Psalm 136; Hosea 8,9; Revelation 3:7–18

Psalm 136: Appropriately enough for this Thanksgiving weekend, this thanksgiving psalm praises God across history from the Creation to the Exodus to Israel in Jerusalem.  Every verse has the antiphonal refrain, “for His kindness is forever,” so it seems obvious that it was used in a worship setting among the community.

Following an introduction asking the group to “Acclaim the Lord for He is good,” (1) and “Acclaim the greatest God” (2) “who alone performs great wonders” (4), the psalm begins at the reprises Genesis 1: “Who makes the heavens in wisdom” (5); “Who stamps firm the earth on waters” (6), describing the the creation of the sun and moon, as well.

Then we leap over history to the Passover: “Who strikes Egypt in its firstborn,/…And brings out Israel from their midst” (10,11); the escape, “Who split the Reed Sea into parts,” (13) and the chase by Egypt, “And shook Pharaoh and his force into the Reed Sea.” (15). Even the wilderness time is included–not the complaining, but acknowledgement that God led them: “Who led His people in the wilderness.” (16) Israel conquers the kings of Canaan, naming “Sihon, king of the Amorites” (19) and “Og, king of the Bashan.” (20) and “gave their land as an estate,…An estate for Israel His servant.” (21, 22)

Finally, the psalm understandably does not acknowledge Israel’s many sins, but notes that God “recalled us when we were low” (23) and “delivered us form our foes.” (24), ending by thanking God ” Who gives bread to all flesh.” (25).

Perhaps each of us should write our own psalm of thanksgiving, tracing our history and recalling how God has intervened and led each of us down through life. But the real power of this psalm comes from its relentless refrain, “the kindness of God”–or as the NRSV has it, “for his steadfast love endures for ever.” The psalmist could have focused on God’s power or perhaps, as in so many other places in the Psalms, God’s justice. But the quality of God that lies behind creation and guidance and rescue is above all God’s love for us. Which we have experienced beyond what the psalmist knows through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Hosea 8,9:  By this time in Hosea, we realize that again and again the prophet loops back and focuses on Israel’s sins and its consequences, especially its apostasy of idol worship. Speaking as the prophetic voice of God, Hosea warns,
   One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord,
   because they have broken my covenant,
       and transgressed my law.
   Israel cries to me,
       “My God, we—Israel—know you!”
   Israel has spurned the good;
    the enemy shall pursue him. (8:1-3)

Israel pretends to know God, but its sins have only created estrangement. And this hypocrisy can only come to a bad end, as we read the famous lines,
    For they sow the wind,
        and they shall reap the whirlwind. (8:7)

Perhaps the greatest sin of all is that “Israel has forgotten his Maker.” (8:14)–and that is a sin that right here in the 21st century our culture stands justly accused. No, we are not God’s chosen people, nor are we a theocracy, but our forgetfulness is surely yielding less-than-wonderful consequences.

As for Israel, Hosea returns to his thematic metaphor in the opening of chapter 9: “Do not rejoice, O Israel!/ Do not exult as other nations do;/ for you have played the whore, departing from your God.” Hosea warns them not to persist in their hypocrisy pretending they worship God: “They shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the Lord,/ and their sacrifices shall not please him.” (9:4) Israel will drive out its prophets: “Israel cries, “The prophet is a fool,/ the man of the spirit is mad!” and then, in a key psychological insight, Hosea asserts, “Because of your great iniquity,/ your hostility is great.” (9:7)

That certainly seems like the zeitgeist of our age now as we live with polarization, derision, whining, hostility, angry marches, and people feeling offended at every turn. (A zeitgeist which people like Donald Trump and others have tapped rather successfully.) I think that deep down in our God-rejecting hearts we know there is only emptiness and vain seeking after something that will fill our desire for meaning. And our external response to that emptiness is anger and hostility. Peace in our heart can come only through filling that famous “God-shaped hole.”

Revelation 3:7–18: The church at Philadelphia has remained faithful. Its members may not be at the top of the societal heap, and “I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (8) Because of that “patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (10) In other words, they will not only be spared punishment, but John promises, “I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

The key message here is that remaining faithful will certainly be tough in the here and now, but that it results in great heavenly reward. It is doubtless this formula that allowed so many martyrs to go happily to their deaths as the early church endured its severe trials. And that is true today, as we witness the martyrdom of men and women in the evil that seems to permeate much of the world today, especially in Africa and the Middle East.

But as for the church at Laodecia, we encounter what I believe is the great sin of the church today: “you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (16)  In some ways this sin is greater than thee hypocrisy of Israel that Hosea so enthusiastically condemns. Because it is not just external hypocrisy or outward show, it is an inner hypocrisy of believing we’ve done the “right religious things” and that’s all that’s required of us. When in fact Christ is asking for our entire being, or in Oswald Chambers’ construction, that we abandon ourselves completely to God.  Only then can the fires of faith burn hot.









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