George Cardinal Pell: Standing with the Word of God

Amen. Amen.

Quite some time ago, during his seminary days, a young priest friend of mine attended an introductory lecture on Revelation and the Scriptures. The lecturer told the class that there is considerable distance between God’s actual message and instructions and the texts we have in the Old and New Testaments. The lecturer wasn’t saying, like the Jesuit superior general, that we don’t know what Christ taught because they didn’t have recorders then, didn’t have phones to capture the moment. But she was heading in that direction.

My friend inquired innocently whether the Second Vatican Council had said anything on this topic. The lecturer, confident in her expertise, explained that it had. What was the document called? Quick as a flash the reply came: “Dei Verbum,” the Word of God. It was only when she stopped to smile and enjoy her contribution that the lecturer realized she had been decapitated. The Scriptures are God’s words for us, written in different forms and styles and in different ages by human authors. Although they were not dictated by the archangel Gabriel, as the Muslims claim the Quran was, they remain for us the Word of God.

Read it all.

History of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross 2022

From here.

exaltation of the holy crossAfter the death and resurrection of Christ, both the Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem made efforts to obscure the Holy Sepulchre, Christ’s tomb in the garden near the site of His crucifixion. The earth had been mounded up over the site, and pagan temples had been built on top of it. The Cross on which Christ had died had been hidden (tradition said) by the Jewish authorities somewhere in the vicinity.

According to tradition, first mentioned by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem in 348, Saint Helena, nearing the end of her life, decided under divine inspiration to travel to Jerusalem in 326 to excavate the Holy Sepulchre and attempt to locate the True Cross. A Jew by the name of Judas, aware of the tradition concerning the hiding of the Cross, led those excavating the Holy Sepulchre to the spot in which it was hidden.

Three crosses were found on the spot. According to one tradition, the inscription Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”) remained attached to the True Cross. According to a more common tradition, however, the inscription was missing, and Saint Helena and Saint Macarius, the bishop of Jerusalem, assuming that one was the True Cross and the other two belonged to the thieves crucified alongside Christ, devised an experiment to determine which was the True Cross.

In one version of the latter tradition, the three crosses were taken to a woman who was near death; when she touched the True Cross, she was healed. In another, the body of a dead man was brought to the place where the three crosses were found, and laid upon each cross. The True Cross restored the dead man to life.

In celebration of the discovery of the Holy Cross, Constantine ordered the construction of churches at the site of the Holy Sepulchre and on Mount Calvary. Those churches were dedicated on September 13 and 14, 335, and shortly thereafter the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross began to be celebrated on the latter date. The feast slowly spread from Jerusalem to other churches, until, by the year 720, the celebration was universal.

In the early seventh century, the Persians conquered Jerusalem, and the Persian king Khosrau II captured the True Cross and took it back to Persia. After Khosrau’s defeat by Emperor Heraclius II, Khosrau’s own son had him assassinated in 628 and returned the True Cross to Heraclius. In 629, Heraclius, having initially taken the True Cross to Constantinople, decided to restore it to Jerusalem. Tradition says that he carried the Cross on his own back, but when he attempted to enter the church on Mount Calvary, a strange force stopped him. Patriarch Zacharias of Jerusalem, seeing the emperor struggling, advised him to take off his royal robes and crown and to dress in a penitential robe instead. As soon as Heraclius took Zacharias’ advice, he was able to carry the True Cross into the church.

For some centuries, a second feast, the Invention of the Cross, was celebrated on May 3 in the Roman and Gallican churches, following a tradition that marked that date as the day on which Saint Helena discovered the True Cross. In Jerusalem, however, the finding of the Cross was celebrated from the beginning on September 14.

A Prayer for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross 2022 (1)

Almighty God,
whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ
was lifted high upon the cross
that he might draw the whole world to himself:
Mercifully grant that we,
who glory in the mystery of our redemption,
may have grace to take up our cross and follow him;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross 2022

During the reign of Constantine, first Roman Emperor to profess the Christian faith, his mother Helena went to Israel and there undertook to find the places especially significant to Christians. (She was helped in this by the fact that in their destructions around 135, the Romans had built pagan shrines over many of these sites.) Having located, close together, what she believed to be the sites of the Crucifixion and of the Burial (at locations that modern archaeologists think may be correct), she then had built over them the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was dedicated on 14 September 335. It has become a day for recognizing the Cross (in a festal atmosphere that would be inappropriate on Good Friday) as a symbol of triumph, as a sign of Christ’s victory over death, and a reminder of His promise, “And when I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32)

Read and relish it all.

