Early Monday Morning

One of the pleasures of visiting Mom at the Farm includes sleeping on the couch in the parlor, facing the Big Window.  We’ve always called it the Big Window. The Big Window faces East, so that I can lie comfortably and watch the eastern sky as it slowly lights up.  Often the sky is streaked with clouds and the sun bounces shades of pink and salmon off them.  The pink combines with the grays and blues of the early morning clouds to make muddy mauve streaks in the sky.  The clouds move slowly merging and pulling apart like cotton candy in the hands of an idle fair goer.  

The Big Window is special because it was a gift, not a necessity.  My parents moved into a 1864 brick house in 1946.  The bricks were cast on the property. The walls are three bricks thick. The original house had two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs.  There were two windows to the north in each room and one window to the south in the west room..  In the room we call the parlor, there was a door to the south.  By the time my grandfather purchased the farm, a frame kitchen had been added to the south.  That portion now houses the kitchen, bathroom and back porch, as well as the entrance to the basement. My mom wanted a picture window added to what first served as her dining room and now is the parlor.  That meant cutting a big rectangle out of the brick wall. A big hole, to put in a big window to give more light to the room, which besides having only two windows, was also shaded by three 40’ cedar trees.  How she ever convinced my Dad and my Grandfather to put in the extra window, I’ll never know, but for me, it’s always been there, a natural part of the architecture of the house.  
From this window, depending on where you’re sitting, you can see the corn crib and the barn, two of the four outbuildings on the property. The corn crib and the barn are a perfect barn—red, because one of the family priorities is maintenance.  One time my mom suggested that the forty-year old carpet in the house be replaced.  My dad thought that was too expensive, too extravagant.  She judiciously did NOT point out that the barn had been painted twice since that carpet had been laid.  
Now the salmons and pinks are intensifying and in contrast the mauves and blues are paling. It takes careful watching to see any movement in the clouds in the still dawn. Only by marking their place behind the corncrib is any movement discernible. 
Subtlety is one of the gifts of Mother Nature, Creator God.  We are so entertained by the violence of nature, the winds, the storms, the floods, the blizzards, that we take for granted the slow, deliberate changes, molecule by molecule, cell by cell, drop by drop.
The three lightning rods, evenly spaced across the peak of the corn crib, stand like sentinels, straight up, simply observing.  Perhaps they are waiting for lightening. Perhaps they are simply reminders, leftovers, from a time of different technology. Now they are more artistic than functional, with their perfect glass globes.  
The geometry of the view is noticeable.  The window itself has four right angles.  The corn crib from my two-dimensional view is an intersection of two rectangles and a triangle, set atop another intersecting body of rectangles, four of which slide back and fourth perpendicular to the earth.  The clouds are broad swipes of color at a 10 degree angle above the peak of the corn crib, not quite parallel from my perspective in the former dining room, now the parlor.
Now the pinks have thinned out, but the broadest is still the color—and the shape—of a salmon.  In fact, there are fins running at angles, a blue gray, at the bottom of the cloud.  
Why is it so natural for us to see the shape of solid objects in the clouds?  
Suddenly, the salmon color has disappeared and the gray we call “gloomy” has taken over.  Still, streaks of pink remain closer to the horizon.
This quiet observation time is a comfort to me. It means that my mother is sleeping soundly in her bed, receiving the rest that an aging body needs.  Even though she lives here alone, she claims that she never feels alone.  Some people are afraid to live alone, especially in a big house some distance from a next door neighbor.  But she has lived here for over seventy years, making a very modern home in a very old house. There have been many visitors over the years, some known only by a blanket left unfolded in the haymow or the glimpse of a face through a window. Still, she remains unafraid. Most visitors, though, have been drawn by the warm welcome they receive, and by the love that has grown in their hearts for this family and this place.  Sometimes, the welcome was initiated by the need for fresh eggs, freshly butchered roosters and hens, lambs to be butchered onsite according to ethnic tradition.  Also welcomed on the farm is help, like the high school boys who came to help bale hay and like, nowadays, Gary and Dale, who plant and harvest, who mow and bale.
