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Friday, July 20, 2018

Fumbling Pride

In the sermons this summer, we have been looking at the 8th century BC prophet Hosea to hear the Word of the Lord.  However, last week, we took a break from Hosea to read 1 Timothy as we ordained new elders and thought about church leadership.
            Today, as we return to the fiery words of the prophet, a lonely voice for God amid a society turned away from God, I want to briefly think back to 1 Timothy and the idea of church.  The church is a family, and hopefully we are engaged participants in the life of this family. 
The church goers I have seen who receive the greatest blessing from church are those who develop deep, lifelong friendships with the people they worship alongside each Sunday.  In those relationships, we grow as disciples.  We serve together, giving our very best in terms of time, talent, and energy to the life of the church. 
As we serve in the church, we locate our lives within the church.  And we see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  In the church, we realize we are not of the world around us.  The church is not just one more institution in a society full of institutions competing individuals’ time and loyalty.  The church is the body of Christ in the world.  In the church, we know, we’re bound for and bound to the Kingdom of God. 
We’re not cut-off.  We stay fully engaged in the world, showing people love and grace.  We know we are sent by God to announce his rescue mission.  Jesus is the Savior.  The church is the gathering of his disciples.
In the 8th century BC, the nation of Israel was meant to be a gathering of God worshipers.  The world would look to Israel, see God’s holiness, repent of sin, and come to Israel seeking God.  The problem is when the world looked to Israel, God’s holiness was not seen.  Israel lived as just one more kingdom vying for power, forming ill-fated alliances, and rising and falling based upon the deaths of common people who gave their lives on behalf of monarchs who didn’t want to dirty their own hands.
They went through the motions of worship, and at the same time, they aligned with nations that were utterly opposed to the ways of God.  It happens in our day and time too.  Famous pastors and supposedly Christian leaders align themselves with political figures who show open disregard for the ethics found in scripture.  Pastors today find themselves praised not for their forceful proclamation of the stories in the Bible, but for their words about this candidate or that one.  Many high profile Christians today have forfeited their witness as badly as kings and priests did in Hosea’s day.  Many churches today fail as courageous witnesses when their “gospel” is eerily similar to the platform of either of America’s major political parties.
We who are in Christ are called to be something else.  We are to be a light on the hill shining on something the world hasn’t seen – the city of God, a city unlike any on earth.  Israel was called to be holy.  So are we.  In Israel’s constant flirtation with other religions, in her exploitation of the needy, and in her repeated acts of fornication she was profane and she fumbled her responsibility to point the world to God. 
What does God think when His people try so hard to be worldly instead of faithful?  The opening of chapter 4 sets the table for God’s response: “Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel, for the Lord has an indictment against [you].”  Hosea then develops this theme of indictment. 
Chapter 5, verse 5: “Israel’s pride testifies against him.”  
Pride.  Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Most Americans claim to be Christian and most Christians says they believe what the Bible says.  If we believe it – Hosea 5:5 & Proverbs 16:18 – then we need to be careful about pride!  And yet pride in our country is expected of all Americans.  If you aren’t proud and don’t tear up during the National Anthem, you aren’t patriotic enough! 
But we say we believe the Bible and Hosea and Proverbs, two Biblical books, say pride indicts us and leads to destruction!  How do we reconcile this?
We feel the need to insist how much better America is than other places and other peoples, even when we haven’t visited other places and don’t know other peoples.  “They wish they were like us,” we say. “They wish they were here.”  Maybe some in other countries do; certainly not all.  What if we celebrated that America is strong and we love our country.  Would that be enough?  Do we have to puff out our chests and insist that “America is the most powerful nation in the world”? 
Is that so important? In the days of the Hosea, Assyria was the most powerful nation, and they were not in step with God’s vision for creation.  In the days of Jesus, the most powerful nation was Rome, and Rome glorified itself, not God.  I love America.  Every citizen should.  We should all contribute to the thriving of all people in America.  But Jesus, not America, should define us.  I pray for America to be blessed and God to be glorified.    
Of 8th century BC Israel, Hosea said, “with their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them” (5:6).  Why?  God never turns back an earnest seeker.  Why would Hosea say God rejected Israel?  The people had circumcised bodies.  They sacrificed animals. They performed all the religious rites.  However, their hearts were indifferent to God.  They used God for their own purposes.  We are to submit our purposes to God’s will and then live by God’s command.  We are to be of use to God, not vice versa.
Hosea 5:7 says that because the people dealt faithlessly with God, they bore illegitimate children.  What came from that faithless society was something other than the holiness God intends for us, God’s image bearers.  We also yield unholy, ungodly fruit when we live for our own desires without regard for God. 
Upon reading Hosea 5:7, “they have broken faith with the Lord … they have begotten alien children,” each one of us has to ask, ‘Have I broken faith with the Lord?’  ‘Is my life producing God’s holiness?’  Or, is my life profane?  This goes beyond morality.  A lot of people who have very little to do with Jesus live what appear to be moral lives.  But they are not lives submitted to Christ. 
The Apostle Paul captured this tension well in Galatians.  There he contrasts what our lives produce when we are motived by our own appetites and cravings verses what comes out of our lives when the Holy Spirit pours through us.  Galatians 5:
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy,[e] drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Apart from God, our lives issues forth profane words, ideas, and relationships, all utterly cut off from the holiness God commands for us.  God doesn’t like it.  God is more invested in us than we in Him.  The pain God experiences when we reject Him is greater than the hurt we feel apart from Him.  Hosea reveals how God reacts to our disobedience and disregard of Him. This is chapter 5, verses 12-14.
12 Therefore I am like maggots to Ephraim,
    and like rottenness to the house of Judah.
13 When Ephraim saw his sickness,
    and Judah his wound,
then Ephraim went to Assyria,
    and sent to the great king.[a]
But he is not able to cure you
    or heal your wound.
14 For I will be like a lion to Ephraim,
    and like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I myself will tear and go away;
    I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.
When you got up to come to church this morning, did you expect to hear God say, “I am like maggots and rottenness?”  Maggots swarm over piles of putrid, stinking mess.  God swarms the person who dares abandon him and turns away from him.  This nasty imagery is unappetizing, but to say less would dilute the message of the prophet. God is disgusted when people reject Him and His call, and Hosea wants his readers to feel that disgust.  God loves us.  When we swat that love back at God with the strength of a tennis pro’s forehand, God doesn’t go away.  God stays.  And then, we reek with the stench of God-rejecters. 
Hosea then shifts images, from maggots to the lion.  “I will tear,” God says.  God will ravage the faithless congregation that plays at worshiping Him all the while trying to please the culture around it.  Like prey in the wilderness, God chews us up when we turn from him.