Gavin Ashenden: Mourning the Loss of Our Queen and All that She Embodied

Before his conversion to Roman Catholicism Gavin Ashenden was an Anglican priest and bishop as well as former Chaplain to the Queen. I fear his concerns are real and true. From Christian Today:

Queen Elizabeth listening to speeches by others at the Home Office last month.

It used to be the fashion to address a monarch as His or Her ‘Most Christian Majesty’. In the case of Elizabeth II, that was the most appropriate description. People have discussed her longevity, her family, her good judgement; but behind the length of her reign, and the reason why she found herself so dearly loved, was her Christian character.

Alongside a life constructed and sculpted by faith is the congruence that the demise of Christian faith in the public sphere may take place in parallel to her own personal demise…

As the society she ruled over constitutionally grew more heterodox and hedonistic, the dignity and integrity that she embodied both personally and constitutionally resonated with a contrasting moral and existential value which was nurtured by her relationship with God – her sense of vocation as his servant, placed within the royal family to serve both him and her nation – and her love of Christ, whose Spirit renewed her daily.

The mourning that will accompany her passing will be a grief not only for a remarkable woman, a treasured mother, a dignified grandmother and a much-loved Queen, it will also include a sorrow for the passing of a Christianised culture whose deepest and most noble virtues she represented and embodied. In every sense it is true to say of her, we shall not see her like again.

Read it all.

2022: A Prayer for the Anniversary of 9/11

For those who perished on September 11th at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, and in the fields of Pennsylvania:
that they experience eternal life with God in heaven and the new creation, we pray:

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who grieve:
for wives and husbands, parents, family and friends, that hearts saddened by the loss of loved ones might be strengthened with courage, and come to know the promise of Christ’s Resurrection and new life, we pray:

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the children:
for those left without a parent, and for the children who witnessed the attacks: that they might flourish in the embrace of loving hearts, and the promise of life well lived, we pray:

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For all those who helped:
for firefighters, police personnel, emergency service workers, for medics and counselors, for all who volunteered, that they experience the reward of generous service in atime of peril, we pray:

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the grace to forgive:
that our hearts be large enough to forgive those who struck our nation in such dreadful ways, we pray, even as we ask you to turn their hearts:

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For world leaders and the governments of nations:
that they will put aside all petty concerns and work together, ensuring justice and peace for all, we pray:

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For a future of freedom and peace:
for courage, wisdom and strength of heart to live every day in hope for a peaceful world, grounded in the knowledge of God’s love and care for each of us and the hope of Resurrection, we pray:

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Today we remember 9/11. The memories haunt us, the sounds echo in our ears, and the images fill our eyes,
O Christ, lead us home.

When we are hopeless and sad,
O Christ, lead us home.

When we are angry and vengeful,
O Christ, lead us home.

When tears become our only food,
O Christ, lead us home.

When we grieve and despair,
O Christ, lead us home.

When we are fearful and faithless,
O Christ, lead us home.

When in grief, anger, negligence, or ignorance we have turned against you and against one another,
Merciful God, forgive and heal us.

When we speak unjustly against others, when we blame unfairly, when we withdraw or lash out,
Merciful God, forgive and heal us.

When we seek revenge rather than reconciliation and peace,
Merciful God, forgive and heal us.

Give us the will and courage to love and forgive our enemies.
Merciful God, forgive and heal us.

Lead them and us from prejudice to truth,
Merciful God, forgive and heal us.

Deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge.
Merciful God, forgive and heal us.

Enable us all to stand reconciled before you.
Merciful God, forgive and heal us.

For men and women who have given their strength, their wisdom, and their lives for this country,
We thank you, Lord.

For firefighters, police officers, first responders, and all those who were injured or died so that others might be rescued, cared for, and protected,
We thank you, Lord.

For the brave and courageous who were patient in suffering, faithful in adversity, and selfless in sacrifice,
We thank you, Lord.

For all who participate in interfaith dialogue, relationships, and reconciliation,
We thank you, Lord.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

Collect at the Prayers
O God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Shield of the fearful, Source of hope, as we mourn the sudden violence and the deaths of our brothers and sisters, show us the immense power of your goodness and strengthen our faith. Come swiftly to our aid, and have mercy on all who call on you. Comfort those who mourn this day and gather the dead in your mercy. Bring to us at last the peace you promise in Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Canon J John: The Passing of the Queen

Amen. Well done, good and faithful servant. May you rest in peace and RISE IN GLORY, Your Majesty.

