Love and renewal

Scriptures: Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11

We’re going to start today touching on Hosea. I want to note that, even though in this particular passage Hosea speaks of Israel as a child, and one whom God watched over and kept, whom he took up in his arms and healed, that most of Hosea provides an analogy for us, in terms of our relationship with God, as a marriage relationship.

Now, Hosea, under the direction of God, married a prostitute, and she had two children. He named one Sorrows and the other Strife, I believe – that is a free translation from the Hebrew. She was unfaithful, being a prostitute, and yet Hosea remained married to her. The love that he showed her, the love he was directed to show her, was stronger than her unfaithfulness.

This was a metaphor for how Israel with God. You see, even though we struggle sometimes with some of the stuff we read in the Bible about God, particularly in the Old Testament, the fact is that we as Presbyterians see a message of grace throughout both the Old and the New. Our God is a God of grace and love. He chose Israel when they weren’t deserving of it.

With Abraham, there was no particular reason that He chose Abraham, He just did. There was nothing special about Abraham. He kept the people safe. They had their times of trail, but He kept them safe, so that there was always a remnant that remained, even unto today, where they have the nation.

He did this despite the fact Israel, at almost every point that they could, turned away from Him, to worship other gods. It was one of the things He warned against, for instance when they moved from Egypt back into the Promised Land. Part of the reason why it was so messy when they went in there was He didn’t want them to be infected by the other cultures, if you will, and worshipping other gods.

But they didn’t listen. Like a wayward child or perhaps a wayward spouse, they went and did their own thing. They turned away and worshiped at other altars. But God did not destroy them. He said that He doesn’t want to. He says, “I will not execute my fierce anger. I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst and I will not come in wrath.”

You see, “eye for an eye” was a particular catch-phrase and practice of the Jews. (By the way, that was actually  in order to restrict things. You could only take an eye for an eye, you could only take a hand for a hand, so that you didn’t start blood feuds every time somebody crossed you. So even though it sounds super harsh today, that was actually limiting things.) But He says, I’m not even going to that, because I’m not a human. I’m God. And I will not come against you in wrath.

Perhaps the Israelites at times didn’t feel like that was true, as through His permissive will, God allowed the Assyrians to come in and take them captive – again. There were other times. In the time of Christ, they were being oppressed by the Romans. I’ve always like to say that for such a small group of people, and country, God placed them four-square in the center of just about everything that could happen in history.

That little piece of land has probably been in contention longer and more often than any other piece of land in the world. And in the time when the Jews were formed into a nation, that was the crossroads of the world, if you will. In order to get from Egypt into Asia, you had to go right through the area where they were. They didn’t have airplanes that could do flyovers. And even with the sea, you could go through the sea but you had to go around Italy, you had to go around, through the Mediterranean, large portions of things. It would be trips of weeks, and months, that could be cut much shorter, if you went through this little area of land that was Israel.

Israel’s always been in the center of history. And it has been oppressed many times but God has never abandoned it, its people. And He doesn’t abandon us now because He loves us.

Ultimately He showed that love for us in Jesus Christ. In Colossians, Paul notes, starting in chapter 3, “If you have been raised with Christ, then seek the things that are above, where Christ is.” You see, when we are saved by Christ, when we are baptized, we die with Christ, and then when we come out we are raised with Christ once again. And we are made – Paul talks about it constantly – we are made new creatures.

There’s a renewal within us, of our spirits, of our minds, and our hearts. Through the agency of Jesus Christ and the love that he showed us on the cross, we begin to be able to love like God loves. It’s a love that we cannot achieve on our own, being tainted always with our own self-interest and our own limitations, our own prejudices.

He notes that – and this was an issue back in the church in this time in Colossae – that in that renewal there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised, uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free. No barriers. No walls. We are having a baptism next week, and, as I said at the baptism we had last month, when we baptize, we baptize only with given names. The last name isn’t mentioned for a good reason, because the last name is assumed to be Christian.

Because when you join the family of faith, you become one with Christ, and He is all in all. Whether you’re German, whether you’re English, whether you’re Welsh (well, there’s a special place for the Welsh in God’s heart), no matter where you’re from, what your ethnicity, what you were doing before you met Christ, when you come into Christ, and He comes within you, and you accept Him as Lord and Savior, and you accept the love that He has for us and the grace that He has shown us, on the cross and his resurrection, you are renewed, and you are made a new creature, and you’re able to love in ways you couldn’t love before. That stuff that you have in your background and in your past no longer matters as much.

Now, I treat it like forgiveness. You can forgive and forget. You forgive, but you don’t forget. It takes time to heal wounds. It takes time to earn respect again if there’s been betrayal, to gain respect, to gain trust. We learn from mistakes. If we were to forget them like God does – see, God is perfect in wisdom, He can do that – but we learn from our mistakes.

And that doesn’t mean you totally forget it and you leave it behind and you say, well, it just never was. You still need to learn from it. But what it does mean is that it’s no longer the primary thing in your life. It should not be what’s shaping your whole being. It should be what is shaping your outlook, your life, your perspective, your attitudes. You’re renewed in Christ. So you have a new perspective, one that doesn’t depend on classification, one that depends on God’s perspective, one that depends on God’s love.

So that you can reach out to someone that you might have never had reached out to otherwise – I mean, think about it – slave, free, in that day and age. Jew, Gentile – they never even talked to each other. Because to do so would socially destroy them, and in the particular case of the Jews and the Gentiles, that might make them unclean, you know. You don’t shake hands, and in the early church they had something called the kiss of peace, and you certainly wouldn’t do that, because then you’d have to go and ritually wash and all that other sort of stuff.

