The More I Called, the More They Went
Itís been a few weeks since I have preached. Reminds me of the church newsletter article: "During the absence of our pastor, we enjoyed the rare privilege of hearing a good sermon when J. F. Stubbs supplied our pulpit." And, "The Rector will preach his farewell message after which the choir will sing "Break Forth Into Joy." Also appeared in a church newsletter, "Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24. So ends a friendship that began in their school days."
Speaking of marriage, where do you go to find a good love story? TV, movies, novels? I'll tell you what to read when you want to read a good love story. The Bible, from cover to cover, is a love story. A common definition of religion is a "search for God." But, the Bible is not the account of our search for God. The Bible is the account of God's search for us. Our God never gives up searching, seeking, courting, enticing people. How patient, how compassionate is our God! The King James Version uses an old word we don't hear anymore, "long-suffering."
Can you hear the long-suffering in the lament that was read this morning? Hosea 11:2, "The more I called, the more they went!" Sounds like an exasperated mother trying to get her children to come and do chores. The more she calls, the deafer they get; the more she calls, the more they go the other direction. I watched a woman trying to handle her three dogs in a park. All three were on leashes. I don't know if she was trying to train them, or give them air in the park, but the more she called, the more they went, in different directions! I watched a father having quite a time trying to grab his two-year-old. The more the father called, the more the kid went; the faster the father ran, the faster the kid ran. It was a fun game for the child; but, frustrating and frightening for the father as the child could easily have run into danger.
The Israelites did run into danger. Oh, what the Lord has to go through to love us! The passage from Hosea is one of the most beautiful and poignant poems in literature. It can be divided into three sections:
1) The lament, the sorrow, the pain of God. Hosea reflects on how God rescued Israel, how God loved and saved Israel. Verse 1, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." The Lord rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. Through a miraculous escape, Moses led them into the wilderness where, for forty years, Moses trained them and prepared them for entry into the Promised Land. The Lord gave them a country. What more could they want?
But, lamented the Lord, v.2, "The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols." Can you hear the pain? Can you hear the love? Can you hear the sadness? Vs.3-4
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
(Ephraim was one of the twelve tribes and Hosea uses Ephraim as another word for Israel.)
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I 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.
Oh, how the Lord loved his people! How the Lord grieved for his wandering children!
2) Prophecies, predictions about Israel's future. The wrath of God, God's fierce anger will be experienced through the destruction of Israel. Either Egypt or Assyria will defeat them. Vs. 6-7, "The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours them because of their schemes." The people are "bent on turning away." "The more I called, the more they went" away from God. When disaster strikes, says Hosea, they then will call on the Most High, but the Lord will not hear them! Judgment
3) But, then the Lord relents. God just can't turn away from his people. Vs.8-9 "How can I give you up, Ephraim...My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger." The message is clear. Even when God calls and you turn away, God will not give up. Even when you get yourself in the devil of a fix, the Lord does not give up. God loves you.
Jesus cares about you.
Jesus wants you to let him find you.
Jesus wants to be your shoulder to cry on.
Jesus wants to protect you.
Jesus wants to make something beautiful and useful out of your life.
Jesus calls and wants you to follow.
There are many images of God's relationship with us. How do you visualize your relationship with God?
A shepherd and sheep? A common image in the Bible, "The Lord is my shepherd"? I doubt that urbanites can find much relevance in shepherd and sheep. I find it difficult to think of myself as a sheep!
A king and subjects? We who live in a democracy are far distanced from royalty. Doesnít quite fit.
A judge and defendants? Not too comforting.
The poet, Francis Thompson, called God the Hound of Heaven who relentlessly pursues us. I donít find the image of a barking dog particularly meaningful!
I have a new image to offer this morning. When you image Jesus and you, see the two of you on a bicycle built for two! Listen to The Road of Life, written by that famous poet, Anonymous.
At first, I saw God as my observer, my judge,
keeping track of the things I did wrong,
so as to know whether I merited heaven
or hell when I die.
He was out there sort of like a president.
I recognized His picture when I saw it,
but I really didn't know Him.
But later on
when I met Christ,
it seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride,
but it was a tandem bike,
and I noticed that Christ
was in the back helping me pedal.
I don't know just when it was
that He suggested we change places,
but life has not been the same since.
When I had control,
I knew the way.
It was rather boring,
It was the shortest distance between two points.
But when He took the lead,
He knew delightful long cuts,
and through rocky places
at breakneck speeds,
it was all I could do to hang on!
Even though it looked like madness,
He said, "Pedal!"
I worried and was anxious and asked,
"Where are you taking me?"
He laughed and didn't answer,
and I started to learn to trust.
I forgot my boring life
and entered into the adventure.
And when I'd say, "I'm scared,"
He'd lean back and touch my hand.
He took me to people with gifts that I needed,
gifts of healing,
They gave me gifts to take on my journey,
my Lord's and mine.
And we were off again.
He said, "Give the gifts away;
they're extra baggage, too much weight."
So I did,
to the people we met,
and I found that in giving I received,
and still our burden was light.
I did not trust Him,
in control of my life.
I thought He'd wreck it;
but He knows bike secrets,
knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners,
knows how to jump to clear high rocks,
knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.
And I am learning to shut up
in the strangest places,
and I'm beginning to enjoy the view
and the cool breeze on my face
with my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ.
And when I'm sure I just can't do anymore,
He just smiles and says... "Pedal!"
I like that image. Iím not alone. God never gives up. He is always with me. When I feel overwhelmed, when Iím unsure about the future, when I am tempted to give up, he just smiles and says, "Pedal. Keep going."
How is your bike ride? Is Jesus in front, taking you on an adventure? Or, are you in front, trying to keep control, steering, afraid to relinquish control and let Jesus lead? Or, arenít you even on the bicycle? If so, God calls you to get on the bike.
This morning we celebrate Holy Communion. May you receive and respond to Godís invitation to travel with Jesus.
Letís take a moment of silence. What is hindering your bike ride? I invite you to pray what God is calling you to pray.
ã 2001 Douglas I. Norris