Both of our scripture texts this week offer interesting and provocative reflections on the mind of God and Christ. In Hosea there is almost an inner dialogue, even debate, going on inside God’s self as God shares what seem to be some basic parental feelings about the creatures of Israel, also named Ephraim. God is heartsick and we know how that feels, whether we have children or not, whether any or all of our children have strayed from our years of teaching, and helping and guiding, we know how that feels. It’s the feeling of being rejected, disappointed, betrayed and ignored.
Love is a deeply felt and expressed emotion, but it also is an active, unending commitment and connection requiring patience, determination and sacrifice. When love is tossed aside and treated as nothing, the one who loves is wounded and angry and trust is broken.
All of this is revealed by God through the words of our text from Hosea.
For context and clarity let me share with you some of the introductory remarks to the book of Hosea from my RSV Bible. “Hosea spoke as a native to his own people (of the norther kingdom of Israel) who were suffering from war with Assyria and in virtual anarchy. Four Israelite kings were assassinated within 14 years following the death of Jeroboam II (roughly 931 B.C.). Not all aspects of Hosea’s ministry are clear. It can best be reconstructed, however, from the first 3 chapters by observing that Hosea deals with Gomer as the Lord deals with Israel; the prophet’s personal life is an incarnation of God’s redeeming love. Accordingly the sensitive prophet, obedient to his call to take a “wife of harlotry,” married the prostitute Gomer. She bore 3 children, of whom Hosea was presumably not the father, and then left him. But Hosea brought her back publicly and took her again to himself.”
So this is the backdrop to our text. Hosea no doubt was struggling to understand what to do with his conflicted feelings of anger, frustration, pain and love, all the while wanting to be faithful to his call and to God. As human beings we all go through these anguished struggles. Life isn’t fair. You can work your whole life and then find yourself treated unjustly. You can do your best to rear your children, be a good citizen, be a faithful believer and still life hands you bad things. What are you to do? How are you supposed to think? to keep going?
Hosea must have asked these same questions of God and wrestled with them in his prayers and meditations. God’s response to Hosea and thereby to Israel was “I am the Holy One in your midst.” God could not bring Godself to give up on God’s creatures, despite what they had done. God’s redeeming love won out. God could not give Israel/Ephraim up. But the homecoming would be fearsome. God was not letting Israel off the hook without shaking them up and forcing them to recognize their sin. They needed to know what they had done, how betrayed God felt and the depth of their being forgiven in spite of the pain they had caused.
“Fool!” said Jesus to the man asking for his adjudication of a dispute with his brother. It was a kind of shock therapy. Jesus was appalled that this man was even asking the question, that the man had clearly not been hearing the message Jesus spent his life and ministry delivering to God’s people. It is reminiscent of Jesus’ words to Martha who asked Jesus to tell her sister, Mary, to help her out in the kitchen.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things, but Mary has rightly seen what is important.” Again, Jesus was telling this man that he had missed the point of life. He was distracted by a question of money, wealth, inheritance, when he should have been focused on the blessings he already enjoyed from God. He should have been using the gifts he had to serve his neighbor.
Jesus had been trying to shift peoples’ perspective on life from the distractions of money, things, power, self-centered thinking, to one of gratitude and service to God. Remembering God’s word to Hosea and to God’s people, “I am the Holy One in your midst,” Jesus was trying to wake people up. God has created you/us to live as Amos described – to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God. Like the man in the story, our life isn’t about how much we can amass in things, storing them in barns, or in our day in portfolios. These are distractions that do not fill our lives with meaning and purpose.
When I was away last month, traveling down the Oregon and California coast with my son, Chris, we stopped many places to hike and enjoy the incredibly beautiful scenery. The place that struck me most deeply was the Redwood National Forest. Walking through that forest of mammoth ancient trees gave me a profound sense of the sacred. I know God created these magnificent trees and I felt the presence of God there. It was a feeling of humility and comfort, gratitude and redemption, that touched me from the inside out. My perspective on what is important in life, what I am called to be and do, what will bring purpose and meaning to my life has no left me since I walked there. I hope and pray that I can maintain that perspective and not be distracted by the many things going on all around me and us. God is in our midst, today, tomorrow and always.