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The More I Called, The More They Went!
August 1 and 2, 1998

HOSEA 11:1-9

Where do you go to find a good love story? Do you read those womenís books, what do they call them, Harlequin or something like that? Iíll 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 Godís 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 donít hear anymore, "long-suffering."

Can you hear the long-suffering in the lament, 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 I call, the deafer they get; the more I call, 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 donít know if she was trying to train them, or give them air in the park, but the more she called, the more they went! I watched a father having quite a time trying to grab his two-year-old. The more the father called, 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 read today 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. "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, "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?

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 think of my week-old granddaughter!)

I bent down to them and fed them.

Oh, how the Lord loved his people!

2) Prophecies, predictions about Israelís future. The wrath of God, Godís fierce anger will be experienced through the destruction of Israel. Either Egypt or Assyria will defeat them. "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, they then will call on the Most High, but the Lord will not hear them!

3) But, then the Lord relents. God just canít turn away from people. "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." Parents and children are familiar with this pattern: Parent reminds children of how much they are loved, of how much the parent has done for them. But, when parent calls, children run away. Anger, discipline, consequences step in. "All right, then you wonít go to the movie!" There are tears, there are pleas. And the parent relents, "How can I give you up? My compassion grows warm and tender."

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. You see, 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 Godís relationship with us. Francis Thompson called God the Hound of Heaven who relentlessly pursues us. Someone gave me a contemporary image, 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 didnít 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 donít 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,

but predictable...

It was the shortest distance between two points.

But when He took the lead,

He knew delightful long cuts,

up mountains,

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 didnít answer,

and I started to learn to trust.

I forgot my boring life

and entered into the adventure.

And when Iíd say, "Iím scared,"

Heíd lean back and touch my hand.

He took me to people with gifts that I needed,

gifts of healing,

acceptance

and joy.

They gave me gifts to take on my journey,

my Lordís and mine.

And we were off again.

He said, "Give the gifts away;

theyíre 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,

at first,

in control of my life.

I thought Heíd 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

and pedal

in the strangest places,

and Iím beginning to enjoy the view

and the cool breeze on my face

with my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ.

And when Iím sure I just canít do anymore,

He just smiles and says... "Pedal!"

ã 1998 Douglas I. Norris