Starting Places: A Broken Heart
Morning Service led by our Minister
This sermon is taken from Hosea 11, verses 1-9; Luke 15, verses 1-7
Starting Places: A Broken Heart
For many people, a starting (or re-starting) place in their walk with God, has something to do with a relationship. It might be a happy occasion, such as getting married in church or bringing your child to be christened. It might be a traumatic time, such as a relationship breaking down or a bereavement. The way we are feeling about the people in our lives makes a difference to the way we feel about God.
Hosea was a prophet- a deeply religious man, who lived in Israel about 800 years before Jesus. He was really worried about his country because he felt that religion was being side-lined, the government was becoming increasingly corrupt, the people had lost their sense of identity as God’s people and were thinking only about money and pleasing themselves. The superpower of Assyria was poised to take over the land and Hosea’s nation just did not have the strength- physical or spiritual to stand up to them.
As a deeply religious man Hosea believed that this was God’s judgement. God had warned his people right from the start that, so long as they were faithful to him, he would be faithful to them. But if they rejected Him and the rules he had laid down for them, they would end up in trouble. Most of the other prophets said much the same thing. Do good and good will happen. Do evil and evil will happen. Simple.
It was Hosea’s marriage that made him look at God in a different way.
Hosea married a woman called Gomer who was, it seemed, “bad news” right from the start. She was promiscuous and never looked like being faithful to him. They had a son together and called him “Jezreel” which means “God scatters.” Gomer had two more children during their marriage. It is not specified whether they were Hosea’s or not. One was a daughter called “Lo-Ruhamah,” which means “not loved.” The other was a son called “Lo-Ammi,” which means “not my people.” The children’s names were chosen to sum up the state of the country.
(You may remember that, after the First World War, babies here were given names of significant battles or of outstanding leaders. Who knows, maybe there will now be an outbreak of babies called Boris or Brexit…)
Hosea then, was not a happy man, either at home or in church. Yet he could not quite give up hope either in God or in his marriage. And he learned something deeply significant about the nature of love.
We now refer to our two readings. The first is written by Hosea, a poignant reflection on what love for his people means to God and does to God. (Hosea 11, verses 1-9)
The second is a little story told by Jesus to illustrate the lengths to which God’s love will go. (Luke 15, verses 1-7)
REFLECTION: Starting Places: A Broken Heart.
Why is it always so much easier to tell other people how to bring their children up rather than bring up your own?
Why is it always so much easier to advise your friends about their relationships rather than recognise the problems in your own?
Answer- because when it comes to other people’s relationships, you are not emotionally involved.
“Love,” wrote Andrew Lloyd Webber, “makes fools of everyone. All the rules we make are broken.”
“How often should I forgive my brother when he does me wrong?” asked Peter of Jesus. “Seven times?” Sounds reasonable. “No,” said Jesus, “More like seventy times seven.”
And Jesus was not setting an impossible rule here. He was reflecting on the reality of human nature. When you really love someone; when you are deeply involved with them; you will keep forgiving them, over and over again because you cannot do anything else. Even if they do not deserve your forgiveness; even if everyone else tells you that you are a fool; even if you think you’re a fool; you cannot quite bring yourself to reject them.
There is no point in feeling guilty or apologetic about love. It is what makes us human. Nietzsche said that pity, sympathy, compassion would destroy the human race and Nazi Germany picked this up. Young men and women had to be trained, rigorously and brutally, to subdue all the compassion in their nature so that they could go out and slaughter Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, the terminally ill, the mentally unstable, without turning a hair. They were trained to look at these people with hatred; to see no wrong in hurting them, starving them and executing them; to take pride in having the power to do this; to congratulate themselves that they were “purging” their race of those who had no economic or political value. They had to be trained out of love.
Is that really the kind of world we want?
Is that the kind of person we want to be?
Mercifully there were enough people in World War Two, who said No.
Hosea had an unfaithful wife and even in those days, adultery was a perfectly legitimate ground for divorce. “Get rid of her, “said Hosea’s friends. “You are legally entitled to.”
But for Hosea this was a relationship, not a purely legal agreement. He was emotionally involved. Yes, of course he could legally divorce her, and you might say that she deserved it, but that did not stop his heart breaking. And it would not ease his pain.
Our own marriage service contains some awesome-sounding vows as two people promise to love, honour, cherish and remain faithful to one another no matter what happens: “for better or worse” with no indication of just how much better or how much worse things might become. It sounds an impossible promise to make, yet people make it, I think, because they believe in love. They believe that, although life can throw some bad stuff at you, true and deep love will be strong enough to deal with it.
And in our closest relationships-whether with partners, children, siblings, parents, close friends- we endure some seriously bad times when it seems that the other person is far away in a very dark place and we cannot reach them. And other people tell us we are mad to keep trying. Yet deep within us is this hope born of love that one day they may be glad that you remained there for them.
