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Yahweh’s Covenant Faithfulness September 30, 2010

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Hosea 5:13-6:6

Proper 5

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Focus: God is faithful to the covenant.

Goal:  That the hearers seek a deeper relationship with Yahweh their God.

            Our God, Yahweh, is a God of love and peace.  We know Him best through His Son, Jesus and the fact that He gave up His life to set us free.  Through Christ’s great sacrifice, we are forgiven of our sins, healed from our worldly afflictions.  Whenever things start to go badly for us, we can turn to God for help.  We know He’ll be there for us despite all the things that we do.

While that may sound like the gospel in a nutshell, it also sounds strikingly similar to what we just heard read from the book of Hosea.  The prophet begins with God speaking of the territories of Ephraim and Judah.  The people of these lands are Abraham’s descendants, children of God’s covenant with Abraham.

They are also sick and injured.  Where do they turn, however?  They look to the king ofAssyriafor help rather than God.  He cannot help them, only God can.  But because they abandoned God, God declares that He will be like a lion to them, tearing them in pieces and carrying them away.  He is leaving their land until they accept the guilt of their sins and seek Him instead of earthly means.

The people of Ephraim and Judah speak next, declaring that they will surely return to Yahweh.  And then they ramble on about some of God’s characteristics that they think they know about Him.  “His going out is as sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”  Here they have declared their intentions of returning to God.  That’s what Yahweh wanted isn’t it?

If so, why does He respond harshly?  “What shall I do with you O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you O Judah?”  He takes their references to nature and throws them back in their faces.  He compares them to the drops of dew on the grass, which we all know disappear as soon as the sun comes up.  They indeed haven’t done what God wanted them to do.  Where did they go wrong?

Yahweh summarizes the heart of the problem in verse six and this is certainly a verse worth looking into more deeply.  “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.”  Many of us recognize that verse, but not from Yahweh’s lips.  We recognize it because Jesus threw it in the face of the Pharisees, which happened to be our gospel lesson this morning.

What does God mean that He would desire mercy instead of sacrifice?  Is He saying that He would rather show us mercy than have us sacrifice to Him?  Is He doing away with sacrifices altogether?  Especially those bloody animal offerings?  Some people have used this verse to do just that, no more sacrifices.  It has even been taken to mean that tithing isn’t necessary.  And that can sound even better when you put it together with that group of Pharisees Jesus was addressing, men who adhered very strictly to sacrifices and to giving a tenth of their earnings to the temple.  These aren’t the right answers.

The reason this verse is so hard to understand is that its meaning has been disguised by language.  If you look at the text again, you won’t see any similar words between verses four and six.  However, in the original language, there is a very key word that is actually used in both verses.  One English translation, the NASB, noted this.  Most others do not.  The word for “love” in verse four, and “mercy” in verse six are actually the same word.  The most literal definition for these would be “covenant faithfulness.”  Let’s reread verses 4-6 with that in mind.

4What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you, O Judah?  Your covenant faithfulness is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.  5Therefore 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.  6For I take pleasure in covenant faithfulness not sacrifice, the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

 

It isn’t as though sacrifices are bad in God’s eyes.  After all, He instituted them in the first place for our benefit.  But the problem is in the attitude of the people.  It is as though they think they can do whatever they please, look to whoever they want for comfort and support in good times and bad, and then go running back to God whenever things appear to have taken a turn for the worst, whenever things seem impossible.  That’s not the covenant!

God made the covenant with Abraham that He would give them the land which He had promised and He would their God.  They, in turn, would obey His commands and be His people.  The covenant formed an everlasting relationship.  God desired for them to keep the covenant.  But they failed to keep it.  And instead, they kept the land and lived life as they pleased.  They went about their daily routine putting themselves first, looking to things, possessions, or others as the primary source of all the good in their life.

