Sunday, July 31, 2022
Recently, one of my friends who has three teenagers gave me this warning: “Small children, small problems; big children, big problems!” I guess that’s what I have to look forward to in a few years! If we think back to our own teenage years, most of us caused our parents at least a little grief; maybe even into our twenties. I was pretty much a goody two-shoes as my more rebellious younger brothers would attest but even I had a curfew problem as I am more of a late-night person by nature. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but because this was the time before cell phones, I took advantage by coming home after midnight and then using the excuse that “I couldn’t get to a phone to let you know I’d be late.”
As we continue looking at the book of Hosea this morning, the prophet shifts the metaphor from describing God as a faithful spouse to the adulterous spouse of Israel to a beautiful, poetic description of God as a nurturing, merciful and generous parent to the rebellious child of Israel. God as our heavenly parent understands that big children can cause big problems, and yet God continues to offer us forgiveness and unconditional love. God as our parent and we as God’s children is of course a metaphor used throughout scripture. This is Hosea’s main message to us today. Ironically, while last week Hosea confronted us with our sin in a way that prophets often do, his words to us today offer a picture of God’s grace in contrast to Jesus’ words of warning in the gospel! We can find the gospel, that is God’s good news for us, even in the prophets! I’d like us to ponder two questions as we take another look at Hosea 11 this morning: 1)How do we experience God’s parental love? And 2)How can we “grow up” in faith to be more loving, faithful children of God?
First of all, the grace and mercy of God that Hosea describes in this passage are radical in a few ways when we look at the historical context. In Ancient Near Eastern societies around the kingdom of Israel, only the king could be called a son of God. Here and elsewhere in the Old Testament, the God of Israel is consistent in calling ALL of the people his children. God’s love for all people as the creator has always been expansive and not reliant on wealth, power, or status. Remember from last week that God promises that we are children of the living God through faith. Not only is Jesus our King the son of God, we also because of our faith in Christ are proud and humbled to be called children of God. That is who we are not because of what we do, but because of God’s great love and mercy for us.
Secondly, it was part of Jewish law in Deuteronomy chapter 21 that parents could bring a rebellious, disobedient son before the elders of a town and have him stoned to death for his disobedience. It’s hard to imagine any parent enforcing this law, but it gives us a picture of an Israelite’s understanding of the serious potential consequences for being a disobedient child. In this passage from Hosea, we hear the Lord grieving over the people of Israel’s disregard for God. “The more I called them, the more they went from me,” the Lord laments. “I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them.” How easy it is still for us today to ignore or not hear the Lord’s call and walk away from God. When we experience healing in all kinds of forms – physical, emotional, relational – we don’t always recognize that the healing comes from God or think to give thanks to God when all is going well for us. The picture Jesus paints of the rich man in the parable for this morning is a pretty accurate one for most of us. We make plans to store up our wealth so that we can eat, drink, and be merry. We focus almost exclusively on ourselves, worrying about what to do to store our excess wealth and take care of ourselves and completely forget or ignore that everything we have comes from God, and our stuff is NOT what is most important!
Nonetheless, despite our ignorance and rejection of God’s parental love, God says that he will not execute his fierce anger or come in wrath. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender,” the Lord says. God, our loving parent, promises to return us to our homes – to remind us of what is truly important; to restore the relationship between God and humanity, to stick with us through the rebellious teenage stage of our faith lives to help us grow to be mature, faithful adult children of the Lord.
To allow God to be our heavenly parent and help us grow spiritually, let’s stick with Hosea’s metaphor for a moment and think about our relationship with our parents as a child and as an adult. What valuable life lessons did you learn from your parents? As a parent of “little children with little problems” today, I still feel overwhelmed at times and wonder anxiously if I am being a good enough parent. There are music lessons and swimming lessons and helping them learn to ride bikes. We make sure they go to good schools to learn to read and write and do math but also learn good character – how to share, think of others, use our words. We wonder about how to talk with our kids about the birds and the bees and how to deal with bullies. From our parents we might have learned those things as well as how to manage our finances, how to drive or how to cook or bake the family recipes. Honestly, we also probably learned not so helpful behaviors -unhealthy communication, passive aggression, bad habits – behaviors that we are trying not to repeat from our parents. How did our parents pass down the faith to us, and how did they help us learn about other important Christian values? And if they didn’t, who taught us and how? What can we learn from them? How did we learn the lesson from Jesus today that our possessions are not what’s most important and you really can’t take it with you?
One of the lessons I’ve learned about my own parents and about myself as a parent is that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. We need to give ourselves and our parents grace in acknowledging this. There is no perfect child either! Hosea is clear about that! However, most parents reflect the perfect parental love of God at times. This love is creative, instructive, corrective at times, tolerant, patient, healing and unconditional, as we hear God’s love described in Hosea 11. Last week, I talked about the important cycle of confession and forgiveness that the prophets constantly remind us of. Prophets confront and correct our unfaithfulness and our rebelliousness not so that we remain in a state of guilt but so that we return to the Lord who alone is faithful, trustworthy, and consistently unconditionally loving. We suffer a huge loss when we forget, ignore, or deny God’s great love for us as his children. So again and again, we return to God in confession and also receive God’s forgiveness. All the riches of the world the man could store up in big barns but there is no barn large enough to contain the riches of God’s grace. God our heavenly parent promises to lead us with cords of human kindness and with bands of love, bending down to us and feeding us with the love of Christ himself. God knows that sometimes we are big kids with big problems. May we come to him like the prodigal son knowing that God’s arms are always held wide to receive us, and then seek to follow faithfully in his footsteps. Amen.