When I work with interns for their first times preaching, I always make them read The Four Pages of the Sermon. It gives a great outline for a sermon (the four pages). The first page is the problem in the text, the second, the problem in the congregation. The third page is the hope in the text, and the fourth, the hope for the congregation.
The problem in today’s text, Hosea 11:1-9, is a rebellious child. Loved by its Father, cared for in all the ways, and yet the child flaunts his hatred. The image of rebellion, sacrificing to other gods, offering incense to idols. But the child never knows God. They refuse, over and over again, to return to God who loves them.
How many of you ever had troublesome teens? No matter how you offer them love, no matter how you feed them, care for them, even guide them, they still make bad choices. Sometimes it’s just sarcasm, sometimes it’s harmful behavior. Whatever it is, it breaks a parent’s heart, doesn’t it?
Doesn’t it seem like we, in our own communities, have gone astray, too? Gone too far from what God would have us be? Doesn’t it seem like we have strayed too far from caring for our neighbors, for accepting immigrants, for feeding the poor, for taking care of widows and orphans? Doesn’t it seem as if we’ve gone too far from God’s love?
Michael Chan puts it beautifully at WorkingPreacher when he says, “The poet draws on imagery from across the spectrum, as if grasping desperately for a metaphor, no matter how inadequate, to capture the turmoil brewing in God’s heart.” Like most parents, God would do anything to save God’s child from his bad behavior, from misspent days, and a broken heart.
A friend recently posted about a cousin’s destructive behavior. He wrote:
Loving someone who is misusing/abusing drugs daily/regularly is hell.
Loving someone in the grips of mental unhealth to the point of self-sabotage and self-destruction is hell.
Loving someone who is throwing/has thrown away relationships with those who love them, including their child, is hell.
Loving someone who is unreachable despite your best efforts, despite your love for them…someone who persistently refuses to find a rock bottom – that’s hell.
Does God have a breaking point? A point where God stops chasing after God’s children? According to today’s text, no. Even after Israel breaks God’s heart, God exclaims, “How can I give you up? How can I hand you over?”
Even in hell, God won’t give up.
You know what that means for you and me? It means that even when we do the things we hate, God won’t hate us. It means that even when we disappoint our family, our loved ones, we are always loved. Even in our sin, God’s compassion grows.
Now, what about you? Have you trampled the love offered to you? Have you rebelled against love?
Let me tell you. You are loved. Let me remind you the words of Paul in Romans 8, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but God’s love will never leave you. Amen? Amen.
So where will you go this week, with this love?
- Will you reassure folks of God’s love, and show them ways it’s manifest in your community?
- Will you tell the story of Hosea, the prophet, and how he loved a woman who seemed to be a rather unloveable person? And yet, he loved her so deeply?
- Maybe you’ll talk about boundaries, and tough love, pointing out that God’s commandments are God’s boundaries, and the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests are tough love.
- Maybe, Pastor, you’ll talk about how your own love for your congregation mirrors that of God, with undying love for them, no matter what they do. Or maybe you’ll point out boundaries and consequences.
Blessings on your study, and let me know how it goes!
Rev. Lia Scholl is not-that-kind-of-Baptist preacher and pastor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (U.S.) and is the author of I Heart Sex Workers (Chalice Press, 2013).
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