When you put it that way, it starts to sound familiar to us again.  Where do we turn when things are going well for us?  To money, success, or friends? How often to we put ourselves before others, and even before God Himself?  Why do we make excuses for avoiding God and His Word, and for doing things we know He commanded us not to do?  It really is all too easy to simply rely upon God as a crutch for when we get hurt and things are going terribly wrong.  It’s all too easy to only turn to God when we’ve lost our job or when death is on the horizon.  We, too, have broken that covenant.  We’ve destroyed the relationship.

That’s what this whole mess is all about: relationship.  That’s what Yahweh’s covenant was about: the relationship of a God to His people.  Yahweh has chosen to fill the Bible with all sorts of examples of this relationship.  Think back to the Garden of Eden, to Adam and Eve.  God spoke with them and He walked with them.  He gave them everything they needed to live and flourish.  And Satan’s temptation of the knowledge of God?  Why not just ask God?  He would have been happy to talk to them.  Instead they gave in, they ruined the relationship and they hid from Him.

God also reveals Himself through family relationships.  First, He likes to use the relationship of Father and children.  Numerous times, we are referred to as being children of God.  He is our Father who loves us.

And then Christ tells us that our relationship is like a husband and wife.  In Matthew’s gospel, Christ refers to Himself as the bridegroom.  And the book of Revelation again emphasizes it, that the church, that is all of us, is the bride of Christ.

But these aren’t just New Testament examples of God trying to relate His relationship with us.  The Bible is simply teeming with that language.  Hosea, where our message comes from this morning, is full of the same imagery.  Yahweh commands Hosea to take a prostitute as his wife.  So, he goes out and marries Gomer.  But even after having children with him, Gomer isn’t satisfied and leaves Hosea for another man.  Hosea then, again by God’s command, has to go out to her and buy his wife back from the new man in order to bring her home.

The whole book of Hosea has its ties in an analogy comparing Gomer to God’s peopleIsrael.  Just as Gomer left Hosea for other men whenever it pleased her, so God’s peopleIsraelran off and broke the relationship in search of something better.  And God in turn had to seek them out, and pay the price, to bring them home.

We know that price.  It is why we are here this morning; it is why we call ourselves Christian.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  We broke the covenant we had with God to be His people, but He didn’t just let us go.  Instead, He gave His Son Jesus Christ as a sacrifice, the price to be paid, to bring us home.

God kept the covenant that we failed to keep.  In Christ, God has restored that covenant with us.  In Christ we are forgiven.  In Christ we are children of God.  It is a new relationship with the very same God who first created us.

At the beginning of the sermon, I gave you the gospel in a nutshell, which I just told you again.  But it is one that we can easily neglect.  When you leave church this morning, what happens?  Do you plan on actively pursuing Him in every aspect of your daily life?  Or do you plan on putting God back in His box until next Sunday morning?  When you sin, do you return to God simply for healing as Ephraim andJudahdid, or do you return to God because you know you have damaged the relationship and you want it back?

That’s what forgiveness is.  It’s not as though when God forgives you those wounds on your body or the holes in your heart are suddenly filled.  Nor are the consequences of your actions gone.  It just isn’t a physically seeable thing.  Rather, forgiveness is an aspect of a relationship.  You can’t touch it, but you know it’s there.  Do you remember the last time you hurt a friend or perhaps your spouse?  Can you remember feeling terrible about it?  But what happened when you apologized?  They forgave you and the relationship was restored to a healthy state.

This is why Jesus references Hosea 6:6 when He’s talking to the Pharisees.  It isn’t merely that He came to be a doctor for sick people, but rather that He came to heal them, in deed to make their relationship with God healthy again.  If the Pharisees had only understood what that meant.

Through Christ, we have forgiveness from God and our relationship with Him is made healthy once again.  We do not return to Him simply seeking to get ourselves healed for our own benefit, but rather we receive the forgiveness that restores the relationship back to health both for us and for God.  The relationship is what matters.