‘The Queen has died.’ We have always known that someday we would hear those words, but that certainty has not robbed them of either their sadness or their solemnity. In the sea of tributes now overwhelming us, how should we react?

Our first reaction should surely be appreciation. We need to reflect with gratitude on all that the Queen achieved for the nation and the Commonwealth. The reign of Queen Elizabeth II was certainly long, yet length of reign – like length of life – is no measure of greatness. The Queen’s accomplishment was not simply to reign for a long time, but to reign well.

It is an achievement made even greater because she ruled in difficult times. She has been compared to both the first Queen Elizabeth and to Queen Victoria yet, unlike them, it was not her lot to rule at a time of either national glory or imperial splendour.

Our Queen Elizabeth came to power in a Britain still recovering from war. Her reign witnessed the end of the British Empire and the emergence of a new, confused Britain, increasingly adrift from its traditional values. During her reign fashions in culture, art and manners came and went; kings, emperors, presidents and regimes flourished only to be swept away by time.

Yet if the winds of change blew strongly, the Queen seemed unaffected by them. Whatever happened to the nation – economic turmoil, terrorist atrocity or political uncertainty – the Queen was there and the nation found comfort in that. In an age of uncertainty and confusion she came to embody what Britain stood for. For that solidity and stability in turbulent times we are grateful.

It is salutary to read the words of the Queen’s coronation service and see all that, so long ago, she promised to defend for the nation and the church. At the end of that long life, we can say with appreciation that she fulfilled her vows and did what she promised. She kept the faith. We are doubtless called to lesser things, but may we keep our promises as well as she did hers.

A good reflection. Read it all.

Augustine Longs for God

Beautiful.

Where did I find you, that I came to know you? You were not within my memory before I learned of you. Where, then, did I find you before I came to know you, if not within yourself, far above me? We come to you and go from you, but no place is involved in this process. In every place, O Truth, you are present to those who seek your help, and at one and the same time you answer all, though they seek your counsel on different matters.

You respond clearly, but not everyone hears clearly. All ask what they wish, but do not always hear the answer they wish. Your best servant is he who is intent not so much on hearing his petition answered, as rather on willing whatever he hears from you. 

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you; now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

When once I shall be united to you with my whole being, I shall at last be free of sorrow and toil. Then my life will be alive, filled entirely with you. When you fill someone, you relieve him of his burden, but because I am not yet filled with you, I am a burden to myself. My joy when I should be weeping struggles with my sorrows when I should be rejoicing. I know not where victory lies. Woe is me! Lord, have mercy on me! My evil sorrows and good joys are at war with one another, | know not where victory lies. Woe is me! Lord, have mercy! Woe is me! I make no effort to conceal my wounds. You are my physician, I your patient. You are merciful; I stand in need of mercy. 

Is not the life of man upon earth a trial? Who would want troubles and difficulties? You command us to endure them, not to love them. No person loves what he endures, though he may love the act of enduring. For even if he is happy to endure his own burden, he would still prefer that the burden not exist. I long for prosperity in times of adversity, and I fear adversity when times are good. Yet what middle ground is there between these two extremes where the life of man would be other than trial? Pity the prosperity of this world, pity it once and again, for it corrupts joy and brings the fear of adversity. Pity the adversity of this world, pity it again, then a third time; for it fills men with a longing for prosperity, and because adversity itself is hard for them to bear and can even break their endurance. Is not the life of man upon earth a trial, a continuous trial?

All my hope lies only in your great mercy.

Responsory
Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you.
—You called, you shouted,
and you broke through my deafness.

The Son of Man came to seek out the lost
and lead them to salvation.
—You called, you shouted,
and you broke through my deafness.

Confessions

Deacon Tucker Messamore: This is My Story

Starting next Sunday, August 7, Sunday sermons/podcasts will be published directly on St. Augustine Anglican Church’s website. Visit there to read or listen to future sermons.

Sermon delivered on Trinity 7C, Sunday, July 31, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Hosea 11.1-11; Psalm 107.1-9, 43; Colossians 3.1-11; St. Luke 12.13-21.

