On a Buddhist podcast, a woman told a famous monk that she was concerned about her son; she does not know how to teach him. Whenever she sees him, it reminds her of her younger time. When she was in high school, she could not control her anger well. One day, after fighting with her friends, she went out of school before finishing the class. Her son does the same thing; he can't hold his anger either. Whenever she scolds her son, she feels ashamed because the son resembles her, and she sees herself in her son. She is worried it is pay back for her sins through the son.
The Monk says 'Even though it frustrates you, do not let the frustration knock you down. When you are trying to renovate your life and have a better life, your son will see this and follow your behavior too. Your son will be a mirror of yourself." Do your children follow your behavior?
When we have an objective perspective, we realize ourselves, what we have done, where we are now, and how we can restore ourselves for a better life. But it is tough because of human's finitude. Rather than realizing, we stick to a habitual lifestyle and think narrowly. If we have self-realization and see our faults every day, we might have a better quality of life now. Then, we can avoid hurting our neighbors and ourselves. Therefore, enlightening and self-realization are blessings and grace from God.
Should I marry her?
Today the Bible passage is Hosea 1:2-10, which invites you to have the blessing of enlightenment and a moment of grace. Oddly, God commands Hosea to marry Gomer.
v.2 “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom.”
How did Hosea feel when he heard this? If God asked me to marry Gomer, I would pretend not to listen. We need to understand Gomer and who she is. We used to interpret her asa professional prostitute. Scholars recently argued that she is not a prostitute based on the Hebrew word, zonah meaning prostitution. She was never labeled by zonah. Rather, she is "a woman/wife of promiscuity" (’eshet zenunim) because she is habitually promiscuous. That means that although she got married, she enjoyed sexual relationships with other men. Anyway, it is terrible too for Hosea. I assume that Hosea must be puzzled. But, he was a prophet who knows God’s desire and he followed it.
And God continues to say, “for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”
We need to interpret Gomer allegorically because she is linked to the land of Israel. At that time, Israel worshiped other gods, especially Baal. Baal is the god of rain and storm. At the season of rain, people believed that Baal has sexual intercourse with the land, and it produces rain. You may understand why the Book of Hosea uses the sexual image. In the agricultural society, water and rain are really important because plenty of water means prosperity and fertility.
The Covenantal Relationship with God
When God called Israel, God called them in the covenantal relationship like a married couple. God loved and blessed Israel, and Israel followed and worshiped God. While God provided them everything they needed, God wanted only one thing from them. God wanted to have an exclusive relationship with them.
Among the Ten Commandments, the first one is, "You shall not have other gods before me." I want to translate this again. “You shall have nothing between your face and my face.” Idolatry is not about golden statues or icons. It is something put before your face and blocking you from seeing God’s face. God wants to see your face directly without any obstacles and have a close relationship with you. However, Israel put fertility and prosperity between their face and God’s face. They no longer see God. Thus, God sent Hosea and spoke through him.
The relationship between Hosea and Gomer reflects the relationship between God and Israel. If I were one of Israel’s people at that time, I would blame Hosea and say 'What? How can a prophet marry a promiscuous woman? Does it make sense?’ Israel might have been insulted and blamed Hosea for the marriage with Gomer too. However, it means that they insulted and blamed themselves because they are like Gomer, but they did not realize it.
Idolatry & Injustice
Gomer also reflects us here, sitting in the church. We love prosperity and fertility too. We choose something other than God. But, we need to raise a question. If we stick to prosperity, does it really bring happiness for all people?
A theologian, Landon Gilkey was captured by the Japanese army, and he was sent to the Shantung Compound in China during World War II. While imprisoned in the compound, he theologically pondered human nature and life. He says by borrowing Reinhold Niebuhr,
“Injustice to other man, as Reinhold Niebuhr, has said, is the social consequence of an inward idolatry, the worship of one’s own self or group.” (Landon Gilkey Shantung Compound, 232)
I agree with his theological observation. When you love for money, desire for material wealth, and worship for prosperity, it will eventually bring social injustice. Your neighbor will become a means of money rather than the purpose of love. You may see numerous examples from the newspaper. This is a critical observation from Landon Gilkey. But it is also an old observation because God says to Israel in Hosea 1:4, “I will punish the people of Israel for the massacre at Jezreel” (my own translation) The love for the material wealth made the massacre at Jezreel. In many passages, the Bible tells us the end of loving money.
