Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Second Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, June 19, 2022

Text: Hosea 6:1-6

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“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”  “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth— then my judgments go forth like the sun. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

It would be a huge understatement to say that being a prophet in Old Testament times could be difficult work. One of the themes we will undoubtedly notice as we preach through the books of the minor prophets is that each one contains a call to repentance. In other words, without exception, every single one of the minor prophets was called to proclaim words of rebuke, and correction, warning and threats of judgment—to point out to the people of Israel and/or Judah exactly what they were doing wrong. Sometimes that meant that a prophet would confront a certain group or class of people—for instance, the priests, political leaders, or the teachers—and at other times, the prophet was meant to call an entire nation to repentance. So…perhaps you can imagine how the messages of the prophets were received.

In one sense, we don’t have to imagine. Of course we don’t live there (where Hosea lived), and we didn’t live then (when Hosea lived), but as long as God’s Word has existed, the potential responses have been similar. A whole lot of people simply ignore it altogether. Others might listen until they hear something that makes them uncomfortable, offended, or confused, and then they tune it out. Still others might pay attention for a while, but soon enough they get distracted by life and lose interest. But God promises that whenever his Word goes out, it will not return empty. God has a message for all who would listen, and his message to all who would listen to Hosea is this: Return to the Faithful One.

For some background, Hosea lived during the mid- to late 700s BC, in the waning days of the divided kingdom. The Northern 10 tribes of Israel are often referred to as Ephraim, since that was the largest tribe, and the southern kingdom is called Judah. Here in our excerpt, Hosea confronts both groups, which tells us that God employed Hosea throughout the land with a similar message.

What’s especially interesting about Hosea is that it wasn’t just a message that Hosea spoke about; it was a message God called him to live out. In the first chapter, verse one introduces us to Hosea and tells us when he lived and carried out his ministry, and here is verse 2: When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman [(in other translations—a prostitute…with other translations selecting even stronger terms)] and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” Difficult work? A difficult life…that’s what Hosea was called into. What’s the point? Hosea’s life and message end up being the story of God’s faithfulness despite the people’s unfaithfulness—and it’s the story we live, too! So God’s Word through Hosea is meant for us, too. Let’s look again at what God says to us.

For our purposes today, let’s start with the second half of the reading. Verses 4-6. “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth— then my judgments go forth like the sun. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

What do unfaithful people look like? On the one hand, any of us might picture a militant atheist, someone who is vocal about rejecting God and the Bible, someone who is always on the attack against religion and blaming churchgoing people for everything that is wrong with society. But I think there is a more accurate way to see the truth, and it goes like this: each of us sees an unfaithful person every time we look in the mirror. You see, it wasn’t that the people of Hosea’s day were warned because they ignored or rejected God altogether. Many of them would say the same things we say: we believe in God, and we worship fairly regularly, and we give offerings…we love God.

But what does God rightly accuse his people of, both then and now? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. God paints a picture for us (and of us). Just like the dew settles on the grass but evaporates before it sinks into the ground, isn’t that how our love often fades away before it does any good? We say we love God on Saturday evening or Sunday morning, but is our love for God evident in the choices we make and the words we speak throughout the week? We might spend an hour at church, but then how many hours during the week are spent arguing, or complaining, or criticizing others, or judging them as if we are so much better? We are called to love our neighbor, and maybe we intend to, but how long does it last before we treat others with impatience, or anger, or frustration? We might give offerings on a regular basis, but how many of us can say that we do so cheerfully and generously, especially as everything else is getting more expensive?

For our entire lives, God has remained committed and faithful to us, providing all that we need and so much more. His love for us is living and enduring—and ours is so fleeting and floundering in return. And it might sound like a strange statement, but he loves us enough to cut us in pieces with [his] prophets and kill us with the words of [his mouth]. In other words, his law convicts us and constantly reminds us that we are not ok without him. He doesn’t want us to live carefree lives only to lose our eternal home. He doesn’t want us to be happy now only to be forsaken forever. And so he exposes our unfaithfulness, shows us our sin, and invites us to come back to him, again and again and again.

Back to the beginning of our reading: “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

God’s faithfulness might not always feel like love at the time to us. But any careful surgeon knows that even though an incision will cause pain, the procedure is necessary to bring long-term healing. A loving parent knows that a child won’t appreciate discipline at the time, but consequences of bad behavior are necessary to set their son or daughter on the right path in life. So, too, God knows better than any of us how to work in our lives to draw us closer to him. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it is still true—and we need to hear it. None of us want to suffer through accidents, or illnesses, or hardships, but quite often they can be God’s tools to remove what we trusted in and loved too much instead of him. None of us want to go through the pain and loss of grieving, but every time we do, it is a reminder to us that we are mortal and that heaven is not here. God is faithful, and we might not always recognize his love, but he is good at what he does.

As New Testament believers, we have even greater reason to trust in God’s faithfulness. Our sermon series is subtitled, “sermons from the Bible Jesus read,” but we also know it as the Bible Jesus fulfilled. And in Christ we see how God not only works through our pain and suffering for our good, but we have a God who was willing to endure pain and suffering for our eternal salvation. Jesus gave his perfect life of love in place of ours, he died on the cross and rose on the third day to revive and restore us with the news that God accepted this once-for-all sacrifice because of his mercy alone. So every time we return to the Lord in repentance, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Whenever we acknowledge the Lord by seeking him in his word and sacrament, he promises to be present with us and strengthen us toward eternal life in his presence. And we can trust that as surely as the sun rises, one day Jesus will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth, and he will bring life as he takes us to the place that he has earned and prepared for us as our faithful God and Savior.

Until then, we can expect our lives of faith to be a constant struggle against the unfaithful hearts and habits that linger within us. But we struggle on, returning to the Lord daily in repentance, finding forgiveness in Jesus every time, while our loving God pours out hope, comfort, and strength through his unfailing faithfulness in Christ Jesus. All praise to our God now and forever for his never-ending faithfulness, in Jesus’ name. Amen.