Last week we looked at the story of Hosea and Gomer. I thought I needed to clarify last week that I wouldn’t be talking about Gomer Pyle from the Andy Griffith show. It turns out that I should also have clarified I’m not talking about Homer from the Simpsons. I suppose that statement has some truth to it too – I am Homer – but that’s an entirely different series. We may get to it later.God is a lot more creative in communicating with us than we are. He told one prophet to walk around naked for three years. That got people’s attention. He told Hosea, one of his prophets, to marry a hooker. It’s a story that’s really about us – how God loves us when we’re unlovely; how he continues to love us despite the fact that we’re unfaithful to him; how he turns those who know nothing of love into true lovers. It also shows us that the real issue in our relationship with God isn’t a set of rules. It’s a relationship that has been broken by our faithlessness, and the result is relational breakdown. It’s a story of God’s love for unfaithful people.Last week I talked about the fact that “I am Gomer.” Today I want to talk about why I’m Gomer. We never really looked into what it was that Israel did to get God so ticked off. At first glance, it looks pretty simple. Hosea 1:2 says, “Go and marry a prostitute, so some of her children will be born to you from other men. This will illustrate the way my people have been untrue to me, openly committing adultery against the LORD by worshiping other gods.” Looks like this could be a short message, because this really isn’t an issue today. There aren’t a lot of people here who are actively worshiping other gods. Any Baal worshipers here? End of sermon. Let’s all go home.But there’s a little more than meets the eye. When Israel first moved into Canaan, God told them:
I, the LORD, am your God. 3So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life. 4You must obey all my regulations and be careful to keep my laws, for I, the LORD, am your God. (Leviticus 18:2-4)
When they first moved to Canaan, they were shocked and intrigued by the religious practices of the people who were there. They knew that there could be no compromise. To accept the Canaanite religion would be to abandon the God of Israel. The Israelites were wobbly on a lot of things, but most of them understood that the Canaanite religion was incompatible with their faith in God.You can imagine what happened. Over the years, the shock wore off and Baal didn’t look so bad. By the time Hosea came along, Baal worship was prevalent. But people didn’t think they were choosing between God and Baal. They actually began to combine to two beliefs. Hosea 2 hints at this: “‘In that coming day,’ says the LORD, ‘you will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master.’ O Israel, I will cause you to forget your images of Baal; even their names will no longer be spoken.” (Hosea 2:16-17)There’s a play on words that doesn’t translate well into English. “My master” sounded a lot like the word for Baal in that language. The people of that day continued to worship the God of Israel, but they combined elements of Baal worship. They didn’t see the contradiction. They may have even believed that Baal and the God of Israel were the same. They had adopted the religious beliefs of the culture and incorporated it into their faith, but they still believed they were worshiping the one true God.Back then, people believed that Baal controlled fertility. That’s not just human fertility. It’s the fertility of the animals and crops as well. Baal was almost like the god of the economy. Just as we track the markets and indices, and keep an eye on rates and all kinds of economic indicators, they followed their economy. For the economy to go well, they believed, Baal had to do his part. One way that they tried to encourage Baal to increase fertility was to engage in ritual prostitution in sacred places. This sounds weird, doesn’t it? I’m sure there’s a cult somewhere that still teaches this stuff. They believed that if they engaged in sexual acts in certain sacred spaces, the gods would be inspired to be fertile. Hosea 4:13-14 says:
That is why your daughters turn to prostitution, and your daughters-in-law commit adultery. 14Why should I punish them? For you men are doing the same thing, sinning with whores and shrine prostitutes. O foolish people! You will be destroyed, for you refuse to understand.
The people had uncritically adopted the values of that culture and incorporated them into their worship. They didn’t even understand that they had done this. Just like fish don’t know they’re swimming in water, these people didn’t even know how much of that culture they had accepted and merged with their worship of God.
