Sermon for 9 Pentecost Yr C, 1/08/2004
Based on Hos 11:1-11
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“God’s Parental Love”
Today’s first lesson provides us with one of the most beautiful pictures of God as a loving Parent. Here the prophet Hosea underscores the deep intimacy and tender care of God for the Israelites. In this passage we hear God’s own words speaking to Israel as a Parent to a child. God is actively parenting Israel through all the stages of life—from early childhood to adulthood. Here we find a colourful record of a very vibrant relationship between God the Parent and the children of Israel—swinging from one extreme to its polar opposite, with everything in between.
In verses one to four, we learn of the early infancy and childhood stage of God’s relationship with Israel. Here we see the tenderness of God who: loved Israel, called them out of Egyptian exile, taught them to walk, held them in loving arms and healed them, led them with kindness and love, caressed them like a parent with cheek touching cheek, and bent down to feed them. All of these activities are done by God for Israel as a gentle, nurturing, caregiving Parent. We who are parents can relate to these activities because we too shared in them when our children were young. Yet, in verse two, God laments over the children of Israel because of their rebellion and disobedience against God their Parent by worshipping false gods.
Then, in verses five to seven, the mood changes, as does the time. Now we see the Israelites in their adulthood as they engage in their rebellion and disobedience. Now God speaks to them in judgement. As a result of Israel’s failure to trust in and follow God, they are destined to face another exile—this time in Assyria. Israel is described here by their determination to drift away from God. God even in passing this judgement and warning of future exile on them, still calls them “My people.” The love for them is still there, even in the face of judgement and exile. Yet, God’s parental love does not prevent Israel from drifting away—God says that they: “are bent on turning away from me.” So, in this turning away, the best option for God is to let them face the consequences of their rebellion and disobedience.
Then, in verses eight and nine, there is a rather abrupt change in mood again. Now God opens the floodgates of a full-blown lament. The words are full of pain and agony, which is rooted in God’s Parental Love. God’s words in these verses give us a picture of the inner conflict raging within God’s Self. God’s love and grace find it impossible to give up, hand over, and destroy his people. Over against God’s judgement and anger, which are inclined to administer punishment and justice; there is God’s grace and compassion, which are inclined to administer mercy and kindness. This God of grace and compassion wins out.
The great Quaker mystic Rufus Jones tells the following story. Before going to town, his mother admonished him to have his chores finished by her return. Seeing her carriage wind past the mouth of the road, he took off running for his friend’s house to romp and play. So immersed was Jones in frolic that he forgot the time, and as he tussled in the grass of the front yard with his friend, his mother’s carriage suddenly appeared at the gate.
With a stern stare, she pointed her finger to the house and silently ordered him to his room. Jones knew he was in for the whipping of his life as he sat beside in fear and trembling and “sickness unto death.” Entering the room, she grabbed his hand and they knelt by the bed in prayer. “Whatever you do, Lord, just make a man out of Rufus. Just make a man out of him and teach him to be a responsible person.”
The love and mercy he received that day made a wholesome impression on the young Jones. He had thought many times since how great is God’s mercy and benevolence. Knowing we are deserving of harsher punishment, we often receive instead a severe grace: a love and kindness that reproves, soothes and envelopes us in its tender mercies. 1
This story and our passage from Hosea remind us that because God’s Parental love is so full-to-overflowing with tender mercies; we too as God’s people can offer tender mercies and grace to one another—especially our children; for in so doing, we reflect and pass on what God has first given us.
In the concluding verses of ten and eleven, the mood shifts from lament into a future filled with hope. God promises Israel that even though they will suffer the consequences of their rebellion and disobedience by going into Assyrian exile—nonetheless, there shall come a time in the future when God shall deliver them from exile and lead them back to their homeland. There shall be a time of return and restoration; of rebuilding and renewing the covenant relationship between God and God’s people.
Maybe this too is a model of hope for those of us who are parents. When things are not going well between us parents and our children; maybe we can draw some encouragement and hope from this passage of scripture for our lives. Maybe as parents there will come a day when our exiled and alienated children will return and relationships will be restored and renewed. Or being children, maybe the same is true—we as children will reach a place where we can be reconciled with our parents because we know that’s what our LORD wants for us because that’s exactly what he has given us through his great love for us in Jesus. Amen.
1 Cited from: Emphasis, Vol. 25, No. 2, July-August 1995 (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Co.), pp. 39-40.