The Restoring Love
Through Hosea, God gives an opportunity for Israel, who is de-humanized and violent, to repent. They must remember the covenantal relationship through Gomer and return to Holiness. What is Holiness?
According to John Charles Ryle, “Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God. It is the habit of agreeing in God's judgment, hating what He hates, loving what He loves, and measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word.” Holiness is like a couple who love each other. They have one direction to go together.
When they remember the loving relationship, God again promises, “Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them “children of the living God.” (v.10)
It is the moment of grace when you realize your wrongdoings and faults. When you see yourself from sin, it is God's invitation to call you again in love.
Whenever I read the Old Testament, I see that God is not that powerful. Although God says 'I will punish you, and you will be devastated,' I see God is crying with us and eagerly wants us to come back like a mother. However, God is all-powerful because God's love is never failing. Here again, we see punishment and grace together. Although God says scary words in Hosea such as “I no longer have pity on the house of Israel” and “I will not save them by bow,” God’s love is hidden in it and waiting for you until you realize it. It is God’s love waiting for you, God’s love awakening you and God’s love enlightening you.
The Unfailing Love
Have you ever experienced falling in love? We know well that the earth moves around the sun because it is the center of the solar system. However, when you fall in love, your lover becomes the center of the universe. All your attentions move around your lover. That is how God loves you.
Martin Luther knows this well, and he says, "Sin boldly!" What does he say? Should we commit sins more than we do now? His emphasis is not on sin. He continues to say, "Sin boldly, but believe even more boldly in Christ and rejoice." He relies on the never-failing love which is bigger than his sin. Paul says “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Romans 8:38-39)
As we live, we will be frustrated again by ourselves and our faults. But remember that God's love is bigger than your sin. Amen.
The Busy Life of Amy
I read an article about a working mom. Amy lives in Dallas, TX. She has three kids, and she works as a producer in local broadcast TV. I want to introduce her life briefly. In the morning, she wakes up around 5 am, and prepares meals for the family, wakes the kids up around 6:30 am, and prepares them to go to school. She and her husband are constantly juggling the schedule, who will pick up whom, and who will take someone to whatever thing they need to go to. When she gets back from work, there are tons of chores in-home, and kids are always keeping her busy. After doing house chores, she ends up doing the remaining tasks for her company. Although she is happy to have three kids and her job, her life is restless. Is anybody here like Amy? It seems that our lives are noisy and messy, and the to-do list is endless. In a busy life, it is easy to be pointless and aimless. And sometimes, we think who I am, where I am, what am I supposed to do?
The Power of Hymn
I have a praise that comes to my mind when I get busy and noisy. I like the hymn "It is well with my soul." It is a good reminder that Jesus Christ is with me, and I have eternal peace in him. As the lyric says, 'when sorrow like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul,' Whenever I sing this hymn, I feel that a new peace and power arise in my heart. Praising God has the power to place me near to God and to invite Jesus Christ to be center of my life and be master of my small universe. When Jesus becomes a solid pillar of our hearts, we are courageous and become bold again.
The Hymn in Colossians 1:15-20
I believe that it was the same for believers in Colossae. Today's passage Colossians 1:15-20 is liturgical material. It is a hymn. When they had a worship service, they might have praised Jesus Christ, who is the Creator of the universe and the master of all things in heaven and earth. Whenever I read this passage, I am curious how the early Christians sang this hymn, how they felt with this hymn, and what changes they had after singing this hymn.
When you read the passage carefully, it is hard to understand. The author of the hymn puts many prepositions in verse 16.
v.16 "for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers- all things have been created through him and for him."
