This is Rev. Geoff McKee’s sermon for Sunday 04 August 2019, with Hosea 11:1-11 the main text.
Hosea 11:1-11 (New International Version)
God’s Love for Israel
11 “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.
5 “Will they not return to Egypt
and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
6 A sword will flash in their cities;
it will devour their false prophets
and put an end to their plans.
7 My people are determined to turn from me.
Even though they call me God Most High,
I will by no means exalt them.
8 “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 Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
9 I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
the Holy One among you.
I will not come against their cities.
10 They will follow the Lord;
he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
his children will come trembling from the west.
11 They will come from Egypt,
trembling like sparrows,
from Assyria, fluttering like doves.
I will settle them in their homes,”
declares the Lord.
Father, hear us, we are praying.
Hear the words our hearts are saying.
We are praying for our children.
Keep them from the powers of evil,
From the secret, hidden peril.
Father, hear us for our children.
From the worldling’s hollow gladness,
From the sting of faithless sadness,
Father, Father, keep our children.
Through life’s troubled waters steer them.
Through life’s bitter battles cheer them.
Father, Father, be thou near them.
And wherever they may bide,
Lead them home at eventide.
These beautiful, poignant words were written by Amy Carmichael, who lived most of her life in India, serving God as a missionary.
She was born in Millisle, a little village, just a few miles from where I come from in Ireland.
After many remarkable years of sacrificial service in India, she was bedridden for the last twenty years of her life but she remained in India throughout her incapacity – with her people. She wrote countless books lying in her bed.
She died in India in 1951 at the age of 83.
She asked that no stone be put over her grave at Dohnavur.
Instead, the children she had cared for put a bird bath over it with the single inscription “Amma”, which means ‘mother’ in the Tamil language. She was a true mother to them all: nurturing, caring and inspiring.
I wonder if you have a family photograph album or albums at home.
The younger generations of mums and dads probably don’t because, with the advent of digital photography, photos tend to be stored digitally on computers.
The best of the photos will, of course, be printed and displayed at home, but most will lie unseen in a hard-drive.
But the older generations of mums and dads will probably still have the albums.
When my mother and father were preparing for their house move recently, out came the albums from dear knows when! They were downsizing and so there was a cull of the photographs. The ones that myself and my sister wanted were given to us and the rest were disposed of. But it gave us all a good laugh to see some of us with hair and others with different hair styles and all the changes through the years of growing up.
Mums and dads remember what the children have no memory of.
- The first words,
- the first faltering steps,
- the tears and tantrums,
- the quest for independence, with the skinned knees and joyful discoveries and all the rest.
Photo albums can bring those memories back, maybe with a wee tear in the eye.
We have the equivalent of God’s family photo album, in written, descriptive text in Hosea 11.
These are God’s memories of his son, his people Israel, sometimes referred to as Ephraim in the passage.
God’s memories that Israel has no memory of. Tender, poignant memories, yet laced with stark realism.
The youth had gone astray and left the parent heartbroken.
I’m aware that God’s story may be uncomfortably close to our own.
Family relationships do break down and that always causes heartache; with time for all the parties concerned. Some of you will have journeyed to dark places in this respect and you may still find yourself there. God knows – as this passage in Hosea reveals.
The poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, once had a discussion with a man.
The man argued that children should not be given any religious training, but should be free to choose their own faith when they were old enough to decide for themselves.
Coleridge later invited him into his garden.
It seems our Mr Coleridge was a great poet but not a great gardener.
“Do you call this a garden?” the visitor asked. “There are nothing but weeds here!”
“Well, you see,” Coleridge replied, “I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden in any way. I was just giving the garden a chance to express itself.”
The reality is – whether training or guidance is given, or not – people will follow their hearts.
God accused his son, Israel, of idolatry.
Sometimes we reduce that accusation to the worship of statues of stone or bronze or whatever, and that has nothing to do with the root of idolatry.
Idolatry is the raising of ‘things’, whatever those things might be, to the ultimate.
Hideyoshi was a Japanese warlord who ruled over Japan in the late 1500s.
He commissioned a colossal statue of Buddha for a shrine in Kyoto.
It took 50,000 men five years to build, but the work had scarcely been completed when the earthquake of 1596 brought the roof of the shrine crashing down and wrecked the statue.
In a rage Hideyoshi shot an arrow at the fallen colossus.
“I put you here at great expense,” he shouted, “and you can’t even look after your own temple.”
God could accuse Hideyoshi of the same thing: I have put you, Hideyoshi, here, at great expense and you cannot even care for yourself.
In The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen retells a tale from ancient India.
Four royal brothers decided each to master a special ability. Time went by, and the brothers met to reveal what they had learned.
“I have mastered a science,” said the first, “by which I can take but a bone of some creature and create the flesh that goes with it.”
“I,” said the second, “know how to grow that creature’s skin and hair if there is flesh on its bones.”
The third said, “I am able to create its limbs if I have flesh, the skin, and the hair.”
“And I,” concluded the fourth, “know how to give life to that creature if its form is complete.”
Thereupon the brothers went into the jungle to find a bone so they could demonstrate their specialities.
As fate would have it, the bone they found was a lion’s.
One added flesh to the bone, the second grew hide and hair, the third completed it with matching limbs, and the fourth gave the lion life.
Shaking its mane, the ferocious beast arose and jumped on his creators. He killed them all and vanished contentedly into the jungle.
We too have the capacity to create what can devour us.
Goals and dreams can consume us. Possessions and property can turn and destroy us.
But God won’t.
We are told that he roars like a lion and we, instead of being eaten, will come trembling from the west to be returned to our homes in peace.
The wrath of God – the judgement of God – is not unto destruction but for restoration.
The same as the parent who takes down the photo album and remembers. Through all the emotions, for most, it is love that remains.
So much more so for our God.