Beyond that is the nostalgia and the romanticism of the farm.  And the beauty. Picnics in the timber.  Picking up hickory nuts and walnuts and hedge balls.  Getting firewood.  The farm, even when it lies fallow, has much to offer.  
The clouds are mostly covering the sky, a streaky gray, but a bit of blue is waiting for the clouds to move on.
The quiet is accompanied by, not interrupted by, the cars and trucks zooming by on the high way.  Various pitches of wheels on pavement, of engines and mufflers, provide a unique harmony to this accompaniment. 
Soon we will eat a breakfast of toast and jelly and juice and a handful of pills.  We don’t take chances.
But Mom and Dad did take chances.  Farming is risky business. This farm is located in a a good place, not prone to flooding. Dad always said the front of the farm drains to the Cedar River and the back of the farm drains to the Mississippi.  In other words, the farm is high above the flood plains. Dad hated mud.  In fact, he chose his burial plot in a spot that would not be prone to mud.  
The risks of farming, despite the improvement in methods, in conservation, in machinery, have not lessoned. Perhaps they have increased. My dad and my uncle could fix their own machinery. They could even have raised their own seed corn, if they’d wanted to.  Dad worked for a farmer who did; Dad’s job was to sort the seeds by size. There is a special tool for that.  I have two of those seed corn sorters.  
I will never use them for anything other than as a tool to recall a certain time in farming history.
The risks in farming come unbidden, due 90% of the time not to the farmer’s judgement but to the weather and the market.  The weather is a pure phenomenon, but the market is artificial and not so much a tool as a weapon.  The weather provides the sun and the rain and the wind that is needed; the risk comes in that the weather does not proportion its gifts out perfectly.  Too much rain, too little rain.  Too much wind.  The market also provides too much or too little.  But there is something crass, not beautiful or majestic or awe-inspiring or nurturing, about the market. But the market is necessary, because the farmer by nature shares his produce and the market provides the outlet for the farmer’s generous predilection. So the risk.
Every day I see an article about the number of farm bankruptcies.  The thing is, that land won’t go out of production.  It is not the land that is bankrupt (although there is rightful concern about that among some), but it is the farmers, their families, their lifestyles, their existence that is demolished, crushed between nature and the market.
I have not been a farmer since about 1972.  Even then, I only fed chickens and hogs, drove the baler, loaded bales.  I did not make decisions. The farm was simply where I belonged.  But there was not a place for me as a full-fledged farmer.   
As is often the case, I found other places where I also belonged.  But the farm, the concept of farming, that concept that is as big as the universe and as small as a seed, has never left me.  
I spend a few minutes between services on Sunday at a small town tavern, talking to card players and coffee drinkers. I always summon all my farm vocabulary and they humor me and let me ask questions  and give opinions about what’s happening in the fields.  It is one tether that keeps me grounded to the ground.
The sun is up, almost to the peak of the corn crib.  The day looks gray.  But always behind the clouds, that foolish optimism about blue skies makes me put my feet on the floor, walk through the house and peek in on Mom.
That is the beauty of creation.  Hope, we call it.  Hope is what separates us from all other living creatures.  Hope is what helps us survive in the vilest of conditions, under the wickedest of rulers. 
Hope is what I have as I look through the Big Window.

Remember When? 2 Kings 22: 1-20; 23: 1-3

22 Josiah was eight years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled thirty-one years from Jerusalem. His mother Jedidah was the daughter of Adaiah from Bozkath. 2 Josiah always obeyed the Lord, just as his ancestor David had done.
3 After Josiah had been king for eighteen years, he told Shaphan, one of his highest officials:
Go to the Lord’s temple 4 and ask Hilkiah the high priest to collect from the guards all the money that the people have donated. 5 Have Hilkiah give it to the men supervising the repairs to the temple. They can use some of the money to pay 6 the workers, and with the rest of it they can buy wood and stone for the repair work. 7 They are honest, so we won’t ask them to keep track of the money.
8 While Shaphan was at the temple, Hilkiah handed him a book and said, “Look what I found here in the temple—The Book of God’s Law.”
Shaphan read it, 9 then went back to Josiah and reported, “Your officials collected the money in the temple and gave it to the men supervising the repairs. 10 But there’s something else, Your Majesty. The priest Hilkiah gave me this book.” Then Shaphan read it out loud.
