A Glimpse into the Heart of God
A sermon on Hosea 11:1-11
We’re continuing our sermon series: Hearts on Fire: How the Prophets Teach Us to See God at Work in our Current Situations. Today, we are diving into the Prophet Hosea. Hosea was famous for employing graphic metaphors (often involving adultery) that give us glimpses into God’s own heart. This sermon about Hosea 11:1-11 shows how the prophet bears witness to God’s frustration over what often seems from God’s perspective a one-sided relationship with people. But all is not lost, he shows the way for a better path forward.
I wonder if you’ve ever felt like you’re in a one-sided relationship. A one-sided relationship is one where it seems like you are taking all the initiative, doing most of the work. Such relationships can happen between romantic partners, married couples, between friends, colleagues, siblings, families, you name it.
Have you ever loved someone that didn’t love you back? And no matter what you did, how you tried, you couldn’t flip the switch and make it different? Maybe you have even had someone who said at one time they loved you, but later their actions demonstrated nothing that felt very loving.
Or, maybe you have had a child that no matter how hard you tried, how much gave and prayed, and assisted, still rejected you, and intentionally did things that he or she knew would hurt you?
Have you ever had someone abuse your trust, your generosity, your goodwill but most of all, broke your heart? Has someone ever cheated on you? If you’ve ever known these feelings that go with a one-sided relationship, the prophet Hosea says you know what it’s like in the heart of God over us when we go astray or don’t pay attention.
God’s broken heart
The prophet gives us a glimpse into the heart of God. Through a series of striking metaphors, he shows the frustration and sense of betrayal that God sometimes feels when we go chasing after the things that diminish rather than enhance our lives–especially when it leads to mistreatment of any of God’s children.
In any one-sided relationship, the moment comes where you decide if you will continue in this way. How much is enough? Is there anything worth saving? Hosea 11 captures this moment from God’s perspective. God rescues, nurtures, and sustains the Israelites, but they chase after other gods and trust other things for their security and happiness. They are not grateful. And they are cruel to each other–especially the poor and marginalized.
God contemplates throwing in the towel
Hosea said, God comes to this moment and decides to throw in the towel, “I’ve had enough. My people won’t listen; they won’t do what I ask; they only call when they are in trouble or want something. I’m through. I’m going to end this relationship.”
This is a stunning moment. God is hurt. Have you ever thought of it that way? Our actions have the power to cause suffering to the almighty God who created the universe by speaking a word. Hosea reveals God’s emotional vulnerability to us. Our defiance wounds.
God was upset about collective behavior
But Hosea was not just talking to individuals. He was talking to a nation. The leaders were arrogant and corrupt. The country used its military might to oppress rather than liberate and tragically, the government neglected the poor. Instead of trusting in God, the leaders trusted in trade deals with other countries that led them astray.
God was particularly incensed that faith leaders were in cahoots with the political establishment and elites. Faith was used as a tool to prop up and validate a system that exploited poor people. The big religious festivals had become the collection sites for regressive taxation policies that hurt the common people of the land.
Powerful love overcomes our rebellion
Don’t you just wonder how Hosea might critique our society today? What might he observe about us that would feel familiar to his time and place? The good thing is Hosea doesn’t just point to what is wrong, he shows God’s intention for a better path. Here is a fun animated clip that will give you a great overview of Hosea and how powerful love overcomes a horrible situation.
Hosea 11 dramatizes the climactic moment in God’s heart
In Hosea, we find God in this extraordinary moment where God decides to wipe out these ungrateful people. But as soon as he contemplates what that would be like, God reverses course, asking, But how can I? “How can I give you up O Ephraim, my heart recoils within me…my compassion grows warm and tender…I will not execute my wrath upon you…”
God’s love triumphs over God’s sense of frustration. So much for the Old Testament portrayal of God as a big grump in the sky who zaps people for going astray. No, here we see that although God gets hurt and frustrated, God commits to keep working to help us. So, the door is open. No matter how many times we have broken God’s heart, this morning, the door to a restored and right relationship with God is available to you. All you have to do is to walk right on through it.
It is this fantastic thing. God believes people can change. Despite the past, God opens up the possibility of a new future. I wish more people thought that. You know that saying, “a leopard can’t change his spots.” Well, the good news is we are people, not leopards. We can change. People can and do change, not inevitably, but it happens. I’ve seen it. I would not be a pastor if I didn’t believe this with my whole heart if I haven’t experienced it firsthand to see what a little grace and kindness can do to a person. Read Father Boyle, who works with gang members.
You don’t have to put up with one-sided or abusive relationships.
One thing that God says in the passage warrants our attention. God’s heart is not mortal. Our hearts are not God’s hearts. Some relationships just need to end for the best interests of everyone involved. For others, we need to set clear boundaries with people. We might say, I will open the door to a relationship with you, but you can’t take any more money, or lie to me. You don’t get to walk all over me and use me. You don’t automatically get my trust. That takes a long time to earn back.
Please remember, there is nothing in the whole Bible that suggests you have to endure in a demeaning or abusive relationship. The second great commandment says that it is okay to love yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself. Self-love means staying emotionally and physically safe. It’s an important reminder in October, which is domestic violence awareness month. Please don’t come away with the impression that our faith tolerates or in any way condones domestic abuse. It doesn’t. You are God’s child meant for love and liberation, not an ongoing horror story. Contact the domestic violence crisis line and find a path forward that affirms your right to be treated as a beloved child of God.
God invites us back to the table.
Today is world communion Sunday. Like the lioness who roars at the end of our scripture, signaling it’s time for the cubs to come back home, this Sunday is a call to return to our spiritual home. Come to the table where sins are forgiven, priorities realigned, and focus is shifted away from selfishness toward making a positive difference in the world.
This is the Sunday where we embody that vision at the end of Hosea. First, it’s a great image of people coming together, returning to God. Second, at the table, we find forgiveness and love. Third, we find healing for those most wounded places in our souls. Fourth, we reunite with God and God’s good intentions for us.
When we taste the bread and drink the wine at God’s great feast, we remember to put aside differences. We look for commonality and we realize we all need grace and love. At the table, we reconnect with our mission to look out for the poor. This is where we receive the empowerment we need to make a difference. We remember to stand up for justice so that the gap between how the world is and how the world ought to be might be filled in with light and grace because you followed the call to love. Amen.
The Rev. David Clark delivered this sermon at Bay Shore Church in Long Beach, California, for an online worship service on October 4, 2020.