Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (June 29, 2008)
“A Strange Love Story” (Hosea 5:15-6:6)

It’s become a custom in the Onken household that for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we each get one whole day to ourselves to do anything we want to do. I told Julie to go see a “chick flick.” She likes movies such as “Sense and Sensibility” or “Sabrina” or “An Affair to Remember.” Me? I’d rather watch a good Clint Eastwood western, like “The Outlaw Josey Wales” or maybe a good war movie, like “Saving Private Ryan.” I hear the new movie “Iron Man” is pretty cool. If I get a day off for Dad’s Day, maybe I’ll take a couple of hours to go check it out. It would be like pulling to teeth to get Julie to go see a movie like that with me.

It’s like pulling teeth without anesthetic to get me to watch a sentimental love story with Julie. But if the truth be told, sometimes I get wrapped up in the story. Admit it guys, you do too. And later on, you do all you can to hide your watery eyes.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is taken from the book of Hosea. The prophet Hosea’s story is not so much a sentimental love story as it is a strange one. In this strange love story, God gives us a picture of His love for His Old Testament people Israel … and for us, His New Testament people.

Hosea was told by God to marry a woman with an unsavory reputation. So, Hosea married Gomer. They had three children together, but they did not “live happily ever after.” At some point, Gomer left Hosea for another man. Not only that, but she apparently had become a prostitute and a slave.

However, God told Hosea to pursue her. Keep on loving her. Seek her out and buy her back. Redeem her from her slavery. And that’s exactly what he did. He chased after her in her unfaithfulness and paid the purchase price for her.

God used this strange love story to give us a picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness and His own loving pursuit of Israel. Hosea married Gomer even with her unsavory reputation and he pursued her in her unfaithfulness. God had “married” himself to Israel and pursued them in their unfaithfulness.

God has “married” himself to us with our unsavory reputation. He has fully dedicated Himself to us. But like the people of Israel, we have not fully dedicated ourselves to Him. We, too, have a half-hearted devotion to the Lord. The text says, “Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.” Growing up in Southern California, I remember the “marine layer” – as it’s called – on early spring and summer mornings. A layer of clouds from the ocean would roll in before dawn. It would hide the morning sun but would usually burn off by noon time. And the dew that lay on the grass early in the morning would evaporate just as quickly. Our love for the Lord is often that way. It is strong one moment, but in the next it is weak and fleeting, evaporating like the morning clouds and the early dew.

In addition, we persist in the idea that we can somehow appease God with our actions. The people of Israel and Judah thought their numerous sacrifices would make God happy, even though their heart was not really in the right place. Don’t we often deceive ourselves in the same way? “If I just do more things for God,” we think to ourselves, “more good things that will make Him happy, then he will surely overlook the bad things that I have done.” Instead, God says through the prophet, “I desire steadfast love, not sacrifice.” God does not want our empty sacrifices. He wants our heartfelt acts that are responses of thanksgiving. He wants our love. But we just got through saying that our love is like the morning mist and the early dew.

And so, the threats of the Law hang over us like they did for Israel. When faced with their disobedience, the Lord said, “Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light.” The harsh words of God’s condemnation through the mouth of the prophets hung over them. And God’s condemnation over our sin hangs over us, as well.

But God never “leaves us hanging.” God chases after us like Hosea chased after Gomer. He seeks after us and calls us to repentance after we have heard His Word that “has torn us” and “struck us down.” In love, He comes and heals us and binds up our wounds.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” So admit your sickness. Confess your sin! When we confess together, “I, a poor miserable sinner”…people have a hard time with that. “Me? A sinner? Never!” It’s not easy to admit “I am a sinner.” But that’s exactly who Jesus came for. He said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Do you want Jesus? Do you want to know Him? Do you want His forgiveness? Then you must admit your sickness. Admit your utter helplessness without Him. That’s what Luther meant when he said those infamous words, “Sin boldly.” Not to go out and sin because that’s what you are, after all. But to admit what you are. A sinner. Be a sinner. Don’t put on any self-righteous pretense that you are anything other than a sinner. “Sin boldly.” And then trust in Christ who has boldly saved you! You are just the person He came to save! He washes your wounds clean in the waters of Baptism. He prescribes a regular dose of His forgiving Word of absolution. And He applies the healing salve of His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

In our text from Hosea, the prophet says, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” That’s another way of simply saying that we won’t have to wait long for Him to come and restore us. But with those words “on the third day he will raise us up” did you find yourself thinking of the cross and the empty tomb? I did. The words from the Creed “the third day he rose again from the dead” probably echoed in your mind. The events at the cross and the empty tomb took place so that you and I might be revived … raised up from the death of sin and given new life … restored to a relationship of grace with the Triune God.

Talk about a strange love story … the death of God’s Son demonstrates God’s love. That’s quite strange. But it’s true. Romans 5:8 says God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Just like Hosea paid the purchase price for his bride Gomer, Jesus paid the purchase price with His own life for His Bride, the Church.

Our half-hearted devotion to the Lord, our love that lasts as long as mist and dew, our attempts at appeasing God with our actions … all these and all our other sins were laid upon Jesus. We can now live in his presence … before his face … holy and righteous in his sight. Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners, and we sinners become righteous in God’s sight by faith. The same was true for Abraham, as St. Paul explained about Abraham’s faith, “it was counted to him as righteousness.” But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

This is a strange love story indeed. Hosea said, “his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” God’s love for us in Christ is consistent and persistent … like the sun that rises faithfully every morning, every day. And God’s love for us in Christ is abundant and refreshing. It’s not like the mist and the dew that don’t stay very long. No, it’s like the rain that pours down from the heavens and drenches the earth and gives life and growth.

At the end of many love stories, we hear these words, “And they lived happily ever after.” The happy couple goes off and lives together in the castle. But we don’t hear much about the rest of their lives. But this love story of which you and I are the object is lived outside the castle walls. Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” God’s forgiveness and love for the sake of Christ enable us to live out His love as we serve one another in acts of mercy and with sacrifices of thanksgiving.

A former missionary in India once told of needing assistance in transferring a critically ill man from his house to the local hospital. She requested help from two Hindu “holy men” who were sitting not far away, chanting their devotions. The missionary said she would never forget the fire of resentment that blazed up in the eyes of one of them as he replied, “We? We are holy men! We never do anything for anyone!” (ESI #460)

My dear friends in Christ, that’s not the way of Christ. You are holy men! You are holy women! And holy men and women do all kinds of things for all kinds of people, all kinds of loving and merciful things for everyone, sacrifices of thanksgiving. And you do them because you have been the object of God’s strange … yet wonderful … love story. Amen.

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