We are to live within our American culture.  But, in that culture, we are to be salt, seasoning the culture with the flavor of Heaven.  Where our culture expects cutthroat competition, we are to offer cooperation with an eye toward the thriving of everyone.  Where our culture calls for vengeance in disputes, whether verbal or violent, as people of heaven we give forgiveness and mercy.  Where our culture exalts the mighty and powerful, we are to, as Colossians 3 says, “clothe [ourselves] with “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and love” (v.12, 14).
Those values differ greatly from the bravado and power-posturing so valued in our culture.  Compassion.  Kindness.  Humility.  Meekness.  Love.  We can’t aspire to live out these ideas unless we are filled with the Spirit of the risen Christ.  Oriented toward our culture we are turned away from God, and God ruins us and rips us apart. 
Hosea casts God in an active role – causing rot, tearing us in pieces; But, I think the best way to receive Hosea’s words, especially in light of all we know about Jesus, is as imagery.  We rip ourselves apart trying to divide our loyalty between personal success, political stances, and Jesus, and other things. 
The final verse of Hosea 5 sums up our situation.  God says
I will return again to my place
    until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face.
    In their distress they will beg my favor

All the ways Hosea displays the anger of God lead to the point where we come begging God for another chance.  And here’s the good news!  God gives that second chance, every time.
We are the church family.  We recognize the devastating effects of our sins.  Like Israel in Hosea’s day, we come to God on our knees.  There’s no pride, only humble confession.  When we see how bad life is apart from God and how far our sins have moved us away from God, then we turn to Him and ask forgiveness.  He gives it in abundance, gently, in love. We plead for a second change.  He gives it, over and over.  As we see in the life of Jesus, the core of the Gospel and over and over in the words of the prophet Hosea, God takes us back in love, cleans us up, and sets us up once again to live in joy as His people. 
Decide what you want. Pray for the world.  Pray for the nation.   Pray for your town.  Pray for your church.  Pray for your own life.  Set your mind and heart on the love God has for you. 

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