Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 13)

Text: Hosea 11:1-5,8-9 (This will be read during the course of the sermon)
The Lord says, "When Israel was a child, I loved him and called him out of Egypt as my son. But the more I called to him, the more he turned away from me. My people sacrificed to Baal; they burned incense to idols. Yet I was the one who taught Israel to walk. I took my people up in my arms, but they did not acknowledge that I took care of them. I drew them to me with affection and love. I picked them up and held them to my cheek; I bent down to them and fed them. "They refuse to return to me, and so they must return to Egypt, and Assyria will rule them.
"How can I give you up, Israel? How can I abandon you? Could I ever destroy you as I did Admah, or treat you as I did Zeboiim? My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong. I will not punish you in my anger; I will not destroy Israel again. For I am God and not a mere human being. I, the Holy One, am with you. I will not come to you in anger.

“My love for you is too strong”

Sixteen year old, Sophie and her parents were engaged in a constant battle.  The boundaries that her parents had established for her safety and well-being were being ignored.  She was staying out later than the agreed time she should be home; several times she hadn’t come home until the morning. Her parents tried reasoning with her, telling her why they were so concerned for her, resorted to grounding her and withholding pocket money but to no avail. Sophie lied to them, deceived them and found a way to turn the tables on them by saying, ‘It’s your fault for being so strict!’ 

One night Sophie’s mother stood at the window all night, staring out into the darkness, waiting for her to come home.  She felt so angry!  She was furious with her daughter for the way she manipulated her and her husband, and for the way she would deliberately hurt them both.  She was worried about the harm Sophie was causing to herself.

When Sophie finally came home early next morning, her mother wanted to be angry but her anger suddenly evaporated.  She wrapped her arms around her daughter, loved her, told her how happy she was to see her.  She was a helpless, lovesick mother, wanting above all else to forgive and begin anew. Her daughter was home! 

If your love for someone has caused you to be worried and anxious, or you have experienced the pain of rejected love then you will connect with what we will hear from God's Word found in Hosea chapter 11 today. 

The Lord says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him and called him out of Egypt as my son.  But the more I called to him, the more he turned away from me.  My people sacrificed to Baal; they burned incense to idols.  Yet I was the one who taught Israel to walk.  I took my people up in my arms, but they did not acknowledge that I took care of them.  I drew them to me with affection and love. I picked them up and held them to my cheek; I bent down to them and fed them.  "They refuse to return to me, and so they must return to Egypt, and Assyria will rule them.  War will sweep through their cities and break down the city gates. It will destroy my people because they do what they themselves think best.  They insist on turning away from me. They will cry out because of the yoke that is on them, but no one will lift it from them.”

This gives us an amazing look into the tender loving heart of God.  The picture here is a one of a loving parent, a mother I think, caring for her small helpless child.

God says, “When you were a child, Israel, I loved you and protected you and kept you safe from all possible dangers”. 

“Remember how I taught you how to walk.  How I patiently worked with you.  How I rejoiced the day you took your first step?  I took you by the arm and I helped you along. I guided you, guarded you from danger, stopped you from falling and grabbed you as you stumbled into my arms.”

“I took care of you. Remember when you were sick with the flu, tonsillitis, ear infections and when you threw up all over me.  Remember how I nursed you to health”.

“I held you close to me when you needed comforting.  I picked you up and held you to my cheek and whispered in your ear, “I love you”.  I bent down to you and fed you and gave you everything you needed to keep you healthy and strong.”

What beautiful imagery of the way a parent shows love to a child!

This is a picture of God stooping over his little one and taking care of every need.  It gave God great joy and delight to care for and help his people grow and mature. 

But in spite of the love that God has shown Israel, that love is rejected.  And here we see the pain in God's heart.  The more he called his child to him, the more the child turned away.  He refused to acknowledge his love.  “Leave me alone.  I don’t want your love.  I want something different”, Israel said.  And so God says, “My people sacrificed to Baal; they burned incense to idols. … And since my people refuse to return to me they will fall back into slavery and all kinds of danger and pain will come their way”.

It’s like the mother standing at the window helplessly watching her wilful daughter go off into the night knowing that danger and trouble could come her way.  Her heart aches with worry and sorrow as she tries to call her back but her daughter doesn’t even look back. 

