6:6

Dear Friends in Christ,
After 9/11 there was a brief surge in church attendance. But it didn’t last long. Part of the reason was that so many church leaders offered a feeble and unscriptural response to what had happened to our nation. But it is also a reflection of the spirit of our age. It didn’t take long for people to be back to their games, their snowmobiles, their ATV’s, their family gatherings and the like. Sure we’d hear about the occasional service person killed or wounded. But it didn’t really affect most of us. In this country a military class has developed. Our military is all volunteer. Most of those who serve come from a small, select group of families. The fathers and grandfather’s served, so now the children also serve. Most of our service personnel are well educated and many are career military. Most come of solidly middle class backgrounds. So unless you are in this little circle, as some of you are, the war on terror has required no real sacrifice at all. Most Americans are, figuratively speaking, fat and happy, living high on the hog. As such, most Americans have little time for God and know virtually nothing about Him.

This is very much like the people of Hosea’s time. Hosea’s ministry was around 750 B.C. This is the period of the divided kingdom. He was a prophet to the northern Kingdom, also called Israel, or in our text Ephraim. As you might recall, 750 B.C. is only a few years before the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians, in 722 B.C. But Israel’s decline was rapid. In 750, they were on the top of the world. They were rich and powerful. The nobles lived in great luxury. They had a strong military and well fortified cities. No one could imagine the destruction that was about to come upon them.

Our text begins with God speaking to Israel: “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.” God is saying that he will abandon them to their fate. He will leave them to be destroyed because they are not repentant. What follows is still God talking. But He’s talking in the voice of the Israelites. You have to hear God speaking sarcastically, mimicking the Israelites. “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” That this not genuine repentance is made clear in verse 4: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.” If there was genuine repentance why would God be asking what He was going to do? Interestingly though, God’s condemnation here is against both the northern and southern kingdoms. Both were guilty and both were unrepentant. Both claimed to be seeking the knowledge of God but remained ignorant of Him. Because of their lack of true repentance, God would send His prophets to kill them. This is not just physical death here, but condemnation to hell.

At this point I want to pose a question to you. Can anyone be repentant as they should? No. Man cannot, by his own powers repent at all. The depth our sin must be revealed to us by God. This is why we say that the maturity of faith is the recognition of our own sin and our own sinfulness. So we do well to pray to God for a repentant heart. We do well to live our entire life as one of repentance.

Let me pose another question to you. Can man know God? No. Again there is nothing in us that allows us to have knowledge of the true God. The only thing we can know on our own is that there is a god. Who He is or what His purpose is, is walled off from the natural mind of man. These things have to revealed to us. Thus St. Paul poses the question: “How can they believe if they have not heard?”

We cannot change the world. This why movement Christianity, such liberation theology, always fails. We cannot even change ourselves. Scripture teaches us that man has a heart of stone. Stone responds to nothing. But Scripture also teaches us that God, in Christ, changes our hearts. He gives us hearts of flesh. He gives us ears that hear His voice speaking to us through Holy Scripture. He gives us minds that seek to know about Him and know Him. He teaches us to be repentant. He perfects our repentance. He gives us perfect forgiveness and eternal life in His presence. Only when God is speaking through us can we say, come let us return to the Lord. But God does speak to us and through us in this way.

Yet, for God to do these things we must know of God and know God. First the knowledge of God. What does God say that He wants of us in our text? He wants us to have knowledge of Him. We are to know who He is and what He is. We are to know what He has done and what He is continuing to do. There is only one source for this knowledge - that is Holy Scripture. To know about God, one has to study the text of Scripture. Even a preacher can only give you what he has been given. I assure you that I have no knowledge of God apart from Holy writ. Yet, in our age, everyone presumes that what they make up in their own head or what they’ve heard on Oprah is real and what is in the Bible is false. God has only revealed Himself in His Word. All other supposed knowledge of God is false. So what God desires of us is that we study His Word and thus learn who He is and what He has done.

Knowledge does not save. Knowing is what is essential. The word “know” or in Hebrew “y’thah” is very important in the Old Testament. If you know something you trust in it and are intimate with it. This the word used for Sexual intercourse - as we would see it in the old King James, literally translating the Hebrew, “he lay with her, and he knew her, and she conceived...” Thus all the jokes about knowing someone in the Biblical sense. The point of knowing about God is so that we would know God. So that we would be intimate with God. So that we would trust in Him and cling to Him.

What does God desire for us? “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Love is the fruit of true repentance - love of God and love for our fellow man. Knowledge leads us to know God and trust in God. For in one sense the response of the Israelites that God mimics in our text is right. God is merciful. He is forgiving. He does restore. That restoration is all connected to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Notice in our text that God will restore after two days, on the third day. Notice that is literally a resurrection that is spoken of in our text. We rise to life with Christ. The Israelites didn’t grasp the depths of their sins. Like many today, they trusted in their power and their prosperity. They were too busy with their distractions to be bothered by things like repentance and the study of Scripture. In many ways we are no different. But in Christ we see the weight of our sins. We see it because the price that had to be paid for our sin. But we also see, in Christ, that we rise to life with Him. Christ teaches us to repent. Christ teaches us who God is and what God has done. Christ teaches us that have forgiveness and life. Amen!

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