Baal Worship Today
It almost sounds like we ought to end here. It’s not immediately obvious how this applies to us today. But the longer I thought about this over the last week, the more I became convinced that we’re facing exactly the same danger today. We don’t worship Baal, because we don’t live in Canaan when Baal was around. But we do live in Canada, and there are gods and beliefs that are circulating around us. And there’s always a danger that we begin to adopt those beliefs and values and incorporate them into our worship of God without even knowing it.Every culture has a way of interpreting the world. It has values it considers important, and explanations of how to live successfully in the world. Every culture has a philosophy that explains how the world works. It comes with ethical standards, economic principles, and an explanation of the divine. In most cases, we’re not even aware of this philosophy because we’ve never known anything different. There are a lot of values we’ve accepted because they’re just part of what our culture values. We wouldn’t even know what else to believe, in a lot of cases.The problem for us is that we also know of a Kingdom that has a completely different set of standards. You’re here today, so you’ve at least heard of Jesus. Some of you have been following him for years. Others don’t know what to make of him. One thing’s for sure about Jesus, though. His values weren’t the world’s values. His followers are called to live to a completely different set of values and standards from the world.Is it possible that we’ve done the same thing the Israelites did with Baal? Is it possible that we’ve adopted a lot of the world’s values and incorporated them into our worship of God without even knowing it?Shortly after the last power failure, I drove through Elora and saw some Amish people. I thought, man, I should have gone to them when the power went out. They were okay. They’ve recognized the danger of accommodating culture, and their solution has been to withdraw from culture. Let’s give them credit. They understand the danger. I don’t think that their solution is necessarily the best, though.Some people just uncritically adopt culture. I don’t think that’s too smart either. If the values of this culture aren’t the same values of God’s Kingdom, then those aren’t the values I want to follow. There’s got to be a better way.We could choose to do what Jesus did. Jesus didn’t withdraw from society, nor did he adopt his values. He lived within it. He was aware of the events and thoughts of the day. He was comfortable referring to the news. He went to parties and knew people from all walks of life. But while he walked in this world, he lived by a completely different set of values from this world.
Every time you look at Jesus, you realize that his values are just plain different from ours. We can’t adopt the world’s values and think live comfortably in God’s Kingdom. It’s not just possible.Let’s look at some examples. Our culture really values stuff. We don’t even think about that. I heard about someone who filled up their house with so much stuff that they had to live in a trailer. That’s a pretty extreme example, but isn’t it true that you have so much stuff you don’t know where to put it all? We’ve got garages and basements and self-storage units full of stuff we’ve accumulated. We don’t even know what to do with it all. This world really values stuff.I chatted with someone from New Zealand the other day. She said, “What’s with North America and cars?” She knows one person in New Zealand who’s bought a new car, and that person is incredibly rich. Here in North America, it’s common to have two or more cars in a family, and a lot of them are pretty nice. We value our stuff.Jesus comes along and turns all of that upside down. We think the disadvantaged are those who don’t have as much stuff. Jesus says, “I’ll tell you who’s disadvantaged. If you have a lot, you’re disadvantaged.” He tells us that the poor are blessed. No offense against the rich; they just have more of a hurdle, Jesus would say. In Jesus’ kingdom, it’s the rich who are disadvantaged, and it’s the poor who are blessed by God.Then there’s our security. Our culture really values security. I don’t know that this is all wrong, but it’s pretty important for us to feel self-reliant, that we are providing for ourselves and our future. Anything that threatens that self-reliance makes us feel very unsure. Then Jesus comes, and walks up to people at their place of business and says, “Leave your nets and boats (your livelihoods) behind and follow me.” He tells people to liquidate their assets and give to the poor, and don’t worry, because God will take care of you. That’s a completely different set of values.Another value that we hold is consumerism. I get so ticked off when I’m not treated right as a customer. I’m actually getting used to it, but the odd time I get really riled because the level of service just isn’t what it should be. Then