In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

A few months ago, we changed our Children’s Church curriculum at St. Augustine’s to a program called God’s Big Story. What I like so much about this curriculum is that it doesn’t just teach kids Bible stories; it shows them that the Bible is one story. While the Bible is full of stories about various people and events, these individual stories fit into one big story—From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures tell the story of God’s love for the people He created. This is not just any story: it’s the greatest love story of all time. It’s about a God who loves His people even when they fail to love Him back. It’s the story about a God who won’t let anything separate Him from the people He loves. It tells the story of a God who loves His people so much that He suffers and dies for them. 

We’re going to talk about this “big story” of the Bible today as we examine our lesson from Hosea 11. This passage summarizes the major events of the Old Testament. It quickly recaps God’s history with the nation of Israel. But this is not just the story of God’s interactions with people who lived thousands of years ago. As we’ll see, this is your story. This is my story. 

We can think of Hosea 11 like the “Table of Contents” of the Bible. It reveals four different “themes” or “chapter titles” that summarize the big story of the Bible. The opening verses of this passage use a couple of analogies to illustrate the first theme: God loves His people (vv. 1-2, 4).

Verse 1 says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him.” Here, God is depicted as father beaming over his newborn child. From the very beginning of Israel’s existence as a nation, God loved them. God demonstrated His fatherly love in many ways throughout Israel’s history. He led them “out of Egypt” (v. 2) when they were in bondage. Like any loving parent, God heard the cries of His hurting people and came to their rescue (c.f. Exodus 2:24).In v. 3, God is like a Dad who stands behind his shaky-legged infant and grabs his son by the arms to help him stand upright and learn to walk.Not only did God lead Israel out of Egypt, He helped them “get on their feet” as a nation. He did not abandon them. He gave them His Law to teach them how to live and how to relate to Him and to one another.

In v. 4, the analogy changes: God is portrayed as a kind farmer who treats his cattle more like pets: “I led them with cords of kindness, with bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.” God graciously led his people through the wilderness to the land he had promised Abraham’s ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey, a place that could be their home. Along the way, he fed them with manna from heaven to sustain them on their journey.

But despite God’s love, God’s people rebel against Him (v. 2). This is our second theme. Verse 2 says, “The more they were called, the more they went away.” Israel is like a rebellious child who defies the instructions of his parents. God gave Israel the Law to guide how they ought to live. But these were not arbitrary rules. Like any good parent, God set boundaries for his children with their best interest in mind. But time and time again, Israel disregarded and disobeyed God’s Law. God tried to “call” them back to Him through the prophets who warned Israel of the consequences they would experience for their sin—things like famines, plagues, wars, & exile for the land—but they didn’t listen. To make matters even worse, they worshipped “idols,” forsaking the God who loved them and blessed them. As vv. 3-4 put it, “They did not know that I healed them… I led them… I bend down… [I] fed them.” 

This tragic story is not just Israel’s story. It’s our story too. From before you and I even existed, God loved us. He made us in His own image (Gen. 1:27), handcrafting us in the womb (Psalm 139:13). Every “good and perfect gift” we experience comes from Him (James 1:17). But in spite of His innumerable blessings, we rebel against God. God has clearly revealed what is right and wrong in His Word, yet as we will later confess, we sin against God “in thought, word, and deed.” We fail to love Him with all our heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In v. 7, God says, “My people are bent on turning away from me.” Like the people of Israel, we have a sin nature that inclines us toward evil rather than good, disobedience rather than obedience. Scripture makes it clear that we are so overcome by sin that we are captive to it.

This brings us to our third theme: God punishes sin (vv. 5-7). In v. 5, God makes it clear that Israel’s rebellion would have consequences. He says, “They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they refuse to turn to me.” (v. 5). Just as God had warned through the prophets, because of their persistent rebellion against God, they would once again become slaves in another nation, this time Assyria, one of the world powers at that time. Verse 6 describes how Israel’s cities would be destroyed by invaders, and that is exactly what came to pass. In 722 B.C., Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and led God’s people into exile.

Like the people of Israel, as those who have rebelled against God, we face God’s judgment. While we face many repercussions of our sin in this life—pain, suffering, broken relationships—Scripture tells us that the ultimate outcome of our sin is death (Romans 6:23), and not just physical death, but eternal death, separation from God for all eternity. Some may question how a compassionate God could pronounce an eternal punishment on people he loves. But we must also remember that God is good. To put it another way, we could say that God is just.