All of that – gone. Because in Christ, you are one people. And it is Christ that matters. Christ is all in all. So that when you look at each other around here in the congregation, you see brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. You see fellow believers and followers. You see, even among seekers, potential people whom God loves, potential followers, potential brothers and sisters.

You’re renewed in your spirit. So that when, as always happens in human relations, we have perhaps a little bit of head-butting, a little bit of friction, and sometimes it’s easy to just blow them off, say “well, I’m not going to deal with them anymore, it’s just easier that way, I’ll work around them if I have to be with them, or I’ll just ignore them and forget about them.” God says, “You can’t do that.” Not if Christ is all in all and you both believe in Him, followers of Christ.

There may come a time where you have to agree to disagree on certain things, just like in any marriage relationship. But that doesn’t mean you stop loving them, as a fellow brother or sister. And you work together, in a way that the world does not understand, to achieve the goals that God has for us. I think that this church, in its history, has shown to be able to do that.

It’s a marvelous thing. It doesn’t matter whether you came from the farm, whether you came from the town, whether you were a store owner, whether you were a truck driver, whether you’re a teacher, whether you’re a homemaker. You manage to pull together to do things in a much greater way than anyone could ever imagine.

I have heard stories since I’ve been here, times like when the basement here itself was dug out and built. People said they’ll never do it. And you did it Times like when you needed a new organ, and that came through. What you’re doing now with the new building and its fundraising. What you’re done with Journey, in an outreach. This isn’t just about money.

This was done with Journey and reaching women here in this community that are lonely and alone, widows one and all. It’s an amazing thing. And it’s something that’s expanded beyond the church and you have folk from other churches that have come in to help. And that’s a good thing, because, even if they’re Methodist, or Nazarene, or whatever, they’re still brothers and sisters in Christ. We can enjoy that time with them, and take joy from the time and work that you do together, that you spend and do together.

It’s all possible because of Christ, who renews us. That can be tiring sometimes. You feel like you’re overwhelmed, you feel like you’re exhausted. That’s where a good relationship with God the Father comes in real handy, in prayer, as you pray and you meditate and you spend time – as Pam noted – not just as a friend but as a Father, as your Lord, you spend time with Him. He will strengthen you, and He’s given us other means of strengthening ourselves – as we worship together, here, on Sundays, as we have Communion, which we’re going to have here in just a couple minutes.

Communion, where we remember, in the bread, the breaking of Christ’s body, broken for us, because of our sin, showing the depths of God’s love for. And we remember in his blood, the cup, shed for the remission of our sins. I like that phrase, “remission of sins,” rather than “forgiveness of sins.” Those of you that have had somebody in your family with cancer will understand that.

Remission means that it is completely gone, there’s no sign of it anywhere. His blood shed for the remission of sins. The stain of sin on our souls is gone through Jesus Christ, we’re washed white as snow, clean. And when God looks at us, he sees – when the Father looks he sees the Son’s righteousness, which has been put on us, by his Son, for you.

So we remember that, and this Communion then becomes a time of celebration and strengthening. Strengthening of our faith, strengthening of our spirits. Renewing of our minds and hearts. And it’s not just so we feel better. We’re renewed for a purpose. That’s the other thing that I love, personally, about being a child of God, is we have a purpose. Now, ultimately, as the Westminster Catechism says, and I’ve noted from the pulpit multiple times, it is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

But even on the short term, God has a purpose for us in everything that happens to us and everything that we do. And by Communion we are renewed and strengthened so we can go forth to do what God calls us to do. To take on new challenges. To fulfill the ones that are present, and complete them. To reach out to the loveless, and love them.

You know, I think that, in every town, whether there’s railroad tracks or not, there’s always people that live on the right side of the tracks and the “wrong side of the tracks.” Maybe it’s the right side of the highway and the wrong side of the highway, or the right side of the river and the wrong side of the river. It doesn’t matter. There’s always a right side and a wrong side, it seems. But in Christ we’re supposed to reach across those boundaries.

Maybe that’s a new challenge for us, in the coming years, is to begin to be the ones to reach across those boundaries. I can tell you that it would be unexpected. It’s a joke, but you know, they call Presbyterians frequently, in seminary, for instance, God’s “frozen chosen,” because our worship’s not all up “woo-hoo,” charismatic and everything, although we certainly experience and show joy, and we believe in the election of God, so we’re God’s frozen chosen.

But we’re also known – and this is a fact statistically. We are probably the best educated and most affluent denomination that’s out there. When you look at the number of people that hold degrees, when you look at the number of people in finance, etc. Maybe sometimes, without meaning to, we set up barriers, that make those that are not so “high,” if you will, on a socioeconomic scale, feel uncomfortable. Maybe we set up barriers because we don’t bother to go where they are. They can’t come to us. So we need to reach out to them. It would be unexpected. But I can guarantee you it will honor God. And ultimately it will be appreciated.

You folks are good at that. Hospitality is a gift of this church. Generosity is a gift of this church. And welcoming those who are in need is something that we should all look for opportunities to do. Because you know that you have the support of the church, and more importantly, the support of God, in breaking down those barriers, overcoming those walls, and through the renewing of your own hearts and minds and spirits, bringing that same grace and love and renewal to others. And by doing so you glorify God, and you can enjoy Him forever.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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