Sunday’s sermon: Big Love

Big Love

Text used – Hosea 11:1-9

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1918, made radio receivers as a young boy, and started working at an AM talk radio station at the ripe old age of 14 when one of his teachers told him she was “impressed by his voice.” He started as a janitor, moved up to filling in on the air reading commercials and news briefs, and eventually ended up with his own show on ABC syndicated stations nationwide. By the time his illustrious career came to an end with his death at age 90, he had won just about every radio broadcast journalist award there was as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For millions of Americans, his voice was the calm, velvety voice that narrated stories that touched their hearts and lives for decades.[1] [PLAY PAUL HARVEY CLIP] After those now-infamous words, Paul Harvey would weave together his own particular blend of history, narrative, and personal commentary.
    • Stories as touching and innocent as a story of a man trying to save a flock of birds on Christmas Eve and instead finding a renewed sense of faith
    • Stories as meaningful and timeless as Harvey’s famed “So God made a farmer
    • News stories as momentous and history-altering as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy
    • Following that famous phrase, Harvey would present a different facet, a different angle, a different element of a story – something you probably hadn’t known or considered before. More often than not, it was a more human element, a more personal connection, or a twist in the story that revealed some profound element of faith. Friends, today is our Paul Harvey moment in the midst of all this Old Testament meandering we’ve been doing. Today is our “rest of the story.”
      • Weeks leading up to today = lots of stories of the people of God in the Old Testament
        • Began with creation
        • Disbelief of Abraham and Sarah over God’s promise that they would have a son (Isaac)
        • Jacob wrestling with God
        • Story of Moses – birth to call in the burning bush
        • 2nd giving of the Ten Commandments
        • Anointing of King David and David and the people of Israel dancing before God
        • Dividing of the kingdom of Israel
        • Elijah the prophet taking on the prophets of Baal and the deterioration of the people’s devotion
        • In all of these stories, we’ve heard the people’s side. We’ve heard about the people turning to God and away from God. We’ve heard about the people trusting God and doubting God. We’ve heard about the people acting for God and acting against God’s will.
    • But today’s Scripture is wholly different. In today’s Scripture, we hear from God. Today’s Scripture is, in fact, the rest of the story.
  • Today’s text = from book of Hosea → Now, Hosea is a challenging little book.
    • One of what we call the 12 minor prophets (major prophets being Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Lamentations) → all of the writings of the minor prophets are fairly “doom and gloom.”
      • REMINDER: job of the prophets was to bring God’s word to a people who had strayed in an attempt to bring them back to God
        • Necessarily includes calling the people out for their wrongdoings AND detailing the terrible things that will happen if they don’t repent and return to God
        • NOT a popular message → prophets = not popular people
    • Hosea’s specific context[2]
      • Very little is known about the prophet Hosea himself
      • Historically somewhere between 750 and 724 BCE → period of heavy political, economic, and religious turmoil in Israel
        • 6 kings on the throne during Hosea’s time → all but one assassinated
        • Corruption in highest levels of court and government was rampant
        • Borders of the northern kingdom of Israel constantly threatened by kingdom of Judah to the south and kingdom of Assyria to the east
        • Practice of religion at the time had become intimately interwoven with various Canaanite religious practices (worship of Baal, rituals involving golden calves, cultic fertility sacrifices, etc.)
      • Suffice to say thing in Israel have gotten pretty horrible.
    • Hosea’s unique framing of his message = metaphor of marriage
      • Nation of Israel as a whole = unfaithful spouse who has turned away from God
      • People = children of that marriage
      • First 10 chs. of Hosea are full of stark, no-holds-barred, call-it-like-it-is recriminations aimed at Israel
        • E.g. – Hear the Lord’s word, people of Israel; for the Lord has a dispute with the inhabitants of the land. There’s no faithful love or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, lying, murder, together with stealing and adultery are common; bloody crime followed by bloody crime. … My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Since you [priest] have rejected knowledge, so I will reject you from serving me as a priest. Since you have forgotten the instruction of your God, so also I will forget your children.[3] → And that’s probably one of the most G-rated parts. Truly, all, Hosea is a very difficult book to read. It’s full of agony and hurt and abandonment, and all of that is felt, not by the people but by God. God has not turned away from the people. The people have turned away from God.
  • Today’s passage = unique and even refreshing moment of grace and love and light in the midst of a grim text → speaks of God’s love in pure, unadulterated, unequivocal terms
