This is the message that I gave at Tompkins Corners United Methodist Church for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 22 July 2007. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Hosea 1: 2 – 10, Colossians 2: 6 – 19, and Luke 11: 1 – 13.
In my collection of statements I find interesting is one attributed to Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U. S. Office of Patents. In 1899, Mr. Duell is supposed to have said, ""Everything that can be invented has been invented." However, in a series of notes to the Chemical Information Internet list, it was discovered that Mr. Duell never said this. Kenneth W. Dobyns in his book on the history of the Patent Office, “The Patent Office Pony: A History of the Early Patent Office “, said that this quote was attributed to Mr. Duell by Richard Nixon in 1988.
It was the first Commissioner of Patents, Henry Ellsworth, who actually made the statement that became the basis for this quote. In his 1843 Annual Report of the Patent Office, Mr. Ellsworth wrote, "the advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity, and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end." (From a series on notes to the Chemical Information List on July 29, 1999) Mr. Ellsworth’s view of the world can only come true if the day ever comes where we have no hope for the future and creativity dies.
I find it interesting that we could even consider a time when the creativity of the human race comes to an end, for that is to say that there is no future. But it is also not surprising when you stop to think that today’s society is more interested in the here and now than in what the future will bring. We live in a society of instant gratification. There are people who expect to have the fruits of the Christian life, joy, peace, trust, courage, confidence, and all the rest without the discipline of the Christian life. There are people who think that they can "get" the Christian faith in a weekend. But there is no quick, easy payoff when it comes to our relationship with God. (Adapted from "A Plea for Persistence" by William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource, July, August, September 2004)
Many people say that God is distant from them. For them, prayers to God are simply times when they talk to themselves. God has never said or done anything to or for them. But the problem is that they have become distant from God, not the other way around. Their relationship with God is in their own terms and you cannot define this most important of relationships that way.
Paul tells us through his letter to the Colossians that we have to be careful that we don’t mix the philosophy of the world with our knowledge of Christ. There were those in Colosse who were attempting to combine worldly philosophies with the message of the Gospel. But in doing this, they created a system that was in conflict with the basic message of the Gospel. The mystery of the Gospel cannot be understood through the application of worldly philosophical systems.
This is because philosophers try to use portions of, not the whole part of the Gospel message. This makes it an incomplete system. Those who seek an understanding of God and an understanding of the Gospel in this way will never be able to do so, simply because it is incomplete. You cannot build a relationship on incomplete information and you cannot expect a relationship to exist if incomplete.
The focus of Hosea’s prophecy is Israel’s relationship with God in the present and what it might be in the future. The relationship is demonstrated to the Israelite nation in terms of Hosea’s own life. First, God tells him to marry a prostitute, Gomer, but tells him that she will then be openly unfaithful to him. This was to illustrate Israel’s own unfaithfulness in the covenant with the Lord. His children are to be named in terms that remind the nation of Israel of what it has done and what is going to happen to them. Hosea names his children Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, or "not loved", and Lo-Ammi, or "not my people." In naming his first child Jezreel, Hosea reminded the people of Israel of the atrocities that occurred in the city with the same name and the military defeat that was to come. Giving rather unfavorable names for children are meant to show God’s impending rejection of Israel and His termination of the covenant relationship with His people.
But Hosea’s prophecy and life were not always so gloomy. For in the same passage that tells us of God’s rejection of Israel, Hosea reports that Israel and its descendants will be as numerous as the sands on a beach. But this future can only come if the people of Israel change the way in which they live their lives, focusing once again on their relationship with God. In the coming passages of Hosea’s prophecy, we read of the reversal of the future that comes when the people of Israel make the changes.
It is interesting that this passage from the Old Testament is paired with the introduction of the Lord’s Prayer. But Jesus teaching his disciples to pray is also about relationships. In praying to the Father, we see a far different relationship from the one that existed before, when God was omnipotent and unreachable. Now, we see our relationship with God much like a loving parent with his children. Now, our prayers are to a Father who loves us enough to give us what we need rather than what we want.
Jesus used the accompanying parable to illustrate that the answers to our prayers only come through persistence. We have to be persistent in what we do, especially in terms of our relationship with God, or we face the likelihood that we will gain nothing and what we gain will be worthless.
The introduction of the Lord’s Prayer is also about the future. First, in our persistence, we seek a future; we are not willing to stand pat on what we have. Second, it is part of that relationship that we have with God. The disciples have seen Jesus in regular prayer, asking His Father for the support and strength that humans do not always have. So now they wished to be able to pray like Jesus. We know that the disciples did not know what the future was for them; for they never truly realized that Jesus’ ministry must end on the cross.
But they saw hope and promise in a prayer that reestablished the relationship between themselves, as children of God, and God Himself, their Heavenly Father. They began to see a new and different future.
So, as we look to the future, we have to ask ourselves what lies ahead? If we choose to do nothing, then we are faced with a future described over 160 years ago, a future that doesn’t exist, a time where there is no creativity, no results of human effort. Like the people of Israel as they see Hosea’s children, we will see nothing but doom in front of us. We see a world without a relationship with God.
But if we hold onto the relationship to God that we were given through Christ’s death on the cross, we see a better future. This is a future of hope, one in which the efforts of human endeavor come to the fruition of the Gospel message. It is a message that we can and must give to others. In a world that cannot see the future, or sees one bounded by the limits of today, through the Gospel we can give others a chance to look to the future once again.