Sermon Archives

Tethered in Love ~ Hosea 11:1-11

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann said, “Hosea 11 is among the most remarkable oracles in the entire prophetic literature.” And biblical scholar, H. D. Beeby, said, “In Hosea 11 we penetrate deeper into the heart and mind of God than anywhere in the Old Testament.” And what do we find at the center of God’s heart? In a word: Grace.

Let us pray: Bring the power and surprise of your holy scripture Lord into our hearts and minds this morning. Crack us open to new ways of seeing you, to hearing you; move us into a deeper knowledge of you so that we might risk giving ourselves to your love. Amen

Have you ever seen a toddler in the mall attached to a kiddy-leash? Some are attached to a harness or a bracelet leash so that mommy or daddy can keep track of their quickly moving toddler who thinks it’s hysterical that the more mommy runs after him, the faster he runs away squealing with delight.

My husband, Tim, has always described his mom and dad’s parenting strategy with the metaphor of a long leash. Instead of them using the “long arm of the Law” that would have kept him and his sister within close range, they instead gave their children a long leash of love and freedom. Anyone who has ever loved a child hopes beyond hope that the child will navigate the rough waters of life with brains and heart. That overall the child will do well enough in the world. But children don’t come with a guarantee and far too many parents have spent too many nights in anguish.

When Tim and I met in college, we would often engage in theological conversations. Theology (God-talk) is the discussion of beliefs or ideas about the nature of God and the nature of the relationship of the human to the divine.

We went to a Methodist college, so at that time I myself claimed more of a Wesleyan understanding of God that asserted the primacy of free will in a person’s life. I believed that each person had the choice to walk away from God—walk away from grace, that is—and reject God’s offer fully.

Tim on the other hand being more of a Reformed theology guy, espoused that it is not possible to walk away from God’s grace. We might think we are walking away, running away, rejecting it, he’d say, but in Truth and actuality, each of us is on a very, very, very long leash of grace and love. It is divine love, the Calvinists taught, that will not let us go. In life and in death, we belong to God. We are tethered, ever so gently; tethered to God.

I’m now a Wesleyan Calvinist.

Hosea offers us the most intimate account we have into the heart of a parenting God. This view of God’s internal landscape cannot be more stunning.

In the first chapter of Hosea, the first metaphor used for God and Israel was the marriage covenant. Borne out of relentless love for Israel, God– the faithful husband– would not give up on the betraying wife; in fact the brokenhearted husband brought her home from the bars night after night.

Here, Hosea has a second metaphor for God – a parent who also loved relentlessly and fiercely a child who kept running from the his or her love.

In the first four verses God speaks in the first person. He uses “I” nine times in those first four verses and 18 times total in all 11 verses. This is significant.

Verses 1-2: When Israel was a child, God said …I loved… I called. And the more I called, the faster they ran; I taught, I healed, I led, I lifted and nuzzled them to my cheek, I bent down; I fed them. I did this all for them! These are very maternal images.

God says, “I did all this for you before you were even aware!”

Most of us can’t remember our early childhood. We see photos or families show photos and tell stories going through the album:

“This is when you were a baby– oh, I couldn’t stop kissing you!”

“This is when you were crawling. This is when you took your first step and I was so proud.”

“This is you at 2 1/2 when you threw a tantrum in Target and people had to step over you in the aisle because we wouldn’t buy the Disney princess doll head.” (Hypothetically, of course…parents don’t usually capture tantrums in photos.)

“This is when you were sick and I tended to you through the late hours of the night.”

“This is when you were learning to ride a bike and kept falling off and I picked you up again and again.”

We revisit the photo albums as much for ourselves as for the child so that we too will be reminded, when we reach those rough patches, just how much we love these children.

God in this story has hit a difficult time. And God is responding to Israel’s adolescent rejection. Israel ran away from God to another god: the Assyrian God, Baal. Some of the Israelites in fact went back to Egypt, that hell-hole – the very place from which God brought them out of slavery.

Even after God kept them alive during those years in the wilderness; it was God who gave them a beautiful land to call their own, but they mistreated it all, abused their land and its people, ultimately discarding their relationship with God.

God lamented, “You want to go back to the place that nearly destroyed them? Fine, go! You can choose Egypt if you are hell-bent on destruction!”

“Go ahead and go! I’m done this time. You are on your own from now on!”

Not too unfamiliar behavior for a parent, really. I remember hearing those words a few times in my house as a kid. Toward my brother, of course!

Most parents have either said them or heard them. My dad was known to say, “You buttered your bread, now lie in it.”

In verse 8-9, we see God’s internal anguish and dialogue with Self. Not even God escaped the pain that all people have the power to inflict upon someone they love. But there is a dramatic twist in the plot of this story. A shock to Hosea’s readers to be sure.