You see here three prepositions, "in him," "through him" and "for him." How can we understand these prepositions together? It is weird if we use them in our ordinary communication. We need to think this with “the-whether-clause,” which says "thrones or dominions or rulers or powers." Perhaps, when believers in the church of Colossae sang this hymn, they thought of the political/sociological/cultural circumstances surrounding them.
Roman Emperor? Or Jesus Christ? who is the true savior?
At the first century, the terms of "savior," "Lord," "Creator of heaven and Earth" already existed before the Christianity. These terms were initially not for Jesus Christ but the Roman Emperor. If you see the first page of the bulletin, you may see a coin depicting a Roman Emperor. His name is Domitian. He is the first emperor who called himself a god, “the Lord of Lords, and God of all creatures.” He built a huge temple for himself in the city of Ephesus.
On the back side of coin, there is a little Zeus and there are words around him, saying “DIVVS CAESAR IMP DOMITIANI F (Divine Caesar, the Son of Domitian).” Domitian identifies his son with the little Zeus saying that is he is father of a god. Everyone in Roman cities and its colonies saw this coin, and the Roman Emperor used the coin as political propaganda.
Therefore, all cities in the Roman empire were ordered by the Roman emperor. The city of Colossae was no exception. In the city, people were living in a culture that the Roman emperor created. They had to observe a particular day, and remember the Roman Emperor. The Roman Emperor wanted everyone to call him, savior, Lord, the Creator of heaven and Earth.
However, the believers in the church of Colossae praised only Jesus Christ. Although people around them called the Emperor a god, the believers called only Jesus “the image of invisible God” and “all things are created in him, through him and for him.”
People around them might have thought believers were suspicious because they did not go to the worship place for the Roman emperor, they did not eat foods dedicated for the Emperor, and they did not observe the birthday of Emperor. Whenever they refused, they most likely experienced hostility. Among them, some would have had a hard time keeping their faith. However, they placed Jesus Christ at the center of the universe and the center of their lives by praising the hymn.
The King of Happiness and Peace
v.20 "and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
They believed in Jesus Christ, who reconciles us with God and brings us peace. Their ultimate concern was not the culture, sports, economics, or politics that the Roman emperor created. Those things could bring joy and happiness for a while but couldn't bring eternal peace. The believers’ ultimate concern was the relationship with God and everlasting peace that Jesus brings through his church. Keeping that in mind, believers in the church still invite Jesus Christ to the center of their hearts. Then they have eternal peace, the Shalom that only God can give to them.
The Ultimate Concern and Ordered Love
We no longer have the Roman Empire forcing us to obey a human being. But we have more significant problems. There are too many things that capture our eyes, mind, and hearts. The great theologian of the 20th century, Paul Tillich, defines faith as the state of being grasped by ultimate concern. Ultimate concern should take up a significant part of our life, we see it as the most important thing, and we consider it when deciding what to do in situations. What is your ultimate concern? What is the most crucial thing you are concerned with? That is your faith and religion. Sometimes, we see that something other than God captures us. Then, your ultimate concern is not God but something you care about. It could be yourself, children, family, money, fame, or security. Let's take time to think about what your ultimate concern is.
Some would raise a question. Do we need only to think about God all day? We have a life with our family, and we need to be concerned with economic situations and our budgets. That is an actual concern we have. Yes, it is true. Then let's hear from St. Augustine and see whether he has an answer.
St. Augustine says God created all things good. There is no reason not to love worldly things because God created them. It is insulting God if we say that some creatures are evil. But, sin is disordered love. Thus, we need to love God more than others. Loving something more than God is idolatry and sin according to St. Augustine.
There is a divorce case for a couple. The couple decided to divorce because the husband says she does not love him because she loves their puppy more than him. And she says that she feels more loved by the puppy than him. And the court allowed them to divorce. It is a case of disordered love.
