August 1, 2010
Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 1, 2010
The Rev. Leslie E. Chadwick
Hosea 11:1-11 Psalm 107:1-9, 43 Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21
Please turn with me in your blue hymnals to Hymn 554. You can follow the words if you don’t feel like singing. Those who are willing to sing, please join me in this short hymn: “‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, and when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed, to turn, turn, will be our delight till by turning, turning we come round right.” Beautiful! Thank you! The words and tune to this Shaker hymn are refreshing. They ring true. It feels so good to be right “where we ought to be,” resting at home in God’s love. So why would we ever want to leave?
Lots of times, we don’t make a conscious decision to leave. St. Augustine offered this famous challenge: “Love God and do what you will.” We hear these words and may think, “we can have it all!’ We can love God and do whatever we want! The Bible shows us that the process of moving from “where we ought to be” is gradual. We begin by loving God and doing what we want. But at some point what we want conflicts with what God says he wants. It’s suddenly inconvenient to give what we have to the poor, to be faithful to each other, or to be honest with him and ourselves. At that point, we reverse the order of St. Augustine’s words. We “do what we want” first and love God on the side. Soon loving God stops being a deep, intimate relationship that propels us into action. Loving God becomes a nice idea. We consult with God less and less as we make our decisions.
The rich man in today’s gospel has stopped talking to God altogether. Everything is about him. He’s obsessed with what he plans to do and how to manage what is his. He repeats the word “my” like a mantra: “My crops, my barns, my grain, my goods, my soul…” He spends all of his energy building up his possessions instead of bending or bowing in thanksgiving to God, the one who has given him all he has. He promises his soul that all will be well in the end, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, and be merry!” But in the end, he is not satisfied. He does not find himself “in the place just right… in the valley of love and delight.” He instead is “sent away empty.” God says, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
The gospel ends on this chilling note of judgment. Leaving “where we ought” to be, leaving our hom0e in God’s love, has a cost. We will be lost, empty, and alone in the end. However, our reading from Hosea shows us how much more it costs God when we leave his love for things that cannot satisfy us. Throughout Hosea, God is furious with Northern Israel. He complains that “their heart is divided and false” (10:2). “The utter mere words;… with empty oaths, they make covenants” (10:4). They do what they want and love God on the side. Their actions show no respect for or knowledge of God: “They are not faithful. They swear, lie, murder, steal, and commit adultery” (4:2). They worship idols and indulge in sexual orgies (4:17-18). They are not happy. God points out, “They wail upon their beds, but they do not cry to me from the heart” (7:14). God insists, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. I want REAL relationship, not empty words.”
God has loved Israel from the day Israel became a people. He has loved them through slavery, through the Red Sea, through the wilderness. They have a long family history together. The Northern Kingdom is named for Ephraim, the son of Joseph who was the son of Jacob. God describes his agony at seeing his children far from where they ought to be, bowing to idols and self-destructive behavior. He compares himself to a parent who is angry; even in his anger, he is unable to stop loving the children he’s known and cared for from the time they were infants. God holds his people accountable for their actions. Yet, he cannot stop seeing them as who they were from the very beginning. He says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son....The more I called them, the more they went from me;…yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms, 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.” God weaves memories from the past into the present. Throughout this passage, Hosea plays on the Hebrew word for “turn.” The people of Israel shall return to the land of Egypt, to slavery because they have refused to turn to God. They are bent on turning away from him even as God bends down to them and reaches out to feed their souls.
Verse 8 is the true turning point. God turns his heart to his people even as they turn away. He asks, “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? My heart is turned within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger….for I am God and no mortal…I will not come in wrath.” God is not ashamed to bow and to bend toward his people. He does so in love. God’s love for Israel is more than an idea. It propels him to action. After Israel is lost in exile, God will come like a lion to roar and set them free. He will lead them forward and return them to their homes.
So where do these readings leave us? With a choice. When St. Augustine says, “Love God and do what you will” he is speaking about true love. He is speaking of the kind of love where you care about the needs and wishes of the other. He is speaking of the kind of love that affects what you do. True love requires a conscious decision. We can either do whatever we want and love God on the side or we can plunge ourselves into a deep relationship with God. That kind of relationship changes us from the inside out. It propels us to action on behalf of the poor, the lonely, and the needy. In that relationship, we learn not to be ashamed to bow and bend as we reach out in love to others. We hold people accountable; but we forgive because we have been loved and forgiven beyond any deserving. When we love God first, what we want more than anything is to rest in God’s love day by day. Resting there instead of rushing around to build up security for ourselves, we will find ourselves right where we ought to be. At home. Then, “To turn, turn will be our delight, ‘til by turning, turning, we come round right.” Amen.