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