And, as we all know from our relationships with others, it is part of any healthy relationship that each person would grow in their knowledge and love for the other.  God’s off to quite a head start, being all-knowing.  But, that doesn’t mean that we should not live our lives with the attempt to continue to learn who He is and what He does for us, seeking to deepen our relationship with Yahweh our Father, our God and Creator.  We can do this through reading the Bible, admiring His creation, being part of a community of believers like we are in this church, and so many other ways.  God wants us to be in relationship with Him; He wants us to have the desire to know Him as He knows us.  And He is not out of reach, but with us always.

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Another Kind of Stewardship September 19, 2010

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Luke 16:1-15

Proper 20

September 19, 2010

Focus:  God works through us and the gifts that He has given us in order to prosper His kingdom.
Function:  That the hearers take the ordinary and doing the extraordinary with it.

Structure: Text-Application

Another Kind of Stewardship

            In our gospel reading, Jesus tells His disciples a parable, that of the shrewd or dishonest manager.  We just heard how the parable went.  But why would Jesus commend this man for doing what we see on the surface as a bad deed?  He cut the amounts that were owed to his master.  How is that ever going to help him?

Jesus answered the question of how it was going to help the dishonest manager.  By cutting their debt, he had managed to create a couple of new friendships for himself, friendships that he was counting on for when the master fired him.  He was searching for someone who would take care of him.

Oddly enough, Jesus never finishes the parable.  He only mentions that the master commended the man for his quick-thinking.  He very well may still have gotten himself fired.  Jesus intentionally leaves out the ending.

Instead, Christ adds on His own ending to the tale: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwelling.”  Jesus gives the story its meaning.  Using your unrighteous wealth…that sounds like a stewardship lesson.

But this isn’t the stewardship we’re used to hearing about, is it?  Jesus isn’t talking about tithing, or about devoting your time and talent to the church, and He certainly isn’t talking about keeping the earth green.  And it’s not that those aren’t all good things.  They are.  They just aren’t where Jesus was going this time.

We need to look back at who Jesus was speaking to.  A Pharisee invited Jesus into his home for a meal.  And when Jesus came, that crowd of sinners and tax collectors who seemed to follow Him everywhere, they followed Him to that house as well.  And much to the disliking of the Pharisees, Jesus wasn’t sending them away.  Instead, He responded to the Pharisees’ grumbling about associating with those kinds of people.  So Jesus hits them with a barrage of parables: the lost sheep, the widow and her lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son.  All of these parables focused on God’s mission of retrieving people who have fallen away from Him: sinners, tax collectors, even the Pharisees.  Everyone.

But for our parable, Jesus turns to His disciples to tell the tale.  That’s because this parable is about discipleship.  Stewardship?  Evangelism?  Jesus has combined all of these elements into one.  He uses the example of money in the parable as the means.  “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth.”  He hasn’t left the idea of the “lost” at all from the previous parables.  Just as He later specifically instructs the disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations,” that is also what He is doing here.

The idea of evangelism often brings up many fears or things that prevent us from doing it.  “I don’t want to go there.”  “I don’t know anyone who isn’t Christian.”  “I’m not comfortable around strangers.”  “What if they reject me?”  “I don’t have anything to give.”  “I don’t have the time.”  The list of excuses goes on and on.  We could brainstorm together and be here all day.

But this is a smaller scale.  It is not Christ’s grand command to do something spectacular or to travel to far away places.  Rather, He is telling you to use what you already have to help those whom you already know.  He is focusing on building and strengthening relationships.  That’s one of the Spirit’s primary means of evangelism.  He works through you and the relationships that you already have in your life.

Perhaps it is a coworker, or the mail man, or the owner of your favorite small-town deli.  We all have people in our lives whom we see on a fairly regular basis. We all have acquaintances.  Use what you have to build up these relationships, to open the road for the Spirit to do His work in their lives.  Let them see you living out your faith.

And again, we’re not only talking about money here.  An old British author once recalled a woman who received a knock on her door.  She opened it, and there stood a tramp, desperately in need of anything she could spare him.  The woman searched the house for some spare change, but she just couldn’t find any.  So instead, she sent that poor man off to the market with a larger bill.  She had promised that upon returning, she would use the change to give him a spare coin.  A single, puny coin?  She just gave him a large bill!  He never had to return.  But he did.  And when he returned, he was in tears over what she had given him.  It was the first time in years that someone had trusted him.

