Saturday 18 April 2015

UnValentine (Hosea 3)

[Short message given at a recent Chinese New Year/Valentine’s Day gathering.]

Cloud city: Carbon Freezing Facility.

“What’s going on buddy,” Han says to Lando Calrissian.

“You are being put into carbon freeze.”

Boba Fett, the bounty hunter, protests, “What if he doesn’t survive? He is worth a lot to me!”

Darth Vader replies, “The empire will compensate you if he dies. Put him in!”

Han turns to Princess Leia. They look sorrowfully at one another. Then Han moves towards the princess and gives her one final, passionate kiss.

“I love you,” Leia says to Han.

Han Solo replies, “I know.”

In case you are worried: This is not a Valentine’s Day message. Not quite. Rather, I’m going to spend a few minutes talking about about the most unValentine way of saying, “I love you”. The most unValentine, unromantic way.

There is the painful way, the expensive way and the patient way. There is the a painful, agonising way; there is the expensive, extravagant way; and there is what I like to call a Tan Koo Koo way (Hokkien: Wait long long time way) of saying: I love you.

Let me read to you from Hosea Chapter 3:

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me for many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.”

1. The most painful way

What is the most painful way of loving someone?

Hosea is a man who is married. Who has children. But whose wife has left him for another man. And God tells Hosea: Bring her back.

Bring her home.

I think the most painful way of loving someone is loving someone who doesn’t love you. It is loving someone who has betrayed your love.

A mom was scooping ice-cream for her two sons. But the two boys are fighting over who gets the first scoop of ice-cream. “I want the first scoop!” “No, I want the first scoop!”

The mom thought, “Aha! This is a good opportunity to teach a moral lesson.” So she said, “Boys, if Jesus were here, I think Jesus would say, ‘I want my brother to have the first scoop of ice-cream.”

The two brothers stared blankly at their mom... then stared blankly at each other. Then the older brother said to the younger, “OK.”

“You can be Jesus.”

Why does God tell Hosea, “Go and love your wife. Go and bring her home”? Even when all of Hosea’s friends are probably saying, “Dump her. She doesn’t deserve you.”

Because God is saying, “This is how difficult it is for me to love you.”

“Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

Now it is strange but God describes them as people who love raisin cakes. What is that all about? These Israelites - who have betrayed God’s love, who have turned away from God’s love - are people who love raisin cakes. That is a strange way to describe them.

Well, think of the new Star Wars movie that is coming out this year. And think of the die-hard fans who can’t wait to see Han Solo and Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker once more.

Recently, Mark Hamill (aka Luke Skywalker) had this to say about the new Star Wars movie. He says to his fans, “It’s just a movie.” “It’s just a movie.” He says this:

“These people that build it up in their minds like it's going to be the second coming of, I don't know what — they're bound to be disappointed."

We say to ourselves, “If only I see this movie, I’ll be happy. If only have this relationship, I’ll be fulfilled.” Mark Hamill is saying, “It’s just a movie.”

You see, God is saying to us, “They are just raisin cakes.” The things we live for and die for are often just things. We make them out to be the ultimate source of happiness, meaning, truth when what we are doing is replacing God. You might not be a Christian and you don’t believe in all this God stuff. But the thing you’re living for and dying for to give you ultimate meaning meaning, ultimate happiness - your degree, your looks, your family even - that’s your God. And it’s saying, “You’re expecting too much out of those things.”

They are just raisin cakes.

2. The most expensive way

Secondly, what is the most expensive way of loving someone? What is the most extravagant way of proving your love. The guys will say, “Today; on Valentine’s Day - everything is expensive! The flowers; the chocolates. Everything is so overpriced!”

But the girls will say, “Have you seen how much he spends on that gadget? That i-thingy he buys? Why can’t he spend some of that money on me?”

What is the most expensive way to show your love?

In verse 2, Hosea actually buys his wife back from slavery. He says, “I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver.”

That number, fifteen, is significant because the standard price in the Old Testament is thirty. So when Judas betrays Jesus for thirty pieces of silver it is symbolic of how Jesus’ death was a kind of payment. His death paid for my sin.

But here, Hosea pays fifteen silver shekels. In other words, he gets a discount! No, that’s not what it means. It means that no one else is willing to pay.

