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Knowing About or Knowing
HOSEA 4:1-3, 5:15-6:6
Do you know what is wrong with the world today, and what is wrong with your life? We don't know, and that is the problem. It's a matter of knowledge. Our lesson this morning, from the suggested readings called the lectionary, is from the prophet Hosea. Please take a pew Bible, find Hosea, chapter four, and follow along.
Who was Hosea? Why did he preach, which is what prophesy means? What was wrong with the world, and what was Hosea's message? You will notice that the book of Hosea is located towards the end of the Old Testament. This gives us a clue. By its location in the Bible, we know that Hosea lived after the miraculous escape or exodus from Egypt, after the conquest of Canaan, after King David and King Solomon reigned in the golden years, after the devastating civil war, and after the division of the nation into two kingdoms: the northern and the southern. Hosea lived before the destruction of both kingdoms, and he lived several centuries before Jesus.
Hosea was one of the first prophets who tried to save his people from destruction. Hosea lived in the northern kingdom which was called Israel, the capital of which was Samaria. In Jesus' time, the descendants were called Samaritans. Hosea tried to warn his people, and save them from what was going to happen to them.
4:1 "Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel." Hear, listen, pay attention, I have something very important to tell you, and it is not just my ideas, said Hosea, not just my words; but these words come from the Lord. Listen, my people, to the word of God.
Continuing is verse 1, "for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land." I like the word "controversy." The Lord had a problem with the people.
What was the problem? the controversy? What was the historical situation in which Hosea was preaching? Continuing in verse 1, "There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land."
There is no faithfulness. The Hebrew word translated as faithfulness literally means, "rock-solid reliability." The word was also used to describe the huge pillars which supported the doorway of the temple. Hosea is saying there are no solid, trustworthy, faithful people. Those in authority take bribes. Sound familiar today? The leaders aren't keeping their words. You can't believe what they are saying. They are getting rich on the side. They do not inspire confidence. There is no faithfulness in the land, and with that the Lord has a controversy.
There is no kindness, said Hosea. The Hebrew word is "hesed," which when used about God is usually translated as the "steadfast love of God." When used to refer to people it may mean loyalty toward God, or love toward other people which expresses itself in good deeds. Hosea looked on his nation, looked at his people and did not see people doing good deeds for one another, but instead saw killing, stealing, adultery, and murder. There is no kindness in the land, and with that the Lord has a controversy. There is no knowledge of God. We'll discuss this in a moment.
The result of no faithfulness, kindness or knowledge of God is ultimate destruction. The signs of the imminence of destruction are given in vs. 2 and 3, "There is swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder. Therefore the land mourns." Interesting observation: the land mourns. The sin of humans, the cruelty of humans to one another, the selfishness and greed of humans have impact even upon the land; even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are affected and destroyed, "taken away," said Hosea.
Why? What is wrong with our world today as we see the same things happening, as we see us destroying the very planet upon which we live? What is wrong? Hosea would say to us today, as he warned the people of Israel, 4:6, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." You don't know the Lord. "You have forgotten." Hosea spells out further what he means in 13:4-6, "I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; but when they had fed to the full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me."
You forgot, says Hosea. You forgot you were slaves. You forget who and what you would be without the Lord. When you became rich, when you found life easier and more comfortable, when you got complacent, you forgot the Lord. You forgot all that God has done and is doing in your life. You forgot the values upon which your nation was founded. You forgot the ethic of God's law. You forgot to be diligent and faithful. You became fat and lazy. You forgot to teach your children and your grandchildren, and now they don't know the Lord. The prophet Ezekiel also sounded this theme. He too preached that destruction came upon their land because they had forgotten. Over and over the prophets preached, "Don't forget! Teach your children." Even today, Jewish people have a strong education program. They believe they must teach their children. In fact, they know that the survival of their religion depends on teaching their children.
