Sunday, June 17, 2018
Father’s Day: I thank God for my dad. I thank God that I get to be a dad. At this point in life, my dad is my friend, one of my best, most trusted friends. My kids are a delight to me. The point I want to emphasize in sharing this is God’s role in it. I count these relationships as the most cherished of gifts, and God gets the credit.
I say this knowing full well that many among us have damaged relationships with their dads or no relationships with their dads. Or, there is much love, but Dad has died. In a few cases, dads we know have lost children. What hurts as much as burying one’s own child. So for someone in my situation Father’s Day is a happy day. For others, the same day is one of sadness.
But back to the main point, what about God? Why would God allow me and others a great relationship with both father and kids? Why doesn’t everyone get that?
Reading the prophet Hosea on Father’s Day is oddly interesting. He was told, as a prophetic act, to marry a prostitute and then father children by her. Their three children were given names that communicated God’s message. The first was a son whose name means “God sows.” Then came a daughter called, “Not my people.” The third child was a son given the name, “Not pitied.”
Chapter two opens with the narrator telling “God sows” to talk with his brother and sister. They are re-named “My people,” and, “Pitied” or “compassion.” God will not continuously reject his own; even though they turned away from God, the heart of God is such that God welcomes the sinful nation back again embracing them as God’s people. As angry as God gets, God will always have a heart of compassion. As Hosea 2 opens, the eldest, “God sows,” is to tell the younger two that they need to convince their mother, Gomer the prostitute, to stop living a promiscuous life.
Hosea 2:2, “Plead with your mother … that she will put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts.”
Of course what’s actually happening is God is speaking to his people. The mother is Israel. This is a family conversation with the father, Hosea, strangely silent. Yet, the actual conversation is God’s family, with God as the angry father who has been deeply hurt. Israel is the child who rejected his father’s authority and mocked him by giving allegiance and love to other leaders, other fathers. Hosea the prophet is the faithful child the father has sent to bring the lost back to him.
That’s the God we meet in Hosea and in the Bible. God recognizes that humans sin and beckons us back from the devastating effects of sin into the deep well of blessing, joy, and life He has for us. The world around us, and us with it, is dying in sin. God wants all who have turned away from God to turn back to Him in repentance and faith.
God is picture of a loving God. And yet, we must read closely to see this picture because Hosea also shows another aspect of God. In Chapter 2, God speaks out of frustration at the way people have turned away from him.
God tells Hosea’s children to plead with their mother to turn away from her scandalous life or, verse 3, “I will strip her naked and expose her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and turn her into parched land, and kill her with thirst.” When God created the world, it was green, but not wild. God gave Adam and Eve a garden. God promised Moses and the people a land of milk and honey. We don’t accidently happen upon milk and honey. Ask farmers and bee keepers. Those gifts from God involve work, cultivation.
If we stay in our sin, with our back to God, indifferent to His guidance, in flagrant rebellion against the boundaries he sets around us – if that’s how we live, God will kill with thirst. The God of love gets angry and we need to see that an angry God is not to be trifled with or ignored. Hosea calls us to pay attention.
Verse 4, when the people flaunt immorality and disregard of God, God says, “[for] her children, I will have no pity.” This calls for 100 % of our attention. The place where we flaunt immorality and disregard for God is in our daily living. Behavior, everyday life choices, attitudes of hatred or contempt – everything in our hearts that is the opposite of the life God calls us to is the source of our sin. This anti-god state of our hearts leads to actions and words that are sins and these sins have consequences not just for us but also for people who we love.
God will not wave a cosmic magic wand to rescue people from getting hurt by our bad choices. This doesn’t mean God is absent. God is here and God is love, but God is also hot-red angry at sin. Hosea reveals the anger in God – anger at people when people turn away from Him and in their own wisdom end up hurting each other through mean words, through greed, through exploitation of the poor, and through racism and other marginalizations.
Verse 6 – “I will hedge up her way with thorns; I will build a wall against her, so she cannot find her paths.”