Hosea’s marriage did break down. Gomer ended up as a prostitute and Hosea was told that he would have to buy her back if he wanted her. Most men would not -and you can hardly blame them- but Hosea did. He bought her back. And all this mess of betrayal and pain and disappointment and anger and love brought him to a re-starting place with God.
The Jewish Study Bible describes Hosea’s message as “Hope, against a background of apparent hopelessness.”
You see, for Hosea’s people, their religion had been seen as something of a legal agreement between themselves and God. Right back, as they entered the Promised Land, they had been told that they had choices- they either choose death or life; the blessings of God or the curses of evil; to do right or to do wrong. And they were reassured that what was being asked was not too difficult. You can do this. You can be God’s people and become all the better for it.
But, in time, the people did just as they liked. They “took the mickey,” paying lip service to religion whilst supporting a corrupt and decadent society. By Hosea’s time they were hardly even paying lip service to religion. They were heading for trouble. And it was all their own fault. Hosea had a great deal to say about the kind of bleak future they could look forward to. Things did look pretty hopeless.
But then, through his own love and pain, Hosea came to realise that walking with God is a relationship and not a legal agreement. Religion is not a set- in- stone theology nor a tick box exercise in prayers, Bible reading and good works. It is a relationship grounded in love- God’s love for us and that is the source of hope. Hosea felt a great deal of anger and resentment against his wife and this was only natural. But he still loved her. Now he could see that, although God must feel a great deal of anger and resentment against his unfaithful people, He still loved them. And if Hosea’s faithfulness to his wife was awesome, then God’s faithfulness to his people must be more awesome still. For God is greater and not lesser than we are.
Looking back, from this perspective, Hosea could see that time and time again, God had reached out to his people in forgiveness and in the hope of reconciliation. Looking forward, we can see how the coming of Jesus Christ was the ultimate gesture of God’s love for us. God came himself into the world in Jesus in the hopes of reconciling us to Him.
He could not stick with the “legal way” any more than we can. He could not turn his back on us any more than we can turn our back on someone we truly love. God can never give up on us because God is love and love is the source of hope.
What do you think Hosea might say to us here today?
To those of us who enjoy any number of happy, life and love-affirming relationships in our lives, he would say, ‘Be Happy. Receive God’s love through those who love you.”
There is a line of a prayer from Iona which says, “Lord, you are the light and love I see in other’s eyes.” Believe in that love. Respect and cherish that love as a gift of God.
To those who might be struggling with difficult and failed relationships, he would say, “Don’t give up on love itself. Don’t take out your anger and pain on others in your life. Don’t waste your strength on bitterness and revenge. Believe that the power of love, coming as it does from God, is never wasted. It will achieve good, even if not always as you expect.”
To those who are struggling to start or to maintain a walk with God, he would say, “God is holding out his hand to you. And he will never take that hand away. For that hand does not depend on what you have done or failed to do. That hand is there in love and God’s love is far greater than any other you have ever known. Don’t worry about “taking on” a religion; just commit yourself to a relationship- an ongoing communication and understanding of God- and the religious bits will fall into place. Don’t ever think that there are things you must not say to God. God knows already what is going on in your mind. He just needs you to say it to him so that he can respond. He wants you to talk to him because that is how relationships grow.”
To those who wonder how to make their church life more effective he says, “cultivate friendships within the faith community, welcome strangers, open up the place to your neighbours. Focus on keeping the church going as a place in which all are welcome and in which all can find God. Find your own niche, which will keep you committed even when life is hectic and everything seems to be conspiring to keep you away. The stewarding or the coffee rota may be the place where you find friends and comrades and come closer to God through them. “ As Galadriel in Lord of the Rings says of the quest to rid the world of evil- “the quest stands upon a knife edge. Yet it may succeed so long as the Fellowship remain true.” Once again, love and commitment remain the source of hope.
And to us all as we prepare to go out into the wider world? “Don’t be fooled by the hearts-and-flowers/ emotions-only type of love. Love- as the Nazis found out- is a hugely powerful force which can change the world. Those who love will never give up on the hope of world peace and justice. Those who love will always find an outlet for their concern. Those who love will walk with God and will catch His vision and passion for the world.
After all the turbulence of passion and inner conflict, Hosea’s final chapter reads,
“Thus says the Lord, I will heal my people’s waywardness and love them freely for my anger has turned away from them. I will be as the dew, making them blossom like lilies. Like cedar trees, they will send down their roots and young shoots will grow. Their splendour will be as an olive tree. People will shelter in its shade. They will flourish like corn and bear fruit like the vine. …. Who is wise? Let them understand.”
So may it be for each one of us.