God’s heart recoils within God’s self. The word “recoil” is the same word used in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to describe how God overthrew the cities in their disobedience. In our story, God’s heart recoils within God’s self. God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, but in our story God overthrows God’s own heart.

Instead of punishing the child, God takes the punishment into himself.

The consequences of the child’s painful actions are taken into the heart of God. And God’s tender compassion is rekindled.

They are God’s children after all. They didn’t ask to be chosen by God.

God has different eyes to see them. God holds their yesterdays in pictures no one else remembers: waiting for them to be born, the moments of their childhood, first steps, first words, smiles and cries, and all the big thresholds of their journey—in wilderness, in the promised land. In life and in death, they belong to God.

Just as we all do.

“I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not destroy them. I am not mortal, says the Lord!” I can hold the tension of both anger and love in one hand.

According to the Torah, rebellious sons were to be stoned to death (see Deuteronomy 21:18-21). As for Israel, it deserved destruction, like Admah and Zeboiim received for breaking covenant (see Deuteronomy 29:22-23) Although Israel had sinned; they had separated themselves from God; they had broken the Law by following new gods to worship. God instead broke God’s own Law by allowing grace to trump punishment.

The passage ends with a third metaphor: God as lioness executes care for her cubs with fierce love – calling the children home with trembling. In my childhood, it was from the front porch that the moms called their kids home. Today, they call them home through texting. Here is a reverse Exodus. Israel ran back to the roots of their enslavement, but God dragged them safely home.

I had a very honest conversation with a mother this past week whose young teenage daughter is getting into all sorts of trouble. Experimenting with bad, bad stuff way beyond her years. This mother in despair vacillates between giving her daughter up to her own bad choices, or literally following her daughter into dangerous neighborhoods, risking her own safety. She said that she has pulled her daughter out of those neighborhoods kicking and screaming…like a lioness carrying her cub by the scruff of her neck back to the safety of the den.

The God of divine compassion goes beyond our human comprehension. God’s fierce love was made most visible when God bent low and became one of us in Jesus Christ.

God emptied God’s self to enter into the fray of humankind. God went to the depths of anguish, like a lion roaring out from the cross, giving voice to a painful love for all humanity.

“God leads us with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.”

We are tethered with bands of love. We are on long leashes, my friends. There’s no escaping that kind of love.

Compassionate, tender, forgiving and fierce; like a lioness, always calling her people, safely home.

May it be so.

Amen.

 

“Tethered in Love”

Hosea 11:1-11

August 4, 2013

Rev. Clover Reuter Beal

Biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, said, “Hosea 11 is among the most remarkable oracles in the entire prophetic literature.”And biblical scholar, H. D. Beeby, said, “In Hosea 11 we penetrate deeper into the heart and mind of God than anywhere in the Old Testament.”  And what do we find at the center of God’s heart? In a word: GRACE.   [1An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 218.  2 Hosea: Grace Abounding (International Theological Commentary; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989) 140.]

 

Let us pray: Bring the power and surprise of your holy scripture Lord into our hearts and minds this morning. Crack us open to new ways of seeing you, to hearing you; move us into a deeper knowledge of you so that we might risk giving ourselves to your love. Amen

Have you ever seen a toddler in the mall attached to a kiddy-leash? Some are attached to a harness or a bracelet leash so that mommy or daddy can keep track of their quickly moving toddler who thinks it’s hysterical that the more mommy runs after him, the faster he runs away squealing with delight.

My husband, Tim, has always described his mom and dad’s parenting strategy with the metaphor of a long leash. Instead of them using the “Long arm of the Law” that would have kept him and his sister within close range, they instead gave their children a long leash of love and freedom. Anyone who has ever loved a child hopes beyond hope that the child will navigate the rough waters of life with brains and heart. That overall the child will do well enough in the world. But children don’t come with a guarantee and far too many parents have spent too many nights in anguish.

When Tim and I met in college, we would often engage in theological conversations. Theology (God-talk) is the discussion of beliefs or ideas about the nature of God and the nature of the relationship of the human to the divine.

We went to a Methodist college, so at that time I myself claimed more of a Wesleyan understanding of God that asserted the primacy of free will in a person’s life. I believed that each person had the choice to walk away from God—walk away from grace, that is—and reject God’s offer fully.

Tim on the other hand being more of a Reformed theology guy, espoused that it is not possible to walk away from God’s grace. We might think we are walking away, running away, rejecting it, he’d say– but in Truth and actuality…each of us is on a very, very, very long leash of grace and love. It is divine love, the Calvinists taught, that will not let us go. In life and in death, we belong to God. We are tethered, ever so gently; tethered to God.

I’m now a Wesleyan Calvinist.

 

Hosea offers us the most intimate account we have into the heart of a parenting God. This view of God’s internal landscape cannot be more stunning.

 

In the first chapter of Hosea, the first metaphor used for God and Israel was the marriage covenant. Borne out of relentless love for Israel, God– the faithful husband– would not give up on the betraying wife; in fact the brokenhearted husband brought her home from the bars night after night.