    • Text: When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the further they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and they burned incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with bands of human kindness, with cords of love. I treated them like those who lift infants to their cheeks; I bent down to them and fed them. … How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart winces within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I won’t act on the heat of my anger; I won’t return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a human being, the holy one in your midst; I won’t come in harsh judgment.[4] → You can hear God’s anguish in this. You can hear God’s yearning. You can hear God’s heartbreak. You can hear how desperately God misses the children who have so willingly and so easily turned away despite all that God has done for them. It is truly both stunningly painful and stirringly powerful to read.
      • Margaret Odell (prof of religion at St. Olaf): This poem of YHWH’s anguished love for the beloved child Israel stands as one of the most poignant testimonies to divine love in the Old Testament, if not in the entire Bible. Quite possibly the earliest expression of God’s love in the Bible, it is also the most passionate, as it portrays God’s heart in conflict with his plans, his compassion averting his anger.[5]
  • Up to this point, much of the Old Testament stories that we read have been the “turning away” stories from the point of view of the people. Today, we hear a stirring, heart-rending reminder from God of just how much that turning away tears at the heart of God. It is, indeed, the rest of the story, and that story is LOVE. You see, friends, that is how big God’s love is for us.
    • Love that overcomes “turning away”
    • Love that overcomes waywardness and faithlessness
    • Love that overcomes excuses and exceptions
    • Love that overcomes even God’s own frustrations and intended consequences
      • Text: How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim?[6]
        • “Ephraim” = Israel (interchangeable in this text)
        • Admah and Zeboiim = cities completely and permanently destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah[7]
    • Love that overcomes anything and everything just to get to us
    • Scholar: This is not the story of the “prodigal” son who, having struggled with his own bad choices, finally turns and comes home. This is the story of a prodigal God who – in anguish, heartbreak, and the fiercest love – comes seeking out the children who have strayed.[8]
    • “But,” you might be saying, “I haven’t strayed. Not that much. Not really. Not intentionally, anyway.” And that may be true. But the reality of life and faith and the brokenness of the world around us and the world inside us, friends, is that we have all strayed – in big ways and small ways, in intentional ways and unintentional ways, in simple ways and in complex ways, always in ways that hurt God.
      • Description from Fall Breakaway workshop → turning ever-so-slightly bit by bit until God is completely out of sight
      • Friends, we are not perfect … at least, not the last time I checked. And even despite our best efforts … on our best days … with our best intentions, we cannot love God perfectly. But the good news is that God can love us perfect. The good news is that God does love us perfectly.
        • 1 John 4: God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. … here is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.[9]
        • This is why I say what I do and we profess what we profess whenever we come to the table. “No matter who you are … no matter where you come from … no matter what you bring with you this morning, you are welcome.” God’s love is big enough to love us through all our ups and downs, our turning aways and running aways, our doubts and our frustrations and our messes and anything else we think might be “too much.” The point is that with God, there is no “too much.” No. Matter. What. God loves you. God loved you before it. God loves you in the midst of it. And God will love you after it … no matter what “it” might be. Loves. You. Full stop.
  • I want to leave you with a song this morning – a song that speaks to that holy, perfect, infinite, pursing, forgiving, all-encompassing love of God.

  • Halleljuah, indeed. Amen.

 

Charge

“The faith that I profess is rooted in a belief in a God who loves us deeply, desperately, and with a passion that cannot be contained. This God is always seeking us out, wanting to be with us and wanting us to experience the very best that life has to offer. This God is protective because we are loved so damn much.” – Rozella Haydee White from Love Big: The Power of Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Harvey.

[2] Gale A. Yee. “The Book of Hosea: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 7. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 200-

[3] Hos 4:1-2, 6.

[4] Hos 11:1-4, 8-9.

[5] Margaret Odell. “Commentary on Hosea 11:1-9” from Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4216. Accessed Nov. 10, 2019.

[6] Hos 11:8.

[7] Deut 29:22-23.

[8] Stacey Simpson Duke. “Proper 13 (Sunday between July 31 and August 6 inclusive) – Hosea 11:1-11, Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 296.

[9] 1 Jn 4:16b, 18.

[10] Lauren Daigle. “Love Like This” from Look Up Child, © 2018 by Centricity Music.

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