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A Window into the Heart of God

Hosea 11: 1-11 

Delivered by Rev. Elisabeth Jones

As ‘advertised’ in your worship bulletin, for the four weeks I am here, I shall be preaching a series of sermons on the Lectionary readings from the Old Testament Prophets.

This might be a little alarming to some of you;you may well think that a ‘sermon series on prophets’ is a little heavy for Summertime worship.
After all, aren’t prophets supposed to be rather gloomy, or sometimes manic, bearded hell-fire and brimstone -breathing mouthpieces of the Almighty,threatening all and sundry with divine destruction?
Renowned Jewish scholar of the Hebrew Bible, Abraham Heschel has called them
“the most disturbing people who have ever lived.”

Certainly that’s the case with prophets like Elijah, or Ezekiel or Amos, or Jeremiah.
These four crash all over the place, breaking pots, burning all sorts and tearing things down
– in which case, the dramatic possibilities are endless – and now we have chancel space to play with…..!!

On the other hand, for many of us, the word “Prophet” conjures up images of the sooth-sayer,
The Yoda-like ancient one, peering through the mists of the centuries to predict
everything from the birth of Jesus,to nuclear holocaust, global warming or the free parking spot at Fairview.

‘Predictor’ of Jesus is in fact the most dominant ‘Christian’ image of the prophet, helped in large part by the writers of the New Testament Gospels, who quoted huge chunks of Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, Joel and other prophets to make sense of the birth, the suffering, the death,
and the resurrection of Jesus.

Indeed the Christian Church in its public worship has followed the Gospel writers’ lead,
so that those who come to Church during Advent, Christmas or Easter will certainly hear readings from Isaiah which foretell the coming of God’s Anointed – “the Messiah” And George Frederick Handel even provides us with the sound track for the ages.

These Old Testament Prophets, it seems, can be many things to many people,but there is feature which all have in commonthat doesn’t get much play in popular culture and imagination,
but is the one that deserves our attention, particularly those of us who come to Church for any number of reasonson a summer Sunday.

The feature I have in mind is their common experience of God and their capacity to put their experience of Godinto words, images, metaphors which have stood the test of time and distance.
Their experience of God was both intensely personal, and deeply rooted in the life of the community.

One reader of the prophets puts it this way, “Prophets are seers, that is, they are see-ers.
They have a peculiar capacity to see God at work in the life of the world,and a remarkable capacity to describe what they see.” They have found a way with words to open windows into the mind and into the heart of God.

This passage from Hosea is a glorious place to start this sermon series.Perhaps more than any of the other prophets we will look at,Hosea opens a window into the heart of God.

This passage brings tears to my eyes. Hosea’s pen gives God speech: Let’s listen again…

When my little boy was still tiny, oh I loved him!
The smell of his downy sleepy head against my cheek….
I nursed him, fed him, I taught him how to walk… my son…

Who does that sound like? Sounds like a new Mom to me ….This is the language of a doting parent, that bowl-you over, watch them while they’re sleeping love-language for this baby-bundle of possibility and hope.

Hosea’s window into the heart of God shows us passionate parent-love, and I need to emphasize that this is a radical image.

For those who think the Old Testament God is just the LORD, mighty and strong in battle,
the Smite-them-all Conqueror God we find marching around with Joshua or David and Solomon.
Or the carve-the- commandments- in- stone Law-Giver God of Moses, this Mother Loving God comes as quite the surprise.

For those of us raised with the more modern-era image of a featureless Prime-Mover Creative Force, whose divine finger stirred the proto-nucleic mess at the dawn of creation
only to sit back and watch the universe unfold on its own, Hosea’s window into a God with a heart attentive, indeed passionate about we creatures is equally radical.

And let’s be even clearer, Hosea’s experience of God expressed in this passage
is of a Mother-God, plain as day.

Centuries of male-dominated Scriptural interpretation have so submerged and neutered Hosea’s graphic maternal images of God the mother, nursing her newborn, holding his hand while he learns to walk,watching him build his world out of mud-pies and sand-castles, that we have to freeze the frame long enough to understand what we’re seeing, to grasp its implications.

Now at this point I think I ought to issue a listener’s discretion warning: all mothers, fathers, or grandparents of newborns may find the next scenes in Hosea disturbing.

Hosea leads us forward in the story of God’s maternal love; forward to a time when the darling infant has grown into a wayward child. Not just a rambunctious 8 year old,
but a wayward teenager, 15 yrds old, with hooded eyes, pot-pallid skin, sullen mouth, slope-shouldered, hanging around the Depanneur with packets in his pockets, selling to support a habit you don’t even know he has. Or the 17 yr old woman-child, dazzled into destitution
– or worse, into dismembered disappearance, seduced by false promises of sex-for-sale love and belonging.

And still, the window into the heart of God reveals Mother-love that 10 years later won’t give up the nightly drive along Hastings or Ste Catherine just in case her scared-dove- child is there to be rescued and brought home.

How can I give up on you, Ephraim?
How can I turn you loose and forget you?

This isn’t hallmark Mother’s Day card love.
It’s real parent love.
Love anyway, love regardless love.

How on earth, or in God’s name did Hosea open this particular window into the heart of God?
What could have possessed him to see such a radically different image of YHWH?
By the time he writes this God-picture, Hosea is an aging man, he has raised his children in the hell of a country run to rack and ruin – government graft, police corruption, food-shortages, flood and famine, refugee camps filled with the hopeless, hiding from the scourge of ethnic cleansing. It was in these places, in his life, in the life of a country on the brink of annihilation, that he saw the face, and the heart of God. Which is what makes this already radical picture remarkable.

His picture has such a ring of truth to it: watching this wayward child hell-bent for self-destruction, this mother-hearted God expresses the frustration and pain,
and even anger we too have experienced as parents, or friends,
or as onlookers to individuals, communities, or nations similarly hell-bent
to follow their own way, rather than the God-given way of life.

How can she do this?
How can they be so…..?
I’m so angry I want to…..

What?
Want to what?

We dread the ending to that sentence.
We know how we’ve answered it, too often in our own personal and global experience.

But look at what Hosea sees in his window into the heart of God.

Tears. worried tears, angry tears, fierce tears born of love for the wayward and lost:

I’m so angry I want to destroy…
But how can I ?
I will not….
I will not….
For I am God, and no Mortal.

They are those fierce tears of a lioness protecting her cubs, picking them by the scruff of their necks when their recklessness leads them into danger;they are those cries of a mother hen covering her chicks with her wings from the fox that prowls around the coop;
they are the hope beyond hopeless tears in the eye of a father on the hill’s crest watching for the return of his prodigal son. I will not give up on you!
For I am God, and no mortal.

Eight centuries later, another prophet of God, known to us as Jesus of Nazareth,
who had looked through Hosea’s window into the heart of God, and recognised his Abba-Father,
said “If you who are mortal, human and prone to the failures that you are,
know how to give good things to your children, how much more then can you depend upon
God to give good things to the beloved children of God’s heart?” (Matt 7)
This is Gospel for us today.

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