June 6, 1999
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture: Mt. 9:9-13,18-26;  Hosea 5:15-6:6

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Sermon - "I Desire Mercy"

Our two scripture readings this morning are intimately connected. As a

matter of fact Jesus quotes the Hosea passage when he tells the Pharisees

that he desires mercy, not sacrifice. Hosea wrote in the 8th century BC.

The Hebrews had had a dispute over worship: one temple? One style of

worship? One God? - Remember, they were living in the midst of the

Caananites, who had many ways to worship many gods. Eventually the

disagreements led to a division, two Hebrew states: Judah in the south and

Israel in the north. It meant that the Hebrew people were falling into the

trap of worshiping the local gods, whenever it was convenient. It is also

true that a religious division created a political division. So, when the

Assyrians invaded Judah they ran to Israel for support in securing their

territory. When Israel refused to help Judah began appropriating Israel's

territory. Which made Israel angry. Israel decided to align themselves with

the Assyrians to get even with Judah. This was a lose-lose situation and the

backdrop for the issues that plagued the prophet Hosea and God. God

admonishes both Israel and Judah for their behavior.

Our passage opens with God saying: " I will return to my place until they

acknowledge their guilt and seek my face. In their distress they will beg my


The Hebrew people answer: Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who

has torn and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up.

After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that

we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his

appearing is a sure as the dawn; he will come to us like the showers, like

the spring rains that water the earth."


The people will make some effort, but their assumption is that it doesn't

really matter what they do, God will be on their side.

God replies: " what shall I do with you, O Israel? What shall I do with you,

O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away

early. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have killed they by the

words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. For I desire

steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt


God wants their loyalty and their fidelity, not their half hearted efforts to

please. God wants them to know that it is through their human relationships

that they will come to know God. When those relationships are broken, so is

their connection to God. Any time that their worship is not out of that

loyalty and intimate knowledge of God, it is corrupt, not genuine. It

becomes almost manipulative. "If I do this - then God will act in my favor."


That human attitude that Hosea and God denounce is a tendency that we carry

with us today. So many times in the past few weeks I have had people ask me

"what did I do to deserve this, why is God punishing me?" Or I've heard "I

must need to get back to church, God must be angry with me" Or "I have gone

to church for the past month, but God doesn't seem to have noticed.

When we look at the passage from Mt. we see that that our notion of God's

favor being extended first to the righteous is way off base. Jesus involved

himself in each case with those who were considered unacceptable by society

and whose lives were already broken. The tax collector, the unclean woman,

and the dead child. Jesus broke all the rules by touching the woman and the

dead child and by breaking bread with the sinners. And Jesus says to all who

question him, "go and learn what it means when I say "I desire mercy, not

sacrifice" I come to those who need me, clearly the righteous do not.

It seems evident that our sinful condition will not cause God to punish us.

And it is not our righteous behavior that will impress God. God will come to

us when our lives are broken, when we find ourselves alienated from those we

love. God opposes our pain and suffering.

Broken relationships hurt. Alienated lives foster anger and hostility.

Pain can sever the link with those we love. Dashed hopes and dreams, the

untimely end of a career - suffering comes in many forms. Suffering creates

a barrier to a full life. Jesus Christ is willing to break through that

barrier - out of death comes the gift of new life.

God had reached out to the people of Judah and Israel and would continue to

wait for them to turn to him with genuine love. When Jesus called Matthew to

follow, Matthew did just that. The hemorrhaging woman reached out to touch

the hem of Jesus' robe, taking a great risk. The father of the dead child

not only sought Jesus out but he put the life of his child in Jesus' hands.

God was there for those who reached out to him - and we can trust God to be

there for us when we reach out. Reaching out to God is a sign of our

knowledge - our understanding of God's love for us. Reaching out is evidence

of our genuine love for God, and a sign our trust.

God is waiting for us to make the next move. This is our opportunity. We -

sinners that we are - are invited to sit at the table with our Lord Jesus

Christ. We are invited to reveal the alienation, the pain, the broken

places in our lives to the one who has the power to renew us, to heal us and

to recreate us. Will you accept God's gracious invitation, will you put

your faith in Jesus, will you receive all that Jesus intends for you? Will

you love and trust our lord to be merciful? Come.

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