Hosea’s wife is being auctioned off on stage. It’s not even funny. I know a friend who works in a place where this still happens today. The auctioneer says “Which of you men are willing to pay to have this girl?” And no one - not one of her boyfriends - is willing to pay the price. “She’s not worth it.”

Except for her husband. “I’ll pay,” he says. “I’ll pay.”

But there’s a problem. Hosea doesn’t have thirty shekels of silver, so he makes up the difference with barley. To understand this, you need to know that an homer and lethek of barley is 195 kilograms of barley. Have you ever bought the ten kilogram rice bag from Chomee and tried cycling back to your college? This is twenty times that weight. I had a friend named Henry who used to buy a big bag of rice from Chomee once a term and cycle back to college with this big bag of rice on his bag. Imagine doing that twenty times!

It is saying that Hosea gave all his money, everything he had, to get his wife back from slavery.

My favourite Chinese New Year movie of all time is God of Gamblers. The final scene is between Ko Chun, the God of Gamblers, who sits across the poker table from Chan Kan Nam, his nemesis from Singapore. And Ko Chun says, “Mo Sai See Kan. Leong Chin, Lok Pat Man. Ngo tei SAI!”

(Let’s not waste anymore time, I’m going all in! Two hundred and sixty thousand HK Dollars… which is just twenty plus thousand pounds today, I know, but it’s still a lot of money!)

And everyone goes, “Whoa!” This guy means business.

Hosea goes all in. He has nothing left to his name. What he has is his wife. This is an expensive love.

3. The most patient way

So, we’ve seen a painful way and an expensive way. Finally, what is the most patient way of loving someone?

It is verse 3:

“Then I told her, you are live with me for many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.”

I’ll admit, when I read that, to me, that sounded cold! It sounds like Hosea is saying to his wife, “Have you learnt your lesson? Do you know how much this cost me? Be kwai kwai and don’t ever do this again, OK?”

That’s not what he’s saying. If you understand what he is saying, it’s actually very sad.

Hosea is saying, “I know that even after all this, after all this pain and expense, you still don’t love me, do you?” He is saying, “I know this will be a very long, a very painful journey ahead of us. But I am with you every step the way.” “You will live with me… and I will live with you.”

Notice, God says the exact same thing about the Israelites at the end.

Verse 4: “For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, sacrifice or idols...afterwards they will return and seek the LORD their God.”

It is a period of detoxing - from idols and raisin cakes. But also from sacrifices and ephods, all the external signs of religion. Meaning: It is detoxing from the bad things as well as the good things. Meaning: At the end of the day, God is not satisfied with us turning back to him to get more things. He wants us to want him more than the blessing; to want him more than the things he can give us.

God proves his love

The bible says (Romans 5:8): But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

On the cross, we God says “I love you,” in the most painful, in the most expensive and the most patient way.

It is painful because God has to prove his love to people who break his heart - “While we were still sinners.” It is expensive because God holds nothing back - not even his own Son, sacrificing Jesus on the cross as payment for our sin.

But I want to end by saying that it is the most patient way of God saying, “I love you,” to each one of you. Because do you realise what this means? It means that God is wooing you. As Hosea woos and pursues his wife who has left him. God comes to you while you are still running away from him and says, “I am proving to you my love. I am proving to you that turning back to me is not something to be afraid of. Come back. Come home.”

You see, some of us have heard this before (I recognise your faces from last year). You know that God is a loving God. You know that God is a forgiving God. But you are afraid of looking foolish. The guys especially: You are afraid of looking unmacho. We think that God expects us to go, “Oh, I love you, I love you, I love you” and hug him in tears.

If that’s you can I suggest the Han Solo way of responding to God’s love. The Han Solo way is simply to say, “I know.”

I know that I am a sinner.
I know that I am so far away from you, Lord, and am deserving of your judgement.
But I know that you are a loving God. A forgiving God.
And I know that Jesus died to take my sin and to bring me back to you.

The right response to God’s love, in the first instance, is not necessarily, “I love you back, God,” because deep down inside, we know we don’t. Not yet, at least. The right response in the first instance, is simply to admit: I know. You have proved your love through Jesus’ death on the cross for my sake. And I am yours.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8