11 When Josiah heard what was in The Book of God’s Law, he tore his clothes in sorrow. 12 At once he called together Hilkiah, Shaphan, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, and his own servant Asaiah. He said, 13 “The Lord must be furious with me and everyone else in Judah, because our ancestors did not obey the laws written in this book. Go find out what the Lord wants us to do.”
14 The five men left right away and went to talk with Huldah the prophet. Her husband was Shallum, who was in charge of the king’s clothes. Huldah lived in the northern part of Jerusalem, and when they met in her home, 15 she said:
You were sent here by King Josiah, and this is what the Lord God of Israel says to him: 16 “Josiah, I am the Lord! And I will see to it that this country and everyone living in it will be destroyed. It will happen just as this book says. 17 The people of Judah have rejected me. They have offered sacrifices to foreign gods and have worshiped their own idols. I cannot stand it any longer. I am furious.
18 “Josiah, listen to what I am going to do. 19 I noticed how sad you were when you read that this country and its people would be completely wiped out. You even tore your clothes in sorrow, and I heard you cry. 20 So I will let you die in peace, before I destroy this place.”
The men left and took Huldah’s answer back to Josiah.
23 King Josiah called together the older leaders of Judah and Jerusalem. 2 Then he went to the Lord’s temple, together with the people of Judah and Jerusalem, the priests, and the prophets. Finally, when everybody was there, he read aloud The Book of God’s Law that had been found in the temple.
3 After Josiah had finished reading, he stood by one of the columns. He asked the people to promise in the Lord’s name to faithfully obey the Lord and to follow his commands. The people agreed to do everything written in the book. Contemporary English Version (CEV)

+++
Have you seen the commercials for ancestry.com? A couple years ago we gave each of our kids a kit. So far, they have not had the courage to spit into a little jar, so we don’t know how our genes played out in their DNA. But Bim and I learned about our ancestral makeup and it was rather interesting. I always thought I was 90% German with a little French and English. It turns out I’m 48% English and northwest European (that’s the French), only 35% percent German, 12% Swedish and 2% Norwegian. That doesn’t change anything about me, but it’s interesting to know where I came from.
Josiah was a king. He knew where he came from. He knew that he was descended from King David and King Solomon. He was not a warrior like King David. He was not wealthy King Solomon. But perhaps his wisdom surpassed that of his ancestor, King Solomon, who was known for his wisdom.
Josiah became king at age 8. At age 26, he took stock of his surroundings and, observing the temple, decided to have it restored. The temple had first fallen into disrepair. Josiah hired contractors and artisans and they set to work on the deteriorating structure. As they were working, they found a book, probably a scroll. It was a copy of the Book of the Law, the Torah, what we call Genesis Exodus, Leviticus Numbers and Deuteronomy. It was the priests who brought the book to Josiah.
So what were the priests doing all these years? Why did they not have access to the Book? Those questions are unanswerable, but the fact remains: the people had lost touch with who they were. They did not know their own history.
This text is so fitting for this Thanksgiving week as we gather with a special group of people: our families and closest friends. This is not the coffee shop group, the card playing group, nor a group of fans gathered to watch a game. This is family and they are the roots of who we are and whom we have become.
Quite often, stories are told, stories that reveal the actions and antics, the highs, the lows, of the family. Those stories are a part of your personal history and explain to a degree why you think and act and look the way you do.
The people of Judah had lost that identify as a nation. They did not know their own stories.
11 When Josiah heard what was in The Book of God’s Law, he tore his clothes in sorrow. 12 At once he called together Hilkiah, Shaphan, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, and his own servant Asaiah. He said, 13 “The Lord must be furious with me and everyone else in Judah, because our ancestors did not obey the laws written in this book. Go find out what the Lord wants us to do.”
Josiah is overcome, blindsided, amazed at the reality of Israel’s true relationship with God. He needed to know what to do, so he turned to Huldah, a prophet. Huldah relayed God’s words to Josiah:
16 “Josiah, I am the Lord! And I will see to it that this country and everyone living in it will be destroyed. It will happen just as this book says. 17 The people of Judah have rejected me. They have offered sacrifices to foreign gods and have worshiped their own idols. I cannot stand it any longer. I am furious.