Jesus says, “If you want to follow me, you’ve got to forget about your rights. You’ve got to lay them aside, die to yourself, become a servant, and follow me.”We value power. We like to call the shots and get our way. We like to know powerful people, because it’s not what you know…you know the rest. Then Jesus comes along. The moment that he knew that he could do anything – that all power and authority had been given to him, and that God had put all things under his control – he showed us what true power looks like in God’s kingdom. He got down on this knees and washed the dirty feet of a group of guys who couldn’t keep it together for more than five minutes.We like beauty. Jesus came, and the Bible says that there was nothing in the way that he looked – no beauty or majesty – that would attract us to him.We like strength. I like people who can put the puck in the net, or keep the puck out of the net, or hit the ball, or triumph with their talents. Yet in Jesus’ Kingdom it’s the weak who are strong. It’s the proud who are humbled. It’s the powerful that are excluded and it’s the people on the margins who matter. In the Kingdom of Jesus, something as small as a cup of cold water offered to a “nobody” has eternal significance.Let’s think about that even in terms of church. Our world judges churches by these same standards – their success, their size, their significance. We look at some of the most powerful and successful churches and we’re wowed. Yet God looks at churches we’ve overlooked – a church in a prison or leprosarium or a country in which Christianity isn’t allowed – and says, “There’s a church that’s successful. They’re not successful in the world’s eyes, but they are in mine.” Jesus turns all the values of this world upside down.
We don’t have the luxury of living in a world that lives according to the values of Jesus. But we can live Jesus’ values in this world. We can make ourselves aware of the ways in which Jesus’ values are different, and watch to make sure that we’re not incorporating the world’s values into our worship.It’s possible, if we don’t watch it, to stop noticing the differences between Jesus’ values and this world’s. Inch by inch, we can stop being shocked or even aware of the differences. Or, we can stay so in tune with Jesus’ values that we never stop knowing that there’s a difference.I don’t have the answer here, but I do have some ideas. I think one of the best things that we could do is to become so familiar with Jesus and his values that it just becomes part of the way we think. If you’re ambitious, read the Gospels. Just read them over and over again. See the way he taught, the words that he said. If you don’t have the time, read the Sermon on the Mount – three chapters, Matthew 5, 6, and 7. There’s enough there to shake us up for good. If you really want the concentrated version, then memorize the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12. Every one of them is a statement of value that contradicts what our world values. Make them your text.Another suggestion is that we become critics of culture. I don’t mean negative critics. We can watch some movies and see positive things. Some watched Finding Nemo and saw it as a beautiful picture of God’s pursuit of us. You don’t have to make everything religious, but there are lots of things we can appreciate in culture. When the new season of the Simpsons comes out, I’ll be watching, because there’s sometimes some very accurate indictments against our culture and even the church in there. I like a lot of it.But we can also become critics of what’s bad. We can recognize that most commercials try to convince us that if we buy their product, we’ll be happy, sexy, or rich. We can recognize that our friends who go out and party every weekend don’t look as happy as the people in the beer commercials. We can begin to decipher the values that are contrary to Jesus’ Kingdom. We’re still like fish in water, but at least then we’ll realize that we are in water and that the water is sometimes dirty.You may even be here thinking, “Yes. That’s what I want. I’ve been turned off because the church isn’t any different. Their values are the same, and frankly, that’s disappointing.” The good news for you is you’re right. God is a God who favors the poor, the weak, the powerless. That’s his kingdom; it’s his message.Hosea slammed Israel for prostituting itself to the culture. You get the idea that God was more than a little ticked. But overall, Hosea is a message of love and hope. It’s not too late. No matter who you are, or how much Gomer’s story is your story, here is the message: “Oh, that we might know the LORD! Let us press on to know him! Then he will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring” (Hosea 6:3).
Prayer:Confession of unfaithfulness – we’ve adopted the world’s values into our worship of GodThanks for God’s Kingdom – a Kingdom that turns the values of this world upside downPrayer that we may know him and return to him