We should love our family and children. We need to care about our budget situation. That is good, but we need to set up priorities. St. Augustine says that sin is also self-deconstruction. If we love ourselves more than God, it will eventually hurt our souls. But, when we love God more than others, it gives us eternal happiness. He says, "our hearts are restless until it rests in you." In other words, we can find eternal happiness only in God as Colossians says, "by making peace through the blood of his cross." Peace is achieved only by Jesus Christ.
By praising God, they place Jesus Christ at the center of their hearts. They re-order the love for God. Then, there is happiness and peace. But it is not easy. There are a lot of things that try to capture our hearts. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it."
We must praise God
I want to conclude this sermon with a story. “One day a prophet came to Sodom; He knew what Sodom was, so he came to save it from sin, from destruction. He preached to the people. "Please do not be murderers, do not be thieves. Do not be silent and do not be indifferent." He went on preaching every day.. But no one listened. Finally someone asked him, "Rabbi, why do you do that? Don't you see it is no use?" He said, "I know it is of no use, but I must. And I will tell you why: in the beginning I thought I had to shout in order to change them. I have given up this hope. Now I know I must shout so that they should not change me. ("Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel's Class" p.48.)
I want to modify one line 'I must praise God so that they should not change my love for Christ. Amen.
 Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and Caesar: Historical Sketches( London: SCM, 1955), 156.
Do you like to read the Bible? How often do you read the Bible? Daily? I know that is a hard question. I love to read the Bible. There is an interesting thing. Before reading the Bible, I think, “I will read the Bible.” I am the subject who reads the Bible, and the Bible is my object. But after reading, the relationship changes because the Bible is reading me rather than me reading the Bible. Have you had such an experience?
God knows my situation and my thoughts. God tells us about our lives and guides us. We are just exposed, like being naked before God. But it is grace. The word of God becomes spiritual bread and feeds me.
To have this experience, we first need to open ourselves to the narrative of the Bible. Unless we open ourselves, God cannot tell us. By opening ourselves, we experience that we become one of disciples of Jesus Christ or Apostle Paul on a mission trip, and sometimes we cry like people in the Psalms, saying, “God, I have so many difficulties and problems in my life. When will the Lord answer?” But, we find answers in God just as the Psalmist does. By reading the Bible, we experience how God tells us vividly, guides us, encourage us, and empowers us to live in this world as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
Some would say, what is the difference because I am living well without the Bible? I want to say that our identities are changing when we know God’s heart for us, and we can have transcendent faith by which we can have peace in pain and suffering. Also, the Bible is the guideline for our lives. It teaches us to do good, not to harm our neighbors, and to stay in love with God. Through the Bible, we know the purpose of life
The irony of the Old Testament
However, we are tempted to read only the New Testament. Even pastors are tempted to only preach from the New Testament because the Old Testament is long and hard to understand. I pick up today’s passage from Amos. Amos is also hard to understand.
Some would say that God is a little bit scary and revengeful in the Old Testament, asking ‘Is it the same God in the New Testament?’ Even in today's passage, God says to Amaziah, the priest at Bethel,
"Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line..”
Oh no. Does God really say this? If so, is it true loving God? Church history affirms that the God in the Old Testament is the same God in the New Testament. Then, how can we find the love of God from this passage? This is the main question today.
The Era of Amos
At the time of Amos, Israel had divided into two countries; the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom, Judah. Amos usually prophesized in the Northern Kingdom governed by Jeroboam II. The northern Kingdom was different from the Southern Kingdom in terms of the spirit of a national foundation. The Northern Kingdom was built upon the spirit of Exodus and freedom rather than the blood of David. They wanted to treat all people equally based on the spirit of freedom. And when God saved them from Egypt, God wanted them to be holy, holy and holy. Importantly, Holiness is also the spirit of Exodus. So, there are two basic spirits: Freedom and holiness.