Well, that was bad news. Too little, too late. A day late, a dollar short. But God sees Josiah’s grief and God reacts to Josiah’s repentance:
18 “Josiah, listen to what I am going to do. 19 I noticed how sad you were when you read that this country and its people would be completely wiped out. You even tore your clothes in sorrow, and I heard you cry. 20 So I will let you die in peace, before I destroy this place.”
Well, that was good news for Josiah, but being a good king, a wise king, Josiah called the people together and revealed to all of them their ancestral story. He didn’t stop there:
He asked the people to promise in the Lord’s name to faithfully obey the Lord and to follow his commands. The people agreed to do everything written in the book.
Josiah became the kind of king God had hoped for. For a short time, the people returned to following the law, returned to worshipping God. They discovered who they were, the Chosen People of the one true God.
Reading the Book of Law brought them into right relationship with God. A couple thousand years later, reading those same words does the same for us.
We have many more books from which to choose, from fiction to fantasy to self-help to history. But there still remains, after all the years, the one book that brought the people back to God. Amazingly, it is this same book that we each own. May I suggest that you intentionally, on your own time and for your own purpose, turn to that book and read it with new eyes, seeing in it your own ancestry, the story of your faith and the story of the faith of your ancestors. I find it amazing that our eyes read the same stories, that our minds contemplates the same wisdom, that our hearts embraces the same sorrows and joys of the people of the Kingdoms of David and Solomon and Josiah.
Today, on Reign of Christ Sunday, we celebrate additional chapters of that great book, books added through the mercy, grace and love of our great God. We celebrate the life and ministry of Jesus and his church on earth. We celebrate our relationship with God, a God who once and for all knows that we cannot rule ourselves, that we cannot save ourselves. God sent God’s only Son to live among us, to die like us. But then the story changes: Jesus conquered death, bringing us salvation from our weakness, our forgetfulness, our foolishness, our sinfulness.
Our story never stops. Perhaps you will reminisce around the dinner table this Thursday about the people who have gone before. No more rolls from Grandma Hildie. No more peppermints from Uncle Ray. But their stories are not merely memories. Their stories live on in the presence of God, as will ours. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Farm Crisis Isaiah 5:1-7

5 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
+++
We call this kind of literature “allegory.” It sounds like a story about a landowner and his cultivation of grapes. However, it is about more than grape vines. It’s about people, about human nature, and thus, it is also about us. That is, we can learn something about ourselves from this poem about a disappointing crop.
Let’s look at the literal side of the story. The landowner owns a very fertile piece of land. He decides the best use of the land is to plant grapes so that he can eventually make wine. Wine was the most widely drunk beverage of the times, because it was safer than water. Consequently, wine was a large part of the local economy, much like our corn and beans. The farmer worked hard to establish the vineyard. He did all the digging by hand, he cleared away the rocks, and chose his varietals intentionally. He planted the vines, tended them, pruned them. He built a watch tower in the middle to guard against marauding animals. He built a hedge around the vineyard to keep out large animals. He tended the vineyard daily, hoeing out weeds, training the vines, anticipating a good harvest of beautiful, plump, purple grapes.
But, as sometimes happens in farming, the crop did not meet expectations. The grapes were small, bitter, not even worth harvesting because they were not sweet enough to make a palatable wine. All that work, all that care, all that investment, for naught.
Out of frustration, the farmer ripped out the vineyard.
I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
That last line line tell us that God is the farmer. Who else could command the clouds to stop raining? So, then let’s back up. What are the other parallels in this poem?
God is the farmer. Who or what does God care for? In this setting in Isaiah, we know that it is Israel and Judah, his chosen people. God has nurtured, protected, encouraged the Hebrew nation. Hence, God has expectations. God summed up those expectations in the ten commandments. Those expectations, in ten simple statements, outlined for God’s people the rules for living, rules that would bring about justice for all the people, rules that made sure that everyone stayed in relationship with God and that all the people could live in safety and sufficiency.
God has provided land for the people, good land. God has provided all that is needed to have shelter, to have food, to have family and friends.
Why is God’s heart broken? Why does God give up on the people?
Verse 7: he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
That is the New Revised Standard Version translation. Here are three other translations.
