Receiving From God
Once again this week we are going to spend some time connecting passages throughout the Bible. In this series we are taking the weekly passages that come from the Revised Common Lectionary in order to see the common threads that run through scripture. The lectionary lists Bible readings each week which include a passage from the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Psalms, and the gospels. This week I am going to read through three different passages from the Bible—so this might seem like more Bible reading than we usually do in a Sunday sermon. But our goal in this series is not to take these passages apart and focus closely on detail. Rather, this is a form of Bible reading that simply lets the Word of God speak for itself. And our interest in these readings today is simply to identify some kind of theme that carries through these words. We are looking for the common threads woven throughout scripture.
2 When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.” 3 So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. 4 Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call him Jezreel, because I will soon punish the house of Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel. 5 In that day I will break Israel’s bow in the Valley of Jezreel.” 6 Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”), for I will no longer show love to Israel, that I should at all forgive them. 7 Yet I will show love to Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but I, the Lord their God, will save them.” 8 After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son. 9 Then the Lord said, “Call him Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”), for you are not my people, and I am not your God. 10 “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.’
1 You, Lord, showed favor to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 2 You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins. 3 You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger. 4 Restore us again, God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us. 5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? 6 Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? 7 Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation. 8 I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants— but let them not turn to folly. 9 Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. 10 Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. 11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. 12 The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. 13 Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.
Luke 11:1–13 (NIV)
1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say: “ ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. 3 Give us each day our daily bread. 4 Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’ ” 5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. 9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Hosea — sudden shift from rejection to covenant faithfulness
Alright then, what is the common thread running through these Bible passages? Let’s note a few details. The prophet Hosea had an unusual task from God. He was told to intentionally marry a spouse who would be unfaithful to him. And I cannot help but think of what it must have been like for those kids to grow up with the names that God told Hosea to give them. It must have been tough to have parents who gave you the name ‘not loved.’ But here is what biblical commentators note about this first chapter of Hosea, the dramatic and completely unexplained turnaround that comes about in verse 10. The first nine verses are all about what appears to be God’s rejection of his people Israel because of their unfaithfulness to the Lord. But with no explanation at all, verse 10 shifts to a description of the outcome which surprisingly shows the Lord as remaining faithful to his covenant promise even when all of the expected response of God to Israel’s unfaithfulness should have been rejection.
Psalm 85 pulls on this theme. It begins with a recounting of God’s faithfulness in the past. Verses 2-3 especially bring this to mind. The psalmist makes reference to God’s forgiveness in four different ways just in these two verses.
Psalm 85:2–3 (NIV)
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins. 3 You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger.
Psalm — shift from past forgiveness to present hope to fulfilled faithfulness
But these things are in the past. Perhaps the psalmist is recounting the exact same covenant faithfulness God maintained to this people during the time of Hosea throughout the period of exile. But just as quickly, in verse4, the psalm shifts from past memory to present reality. Even though Psalm 85 looks back to recall God’s extravagant forgiveness in the past, the present reality for the one writing this psalm appears to be searching out and waiting for this covenant forgiveness to take place.
However, by verse 8 we read about the psalmists own fidelity and vigilance to remain hopeful that God will indeed be forgiving and remember his covenant love for Israel. It is almost as though Psalm 85 is telling us that, although God has every right to turn away from his people because they have rejected his covenant, the people will remain hopeful that God’s covenant love will abide for no other reason than God’s own faithfulness to an unfaithful people.
Luke — a rude and inconsiderate request for hospitality is not ignored
Now let’s bring it forward into the gospel of Luke. There are so many angles we could take with this gospel passage. It is an instruction on prayer which highlights for us phrases of what is known as the Lord’s Prayer. We could make a sermon all by itself on any one of those phrases. Or this passage from Luke 11 is often presented as a sermon on prayer in general. But with these two other Bible passages also in mind, I want us to focus on this story that Jesus tells right after his reciting of the Lord’s Prayer.
the typical home for the average Jewish family during the time of Jesus was a one-room dwelling
Note a couple details here. First, we should remember that the typical home for the average Jewish family during the time of Jesus was a one-room dwelling. Kids did not each have their own bedrooms. For that matter, there were no bedrooms at all. The entire family would lay down and sleep on mats placed out across the floor of the one room. So, the visitor who knocks on the door late at night would have disturbed the entire family if the father were to get up, and go over to open the door.
typically only enough bread was made for one day with just a little bit left over
Second, we should remember that food supply was not the same for Jewish people in the time of Jesus as it is for us. There was no supermarket or 24-hour convenience store for a person to get bread at any time. There was no late-night drive-thru open for a middle-of-the-night snack. Making bread was a daily activity for families at that time. Typically only enough bread was made for one day with just a little bit left over to provide the leavening for future loaves of bread. It is not as though the average Jewish family had a pantry full of baked goods; there would have been very little bread left at the end of the day. And this probably is not someone coming to bother a neighbor who is just feeling a little snacky either. Knowing the tremendous inconvenience such a request would be, it is likely assumed by the audience in the day of Jesus that this visitor arrived rather desperately hungry and in need of sustenance.
