Deep in our souls there is a longing for home. It shows up in our books, our movies and our songs. Our “homesickness” shows up everywhere, but it seems that few know the way back. Home has become this theme, this larger-than-life magnet that powerfully draws the iron shavings of our soul. But, underneath it all, home is not about a building, an address or a room. Neither is it about the comforts of familiarity. Those things matter, but it’s deeper. All of us have an innate desire to get back to that place where we are safe, where we are known, and where we are loved. Simply put, we all long for God. In Luke 15, Jesus tells a triad of parables about lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. Known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, this story is about a man who has two sons: one older and one younger. As we come to find out, both of them leave home. One son goes to a faraway land. One son leaves home by staying home. And both are invited to experience a Father who navigates the world of lost children. Both brothers are lost. Both brothers need help. Both brothers are at a distance. And both are invited home to experience the father’s heart, the father’s joy and the father’s love. God wants people “home”- including you and the ones you may think are too far away.
This week's sermon focuses on the journey of the younger brother who ends up in the far away country, miles away from his father and his home. Everyone who travels down this road eventually follows the same familiar markers and landmarks: the separation of shame, the isolation of shame, and the narration of shame. As we unpack this shame story, we discover a way out and a new story enacted by our Heavenly Father. To know our way back home, we have to understand how we left. We have to answer the question of God, "Where are you?"
The Parable of the Prodigal Son does not happen in a vacuum. In fact, it's the third of a three parable set that Jesus tells focusing on the motif of "lost things." As Jesus teaches about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and finally a lost son, He is not just riffing on a random theme. Rather, he is directly responding to a real life conversation with the Pharisees who grumble and scoff at Jesus' eating habits with sinners. In a sense, they are asking Jesus "why bother with lost things?" This week, as we step into the first week of this new series, we will explore the background of Luke 15, the other parables of Luke 15 and begin to examine the movement of the younger brother away from home. This parable has both a personal and a missional lens of application as we examine the journey home- both for us and for others. God wants you and others home to be safe, loved and known. And frankly, we struggle with that more than we know.
For far too many, God is “the Big Man Upstairs;” a cold, detached, remote deity in the sky. As a result, our lifeless devotion often follows a similar trajectory. Cold. Detached. Uninterested. Lukewarm love satisfies no one. But, what if rather than being a distant, dispassionate Clockmaker, God is actually the most passionate Being in the universe. In the words of author Tim Chester, “People often talk about what they feel about God. Hosea tells us what God feels about us.” Through the words of the ancient Hebrew prophet Hosea, we get the full range of God’s heartbeat on display. Relying on images of marriage and family, God leverages the real life story of Hosea and his unfaithful spouse, Gomer, to reveal His jealousy, commitment, heartbreak, enthusiasm and compassionate pursuing love that gets the final word. After all, it's the revelation of His white hot consuming passion that stirs our passion in reply: our jealousy for God, our commitment to Him, our heartbreak over sin, our enthusiasm to serve, and our love for the lost. God’s heart sets our tepid hearts on fire. In this new year, let’s feast on the all-consuming passion of God for us and His world.
For the vast majority of this book, the primary metaphor for God's relationship with Israel has been that of a husband and a wife. Marriage is the overwhelming backdrop of this book- between Hosea/Gomer and God/Israel. However, in this last sermon of the series, God changes the metaphor and swaps out the comparison from marriage to parenting. Hosea 11 is a complete poem about the Father heart of God. Same prophet. Same people. Same limitations. Different angle. God replays the tapes of Israel's childhood and "teenage" rebellion. And then, in deep emotion, God declares His heartfelt compassion for Israel that will not give up. This book closes with one more reminder that God is not what we think or what our collective experience tells us. God has emotion for His people, emotion that He needs us to experience if we ever want to live out the fullness of our life story.
There is probably no single attribute of God with greater baggage or that causes more visceral triggers than the wrath of God. The very mention of that word causes many to cringe, recoil or shudder. Unlike God's wisdom, mercy, holiness or love, the wrath of God causes people to avoid it, ignore it or artfully dance around it. However, because love and wrath do not stand in contradiction to one another, the unlikely prophetic love story that is the book of Hosea would be incomplete without at least one conversation about it. This week, in exploring Hosea 8, we will take a biblical view of wrath, see how it is provoked and explain what is at stake for a 21st century disciple of Jesus. Rather than being a grumpy, irritable, out-of-control overreaction, the wrath of God challenges our flippancy, hypocrisy and complacency while also giving us hope in final justice and the supremacy of Christ.
Moving into Hosea 4, this passage marks a new section of the book and a noticeable shift in our eccentric, heart-wrenching, unlikely prophetic love story. Rather than focusing on the details of Hosea and Gomer, chapter 4 and following involve the details of God summoning Israel to court with the specifics of His legal complaint. God has the chance to openly and passionately explain His "indictment" of the people of God. God speaks and the people of Israel are called to listen. As God dives into the specifics of their sin, we are given a better understanding of how sin works- all of which reveals how often we ask the wrong sin question. Most of us spend a lot of time on the "what" of sin rather than the "why." Hosea 4 helps us unpack both the what and the why; the sin and the sin underneath the sin. Or, using other terms, Hosea 4 exposes both the fruit and the root of our sin. God calls us not just to end the various sinful behaviors. But even more deeply, God's calls us to a place of loving knowledge of Him in real relationship.
Hosea chapter 3 brings the storyline back to the specifics of the Hosea/Gomer love affair. Being a chapter with only five verses, it is a concise, quick, punchy real-life redemption parable. As Hosea is called to "go back and love" his unfaithful wife who is in the arms of another man, his action brings further understanding to the elements of redemption that we often have a hard time holding on to. God-style redemption reveals (1) Limitless love, (2) Costly love, and (3) Intimate love in ways that blow our minds and stir our hearts. Hosea 3 reminds us what God's redeeming love actually feels like as it speaks to our shame.