New Jewish Publication Society:
He hoped for justice, 
 But behold, injustice; 
 For equity, 
 But behold, iniquity!
The Message:
He looked for a crop of justice and saw them murdering each other.
He looked for a harvest of righteousness and heard only the moans of victims.
The Contemporary English Version:
I had hoped for honesty and for justice,
but dishonesty and cries for mercy were all I found.
The people of God ignored God, ignored God’s care and instead contributed to a corrupt, life-threatening culture, where no one could be trusted, where no one was safe.
We know God created us. We know that God provides for us, not only with all we need for our physical safety, but for our social safety. God provides not just the bare minimum but clothes every gift in beauty, from the earth to the sky. Every growing thing has specific form and function. The earth itself is beautiful, the rain comes from clouds that are beautiful, the wind is beautiful in its purpose and movement, the fire is majestic in its ability to destroy and renew. And each of those elements comes in user-friendly sizes. The earth, right under our feet, is ready to receive seed. The rain comes and goes. The gentlest wind is the breath that goes in and out of us. The fire gives us warmth and the ability to manipulate the elements of the earth.
God didn’t stopped with physical elements. God gave us freedom, freedom to choose how we stayed in touch with God, freedom to choose how we work and live and playe with each other. God gave us freedom to choose how we use those amazing elements of earth, water, wind, and fire. God put us in control. God’s intention was that we would be good stewards of God’s creation. We would nurture rather than exploit the ground and the air. God’s intention was that we would take good care of each other. We would nurture rather than exploit each other.
God had a plan and God’s plan gave humans autonomy.
Think about someone inheriting a farm, a farm that yielded enough corn and beans and oats and hay to feed cattle and sheep and hogs and chickens. Think of the produce of that farm, of all the bounty, and think of all the people who benefitted from the produce of that farm. The farmer turns the farm over to the next generation. The next generation wants only one thing from the land: money. They plant corn on corn on corn, that is, they don’t give the soil a chance to renew itself. They rip out the fences and plow up the waterways and plant mile long rows. They straighten the creeks and displace the filtering abilities of those brushy creek banks.. They ignore the wisdom of the earth itself. They tile marshes and send floods further downstream.
I find it somewhat ironic that the next verses in this passage seem to reflect some current practices in agriculture:
8 You are in for trouble! You take over house after house and field after field, until there is no room left for anyone else in all the land. 9 But the Lord All-Powerful has made this promise to me:
Those large and beautiful homes will be left empty, with no one to take care of them. 10 Ten acres of grapevines will produce only six gallons of juice, and five bushels of seed will produce merely a half-bushel of grain.
Does that sound just a little like the harvest of 2019? I am in no position to judge how somebody else manages their property, but I can still worry about what I see happening to our land and our waterways. I can still worry about the farmers who are trapped into working themselves to death to stay solvent.
But there is a happy ending. Even though God says in Isaiah that God is giving up, that God is going to destroy the farm, the earth, and let it run wild, God does not ever forsake God’s people.
Isaiah’s point is not about the earth itself, but about God’s people. God used God’s wisdom and power to establish a just society, a society where all people are cared for, where every single person feels safe from every danger.
Imagine a society where no one has to fear a knock on the door. Imagine a society where everyone is free to contribute to his own well-being and the well-being of his or her family without being put in danger, without being denied necessities. Imagine our society without unemployment, without food banks, without designer clothes, with clean air everywhere, with clean water free, not purchased in a bottle that will clog a landfill, but really free to drink whenever and wherever one is thirsty. Imagine that for all people, not just in our community, but in every community. Imagine a society where guns are used for recreation, for food gathering, and not to kill other people. Imagine a society where illness is the business of the doctor and the patient and not the business of insurance companies.
That’s not how it works, you tell me. Somebody has to pay. Money has to be handed from hand to hand to hand for our society to function. I know. I expect a check from you every so often and you faithfully hand me a fistful of money. But what if we all just worked for each other for the joy of it?