My heart is heavy over the many people we have lost, even from this very church, the children who are now adults we no longer have. I am concerned about those who were children and youth when I was the Minister of Education here in this church twenty years ago. I rejoice and give thanks for those who are active in our church today and who are making a tremendous witness, but what about those who are not here with us? Did we not do a good job of training them? Was our curriculum boring? Did we not make the Bible an exciting book? Was the attendance so erratic that no matter what we did, it wouldn't take?
The United Methodist Church, as with most mainline denominations, went through a long era of de-emphasizing Sunday School, the Bible, and theology. We taught and experienced all kinds of things; we emphasized interpersonal relationships, but we failed to teach our children and youth the core of the gospel. We must have thought they would learn from osmosis--absorbing from a loving family and an active church. But, many of them didn't, and too many of them today do not know the Lord.
How are we doing today? How many children were in Sunday School this morning? Last year we couldn't interest our youth in Sunday School. How about this year? Are your children in Sunday School every Sunday? Are you in Sunday School? Do you think it is important? Are you studying? Are you growing? Do you know the stories? Can you express what we believe? Do you know the Lord? Too many American Christians are biblically and theologically illiterate.
Hosea warned his people: because of your ignorance, because you have forgotten, because you don't know, you are destroying yourselves! There is no integrity, no commitment, no zeal, no faithfulness, no loving acts, no solid foundation, no knowledge of God, and you will not make it!
What is the solution? What is the remedy? Hosea was clear. Hosea was concise. Hosea was direct. 6:3, "Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord." In the writings of the prophets, the knowledge of God essentially means two things: knowing about God and knowing God.
First, let us press on to know about the Lord. This is common sense, but we overlook it. We somehow think that children or ourselves will suddenly some miraculous day, suddenly know the Lord without knowing about the Lord. How can we be loyal to or believe in something we know nothing about?
What to know about God is very specific in the prophets. They are not talking about a philosophical, intellectual understanding of God. They are not talking about speculation or logic. They are not talking about a philosophical knowledge of God. What Hosea and the other prophets meant about the knowledge of God was the recitation of God's mighty acts in history. They recited creeds about God's acts. Let's look at one, Deuteronomy 26:5-10
"And you shall make response before the Lord your God: A wandering Aramean was my father; and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, might, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. Then we cried to the Lord the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which thou, O Lord, hast given me."
Let's teach our children and ourselves about God, how God saved our ancestors from Egypt, how God gave us a code--the Ten Commandments--to live by, how God tried to save his people by sending prophets to warn, how God then came in the flesh to redeem humankind. Let's teach the stories of Jesus, his life, teachings, death, and resurrection. Let's teach about the heroes and heroines of our faith: Luther, Wesley, St. Francis, St. Teresa, and Mother Teresa. Let us press on to know about the Lord. We never graduate. We never know enough about God.
But, Hosea meant more than knowing about the Lord. He said, "Let us know the Lord." Knowing about is not enough. I know about President Bush, but I don't know him. Knowing, especially in the biblical tradition, means an intimate, personal, loving relationship. Some people are married for years without ever really knowing one another.
Knowing the Lord means knowing Jesus as Savior, who saves you from yourself, who picks you up when you fall, who forgives you and gives you second chances, who gives you strength to bear whatever is laid upon you.
Knowing the Lord means knowing Jesus as a friend, one to talk to, to pray to, to laugh with, cry with, struggle with. As we sang in the hymn, "And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own."
Knowing the Lord means loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
What's wrong with us is a lack of knowledge. Sisters and brothers, let us press on to know about the Lord, and to know the Lord.
In a few minutes we are going to dedicate those persons in our church who have committed themselves to teach all of us in this church about the Lord. But, first, I want to invite all of you to consider how you might do the work of God. Members of the Nominating Committee will distribute to you a volunteer check list. Is God calling you to become more active in our church by teaching, caring for the buildings, raising funds, doing mission work in our community, helping our congregation to reach out to newcomers. If God is so calling you to serve in this way, will you help us by letting us know. Please complete the check list and pass it back to the end of your row.
© 1989 Douglas I. Norris