Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Hosea sees that God is in a crisis of conscience and indecision, greatly exasperated. Israel is disobedient. It keeps turning to other gods. From God’s perspective:
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.
Some fathers use the same argument with their teenaged daughters determined to defy and disobey what the fathers have decided:
My restrictions were mere cords of human kindness;
the bands I used were bands of love.
I have loved her since she was a baby.
I have fed and clothed her
And what does it get me? She won’t do anything I ask; and now she’s leaving home.
My people are bent on turning away from me.
Like the father, God is very angry, but concludes “I will not execute my fierce anger.”
How did you respond to an angry parent determined to bend your will?
I was in my 20s before I discovered that a calm and loving silence worked. After a certain point, the parent had nowhere left to escalate the indignation, and I had said nothing to trouble the water further.
As Hosea describes the dynamic, it is God who turns patient, hard as it is to do so, and as a result, God expects Israel’s return:
They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria;
and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.
In human families, the child is not always wrong in these struggles, nor is the parent always right.
Is the same true in our heavenly family? Is God always right? Are we always wrong when we try God’s patience?
God has freed us with a will of our own and minds of our own. Dare we not use them?
I doubt that the patriarchy in which Hosea lived would have allowed him or his readers to question fathers as I have done. But we don’t live within that patriarchy. Is God to remain captive to the image of father in Hosea’s time?
Psalm 107:1-9, 43
“God’s mercy endures for ever” or, as many African Christians proclaim at every opportunity, “God is good, all the time.
Psalm 107 counts the blessings experienced by the people of God.
Counting your blessings can be an important spiritual discipline, one which my husband Ernest masters far more effectively than I do. In the mid-1980s our employment required us to live twelve time zones apart. Required? Well, not exactly. One or the other could have sacrificed important personal growth to stay in the same place but with menial employment. We chose to live separately for more than two years. It was one of the hardest choices we had ever made. We owed our soul to the phone company and the airlines.
Too often I wallowed in depression and wrote long, whiny letters about how lonely I was. Ernest was lonely too, but rarely said so. Patiently, gently he encouraged me to get outside more, to take long walks, to visit museums more frequently, to indulge my fascination with Chinese culture and architecture. (He was in Minneapolis at the time; I in Hong Kong; then he was in Gualin, China while I was in New Jersey).
Looking back on the experience now that we are in our 37th year, I’m enormously grateful that we were willing to put our commitment to each other’s growth to a hard test. I rejoice that we passed it, bound closer not just by affection, but by enhanced respect and an even greater friendship. Picture book marriage can’t compete with the real thing.
Whoever is wise will ponder these things, *
and consider well the mercies of the LORD
Christians believe in change. We expect to ‘get a life’ -- a new one. We expect to put off what is earthly. In our new life we get rid of the old life--the anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.
In our renewal, our differences lose their power to divide. There is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, male and female, gay and straight, slave and free…… Old negative classifications like ‘barbarian’ no longer apply. We move beyond mere inclusion……
Wouldn’t that be nice?!
It can be. God expects it to be. We’re not meant to wait until heaven to live it. Let us live what we pray daily, “Let your realm come here as it already is in heaven.”
Whom do you know who is rich? Who in your life has ’the most toys’? Who stores up the most treasures for themselves?
Who in your life is “rich toward God”?
As a spiritual discipline, my friend Gray Temple, a priest, spent a Sabbatical several years ago living during the day as a homeless person on the streets of Atlanta. He had no illusions that his experience would match theirs; for one, he came home to his creature comforts in the suburb every night. He hoped the discipline would help him better understand the homeless and better understand himself.
Gray told me that he quickly learned he was not there to bring God to the poor and homeless. God had already beat him there. They brought God to him. They were aware of God’s presence with them far better than we who are comfortable are. We live as if we have less need of God, and summon God mainly for emergencies.
Gray did not romanticize the poor, nor minimize some of their own dysfunctional and destructive behaviors. Nor does God, who is always there as one of them.
After I earned my master’s, my first two teaching jobs were in prep schools, both quite good. I had gone to a fine prep school myself. I enjoyed the work immensely, but realized that I was using asssignment to keep on hold my coming to terms with my sexuality…...
In London I decided to work in the slums. I was interviewed for five jobs in the first week, was offered all five, and took the one in the most challenging school, a secondary modern school in Penge, just below the Crystal Palace in South London . It was a challenging assignment indeed. I taught five different large classes a day, and they had no textbooks, except for a few dusty Latin books which hadn’t been used in the many years since Latin was taught there. Often I reproduced texts which I had taught in prep schools, but sometimes those proved highly ineffective.
For example, F. Scott Fitzjerald’s story “The Rich Boy” was very popular in prep schools, because it addresses the subtle tensions Fitzgerald experienced in his attraction/repulsion to the very rich. The story begins, “The rich are not like you and me.” That had riveted some of my students in prep school. Those in Penge wondered why anyone would waste time on such an obvious reality. End of story.
But give the lads in Penge an opportunity for uninhibited invention, and they flowered. I brought an exercise to class that I had seen in a workshop led by actors at the old Vic. In it, one character wears a hat. The other character must get the hat from the first one; and the first one must try to keep the hat. The hat must be obtained not by physical force, but by wit, each actor staying in character and working up a situation where the wearer of the hat will give it up.
At the start, the first one to speak, the one with the hat, assigns his character and the character of the other by what he says. For example, he might begin: “I say, James, do you have the car ready to drive me to Westminster?” The second can stay stuck as the servant he has apparently been told to be, but with invention he can stay in character and still draw an opposing inference, saying ‘Just who do you think you are, little brother? I’m using the car to go to my soccer match….” On and on, until one works a way to get the hat while fully in character.
Some of the lads in Penge could get the hat from the other within 3-4 rounds with brilliant flashes of wit and imagination.
There are many ways to be rich. Do you prefer to end with the most toys or to be ‘rich toward God‘?