Sermon for Proper 13, Year C, August 4, 2019

Hosea 11:1-11, Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

          To quote my Harper Collins Study Bible, “The Prophecy of Hosea revolves around God’s unfathomable love for wayward Israel.”  Last week, our reading from Hosea spoke of Israel’s unfaithfulness in terms that parents might not want their children to hear in church.  Today, however, it begins with the Lord telling Hosea, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”      ||    The heading before this 11th Chapter is:  God’s Compassion Despite Israel’s Ingratitude

          So, after several chapters proclaiming the sins of Israel and the resulting punishment that is about to fall upon Israel, we begin this chapter hearing God speak as a parent might speak of a wayward child.  After God says, “I loved him, and . . . called my son [out of Egypt].”  God then says, “The more I called them, the more they went from me.” 

          Relationships can be difficult and when a parent reaches out to a child and the child ignores his or her parent, it is extremely painful. The same can be true in marriages, or any once close relationship.  A relationship can become one-sided, with one person seeking to re-kindle closeness in their relationship, and the other not responding.

          God speaks here of Israel’s unfaithfulness, of the people offering sacrifices to another god.  I can hear the hurt and sorrow God feels at being rejected, and understand why God allows Israel to go off on its own – to suffer the consequences of their rebellious nature.  It is not because God is hurt that the people must suffer, it is because God loves them, us, enough that we have been given the gift of choice.  We can choose our own path. 

The story of Israel and its relationship to God is a story that many of us know well.  It is a story of love and betrayal.  It is a story of a wayward child.  But it is also a story of love and redemption.  God’s love is clearly present throughout.  God says, “How can I give you up, Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, O Israel?”  And then, “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.”  God speaks of restraint and patience and then God speaks of “his children” coming back, and “returning them to their homes.”

          For those of us who know estrangement in our families, we can find comfort in knowing that God understands the depth of our pain.  If we have done all that we know to do, we can find peace in letting go.  And, we can find hope in knowing that in Israel’s relationship with God is ultimately restored, again and again.    

          God gives Israel the freedom to choose its own path, and they do stray a lot.  But God never stops loving Israel.  God never stops loving us.   In our relationships, we are impatient.  We want immediate healing.  But we cannot control others choices.   And, we often want things to return to the way they once were.  God’s love is never withheld from Israel, but things are never the same as before. 

Reconciliation requires change in our relationships.  There is forgiveness, yes, but that is not the same as forgetting what has happened.  Our relationships need to be more mature than they were before.

In the story of Israel, the people’s understanding of God is maturing.  We can see this by looking at how God is portrayed.  In the Old Testament God’s love can be overshadowed by God’s power and might, jealousy and judgment.  Jesus comes to help them, and us understand that God’s kingdom is not about power, but love. 

In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks of the rich man as one who is like the people of Israel in Hosea – thinking only of themselves, ignoring the needs of others.  When he has an abundant harvest, he builds a bigger barn and sees it as his opportunity to relax and enjoy life.  But God says, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.  And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 

The prophets warn the people, us, to repent from our selfish ways, but the people do not respond to these warning.  Likewise, Jesus teaches us in this parable that what is earthly is temporary, what is spiritual is eternal.  He says, “So it is, with those who store up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God.”

The difference here being that Hosea and the other prophets speak of the fall of the people of Israel, while Jesus speaks of our souls and the war that is fought within us.  The war between the material and the spiritual.

There is another lesson we need to remember from the prophets.  God’s promise of restoration is not a promise it will happen in our lifetime or that we will know when it happens.  I believe, it is the promise that God’s love will ultimately win this battle between what is temporal and what is eternal – for us and for those from whom we are estranged.

          Years ago, I became friends with the assistant manager at my favorite restaurant.  After accepting a position as a hospital social worker, I confessed to her I was nervous.  I said, “I don’t know if I can really make a difference.”  That is when she told me her story. 

When she was young, she was in and out of trouble, a runaway and a member of a gang.  Throughout those years she met several people who tried to help, but she rejected their offers.  Ultimately, she said, it was because these people had cared, and because they had tried, that she had the strength to change the direction of her life when she was ready to do so.

          Love and compassion are powerful, and even when rejected, they can plant seeds that will grow.  Seeds that will produce fruit – even if we never see it. 

          The prophets speak the truth out of love for their people and their words are rejected more often than they are accepted.  Still, their words survive and can speak to us today.  The seeds they plant, are the seeds of understanding the consequences of our actions, and the seeds of hope for people who, when defeated in life, can remember God’s promise of redemption.  This promise gives us hope and can lead to amendment of life. 

The prophets do remind us of God’s unfathomable love for us, despite our unfaithfulness to God and one another.  The prophets remind us that when we stray, God is waiting to take us back.

Let us pray.

          God of love, we thank you for your patience and for your forgiveness.  Help us, when we stray, to find our way back to the way of love, that we might be rich in spirit and have a generous heart to help people in need.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.