However, they seem to forget God’s grace and saving love. We see the corruptness from Amos chapter two, where he says,
“they sell the righteous for silver. And the needy for a pair of sandals, they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way; father and son go into the same girl so that my holy name is profaned; they lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge and in the house of their God they drink wine bought with fines they imposed.” (Amos 2:6b-8)
They forgot the Holiness, their guideline for life, their identity and they forgot the spirit of freedom. Instead of that, they oppress the poor, the indebted and women. Although God saved them from the oppression of Egypt, they create new oppression towards their own people. And the elites in the Kingdom enjoyed their lives, drinking good wines and using the money from the poor. In the midst of corruptness, Amos proclaimed words of God to get them back to holy living.
The Vision – Plumb line
God shows four visions to Amos. Today’s passage is the third vision about the plumb line. God says,
“See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Why does God hold a plumb line?
You can check what a plumb line looks like from the bulletin. How can we use it? When you stack bricks, you need to hang a plumb line somewhere above and stack bricks from the bottom. A plumb line is a standard by which a wall's vertical trueness is tested. To follow a plumb line, you need to look up while stacking bricks and have time to adjust. 'Oh this brick is slightly left, this brick needs to go backward.’ By doing so, we can build a good wall. Unless we do this, we cannot make a good building. Here again, you need to pause and look at the plumb line and adjust the bricks.
Look at the sky.
From God's perspective, Israel does whatever they want to do. They have no standard. Although Israel is called to live holy, they forget it. They stack bricks aimlessly and some are on top of the bricks and some are under the bricks and suffering down there. They forget their identity. They should have aimed for Holiness and freedom. But they didn't. Thus, God shows up with a plumb line.
In Hebrew, a plumb line is Anak (אֲנָך), but Anak means weapon in Akkadian. When they hear Anak, two words pop up in their head, weapon and plumb line. Unless they turn to God, God will do measure their wall with the plumb line and hammering with the weapon to fix it.
Have you ever built a wall or building? One of the pastors I know, wanted to build a brick fence outside of church by himself because he is a pastor in a small church, and he could not hire people to work together. But the problem was that he had no experience. He just stacked bricks upon bricks. Anyway, he finished it and he was very pleased. I visited the church and saw the wall but it bowed badly. You know, one day when severe rains came, the wall was demolished. Perhaps, he should have used a plumb line.
Back to the question.
Let’s go back to the question. The scary last verses 16-17 are not God's will, but it will happen if they do not come back to the holy life. It is the result of their behavior. It is not God’s will. Rather, God’s will is to let them come back!
In the Old Testament, punishment and grace are interwoven. When you hear about punishment, it means that there is still time for them to come back to God. This is God's love waiting for you and awakening you. When you build a wall without looking at the plumb line, it is going to fall down. It is not God’s fault, but God wants you to realize that the vertical line is not straight, and you need to fix it.
And the Northern Kingdome was destroyed by Assyria in BCE 722. Here is a lesson for us. Let’s look up at the sky and see God’s plumb line. Amen.
In the today’s reading, Jesus sends 70 disciples into the world. From this passage, we can find Jesus' Peculiar calling towards us. I believe that Jesus' Calling is not only for pastor like me but also for everyone here today.
I grew up in an Asian family. It may be different from the background you are living with, but I was living in severe competition. Asian society put tremendous pressures on their children to study. When I was in high school, I went to the school around 8 am and got back from it around midnight. There is a fun story. A kid got A grade at school. The Kid was glad and wanted to show this to his parent. However, the parent replied that A is just normal and said, ‘the kid living next door also receives A and everyone can get it.’ Asian family has Asian Grading Scale. A is ‘average,’ B is ‘below average,’ C is ‘Can not have dinner,’ D = ‘do not come home,’ F = ‘find a new family.’ Isn’t it fun?
Sometimes, we also found ourselves in severe competition. We are told that we have to have a good job, earn a lot of money, and have to be better than anyone else. We heard so many time these sayings, "Be ambitious, take whatever you want." We all know that there is an unseen scale in our society. The world demands us to make more money, demands more consumption, and says that having more than others is a virtue.
A few months ago, there was an admission scandal in Stanford University. A family donated 6.5 million dollars to put the daughter to the school. The family wants her to pass the social scale very easily. When we ponder upon this issue, we realize that this is just one example the broken world produces. This is how the broken world works. But the important thing is that unless pass the social scale, we become a loser, excluded and isolated by society.
