Sunday, March 22, 2020

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Lent (March 22, 2020)

HOSEA 5:15 – 6:6

TRUE REPENTANCE KNOWS THE HEART OF GOD.

In the name + of Jesus.

      When we must endure the fears, the frustrations, and the pains of a pandemic such as COVID-19, a common question is, “Why?”  Part of the answer is this: The devil wants you to suffer harm and misery.  He wants to corrupt and destroy God's creation.  He always has, and he is at work today.  But that does not mean the devil is in charge.  Jesus Christ lives and reigns supreme.  He does not yield the throne to the devil or sleep on the job.  So, did God send the pandemic, or did he just allow it?  Is it God's work, or the devil's?  This is what the Lord says: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” (Ecclesiastes 7:14)  Nothing happens apart from God's will.  But that still brings us back to the question: “Why?”
     Many are happy to answer for God.  You can find them preaching in churches and on social media.  “This is God's punishment on our nation for abortion!”  “God is doing this because of all the sexual perversion in our land!”  “This is what we get because the Republicans do this or the Democrats do that.”  “This is punishment for our love of money or sports or...” well, you get the idea.  Without a doubt, the Lord calls all people to repent.  But the call should not be based on a virus; as if we should repent just so we can get rid of COVID-19.  True repentance comes not from fear of disease, but from fear of God and his word.  True repentance knows the heart of God.
     When the prophet Hosea was preaching to the people of Israel, he was calling a faithless nation to turn back to the Lord.  He declared, “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God.  For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the LORD.” (Hosea 5:4)  Israel had been betrothed to the Lord.  They were to be exclusively his.  But they had given their love to other gods—pride, money, lusts, themselves, and to crass idol worship.  Though Moses, God had specifically warned Israel what would happen if they prostituted themselves after other gods.  He said that he would hand them over to famine, disease, pestilence, and the sword.  And God was true to his word.  Hosea declared God's judgment: “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me.” (Hosea 5:15)  The Lord left them to their misery so they would yearn for his word and his mercy.
     Now, please understand that 21st century America is not equal to Old Testament Israel.  It is not the same.  The whole nation of Israel was betrothed to God.  They were his chosen ones.  Chosen for what?  Chosen to be the people through whom the Savior would come into the world.  If Israel became unfaithful to him, this was a threat to the promise.  God would not let his promise of a Savior be threatened by a faithless people.  Therefore, the Lord dealt harshly with the nation of Israel when they prostituted themselves to other gods.  He did exactly what he had said in his word: He handed them over to famine, disease, pestilence, and the sword to call them to repent.
     Repentance knows the heart of God.  And it seemed that the Israelites did, indeed, know the heart of God.  They declared, “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” (Hosea 6:1-2)  They said all the right words, but their hearts were not set on God's heart.  They said what they had to say, and they made the sacrifices that they were supposed to make—whatever it took to be spared famine, disease, pestilence, and the sword. 
     That is why God responded to their empty words and rituals, “What shall I do with you?  Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.  … For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:4,6)  Their affection for God would last only long enough to get God off their backs.  Any fool could slaughter a bull and burn it.  If they remained faithless, what good was that?
     True repentance knows the heart of God.  True repentance recognizes that God wants more than outward behavior.  Morals are valuable, but they do not save.  And that goes back to the problem of preachers saying the COVID-19 virus has come as punishment for this or that particular sin.  Now, to be sure, God addresses those sins in his word.  Abortion is murder.  Sex outside of the marriage bed is wicked.  Same-sex marriage is a mockery of God's design.  Money, sports, and entertainment are not idols to have priority over God and his word.  God is undeniably clear on these things.  COVID-19 or not, these are sins and we should repent of them and all sins.  But if our repentance is only to get God off our backs so we can return to business-as-usual, what good is that?
     True repentance knows the heart of God.  And the heart of God is not made known by disasters or pandemics.  The heart of God is made known by his word.  God has made known that his heart is grieved by our sin.  Our problem is not that we might contract a virus, it is that we are incurably infested with sin.  It is a condition that we cannot fix.  Therefore, God was faithful to his promise.  The Father worked through his betrothed, Israel, and brought into to the world his Son, our Savior.
     True repentance knows the heart of God.  His heart is devoted to us to rescue us from our sinful condition, to assure us that no virus could ever snatch us out of his hand, and to deliver us from the bitter torments of death.  True repentance does not seek to be spared from momentary troubles, but from eternal death.  This, Jesus Christ supplies for us. 
     The Lord had told the Israelites, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice.” (Hosea 6:6)  In Jesus Christ, the Lord received both.  God received the steadfast love he demands, demonstrated by Jesus' compassion for disciples, strangers, and enemies alike.  God received the perfect obedience he seeks, as Jesus did all that he was given to do.  Ultimately, that resulted in a perfect sacrifice.  Jesus shows you the heart of God by obediently taking on the sins of mankind and giving his life into a cursed death on your behalf.  His grieved heart bled for you as the payment for your sins.  His body was offered up as a whole burnt offering for you, consumed in God's fiery wrath.  Jesus shows you the heart of God who loves sinners, who rescues you from your sinful condition, and who is your refuge in death.
     True repentance knows the heart of God.  That heart was also pierced at the cross bringing forth a sudden flow of blood and water.  It is through blood and water that Jesus supplies forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation to his Bride, the Church.  In the waters of baptism, God makes you his chosen one.  Through holy communion, God keeps you pure and faithful to him unto life everlasting.  Therefore, in true repentance we flee to God, knowing that he loves sinners and saves them.  In true repentance, God gives us a new heart which delights in his word and serves him in all circumstances. 
     True repentance knows the heart of God.  We do not know God's will in all things.  Why did he bring COVID-19 into our lives?  Why this virus, and why now?  A sign of the coming judgment?  Yes.  More than that, God does not say.  But we don't fret over what God hides.  We rejoice in what God reveals.  He has revealed that he is our loving Redeemer, no matter what.  He reveals he is always steadfast to us in love—for he has united himself to us, his betrothed.  He has revealed that he is the resurrection and the door to eternal life.  He has revealed he is with us always, and is always working for our good.  This is the heart of God.  In this, we are always comforted.  In this, we are always loved.  And in this, we rejoice.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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