Hosea's Relentless Love -- Pastor April's Sermon -- 11/22/15

Hosea's Relentless Love

Hosea 11:1-11

Given by Rev. April S. Blaine on Sunday, November 22, 2015

So, many of you know that I am from Arkansas.  And so while I certainly root for the Buckeyes and hope that they will win – on a Saturday afternoon or evening – the score I’m most interested to know is the score of the Arkansas Razorbacks game.

At least it’s not Michigan.

Well, some of you may have seen a pretty extraordinary ending to the game we played against Ole Miss earlier this month.  The game was tied at the end of every single quarter.  At the close of regulation – the score was 45 to 45 and the game headed into Overtime.  We won the coin toss, so Ole Miss went first and very quickly headed down the field and scored a touchdown.  Things didn’t look so good for Arkansas as they headed down the field.  Incomplete pass, followed by a delay of game penalty and a sack.  Another incomplete pass led us to 4th and 25.  It looked like the game was over.

And then the most unlikely of things happened.  Brandon Allen completes a pass to Hunter Henry, far short of the first down and just as he is about to be tackled, he throws a blind lateral pass backward.  One of our players touches the ball while its in the air, tipping it onto the ground where it then bounces exactly into our star running back, Alex Collins’ capable hands.

But it’s not over yet – Collins runs down the field and is about to be tackled by 3 Ole Miss linemen short of the 1st down, when he does his masterful shuffle to gain just enough time to get 5 more yards and a first down.

At which point, as he is being tackled, he fumbles the ball – but we recover it just one yard away.

The hogs then run it in for a touchdown and boldly go for 2 to win the game 53-52.

Now all of us probably have reasons why we do or do not watch sports.  And if I’m honest, I am a loyal fan but not a hard core fan.  But, its plays like this one that capture some of the magic of the game.  A game where once it begins, you just never quite know what is going to happen. We hope we know – but we don’t really know.   Sometimes you win the game because you were the better team, but sometimes, you win the game because of the way things played out – in a way that almost feels like an undeserved, but delightful gift.

And It’s those delightful twists and turns and extraordinary plays and unexpected and sometimes undeserved wins that we are still talking about years later.

And I have to say, that the more I read this bible - this extraordinary book that witnesses to the work of God in the world - the more I find similarly magical stories that surprise me and captivate me as God continues to respond in ways that I didn't expect.

We’ve been working our way through the Old Testament in these last few months and in the last few weeks, we’ve started learning some things about the Kings of Israel.  And most recently, how some of these kings – Rehoboam and Jeroboam and Ahab and many others – how they disregarded the call of God.  How they failed to remain faithful.  How they even found ways to insult God.

There are certainly kings along the way that try to turn things around, but the vast majority of them, especially the kings in the North, continue to pull further and further from God.

And now the Assyrians are standing at their doorstep.

It looks like there is no more hope.

It’s 4th and 25 – it appears that the game is over.

Now, along the way – there are prophets that God sends to try and call the people back to God.  They often have some difficult things to say to the people.  They speak the truth about how far they have strayed and I’m certain they weren’t the most popular people.  In the Old Testament, Isaiah and Jeremiah were some of the major prophets who spoke, and then there are the minor prophets – essentially the books toward the end of the Old Testament that are shorter – and that portray additional attempts to call the people back to God.  Prophets like Micah, Obadiah, Jonah, and for today Hosea.

Hosea was a prophet from the Northern Kingdom and he seems to direct his attention to the Northern kingdom, just as the impending capture is near.

But - Hosea’s short book is unique and – we might say – a bit bizarre.  In most of the other prophet narratives, God calls the prophet and tells them to go to the people of God and tell them to change their ways.

But in Hosea – God does the strangest thing.

God calls Hosea and tells him to go and marry the prostitute Gomer.

God tells Hosea to marry her, to love her, to bear children with her.  To name them names that represent the disconnect of God’s people with Israel.  And then, when Gomer remains unfaithful to Hosea…when she tries to provoke him to anger and violence…

He is to love her.  He is to love her relentlessly – and to allow his love to heal her unfaithfulness and to mend their marriage.

Hosea’s marriage is to be a metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel.  To tell the story that even though it appears as if everything is over and no hope for restoration and a repaired relationship remains, the most surprising and exhilarating ending remains.

That God’s love will not leave them.

Chapter 11 outlines the heart of Hosea.

I loved Israel, but the more I loved Israel, the further they went from me.

And on it goes to say – the impending challenges that the region will face.

But in v. 8 the tone changes – “How can I give you up Ephraim?”

How can I hand you over, Israel?

My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.

I will not carry out my fierce anger

I will settle them in their homes, says the Lord.

It’s the most beautiful response.

In the face of rejection and betrayal.

In the face of hurt after hurt.

God’s response to the people – is that I still love you.

And I’m not going anywhere.

A friend of mine was recounting an argument she had with her spouse recently.  They were in a heated part of the argument and as things were escalating and she was feeling particularly bad about how things had gone – she says – “I don’t even know why you love me!”

Now, to her spouse’s credit – he could have said – “Me Either!”

But instead – he said, “I just do.  And you are going to have to just accept it.”

Through all of it, God loves Israel – not because of what they have or have not done.

God loves Israel because God just does.

It isn’t merit driven.

It isn’t earned.

It is unconditional.

The love is just theirs.

It’s relentless.

I’ve got to be honest with you – I don’t really know what to do with this love.

The world just doesn’t work this way.

I mean, there’s a reason why God says – I am not like man.  I’m like God.

Because God knows how we respond when we’ve been hurt, when we’ve been deeply betrayed.

Rage, anger, revenge, grief, sadness.

But not love.

Not love.

I’d like to say my love is unconditional but its just not true.

Because if you hurt me bad enough – then my love will go away.

So, its an extraordinary and beautiful story of a God that chooses a different path.  A path that we don’t understand – that we certainly don’t deserve – a gift that is kind of handed to us and that we just have to accept.

At the end of the game, Alex Collins was interviewed about the bizarre game winning play that brought the Razorbacks back from the dead.

And what he said was – I don’t know what to tell you – but I was standing there watching the play happen and then the next thing I knew the ball was literally landing in my hands.

So, I took it and I ran with it with all my might.  As fast as I could go.

I took it and I ran with it.

The gift of God’s love.  Whether we asked for it or not.

Has fallen into our hands.

It just is.  It just is.

What will we do with it?