One of my confirmation students asked me about communism the other night. The first thing I always point out about communism is that it never works. It doesn’t work, because the people in charge get greedy and keep more for themselves, which means less for other people. This greed is not pocketing the change you find on the street. It is the greediness that causes us to plot how to take what is not rightfully ours. It is the greediness that causes us to think that we are more deserving, because we work harder or we are wiser or we are better than everybody else. Communism, in the twentieth century, remained communism on paper, but in real life, it became totalitarianism, ruled by an oligarchy, a handful of people who grabbed all the power for themselves. If you listened to the impeachment hearings, you may have heard that word a few times. Communism worked for a while in the Amana Colonies and a few other places around the world, but human sin, sometimes called “common sense,” by those in power, always takes over. The first communist society that I know of is found in the New Testament. Acts 2:44-45 (CEV)
44 All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. 45 They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it.
The first organized believers of Jesus were communists. But that didn’t last forever, of course. By the time Martin Luther was born, the church was the biggest thief in the world. Martin Luther sought to change that corruption, to remove corruption from the church. He succeeded to some degree.
But the church is not perfect. We have seen in our own congregation how the church has been anything but nurturing and welcoming and caring. Those instances are past and are now only fit for gossip, but we know that we must intentionally remember what God expects of us.
That is the point of today’s lesson.
I had hoped for honesty and for justice,
but dishonesty and cries for mercy were all I found.
Here is the good news: God has not deserted us. God still expects to find honesty and justice among us. God still finds dishonesty and cries for mercy among us. God still has expectations for us, just as God did for the ancient Israelites. But God, instead of destroying us, gave us a gift instead.
God gave us the gift of Jesus Christ. In my mind, Jesus did two equally important things: He taught us how to live so that we could meet God’s expectations. And then, because he knew we are imperfect and deserve only God’s wrath, he died on the cross, defeated death, and rose to new life, so that we, too, rather than receiving the punishment we deserve, are given that same new life. Our sins, which are many, are forgiven, and we are welcomed into God’s presence.
That presence is not only some faraway place called heaven. God is present now, still seeking honesty and justice. Who will make sure that God finds honesty and justice in the world? We will. Amen.

Like a Parent, Like a Child

Hosea 11:1-9 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
11 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and I called my son out of Egypt.
2 But as the saying goes, “The more they were called, the more they rebelled.”
They never stopped offering incense and sacrifices to the idols of Baal.
3 I took Israel by the arm and taught them to walk.
But they would not admit that I was the one who had healed them.
4 I led them with kindness and with love, not with ropes.
I held them close to me; I bent down to feed them.
5 But they trusted Egypt instead of returning to me; now Assyria will rule them.
6 War will visit their cities, and their plans will fail.
7 My people are determined to reject me for a god they think is stronger, but he can’t help.
8 Israel, I can’t let you go.
 I can’t give you up.
How could I possibly destroy you as I did the towns of Admah and Zeboiim?
I just can’t do it.
My feelings for you are much too strong.
9 Israel, I won’t lose my temper and destroy you again.
I am the Holy God— not merely some human, and I won’t stay angry.
+++
God is speaking to the people of Israel. God speaks not as the ruler of the universe, , but in terms of the most elemental human relationship there is: parent to child.
God reviews the long history between them. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. God cared for them, keeping them from slaughter by armies, keeping them from starvation.
Listen to the disappointment in God’s heart:
2 But as the saying goes, “The more they were called, the more they rebelled.”
They never stopped offering incense and sacrifices to the idols of Baal.
Like a toddler, Israel has seen only what is in front of it, and reaches for what is instantly pleasing.
God could not have been kinder, more generous.
3 I took Israel by the arm and taught them to walk.
But they would not admit that I was the one who had healed them.
4 I led them with kindness and with love, not with ropes.
I held them close to me; I bent down to feed them.
Like a patient parent whose love is unconditional, God continued to provide every good thing.
Verses 5-7 can be viewed through the lens of the teenage years:
5 But they trusted Egypt instead of returning to me; now Assyria will rule them.
6 War will visit their cities, and their plans will fail.
7 My people are determined to reject me for a god they think is stronger, but he can’t help.
Like a rebellious chid who has its first taste of adulthood, Israel has ignored the love and the wisdom of its parent and been lured off by new attractions. As a parent helplessly watches a child experiment with new friendships, new activities, as a parent helplessly watches a child feast at the table of new temptations, so God watched Israel
As a parent can see where an experiment with drugs or new social behaviors are leading to destruction, so God saw the destruction of Israel by Assyria.
