In one of the BC comic strips, there are two ants; a big ant and a little ant.
Little ant: "Dad, what mysterious force keeps me from being flung off into outer space?"We return this morning to the prophet Hosea. God has told Hosea to marry a woman named Gomer who will be unfaithful to him. As the children are born they are named, "The Lord sows", "Not Pitied" and "Not My People". God is telling Hoseas neighbors that they are unfaithful to God and have caused God the pain that they themselves would feel. I wonder if they would ever have considered that God could feel pain at their lack of concern for their Lord.
Big ant: "My forgiving nature."1
By now Gomer is not even living with Hosea, but has somehow lost her independence and is living with one of her paramours. She must be in some form of slavery because Hosea finds her, pays a ransom for her of 15 shekels of silver plus a measure of grain and brings her home again.
Once again the Lord shows the people who their God really is.
That's the crux of the issue. They know their history, that the Lord is the God of Israel, but all the cultures and nations in that part of the world had their own gods, and to them, theirs was no different. Sure they would offer formal worship to the Lord, but they hedged their bets and offered worship to the gods Baal and Asherah as well, just in case.
To them, Baal, Asherah or The Lord were just names of far off deities and one was as good as another. There was no sense that how you lived from one day to another really mattered. Certainly the gods had no real interest in you. At best, they saw us all as indistinguishable creatures, from a distance, like ants in an anthill.
Listen to what God says to them:
"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them."There are people in this world who carry the kind of burden that most of us don't. They deserve our deepest respect. I think one group is the parents of autistic children. Autism is a condition that in its most sever forms makes it very difficult for the child to develop an attachment to others, including parents. Imagine loving a child who is unable to demonstrate that love back to you in the normal ways. That is a special pain and parents who can continue to offer love knowing they may never experience that love returned deserve our highest respect.
It's one thing to know a child suffers from a disorder that makes bonding difficult. It's quite another when the child can, but will not. I know many here understand that pain. You can understand what God is saying. "I have loved you like a parent loves a child. I have cared for you, fed you, healed you and yet you act as if I was dead to you."
What God does say to them is:
"My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, he will by no means exalt them."Then He goes on to say:
"How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man? the Holy One among you."There is a picture that people sometimes have of the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. People sometimes say the God portrayed there is an angry God of judgment only, and only when you come to the gospels do you see a God of love and mercy. Not so.
God is saying through Hosea, "I have treated you with loving care, and you treat me with disdain. I would be totally justified in punishing you, but I will not. I am God and not man."
Do you remember your days in school?
For those of you still in school, don't leave us now!
Remember your English lit classes.
Your teacher would have you read a story, short or long then discuss what you read. Fun, huh?
One of the questions I remember my teacher asking was who we thought the protagonist was. Who is this story about? It's not always obvious.
There was a children's book we used to read to my daughters. It was called "Casey the Utterly Impossible Horse"2
In one chapter of the book, the little boy is telling his mother about how badly Casey had behaved all day. He spilled his milk, was cranky, wouldn't take his nap and so on. The boy's mother asked about appropriate punishment for Casey. The little boy would suggest locking him away, not feeding him among other punishments. His mother would say, "no, I don't think we should do that", to each in turn. Finally she ventured that Casey had just had a bad day and that he would be better tomorrow.
That story was not about a horse in striped pyjamas as much as it was about the relationship between a little boy and his mother.
Hosea and Gomer certainly seem to be the main characters along with their three children, but the protagonist of Hosea is God. As God deals with Hosea and with Israel we come to see the nature and the heart of God.
God is not a distant God.
God cares and feels how we live.
God has a heart and loves and is intimately involved in our lives.
God feels our rejection.
God is a forgiving and merciful God, whose joy and longing is for us to love Him in return.
It is true that we are the redeemed of the Lord.
But today we celebrate that Jesus, whose character we know a bit better is the Lord of the redeemed.
I for one am glad, and invite you to embrace Him as your Lord.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we see that you give us your love and ask for ours in return. While you would have a right to judge us according to our behavior, instead you pay the price and acquit us. Accept our love and our praise as we offer you our lives. Amen
Preached Sunday May 16, 2004
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia
1. Johnny Hart, BC, Creators Syndicate. Date of publication unknown.
2. Anita Feagles, Casey the Utterly Impossible Horse, publisher and date uncertain