Verse 10 – “Now I will uncover her shame in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall rescue her.” Uncover –all God does here is reveal the truth about the person or group who has ignored Him. To live apart from God is to be without a spiritual anchor; it is to be morally and spiritually adrift. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Bad company ruins good morals. Wake up from your drunken stupor … and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.”
Paul’s phrase, “Some have no knowledge of God,” cuts to the heart of the message. In the middle of God’s angry tirade in Hosea 2, he says in verse 8, “She did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, who lavished upon her silver and gold.” She did not know.
Israel in Hosea’s day had a claim; they were the chosen people of God. Their cultural life was founded on their relationship with God. Yet, by the 700’s BC, they lived as though God were an afterthought. Blessing abounded for the nation, yet in their national consciousness, they did not connect the good in their lives with the giver of the good – God.
We do not know. We live our lives and because we don’t see God with our eyes, we assume the good things we have come to us by our own efforts, or by luck, or by fate. The more we associate joy, success, and prosperity, with our own achievement, the more we feel entitled. In a sense, it comes to a simple question. Am I living my life in gratitude or in a quest for more? Am I thankful for my life? Or do I strive to accomplish more, to have more (more money, more expensive things, more time)? If I don’t get the more I think I ought to get, do I become angry? Do I resent others who have what I believe is rightfully mine? Does my resentment lead me to try to take my neighbor’s success away from my neighbor and keep it for myself?
When we don’t know that the good and the plenty in our lives is a gift of God and when we think it is ours, we see other people as competition. In America, nonwhite people are competing with white people for jobs. In my workplace, the person who was promoted should have been me, but it wasn’t, so now, I resent that person. When we do not know God as the source of our lives and all the good in our lives, it affects how we act toward other people.
Gomer did not know it was God who gave and who gives what we need to live and to live in joy and celebration. Not knowing becomes God-ignorance, and God-ignorance becomes survival-of-the-fittest clawing to get ahead at my neighbor’s expense.
As I stated at the outset, I don’t know why God allowed me to have great relationships with my kids and my dad, and with my wife and my mom and with my wife’s family. I know this. I didn’t earn it. Those relationships are not a result of anything I did. So all I can be is grateful.
I work hard in life. I try to write good sermons. I try to do my part to help our church grow. If I were in another line of work, I would try hard for promotions. I strive to do my best. But, I hope, in this life or in any other life I lived, I could be grateful to God for what He gives me without worrying too much about what someone else has.
A heart of gratitude opens me up to God so that God may go to work in me and through me. Maybe my family opens ourselves up to that person who is estranged from his family. We can’t be his dad, but we can love him. We can’t rescue him from the way sins – his or the sins of others – have wrecked his live. But we can love him and be a source of good and blessing by being in relationship with him. And this is just one example of how living in gratitude changes us.
I found Hosea 2:8 – “she does not know” – to be the lynchpin of this message. The calamity facing Israel took root when they forgot God in the nation’s daily life.
When we examine our lives and see all the places God has blessed us, we turn the phrase around. We do know that God loves us and has provided for us. That knowledge plants gratitude in us. Aware of how thankful we are, we follow God onto a new life trajectory. We become a blessing for others because gratitude leads to extravagant generosity. Gratitude also forms us in a way that we expect God to good things. And he does.
Perhaps the way to live the core message of Hosea in our lives is to head into the week with three assignments. This is pretty simple.
(1) Cite the blessings in your life. Even if you’re going through a rough time, find ways this week, to focus on the good things in life.
(2) Once you have a list of blessings, thank for them. See those things as gifts from God. Cultivate in your gratitude.
This does not negate your pain. Your pain is real and God wants to heal you and help you to a better place. But even as that’s happening, we can note our blessings and exercise gratitude in our hearts.
The final thing after citing blessing and building our gratitude muscles is observation. After of week of grateful living, how are our hearts affected? What differences do we notice?
We want to live God-oriented lives. Gomer, the unfaithful wife in Hosea did not know God was the source of her life. We know. We know God and we know God is good and love us. This week, live by what you know.