If on his first day in office a president pardoned every murderer in the federal prison system and immediately released them, we would be outraged. We would say, “Where is the justice in this? These people are evildoers! They deserve to be punished!” In the same way that a good president would never flippantly dismiss such evil, if God is good, He cannot excuse our sin. That would be unjust. For this reason, Paul says that in our sinful state we are “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), those who are bound to face God’s judgment.

But thanks be to God that the story does not end there! In His great love for us, God writes one final chapter: God shows His people grace (vv. 8-11) There is a shift in tone in v. 8: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim?” In the midst of His judgment, God’s love shines through. Even though His people has rebelled against Him, He still loves them. He asks, “How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you Zeboiim?” (v. 8) When we read these names, we might think, “Huh? Admah? Zeboiim? I’ve never heard of them.” I think this is the reaction we’re supposed to have. These are two cities that were destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sinfulness (Deut. 29:23). God literally wiped their memory from history.

But God cannot imagine doing the  same thing to Israel: “My heart recoils within me” (v. 8). Therefore, God proclaims, “I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim” (v. 9). Although Israel will go into captivity, God will spare them from destruction. 

This is the same good news that God offers to us: although we deserve God’s wrath because of our sin, God offers us grace.  He does this through the work of His Son—not Israel, but the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus did what Israel failed to do. He was not a rebellious Son, but one who lived a life of perfect obedience to God the Father. In the cross of Christ, God’s justice and God’s mercy meet. Because Jesus had no guilt of His own, Jesus was able to stand in our place, taking on Himself the punishment we deserve for our sin (Is. 53:5) so that we could instead receive the grace that we do not deserve.

But the good news doesn’t end there! God promised Israel he would not leave them in their captivity but would return them home (vv. 10-11). Since humanity rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, in a sense, we’ve been in exile. Our sin has separated us from God and has distorted our relationship with God, with one another, and with creation. But one day, we will be released from our exile. Christ will return and will usher in the kingdom of God in its fullness, restoring creation to what it was meant to be. We will be in God’s presence for all eternity, free from sin, death, suffering, and pain forevermore! This is where our story concludes. Like any good love story, it ends with, “And they lived happily ever after.”

This is the arc of the Big Story of the Bible: God’s love, sin, judgment, renewal. As we reflect on these truths, we must ask, “Why does this all matter?” I’m sure that most of you have heard this story—the gospel, the good news of the Bible—before. This is nothing new or groundbreaking. So why even bother going through it this morning?

Today, I  brought something very important to me. This is a book of letters Amelia gave to me when I graduated seminary. The letters are words of encouragement written by family members, friends, pastors, professors, mentors, and people I have served in various churches. Whenever I feel discouraged or drained or I doubt my call to ministry, I turn to this book, and it keeps me grounded and helps me move forward. It points me to who God created me to be, and it reminds me of the saints who are praying for me and supporting me.

Brothers and sisters, this is why we need the gospel. This is not a story; it’s our story. It reminds us of the Father’s love and tells us who we are in Christ.  This story is the anchor that steadies us as we navigate the storms of this life. It’s the shield that protects us from the attacks of our enemy. 

For example, Satan often tries to burden with feelings of guilt. He reminds of our sins and shortcomings, our imperfections and mistakes. But guilt is not our story. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now nocondemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” In the words of a modern hymn, “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there, who made an end to all my sin!”  This is my story!

This story also gives us courage in the face of fear. Fear comes our way when we don’t know what’s next, when you or a loved one gets a grim diagnosis, when you don’t know how you’ll make ends meet. We may experience fear, but fear is not the end of our story! No matter what circumstances face us, we can have hope because we know the end of the story! Christ is risen, and He will return one day and make all things new! “Because Helives, I can face tomorrow! Because He lives, all fear is gone!” We may not know what the future holds, but we do know the One who holds the future! This, this is my story!

Amid life’s storms and the attacks of our enemy the devil, may we be people who boldly declare, “This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior, all the day long.” 

In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Father Philip Sang: Living the Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 6C, Sunday, July 24, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Hosea 1.2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2.6-19; St. Luke 11.1-13.

Our Christian life is not to be confined to a closet. Our belief must be revealed in our practice. If we walk in Christ, then we must act as Christ would act because Christ is in us, in our hopes, our love, our joy and our lives. We are Christ’s reflection.

At first glance, the reading from Hosea doesn’t seem to make sense. Would God really ask a prophet to marry a prostitute? Well, the answer is yes he can, and yes he did. You see, this was part of God’s plan, and we all know that God’s ways are not our ways, and sometimes God’s ways don’t make sense to us because we can’t see the overall plan God has for someone or something.

