Monday, August 5, 2013

Broken Heart, Now Wounded

A sermon preached at St. Andrew's On-the-Sound Episcopal Church in Wilmington, NC on August 4, 2013. The text was Hosea 11:1-11


It’s easy to question whether God really loves us at all.  We live in a world filled with all sorts of plagues, pain, and pestilence.  We live in a world filled with war and violent aggression, filled with all sorts of injustices.  And when we catalog all of these things, take them to heart, and dwell on them…it’s so easy to question the truth of God’s love.  And I understand the question, “Does God love us?” I really do.  I sometimes ask myself the same thing: Does God really love us?  Most days it is easy to say yes, some days, to be honest…easier to say no.  This morning is one of those days where, in spite of all that would suggest the contrary, its very hard to answer the question, ‘Does God love us?’ with a downcast, downtrodden ‘No.’
The book of Hosea has such a judgmental tone, doesn’t it?  His oracle this morning seems to be no exception.  We bear witness to God taking stock of all that Israel has done against God.  The people of Israel have forsaken God, have sought after false gods and worshipped them.  They have sacrificed to the Baals, and offered incense to idols.  To use a metaphor faithful to Hosea, they have whored themselves out.  Israel has become a people so far removed from God, and God is pronouncing judgment upon them.
But before the judgment, God begins the oracle in a strange, unexpected place.  This isn’t an oracle of judgment spoken by a vengeful, wrathful, angry deity, nostrils fuming from the injustice.  Rather, God begins from the place of a wounded parent.  A parent with a broken heart.  And God, in this oracle, is both Father and Mother. As Father, God has taken Israel to his cheek, has kissed him as a proud father kisses a beloved son.  To Israel, God is also a Mother, a Mother who has nursed Israel at her bosom, fed him and given him strength.  God is the one who raised Israel up, taught him how to stand, how to walk, the proud parent who helped Israel’s legs to learn what it means to have strength and to move about. God raised this people up, this community of God’s son’s and daughters. And how has this community of God’s children repaid God?  By leaving, by straying, by seeking after false gods, crafting false idols, and chasing after things other than the radical love of God. So God says, “The sword will rage in your cities, and will consume your priests, and I will raise you up no more.”
But then there is this shift, where God seemingly decides against God’s own self that, saying “I won’t ignore the cries of my children.”  Even though God has been wounded, even though God has been spurned, even though God has been faithful in the midst of Israel’s faithlessness, God says, “I had a moment where I wanted to cut you off but I simply couldn’t.” Listen to God’s internal dialogue: “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like cities that have been destroyed? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.  I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” Like a compassionate Father and Mother, chasing their child who has fallen into the dirt, fallen and bruised himself, fallen and broken something, fallen and is bloodied and battered from his own disobedience, God takes that child, lifts the child out of the dirt, binds up his wounds, cleans him off, and takes him home in God’s arms to rest peacefully in God’s lap.
Friends, when I read this oracle, it’s hard for me question whether or not God loves the world.  In spite of all that we see with our eyes, things done by human hands to us or by us, here we have a testament of God’s unfailing love.  No matter how far we stray, no matter how far we walk away from the relationship. No matter what we do to break the heart of God, God’s love flows from that broken heart, seeks us out when we have fallen into the dirt, grime, and brokenness of our disobedience, and lifts us up. As a good Father lifts his child to his cheek to shower her with kisses, God is showering us with kisses of pride, compassion, and grace.  Like a good Mother, God lifts us to her bosom to feed us, to strengthen us for the journey. This, my friends, is why I believe in God’s love and its power to overcome anything.

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