in prayer, it is the heavenly Father who gives the good gift of the Holy Spirit to his beloved people
Even so, the cultural expectation for community hospitality during that time could not be ignored. Even though it would be a struggle to find enough food to share in the middle of the night, and even though it would have been a major disruption for the entire family to lose sleep for such a thing, everyone in Jesus’ audience understands that it is still the expected obligation to extend hospitality even though the brash and inconsiderate rudeness of the one requesting a meal could have just as easily been refused. And the story ends with Jesus explaining to the people that fathers seek to give good gifts to their children. And in prayer, it is the heavenly Father who gives the good gift of the Holy Spirit to his beloved people.
Common Thread — God always chooses to remain faithful to his covenant love
What do you think? Is there a common thread of some kind running through these various stories of scripture? Every one of these stories we see today give us a picture of an expected answer, and then an actual answer. In each case what is expected and what actually happens does not necessarily line up. In each passage God’s character is revealed to us in ways that are surprising and shocking and are meant to smack us in the face. In every instance, God chooses to remain faithful to his covenant love for his people when everything about the situation suggests God has every right to abandon his people and walk away because of what they’ve done.
in every one of these stories today we see that God remains faithful to the covenant love he has for his people
In Hosea, we would expect God to reject his people because of their unfaithfulness to the covenant; but God remains faithful. In the Psalms we would expect God to no longer forgive his people because of their disobedience; but God remains faithful. In the gospels we would expect God to ignore the rude and inconsiderate demands of those who do not deserve to be helped; but God remains faithful. In every one of these stories today we see that God remains faithful to the covenant love he has for his people even when everything seems to suggest that God has every right to just walk away.
it is counterintuitive to our world and our way of thinking
It is counterintuitive to our world and our way of thinking. In our world if someone is unfaithful to you, then you have every right to reject them. In our world if someone keeps hurting you, then you have every right to not forgive them. In our world if someone is rude and inconsiderate to you, then you have every right to tell them to get lost and go away. You see, in the world that we live in and by the expectation of how we treat one another, we perhaps often hold those same expectations for God. I can think of two ways this shows up in our lives that ought to make a difference for us right here now today.
what does God’s faithfulness mean for us today? God and me God and others
The first difference we see from this common thread has to do with God and me. If you are the kind of person who sometimes has doubts about your own faith; God chooses to remain faithful. If you are the kind of person who sometimes thinks your own past mistakes will always be a wedge between you and God; God chooses to remain faithful. If you are the kind of person who feels like you’re on the outside because you think have nothing valuable to offer God or the church; God chooses to remain faithful. But hang on, this same thing can work the other way too. If you are the kind of person who thinks you’ve got this Christian life all figured out; you’re not as righteous as you think you are, but God chooses to remain faithful anyway. If you are the kind of person who thinks you go through all the right motions and checks all the right religious boxes; you’re not as perfect as you think you are, but God chooses to remain faithful anyway. If you are the kind of person who thinks God’s blessings come your way because you meet God’s standard of expectation; you’re not as good as you think you are, but God chooses to remain faithful anyway.
the only way any of us are right with God is because we are completely covered in the righteousness of Christ given to us through the cross
We are here today in the shadow of the cross of Jesus. The only way any of us are right with God is because we are completely covered in the righteousness of Christ given to us through the cross. The cross is the answer to how it is that God has chosen to remain faithful to his covenant love for us. When everything about the world we live in suggests that God should have abandoned you; instead God chooses to embrace you. When everything about the world we live in suggests that God should condemn you; instead God chooses to forgive you. When everything about the world we live in suggests that God should judge you; instead God chooses to redeem you as his very own.
The second difference we see here today from this common thread has to do with God and others. The reminder for scripture today that God does not respond to people the way we would expect reminds us that we should see others as God sees them. We should respond to other people as God responds to them. We should treat other people as God treats them. Try to think of a person in your life right now with whom you are experiencing tremendous tension and anxiety, or even bitterness. This might be a person you find impossible to forgive; but God chooses to forgive them. This might be a person you feel like you could never accept; but God chooses to enfold them. This might be a person you perceive has no right to come before God and be embrace as a part of his family; but God chooses to redeem them as one of his own.
the way we see other people, speak about other people, and act towards other people changes when we remember that God chooses to remain faithful to people in ways we don’t always expect
The way we see other people, speak about other people, and act towards other people changes when we remember that God chooses to remain faithful to people in ways we don’t always expect. It is the reason that Jesus summarizes all of his commandments and instructions for his disciples in this one directive.
John 13:34–35 (NIV)
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
God always chooses to remain faithful to his covenant love.