There is another side effect. When we see those who made success, we get jealous of them, but we never look around and find those who failed and did not pass the social scale. Society seems to push us on an endless treadmill, and we must run until we are exhausted. This is calling from society for us.
However, Jesus in the today’s passage does not call us to be rich or a winner of the world. It is important for Christians to be successful in the world. However, ahead of that, Jesus calls us to be his faithful disciples.
He urgently calls his disciples by saying “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest”(v.2) Like this, God calls us to do God’s work together. Why does God call us urgently? And what does God want us to do? It is important question.
Also, Jesus tells them not to carry a purse, bag, and sandals. It is ironic when you go far in order to do some works, you need them! Then, what does it mean? Sometimes no all the time, we rely on our own will and power, and our possessions. But here Jesus wants us to rely on only him radically.
The place they are sent is Samaritan village we can guess it from chapter 9. The place was regarded as dangerous and filled with hostility and hatred. Also, Samaritans are abandoned by Jewish people. From the perspective of Jews, they are sinners and they are not people who they want to hang out together. But, here the disciples have to proclaim the Kingdom of God to them. What is the nature of the Kingdom of God? Jesus requires them to share peace whenever they visit someone’s house and heal them. I want to epitomize these works with triple C.
1. C: Create the Community
First of all, they make a new community where disciples welcome all of the people, including outcasts and even Samaritans. They share peace with all of them. Even though nobody wants to share peace with them, disciples share God’s peace to them and affirming they are also children of God. Even though they have no purse and money, they can do this work if they have love for them. In this community, all are welcomed and they are no longer losers of the world but they are beloved children of God. Their identity changes here.
2. C: Care People( Heal people)
When the identity changes, healing comes to them naturally. They become ill because they have few who takes care of them and loves them. Mind and body are closely linked to each other. When you are not affirmed by society or your family, your mind gets ill and it affects your body too. The Samaritans were regarded as sinners. Who cares for them? Now, disciples do take care of them, not only their body but also their souls.
3. C: Challenge the Society
Finally, the new community challenges the status quo. This community is not made of secular value and power but virtues of Kingdome of God. the new community can say no to the society which excludes and isolates people and produces losers.
I believe this is what God urgently wants us to do and calls us to participate in. I want to proclaim the Kingdom of God. As we pray in Lord’s prayer, I early want to bring Kingdome of God on the earth and God’s will be done here. This is the peculiar calling for all of us.
Have you watched a movie named Silence (2016) directed by Martin Scorsese? Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson are the main characters in the movie. This is a great movie about Christian mission. The author of the movie is a famous Christian writer in Japan. His name is Shusaku Endo. There is another book named, Deep River. In this Book, one of the main characters who wants to be a clergy introduces Jesus like this, “Please understand Jesus as ‘love.’ If you feel this is too outdated, please call him ‘warmth of life.’”
This gives me a deep echo inside of my heart. I’d like to call Jesus the warmth of life. Anyone who encountered Jesus experience the same warmth hugging their heart and their being. I like the warmth of Jesus Christ. And Jesus calls us to be like him, to be the warmth of life too. Jesus wants you to share the warmth you got from God to someone through your life.
Sometimes, I just look back at my life and question myself, why do I want to be a pastor. It is because of the warmth passed on me. When I was a teenager, my parents were divorced. My mom fed my sister and me alone. You know it is never easy for a single mom who has no special skills to raise two kids. Even though my family was broken, my memory at that time was not that miserable because I had people who shared the warmth of Jesus Christ. They were my new family. Even though the society around me called me a loser and poor family, my church members call me I am a child of God, even a prince of God. Because of this love, I decided to become a pastor. They are visible hands and foot of invisible God.
This is God’s urgent calling for us. Before making much money, becoming famous, (yet, Christian can be rich and famous) God primarily calls us to be disciples of Jesus Christ who shares the warmth of life and peace, and heal those who are sick. Amen