Summary: Preached 1989. A people of integrity will not act as though God is automatically on their side, apart from righteousness; and they will pay attention to the way in which leadership is chosen.
On this Independence Day weekend we think about our nation’s history, our nation’s life. As we do so I want to assure you that we will be wrestling with the word of God, not just scattering political opinions over the landscape like birdseed. I am not here as political pundit, but as a pastor and preacher. I am here to remind us that the word of God stands in judgment over all things, including political systems. And that means that God’s word speaks to our own nation today.
I have to say all of this, I suppose, because I come from a particular political heritage, as most of you do, and it’s hard to keep that from coloring what I might say. I think I’ve told you about my great-grandmother; we have a book at home, biographies of various prominent Kentuckians, and she had a page in the book. It says of my great-grandmother, "Mrs. Moorman, being from western Kentucky, is of course, a Baptist and a Democrat!” Of course!
Well, her great-grandson is here today as a Kentuckian in exile, a Baptist, and, never mind the party, that doesn’t matter. I am here as a preacher of God’s transcending word.
The great theologian Karl Barth said on one occasion that the Christian ought to read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, in order to discern what God is doing and in order to shed light on these days. So· that is what we are going to do today -- we are going to let Hosea, the prophet of Israel in the 8th century before Christ teach us what it is to struggle to be a people of integrity in the 20th century after Christ.
Quickly, the setting of the eighth chapter of Hosea’s prophecy, which I am about to read: it is a day of tremendous turmoil and uncertainty in Israel’s life. There is an empire to the north called Assyria, and its king is a fellow with the awkward name of Tiglath-pileser. You got that? Tiglath-pileser. I plan to test you on it after the service!
Anyway, old Tig, we’ll call him, had gobbled up nation after nation, and was on his way to taking Israel. When old Tig marched toward Israel, there was a reaction. For one thing, political stability got lost. They had five kings in twenty-five years, and all but one of those kings reached the throne through conspiracy and murder. Not exactly a band of saints.
More than that, men like the prophet Hosea and the prophet Amos, his contemporary, see corruption, greed, sexual permissiveness, religious idolatry, a whole host of issues. And finally the day comes when Hosea can contain himself no longer. He speaks the word of the Lord to remind a people how they ought to be struggling, struggling to be a people of integrity. Listen to what he says:
“They sow the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind -- how long will it be till they are pure in Israel?”
When we pledge allegiance to the flag, we speak of one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all, but who will deliver liberty and who will guarantee justice? One nation under God, a people of integrity, who can make that happen?
Or we sing the national anthem – at least maybe you sing it; if you can, you’re a better man than I! But we conclude it singing of the land of the free and the home of the brave – not, by the way, as they do in Atlanta, the home of the Braves! – and it is not true, incidentally, that the last words of the national anthem are “Play ball”! But we sing of the land of the free and the home of the brave. Who will bring us that freedom and who will exercise the bravery to keep it? Who will have the kind of courage we sing about? It certainly doesn’t just come automatically. Who has courage enough to secure our freedom?