God wanted to teach Israel a lesson, so he told Hosea to marry Gomer the prostitute. When God used the word whoredom, he was not necessarily referring to prostitution. The word translated as whoredom is a broad term that refers to various types of sexual misconduct. It only refers to prostitution in certain cases. In the case of Hosea, it refers to a married woman being unfaithful to her husband. This was a metaphor for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Hosea’s marriage began well and ended badly, just like Israel’s relationship with God began well and had become bad by the time of Hosea.

Hosea probably asked God, “Why are you doing this to me? I am a good man, I try to be a godly man. All I want to do is have a family and raise children. Why should I be married to the wrong woman? Why should I be forced to raise strange children?” God’s likely answer was, “It is because you are my prophet that you are living through this situation. Who else could suffer like I suffer, grieve like I grieve, and understand what I understand? Israel abandoned me just like your wife abandoned you. You can grieve for Gomer like I grieve for Israel.”

God knew that Gomer would be unfaithful and he used that knowledge to teach Israel a lesson. He used the names of her children as statements of prophecy. The first child, Jezreel, was a reflection of 1 Kings 21 where Ahab’s wife Jezreel planned to murder Naboth so that Ahab could seize Naboth’s vineyard. The licking of Ahab’s blood by the dogs was a metaphor for God’s future judgment of people who follow other gods.

The name of Gomer’s second child is translated as “No Mercy”. Scholars suggest that Hosea was not the father. He did not have the natural affection that a father has for his children. This was a metaphor for the lack of love that God had for Israel at this point in time.

The name of Gomer’s third child is translated as “Not My People”, and again scholars suggest that Hosea was not the father. It represents the breaking of the natural bond that God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai; however, this breaking of the bond did not nullify the promises God made to Abraham. Like Abraham, Israel’s salvation was by grace through faith and not through works of the law. The salvation would be offered through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

God used Hosea’s family to call Israel back to him and his teachings. Paul said the same thing in Colossians. Both the Colossians and the Israelites had been led away from God. In the case of the Colossians, they were led away by false prophets. They were deceived. They forgot that in God and Jesus they were living new lives after being forgiven of their sins. They were united with Christ and shared his power over all earthly rules and authority. The only way they had to gain spiritual maturity was to hold fast to their faith in Christ and not to the man-made rules of the Pharisees.

The story of Hosea and Gomer is really a story about God and the covenant people. Hosea used his family struggles as a way to speak to Israel about its unfaithfulness to God. Israel paid a heavy price for its unfaithfulness. Reconciliation would not be easy, just like it was not easy for Hosea and Gomer to reconcile. Israel had to learn a hard lesson. We as Christians have to learn the same hard lesson when we forsake Christ for other worldly ambitions. Thank goodness God is stubborn and pursues us even when we turn from him in sin. This is Hosea’s ultimate message: God is faithful to his promises and can’t let us go. His faithfulness to us overcomes our faithlessness to him and to each other.

We as modern Christians are also called to faith in Christ as a way of gaining spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is gained through faith. Faith allows us to withstand life’s challenges. Faith will guide us to the end of our life’s journey. It will guide us into the time of Judgment Day when God will say “Welcome Home!” Without faith, we are destined to hell.

God can’t give us up as his children regardless of how unfaithful we have been. He loves us too much. At the same time, he can’t overlook our sins because of the damage sin does and will continue to do so as long as we hold on to our sins. Our closeness to God is broken because sin offends God. Sin hurts us because sin always has negative consequences and cuts us off from others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. God had to find a way to comfort us and heal us-and the way he found was through Christ’s death on the cross.

Jesus came into the world for a purpose, and that purpose was to die on the cross, the just for the unjust. When Jesus died for us, he took away our sins and nailed them to the cross. He provided the redemption referred to in Hosea. We must not take that grace for granted like Israel did. We must not drift so far from God that we can’t cherish his grace. That’s what happened to Israel at the time of Hosea. When we accept Christ, our condition is changed from condemnation and death to forgiveness and life. We are given a new nature-one that wants to please God. We are then adopted into God’s family, but that adoption requires us to submit to Christ’s authority. He paid for us with his blood, and since we are now his, he has the right to rule our lives. We have to let Jesus have complete control of every area of our lives-every decision, every action, every word, every motive, every attitude and every thought.