The mother can either turn away from the window and with equal passion reject her daughter leaving her to deal with whatever the outcome might be, or she will stand at the window and wait because her love will not let her do otherwise.  She will endure the pain in the hope that her daughter will come home to her loving arms.

How does God respond to this rejection of his love? We could expect words of condemnation from the holy God who is so opposed to sin and rebellion and judges wickedness.  You would think after all that he would have nothing to do with Israel but his love would not let them go.

God says, “How can I give you up, Israel?  How can I abandon you?  Could I ever destroy you … .  My heart will not let me do it!  My love for you is too strong.  I will not punish you in my anger; I will not destroy Israel again.  For I am God and not a mere human being.  I, the Holy One, am with you.  I will not come to you in anger”.

What does Israel do to deserve such grace?  Nothing, absolutely nothing. Our human minds cannot conceive of why God loves like this.  It seems so illogical and even unfair.  There is no explanation for why God does what God does.  God is God and God's ways are not our ways, nor are God's thoughts the same as our thoughts.

It’s true that in this story God comes across as a parent who is struggling emotionally with a difficult child?  Look at the way God reflects on the way he has loved Israel in the past, how he given so much of himself to this child and how much it hurts to see his rebellion.  That's Hosea's very human way of depicting a very un-human God.  And so we see God looking out the window like Sophie’s mother or looking down the road like the father of the prodigal son with a heart full of love and forgiveness ready to run with compassion, wrap his arms around his wayward child relieved that his child is home safe again.  This is the Gospel of God's love for sinners.

This is the Gospel Jesus proclaims to Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee three times after Peter had denied knowing Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest.
This is the liberating Gospel Jesus speaks to the adulterous woman when all the evidence points to her guilt and justified punishment.  Jesus says to her, “I don’t condemn you.  Go and sin no more”.
This is the Gospel Jesus spoke to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”.
This is the Gospel that Jesus spoke to Saul as he rode on his crusade to eliminate Christ’s followers in Damascus.  Instead of being struck down by God's judgement and anger, Saul is overcome with the love of Christ that in days to come
will comfort him as he sat in faraway dingy prisons,
will give him strength in time of weakness and doubt,
will give him hope and peace and joy in every circumstance and enable him to endure every storm. 
It is this love that he proclaimed to rulers and authorities and the people in the street.

I wonder how often God's heart is pierced when he sees us imitating what Israel did; when he says about us, “They insist on turning away from me”.  I’m sure he is upset as any parent is about a rebellious child but his love for us never gives up as described here in Hosea.  We know how much God has loved us and gave his only Son to die for us and yet we still insist on turning away from him.  Sometimes it just happens as a result of the sinfulness in us and sometimes it’s a deliberate decision on our part to go our own way which is not God's way. 

To use Paul’s imagery from the Colossians reading today – we forget that we belong to Christ and have been given a new life and new ways of thinking and doing things.  We forget that our life is in Christ and that means putting off the old self and its evil ways so that the Holy Spirit in us controls how we speak and act.  We get ourselves in so much hot water as our self-centeredness and lack of understanding hurts and offends.

Every day we wrestle with our own weaknesses; most of us walk around much of the time feeling that we never quite reach walking the path of discipleship as we know we should and we fail more than we succeed.  It’s a real struggle and the prayer “Jesus, forgive me” is one that we pray every day perhaps more than any other prayer.

No matter how hard you might be on yourself for failing to follow God's ways or become disheartened and confused because events have turned out differently to the way you expected, remember that God's Word in Hosea to Israel is also his word for you. “How can I give up on you?  How can I abandon you?  My love for you is too strong.  For I am God.  I, the Holy One, am with you”. 

Our weakness, our sin, even our arrogant rudeness will not stop God from being who God is:  God is the creator; God is life; God is love; and God is all of these eternally – always and forever!

Wherever you are and whenever you need it, remember the all-conquering, all enduring, ever faithful, absolute love of God is yours always. 
That love is always waiting for you even when you become like Sophie or the Prodigal Son doing your own rebellious thing. 
That love is there to give you the strength you need when life makes no sense. 
That love is there to help you get through personal crises and tragedies.  It’s what helps gets us through when we have nowhere else to turn. 

Thank God for his never ending love!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
4th August 2013
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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