 

Here, Hosea has a second metaphor for God– a parent who also loved relentlessly and fiercely a child who kept running from the his or her love.

 

In the first 4 verses God speaks in the first person, “I” he uses 9 times. In fact, 18 times total God uses “I” in the 11 verses. This is significant.

 

Verses 1-2: When Israel was a child, God said, …I loved…  I called. And. the more I called, the faster they ran;  I taught,  I healed,  I led, I lifted and nuzzled them to my cheek, I bent down; I fed them. I did this all for them! These are very maternal images.

God says, I did all this for you before you were even aware!

 

Most of us can’t remember our early childhood. We see photos or families show photos and tell stories going through the album:

This is when you were a baby– oh, I couldn’t stop kissing you!

 

This is when you were crawling. This is when you took your first step and I was so proud.

 

This is you at 2 1/2 when you threw a tantrum in Target and people had to step over you in the aisle because we wouldn’t buy the Disney princess doll head. Hypothetically. (Usually parents don’t capture tantrums in photos.)

 

This is when you were sick and I tended to you through the late hours of the night.

 

This is when you were learning to ride a bike and kept falling off and I picked you up again and again.

 

We revisit the photo albums as much for ourselves as for the child so that we too will be reminded when we reach those rough patches–just how much we love these children.

 

God in this story has hit a difficult time. And God is responding to Israel’s adolescent rejection. Israel ran away from God to another god: The Assyrian God, Baal. Some of the Israelites in fact went back to Egypt, that hell-hole–the very place from which God brought them out of slavery.

 

Even after God kept them alive during those years in the wilderness; it was God who gave them a beautiful land to call their own, but they mistreated it all, abused their land and its people, ultimately discarding their relationship with God.

 

God lamented, You want to go back to the place that nearly destroyed them? Fine, go! You can choose Egypt if you are hell-bent on destruction!

Go ahead and go! I’m done this time.  You are on your own from now on!

 

Not too unfamiliar behavior for a parent, really. I remember hearing those words a few times in my house as a kid. Toward my brother.

 Most parents have either said them or heard them. My dad was known to say, “You buttered your bread,  now lie in it.”

 

In verse 8-9, we see God’s internal anguish and dialogue with Self.  Not even God escaped the pain that all people have the power to inflict upon someone they love. But there is a dramatic twist in the plot of this story. A shock to Hosea’s readers to be sure.

God’s heart RECOILS within God’s self. The word recoil is the same word used in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to describe how God overthrew the cities in their disobedience. In our story, God’s heart recoils within God’s self. God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, but in our story God overthrows God’s  own  heart.

Instead of punishing the child, God takes the punishment into him self.

The consequences of the child’s painful actions are taken into the heart of God. And God’s tender compassion is rekindled.

They are God’s children after all. They didn’t ask to be chosen by God.

 God has different eyes to see them. God holds their yesterdays in pictures no one else remembers: waiting for them to be born, the moments of their childhood, first steps, first words, smiles and cries, and all the big thresholds of their journey—in wilderness, in the promised land. In life and in death, they belong to God.

 Just as we all do.

I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not destroy them. I am not mortal, says the Lord!  I can hold the tension of both anger and love in one hand.

According to the Torah, rebellious sons were to be stoned to death (see Deuteronomy 21:18-21). As for Israel, it deserved destruction, like Admah and Zeboiim received for breaking covenant (see Deuteronomy 29:22-23)Although Israel had sinned; they had separated themselves from God; they had broken the Law by following new gods to worship. God instead broke God’s own Law by allowing grace to trump punishment.

The passage ends with a third metaphor: God as lioness executes care for her cubs with fierce love –calling the children home with trembling.  In my childhood, it was from the front porch that the moms called their kids home. Today, it’s now through texting.  Here is a reverse Exodus.  Israel ran back to the roots of their enslavement, but God dragged them safely home.

I had a very honest conversation with a mother this past week whose young teenage daughter is getting into all sorts of trouble. Experimenting with bad, bad stuff way beyond her years. This mother in despair vacillates between giving her daughter up to her own bad choices, or literally following her daughter into dangerous neighborhoods, risking her own safety. She said that she has pulled her daughter out of those neighborhoods kicking and screaming. Like a lioness carrying her cub by the scruff of her neck back to the safety of the den.

The God of divine compassion goes beyond our human comprehension. God’s fierce love was made most visible when God bent low and became one of us in Jesus Christ.

God emptied God’s self to enter into the fray of humankind. God went to the depths of anguish, like a lion roaring out from the cross, giving voice to a painful love for all humanity.

“God leads us with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.”

We are tethered with bands of love. We are on long leashes, my friends. There’s no escaping that kind of love.

Compassionate, tender, forgiving and fierce; like a lioness, always calling her people, safely home.

May it be so. Amen.

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