As Israel listened to the news about Hosea’s family, they learned about God’s undying love for his people. God’s faithfulness combined with our faith in him gives us hope that we can be changed, forgiven and saved. He wipes the slate clean and renews the relationship he has with us. We are restored as children of God.

In the Letter to the Colossians Paul encourages us to be rooted in Christ. Israel in Hosea’s time didn’t have those firm roots, so it’s no wonder that they drifted away from God. Once we have this firm foundation, Colossians teaches us to continually renovate ourselves so that we become more Christ-like, but we must not become rigid. We do not have to follow a rigid set of rules. All we have to do is come to Christ in humble faith and prayer. Jesus gives us a good example of a prayer to use in Luke 11:1-13.

There are two forms of prayer: quiet contemplation or thanksgiving and petition. Jesus used both forms of prayer to seek God’s presence, guidance and provision for both body and spirit. His prayer life reflected the life of friendship with God. God met Jesus’ needs when Jesus prayed, and he can meet our needs when we pray.

When Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread”, he was referring to the manna that the Israelites received every day when they wandered in the wilderness. It reminded them of their daily dependence on God for the basics of life. Bread serves the same function in a primitive, agricultural society where hunger is never far away. This might seem to be trivial in our modern, affluent society, but the term “daily bread” represents the modern essentials of our lives- for example, a car or medical care. God out Father listens to our requests but he does not blindly grant every one of them, just like good parents do not grant every one of a child’s requests. To do so would please us in the short term, but it would also hurt us in the long run, just like granting every one of a child’s requests would hurt the child in the long run. Instead, God provides what is needed, including limits and discipline

When I was preparing, I found this prayer, which I thought tied in quite nicely with the sermon. It’s a prayer we should all pray when we don’t get what we pray for:

I asked for strength that I might achieve;

I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health that I might do greater things;

I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy;

I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;

I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;

I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I had asked for,

but everything that I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

My brothers and sisters when we turn to other people and things to meet our needs, we turn away from God just like Israel did. There are so many people today who believe that if they can simply do this or that, then their lives will be fulfilled. They are very disappointed when they reach their goals and discover that the view from the top isn’t as great as they thought it would be. They try to hide their disappointment with drugs, alcohol sex or material goods. They reached their goals without asking God if their goals were compatible with his plans for their lives. God wants us to seek, ask and knock and in return he promises to answer our prayers. We need to plant our roots deep in the faith of who Jesus is and what he did for us. That way, when the storms of life hit us, we will remain strong.

If we are to be like Christ, we must also forgive others like God forgives us. We as Christians are to be faithful reflections of the image and values of God. How can the world learn of God’s forgiveness if we do not forgive others?

The story of the man who loaned the three loaves of bread is a metaphor for God’s promise to save his people. People in that area and culture took hospitality seriously at that time. Failing to show hospitality would bring shame on the host family because the traveler would go to other homes for help and tell everyone about the person who refused to show hospitality. God refuses to allow his name to be brought to shame, so he saves his people. In other words, he keeps his promises and shows his own version of hospitality.

So how do we keep our faith strong in the face of our modern, secular, godless society? One way is through studying the Scriptures and through prayer.

Society is filled with people like Hosea and Gomer-people whose lives are messed up, who don’t have it together, who make poor choices and live with the consequences. I know, because I’m one of them. We might pretend that we are prefect, but behind our perfect appearances lie deep flaws that exist in spite of our appearances to cover up our sinfulness.

As I started my sermon today so do I  repeat again, Our Christian life is not to be confined to a closet. Our belief must be revealed in our practice. If we walk in Christ, then we must act as Christ would act because Christ is in us, in our hopes, our love, our joy and our lives. We are the reflection of Jesus, and people will say of us, “They are like their Master. They live like Jesus Christ”.

In the Name of God, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit Amen.

Occasional Reflection, July 19, 2022: Entering God’s Holy Presence

1 Then David again gathered all the elite troops in Israel, 30,000 in all. He led them to Baalah of Judah to bring back the Ark of God, which bears the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s house, which was on a hill. Uzzah and Ahio, Abinadab’s sons, were guiding the cart that carried the Ark of God. Ahio walked in front of the Ark. David and all the people of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals.

But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God.

David was angry because the Lord’s anger had burst out against Uzzah. He named that place Perez-uzzah (which means “to burst out against Uzzah”), as it is still called today.

