A Sermon for the Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
July 24, 2016
(Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-19; Luke 11:1-13)
At the voice of God, Hosea’s family becomes a sign from heaven of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the God who is faithful.
Each child born to Hosea and the former prostitute, Gomer, is named as a sign: Jezreel as a sign of a coming punishment; Lo-ruhama, means ‘No Mercy’; Lo-ammi means ‘Not My People’. A bleak opening to Hosea’s ministry, to say the least.
It is hopeless.
But even here God is characteristically merciful. A people made into a immeasurable multitude. Those rightly named ‘Not My People’ lovingly renamed ‘Children of the Living God’.
This hopelessness will be transformed into the ultimate in hope: God embracing us as God’s own.
Our psalm points to the same surprising God. This one restores, forgives, covers sin, withdraws wrath, puts away indignation. The righteousness and justice of our truly holy God meeting unexpectedly with peace. Such undeserved love ‘is God’s good gift’.
This long-ago promise of grace is, of course, most powerfully expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Paul’s little letter to the Colossians invites us not only to ‘receive’ this grace and forgiveness in an initial way, but also to make it the key characteristic of our lives: we are invited to ‘walk in him’. In Christ we discover the desire of God to radically re-plant us in God’s fertile and forgiving soil. Here we not only survive. We also grow and thrive.
Even after an encounter with such mind-blowing grace there are other possibilities for our lives. We are easily tempted to intriguing philosophies, straight-out deceit, the traditions of people. These are, Paul reminds, always a poor substitute for the reality of the one we have come to call ‘Christ’.
Why? Because the fullness of deity dwells in this one and it is this one who has filled us. Christ is truly over every authority and power.
And we are his. Set aside for God by a spiritual ‘circumcision of Christ’; ‘baptised’ into both his death and resurrection; dead to sin but now alive in Christ. Our sin is cancelled. It is nailed to the cross. The rulers and authorities are shamed and defeated.
Grace has won. How well we do to doggedly protect this costly, God-won, freedom.
After all, the world would win us back. Religiosity – even when it truly echoes ‘things to come’ must never overshadow the one who has come – that is ‘Christ’. Asceticism. Angels. Visions. These God-given gifts still all too easily lead us from the core. Christ is the one who forgives and restores. Christ is the one we gather around.
Christ, the head that gives life and direction to the whole body. How well we do to remind ourselves each week: ‘We are the body of Christ’. Inherently in this statement is a reminder that we are – before anything else – Christ’s community.
We do well to listen to the prayer – the heart cry – that Jesus gave. It is offered, in our gospel reading, in response the the disciple’s request that they might learn to communicate and connect with the very one Jesus communicated and connected with.
And at the core of this prayer sits our recognition of God’s grace: ‘forgive us our sins, as we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us’. The grace of God manifesting itself in us as grace toward others.
This prayer, importantly, is followed with a discourse on the character of God.
It opens with a neighbour reluctantly hassled into generosity. He gives only because he is pestered. Still, even this ungenerous one gives. Jesus starkly contrasts this one with God. God asks us to ask; hopes we will seek; waits behind the door for our knock. God’s response: to answer, to be found; to open.
Why? Because God is good and generous. A good Father who knows what it is to give good – not evil – gifts in response to the request of his children.
And the ultimate gift of God is the very Spirit of God dwelling in us – the one who cries to God from within us: ‘Abba Father’ – Daddy or Papa God.
This is nothing short of a generous affirmation of the promise Hosea urged his hearers to embrace. We, rightly declared as anything but God’s people, have been generously renamed through the work of Christ. We are now ‘Children of the Living God’.
And so, in a moment we will declare this all too easily forgotten reality: ‘We are the body of Christ; His Spirit is with us’.