Jesus isn’t telling us to do something that He Himself didn’t already do.  Do you remember the feeding of the five thousand?  The four-thousand?  Jesus took those ordinary loaves of bread and fed the masses.  He gave the people what they needed.  Yes, Jesus is God, and that was a miracle.  But, we can do that too.  It isn’t a matter of having to do something beyond belief.  There’s a deeper meaning to stewardship: taking the ordinary and doing the extraordinary with it.

Some of you may be thinking right now that the little things that we do don’t matter that much.  But they do.  I remember an example of this that was floating around the internet a decade ago.  Perhaps you received this story in your email as well.  But even if you did, it’s worth hearing one more time:

“One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class was walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd.” I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friend tomorrow afternoon), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on.

“As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him. He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes. My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him and as he crawled around looking for his glasses, I saw a tear in his eye.

“As I handed him his glasses, I said, “Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives.” He looked at me and said,“Hey thanks!” There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude. I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now. I would have never hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play football on Saturday with me and my friends. He said yes. We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him. And my friends thought the same of him.

“Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, “Man, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!” He just laughed and handed me half the books. Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends.  Kyle went on to be valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn’t me having to get up there and speak.

“Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than me and all the girls loved him! Boy, sometimes I was jealous. Today was one of those days. I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, “Hey, big guy, you’ll be great!” He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled.“Thanks,” he said. As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began.

“Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach…but mostly your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story.” I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn’t have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. “Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable.”

“I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his Mom and dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize its depth. Never underestimate the power of your actions.  With one small gesture you can change a person’s life.  For better or for worse.  God puts us all in each other’s lives to impact one another in some way.”

 

It’s a touching tale that moves the heart.  And while it is likely a made up story, the imagery is very real.  God works through us.  The Holy Spirit works in our lives to the glory of God.  And in case you’re looking for a reason, Jesus gives that in the parable too.  “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”  Did you catch that?  It isn’t a matter of “if” our worldly things fail us, but “when.”  The earth is a fleeting moment.  Life is a gift, a blessing that is over in the blink of an eye.  It fails in comparison to the eternalkingdomofGod.

Christ is telling us that by doing these things, we are receiving another blessing, an everlasting one.  We are obeying God by spreading His kingdom.  That not only delights Him, but everyone else in that eternal dwelling place.  Have you ever pictured Heaven as one big happy family?  That’s sort of the image here.  Or maybe you’ve pictured it as a big celebration that goes on forever.  That fits too.  Because everyone will be happy to see you there, and anyone whose path you crossed ways with on the way, will be thankful that the Spirit used you in their life.

So how do we all get there?  Jesus provides that answer too.  This time, we’re not talking about another of His miracles.  We’re talking about stewardship, His stewardship.  Christ didn’t have to do what He did.  He could have chosen to live a long and pleasurable life, enjoying many of the fine things of that age.  But He gave what He had.  He gave His life.  And through His sacrifice, we receive the forgiveness of all our sins.  Everything you’ve ever done wrong?  He forgave it.  He died for every one of us in this church.  He died for everyone out there as well.  And now that God has raised Him from the dead, we have the opportunity to celebrate with Him and everyone else forever.  That is the blessing which Christ chose to give to us through His relationship with us.  It’s the ultimate example of stewardship.  It may have only been one act, but its effect was truly something extraordinary.

We are richly blessed by God.  Not just with the money that allows us to live comfortably, but with other possessions, with years of life, and the knowledge, skills, and abilities that we have come by in our lives.  We are blessed with relationships, those with parents, peers, spouses, children, and acquaintances.  We are blessed with forgiveness and a God who deeply loves us.  Our lives are abundant with blessings from God.  Jesus is asking that we share these blessings with those around us, that we use them to make our relationships stronger and invite others to come home.