“Annabelle and Liam”
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. 3Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. 5They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes. 7My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.
8How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath (Hosea 11.1-9 NRSV).
One night as Sarah and I were leaving a city council meeting we discovered a stray dog curled up underneath our car. She didn’t have a collar or tags. The only identifying mark on her was a green tattoo of the numbers zero and two in her ear. The city attorney, who was also the director of the city pound, saw us with that poor dog and convinced us to bring the dog home for the night and maybe, even, (if we wanted to) we could adopt the dog.
Scratches, scabs, bruises, mostly just bones and fur, Annabelle, that’s what we named her, was in really bad shape … later we learned she even had heart worms. We invested a lot of time and energy helping her get healthy and learn how to live in a house. She turned out to be a good dog … except for one really bad habit. Every time she had any opportunity she would run away (I suppose that’s probably the reason she ended up with us).
She would run the perimeter of a fence searching for a weak spot … when the slack was just right on her leash … she would figure out a way to get free. One time we hiked to a swimming hole and when I tried to convince her to get into the water, she slipped her head through her collar and darted off into the woods. I followed her. Every once in a while I heard a joyful bark of freedom. I caught up to her once. She saw me. She looked straight at me and then turned and ran the other direction.
It was incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking all at the same time. We had done so much to help her … nursing her back to health … taking care of her through those awful heart worm treatments … all that time … all that energy … and Annabelle repaid us by running away every chance she had … eventually I found her (I don’t know if I have been so happy and so angry to see one of God’s creature in my life.)
Annabelle had this inclination … this bent for running away … like it was somehow built into her.
Hosea, the prophet had a similar frustration with God’s people.
They had this bent for turning way from God.
Hosea was sent to call them back to God. As God speaks through Hosea, we hear emotionally packed metaphors. God’s relationship with Israel is first compared to unfaithfulness in marriage and, in the passage we just heard, God’s people are compared to a rebellious child. These relationships, husband and wife / parent and child have so much potential for joy and fulfillment and so much potential for pain and despair. As Hosea presents God’s message, he is heavy on the pain and despair side of marital and parental relationships.
The question Hosea raises through these metaphors comes down to security. Will God’s people find their security in God, or will they try to find security in other places? Would they find security in political allegiances with other kingdoms? Would they try to find security in other gods and religions?
Hosea claims that security that comes from someone or something other than the God who has pursued relationship with them is false security.
Israel couldn’t have a relationship with the things they tried to find security in like they could with God.
Israel had grown as a nation under God’s care. God sought them out and established them as a people. God approached Abraham and made a promise. God heard the Israelites crying and groaning when they were slaves and Pharaoh was squashing them with heavy labor. God acted to rescue them. It was like God was their loving parent, who nurtured them, taught them, embraced them, protected them, healed them, and despite all that … despite their history with God, they seemed so bent … so set … on turning away to find security in other things.
“The more God called out to them, the more they went from God.”
It was so one-sided.
God gave and gave and the people seemed to always be on the look out for the weak spot in the fence … or the moment the leash loosened up and they could make a break for it. God had invested so much in this relationship. Who would blame God for having enough? Who would blame God forgiving up chasing them?
As rebellious as we are, as bent as we are on turning away from God, the good news is that God is committed to relationships. God is compassionate and even tender in relation to humanity. God is steadfast. God is loving. God is graceful. God is a loving parent who continues to pursue even when a child is set on running in the opposite direction. God pursues a relationship with his creation, but at the same time, God doesn’t force himself on his children. That has to be part of the beauty and the fulfillment, the tragedy and the pain of real love … no matter how much you want to, you can’t make anyone do anything … especially love you. If people didn’t have some sort of say in it, faithfulness and commitment wouldn’t mean all that much and there is no way it could be real love.
As frustrating and as heart wrenching as the peoples’ turning away was … God didn’t respond to them in anger. There were consequences for turning away from God, but God didn’t cut off the relationship. In grace and love God continued to pursue relationship with people. God wouldn’t give up on them. God was near and God was ready to embrace them.
In Hosea’s prophesy we see so much of God’s heart revealed, “How can I give up … How can I hand you over … My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.”
Jesus told a story about a father who had every reason to turn his back on his son. The son did everything he could to destroy his relationship with his father. The son embarrassed the father. The son took advantage of his father’s wealth and generosity. The son essentially told his father he wished he was dead … the only thing he was good for was inheritance and he didn’t want to wait around, so he asked for an advance on his inheritance. The son ran far away from his father and embraced a life that was nothing like what his father wanted for him.
11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.
13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’
20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15.11-20 NRSV).
Usually we call this “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” but maybe we could call it the parable of the “Very ‘Huggy’ Father.”
There are two definitions for the word “prodigal.” The first is “Spending money or resources freely and recklessly” – wastefully extravagant like the son in Jesus’ story. The second definition is “Having and giving something on a lavish scale” – that is the father who gives his love and grace to the son in a surprisingly generous way (New Oxford American Dictionary).
Jesus’ parable gives us a picture of who God is and how God relates to people. God doesn’t cut people off but continues to pursue with compassion. God is full of love and grace.
This is the God who invites us to find our security in him.
This is the God who pursues a relationship with us.
Even when we are bent on turning away … even when we are difficult and rebellious … God is near … God wants to embrace us.
This week our world has experienced heartbreaking and gut wrenching violence … all these people killed and hurt in the name of a religion … all this pain inflicted by people who claim to be representing a god’s will. The whole thing seems so driven by insecurity. “If you don’t agree with me there isn’t space for both of us and you don’t have any value.”
This insecure thinking doesn’t line up with what Hosea reveals to us of God’s heart.
God pursues rebellious children. Even when we are rebelling, we still seem to be valuable to God. God desires relationship, but God doesn’t force a relationship on people. God has a heart that recoils with compassion … a heart that is warm and tender. There is nothing insecure about our God. God is willing to go to incredible lengths to pursue relationship. God is willing to give himself, to lay down his life, his body broken and his blood poured out to pursue relationship with people.
God pursues us even when it doesn’t make sense and when it seems too costly. God doesn’t give up. God acts out of grace and steadfast love. God is overwhelmingly generous. This God is pursuing you. This God loves you and seeks a relationship with you. Will you turn toward God? Will you be embraced by God? Will you find your security in God?