The deeper one moves into the story of Hosea, more questions emerge. How does a holy and jealous God respond to the fickle ways of an unfaithful people? When we scorn God, how will He respond? The end of Hosea 2 reveals that God does not give up, run away in exasperation or respond in passive aggression. God, in His faithful love, pursues His unfaithful bride when she least deserves it. And He does so in two unconventional ways that need some explanation. In pursuit, God frustrates our misguided loves. And in pursuit, God flirts with our souls. He frustrates our misguided loves by exposing and upending the idols we are quick to chase. Then, in His kindness, He allures us by speaking tenderly to our identity. Come discover the One who frustrates and flirts, drawing us closer to an exclusive love relationship with Himself.
Moving deeper into the Hosea storyline, the focus shifts from Hosea's children to his unfaithful wife, Gomer. Through her storyline of promiscuity and running into the arms of other gods, God reveals His Husband heart toward Israel as a fickle bride. Rightly stated, God is jealous for the exclusive love and affection of His people. But contrary to human jealousy which is often based on fear, paranoia and petty insecurity, God's jealousy is rooted in His holy zeal for what is rightfully His in relationship. The more we learn about fickle Gomer and unfaithful Israel, the more we see our patterns of wandering that break the heart of God. Our sin is not just about breaking the law. It's even more fundamentally about breaking His heart.
The first chapter of Hosea introduces us to this bizarre, unorthodox and compelling story about a man named Hosea and the calling God has for his family. In the opening lines, we learn that God calls an ordinary man living in opulent times to enact in his family the gospel of grace... even when everything in his gut screams no. This week, we will explore the Hosea storyline and these introductory components (an ordinary man, opulent times, family and grace). In doing so, we are hoping to discover in visceral ways the way that God feels about us. Our lives will only be able to shift from observation to participation in the Kingdom of God when we are consumed by the eternal, infinite fire of the passion of God for us.
Join us as we take a look back at 2018, celebrate God’s grace among us and look forward to what lies ahead in the coming year.
In the story of the birth of Jesus, the main point is the incarnation. John tell us that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus, the eternal son of God- called the Word- moved into the neighborhood.
But when the Word sounds forth, when the Word comes to earth, He echoes off His people. Meaning, every single character in Luke’s gospel, when they catch a glimpse of God’s saving work in Jesus, all respond in poetry. They sing. They prophesy. They poetically can’t contain themselves. And it just come out… over and over and over again. First, with Mary. She sings what’s called “The Magnificat.” Then old man Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. When his lips are finally re-opened, he sings his prophecy. Next the angels are singing, “Glory to God in the highest.” And then finally, the holy man Simeon in the temple. He blesses God verbally too. In our Bibles, all their echoes are marked with indented italics. Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. Mary, Zechariah, the angels, and Simeon. The Word becomes flesh, and they reply. And now, the Word becomes flesh and we reply. Borrowing the words of the carol, we “echo back our joyous strains.” So that in looking at these echoes, we discover more about the heart of Advent and the preparation work we get to do this season. This is the echo of Advent.
As Mary and Joseph bring baby Jesus to the Jerusalem temple for dedication, this young couple finds themselves face to face with an elderly man named Simeon. As he takes the Christ child in his arms, he too breaks out in blessing and praise. Simeon's song reminds us that there are two ways to hold the Savior in our arms: for ourselves and for others. Even though his song of praise is marked by personal celebration for the fulfillment of God's plan through years of waiting, he also celebrates God's saving inclusion of the Gentiles. This song provides the powerful reminder that Advent makes missionaries because true love always extends itself toward the other. In the spirit of Christmas, may we too be a missionary people.
So far in this series, we have heard about Advent through the songs of Mary and Zechariah- both human characters on the ground in the midst of the story. This week, as we move into the 3rd week of Advent, we are given the perspective of the angels in Luke 2. Instead of getting the perspective of a mother or priestly extended family member, we get the cosmic perspective of Christmas. The angels declare good news of great joy to the shepherds and then an entire collection of heavenly hosts break out into the song of "The Gloria." This song, while being short and familiar, actually provides details on the meaning of life and the way it best works. These angels make a declaration of joy by connecting peace and proper glory. It's a message that touches our deepest longings and our everyday glory story. May the Spirit use it to rekindle our songs of joy.
The Advent season is all about the coming of God’s Son. In light of His first coming, the present and His return, we are called to approach Advent with a posture of preparation. But it is so easy, especially this time of year, to miss out on God. We are not as ready for Advent as we might think. This week, as we dig into the story and song of Zechariah, we are reminded that it's possible to be at the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing and still miss what God is doing? Some of our lack of preparation comes from missing the point of the story. Some of our lack of preparation comes from being mastered by the darkness of the story. Either way, we need a voice to come and help us become a people prepared for the Lord- to level the way for us to receive God's saving work among us. Zechariah's "Benedictus" helps us get our eyes off us ourselves and back on God, while also pointing to the hope of sunrise in the darkness.
When people typically focus on Mary and her story, the phrase is often used, "Mary, meek and mild." Yet much of that has more to do with our carols and our art than the Bible. When you come to Mary's "Magnificat" in Luke 1, her words are anything but tame. This is not "Mary, meek and mild." This is Mary, "subversive and wild." Her song is not a lullaby, but a battle cry. Advent is subversive and so is Mary's song. Through her words in Luke 1:46-55, Mary reminds us that Advents subverts our timing and our treasure because it challenges our waiting and our wanting. Come enter the Advent season through the words of Mary's song.