It is a painful, heartbreaking, almost unbearable portion of a parent’s life to watch a child follow a path that leads to alienation from the very things that the parent planned for the child.
Parents guard their children from the pains of the world for as long as they can. So did God try to protect Israel. But Israel didn’t listen. Like the teenager, Israel ignored the wisdom of God and struck out on its own, making alliances with other nations, ignoring God’s instructions to trust God for protection.
Like an exhausted parent, God gave up and left Israel to the consequences of invasion and war and subjugation to another nation.
How it hurts to watch one’s chid become a slave to the evils of the world. How it hurts to watch one’s child forsake the foundation lovingly built by the parent to insure the child’s happiness.
At some point, God says, “Fine. Have it your way. I can’t do anymore for you.” When the child asks for help, the parent turns to tough love. The parent has done as much as possible, providing shelter, money, excuses. At some point, helping becomes enabling. The parent has to say “No more! You’re on your own!”
But the parent never stops loving, never stops worrying, never stops scheming to find a way to help the child.
That is the kind of God we have.
8 Israel, I can’t let you go.
 I can’t give you up.
How could I possibly destroy you as I did the towns of Admah and Zeboiim?
I just can’t do it.
My feelings for you are much too strong.
And so the parent holds the child close, no matter the circumstances, no matter the situation, no matter the cost.
Even when the child is lost, the parent’s love remains, the one constant in the relationship.
Despite anger, despite threats, despite alienation, love remains.
God, in a most human response promises to be patient. Love conquers frustration and disappointment and rejection.
Why? Why? Why does God not use God’s power to put an end to unfaithfulness? Why does God let go of anger?
9 Israel, I won’t lose my temper and destroy you again.
I am the Holy God— not merely some human, and I won’t stay angry.
Walter Brueggemann, one of our greatest living theologians, interprets God’s actions with these words:
And the reason the father will not move violently against the son is that the father comes to a fresh recognition of his own identity: “I am God.” I am not simply a macho guy that emotes in destructiveness. I am the Holy One of whom more is expected and from whom more is promised. I, as Holy One, will turn ordinary rage into viable relationship. More than that, I am the Holy One in Israel. This first born son is the one to whom I made covenantal commitments already in the Exodus in verse 1. I will not go against my better self. …the father has caught himself up short, has remembered who he is, and acts not in reaction to his recalcitrant son but according to the father’s own best self. (https://day1.org/articles/5d9b820ef71918cdf2003f3f/on_scripture_who_am_i_rant_vs_relationship_hosea_11111_by_walter_brueggemann)
This passage conveys so strongly the difference between other gods and our God. Our God is intimately involved in our lives because our God has the same strong bond to us that a parent does to a child.
Our God does not exist for God’s self. Our God exists for us. Compare a king or a president to our God. What is the difference? Our God knows us by name. Our God cares about our individual struggles and joys. Our God cries with us. Our God laughs with us.
Now I want to throw a wrench into this tear-jerking tale:
One of the books I read this summer was a science fantasy book by Neil Gaiman called American Gods.
The hero of the book tries to prevent a war between the New Gods and the Old Gods. The Old Gods are the gods we know from our mythology lessons in elementary school—Odin and Vulcan and Zeus, as well as our very own Jesus. The New Gods are Media and Technology and I would add Sports and Money to the mix. The Old Gods can only survive if they are worshipped. The New Gods are thriving on worship by humans as the Old Gods starve.
It’s fiction. It’s fantasy. But like all fiction, there is truth to be heard.
This is the part about being Christians that needs reviewing. God loves us. But it is a relationship, not a handout. God thrives on our worship. God deserves our worship. Unlike human relationships, God’s love never stops. God never stops caring. God never gives up. Our love, in return is always acknowledged and welcomed.
Truthfully, many of us have felt abandoned by God. We have had tragedies in our lives that were the result of illness or rebellion or despair. Our hearts have been broken by loss and rejection. But through our faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called back to the knowledge that God is in our lives, not above or beyond, but in the midst of us. Praise be to our God, the one true God. Amen.