David was now afraid of the Lord, and he asked, “How can I ever bring the Ark of the Lord back into my care?” 10 So David decided not to move the Ark of the Lord into the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom of Gath. 11 The Ark of the Lord remained there in Obed-edom’s house for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and his entire household.

12 Then King David was told, “The Lord has blessed Obed-edom’s household and everything he has because of the Ark of God.” So David went there and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with a great celebration.

—2 Samuel 6.1-12

How do sin-stained humans approach a Holy and morally perfect God, a God whose holiness can tolerate not one hint of evil or imperfection in his direct Presence? Very carefully if we are to believe the old and new testaments. Take today’s story for example. King David had decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant, the very place where God chose to dwell with God’s people, the very place ancient Israel believed heaven and earth intersected, to Jerusalem even though no ark could contain God. Touching the Ark meant entering the Presence of a Holy God. God had given Moses very specific instructions on how to handle and transport this Ark. Only Levites were authorized to carry the Ark and handle it. You can read about that in Numbers 1.50-51 if you’re interested.

Now here we are with David leading the procession to bring the Ark of God to Jerusalem. But the oxen pulling the cart with the Ark stumbled and the Ark was about to be thrown off. One of men guiding the Ark instinctively reached to catch it before it fell. Surely he did so with the best intentions. And what happened? In great understatement the writer tells us that this act aroused God’s anger and God struck him dead. Talk about the ultimate buzz-kill to spoil a perfectly good party!

God’s seemingly heartless and merciless action made David angry, and why wouldn’t it? At first blush it would make anyone angry. Isn’t God supposed to be kind and merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love? What kind of cruel God would strike someone dead over a seemingly innocent behavior like this?

God is indeed loving and merciful and gracious, but God is first and foremost a holy God, separate and apart from creation and God’s creatures, and God in his holiness can brook no act of disobedience or sin or evil. Nothing but good can dwell in God’s presence and that is for our ultimate good if we ever hope to live with him throughout eternity. Who wants to live forever with evil or brokenness or sickness or incompleteness?

So why did God strike this man dead? The answer is straightforward. Uzzah was not a Levite. Obed-edom was (we learn that from 1 Chronicles 15.14-18). David and Uzzah did not follow God’s strict instructions to his people about how to handle the Ark of his Presence and awful consequences ensued. But when David finally followed God’s instructions, God’s blessing ensued. God blessed Obed-edom and his household.

If all the above is true, how can sinful mortals like you and me ever hope to live in God’s holy Presence forever, the same Presence that can tolerate nothing but perfection? Even the best of us are far from morally perfect as this story powerfully and frighteningly shows! No wonder David was angry and afraid. Who in his or her right mind wouldn’t be afraid if this is true? It would seem none of us will get to go to heaven or live in God’s direct Presence forever in the new heavens and earth. And this isn’t the only story of its kind in Scripture. Any time sinful mortals approach God’s holy Presence in ways not prescribed by God, it never turns out well for us. What to do?

Some will dismiss this story as pure fiction. It’s too terrifying to actually believe. But there is a better, life-giving way. Thankfully God has given us a way to approach him without fear. Enter the Cross of Jesus Christ. The only way we can approach God’s Presence is through Christ’s Death. In Christ’s holy Death, God took away our deserved punishment for our sins and made us spotless and without blemish in God’s sight. We aren’t told how this all works, only that it does. And those who put their faith in Christ and act accordingly can have every expectation and confidence that their present and future are with God, not separated from him. We have God’s very word on that contained in the NT and the tradition of the Church. God did not have to do that for us. In the Cross of Christ, in becoming human and dying our death and suffering God’s terrible separation on our behalf, God found a most unexpected way to make us holy and acceptable in God’s sight while satisfying God’s sense of real justice so that we could not only approach God but also get to live with God forever, God be thanked and praised!

This is the God we worship. This is the God we are called to love. Resolve today to stop serving the ways and gods of this broken and sinful world with its destructive and death-dealing systems and beliefs and give yourself entirely to this God who loves you so much he became human (or as the Church has traditionally stated, sent his only Son, Christ) to die for you to make you holy so you are worthy to stand in God’s Presence forever. This is the heart of the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is what real love is always all about. Real love never enables sin and brokenness or anything else that dehumanizes us and therefore is not always easy to give or be recognized because the world loves its sin and brokenness. Real love shows us the way to receive real healing, real hope, real mercy, the kind that only God the Father can give us through our Lord Jesus Christ. Real love always shows us Jesus, the only Way to the Father.

—Mark 4:9