“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; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, 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.” (Hosea 11:1–4 NRSV)
This summer we are reflecting on the question how do we listen to God, and what happens to us when we do?
We have covered the topics of listing to God in Chaos, listening to God in the dynamic present, listening to God that moves us towards sympathy of the other person and last week Ashley Wilcox talked about a kind of listening to God that removes our fear.
Something that stood out to me about Ashley Wilcox’s message last week is that she said that some of us fear death and some of us fear life. And both of these fears are very real.
Our fear of death can be about where we go when we die, or if we go anywhere at all. It can be around the loss of loved ones. It can be about the death of our institutions, organizations, or even a way of life that we have become accustomed to.
Our fear of life is the fear of what might happen that we cannot control. The fear of what others might think of us. The fear of losing someone or something. The fear of not having enough. The fear of the toll of living. The fear of the big questions that go unanswered.
But Ashley said something else that has stuck with me. To paraphrase her, she said that convergent friends are friends who lean into both death and life with courage and perseverance.
I don’t know that we can get to a point of courage by simply listening harder or by being sympathetic to others. As far as this might get us, I think we need something else.
So this morning – rather than consider how we can practice listening better, or how we might listen as a means to understand one another better, I want us to focus on this question:
What would it be like to see this situation (or other person, or myself) from God’s perspective?
This is where Hosea comes in. As you all know the story of Hosea the prophet is pretty dicey.
I mean if we are to take this story as a literal biography of his life, God asks him, a prophet of God, to marry a prostitute. When a good religious person is looking for a spouse, a sex worker is not typically the first choice to come to mind.
“What will the folks at church say?” “Worse yet, what will the parents say?”
Yet, we learn as we read through the whole story of Hosea is that this marriage isn’t meant to simply be a symbol of Israel’s infidelity. It is something far more radical.
The story of Hosea is an example of moving toward sympathy for God who is the lover left who has been left behind. It is about learning to see from the divine perspective.
Now if you’re like me – it’s one thing to talk about practicing listening to God by quieting my mind, and it’s challenging but not impossible to imagine myself in others’ shoes, but seeing things from God’s perspective not only seems impossible, it seems rather dangerous.
We see countless people give into the temptation to “speak for God” as a means to justify whatever grievances they have against one another.
Hosea doesn’t move toward sympathy with God so that he could justify his own judgements the infidels (sort of like what Jonah is guilty of). To do that would have been to fail at actually seeing things from God’s vantage point.
Instead, as Abraham Heschel puts it, “Hosea flashes the inner life of God” to us.
Learning from the Divine Perspective
And here’s what Hosea learns from the inner life of God:
Typically when things don’t go our way, what do we think? Our first response is to think that God has once again abandoned us.
Yet, Hosea learns something completely different. It is not God who abandons us – even in the midst of the most terrible things.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
The only real danger for abandonment comes from us.
The tendency from us is that when the going get tough we take control. Our instinct for fight or flight kicks in and we take over. We do whatever we can to protect ourselves from undergoing necessary change.
When things get tough we are quick to stop doing the things that grounded us when things were good. We may stop participating in our faith communities. We may stop praying, or our prayers because one-sided laundry lists hoping God will be our vending machine. It is easy to become impatient and angry with God, the church, ourselves and others. We lose the perspective that we once had.
This is just like the Hebrew people in the book of Exodus once they are led out of Egypt – what do they want to do? Go Back!
“If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:3 NRSV)
And in Hosea God recalls:
The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.
Where we tend to think it is God who resists us, our best ideas and prayers, and won’t cooperate with the way things are supposed to be, what we learn from the divine perspective is that we are the ones who resist God’s guiding hands.
Now please don’t hear this the wrong way.
I am not saying that difficult things happen to us because we resist God (as though God were being punitive), but rather that when the difficult things happen instead of being able to pass through them with courage and grace, or turn these difficult events into moments of healing, growth and reconciliation, we resist these opportunities.
God is not interested in your damnation or your judgement.
God is not a “gotcha God” waiting to smack you when we get it wrong.
A lot of our fears of both death and life stem from the fact that we have grown up in families, with parents, or in church who have given us an image that God is out to get us. (That we need to be saved from an angry God.)
But Hosea learns, what Jesus will later teach and embody with his life, is that this is not the true story.
I think one of the things that makes it difficult for us to see things from God’s perspective is in part due to these looming parental images.
And so what does Hosea do but give us some countering parental images.
What do we have to be afraid of if this is the God we worship?
What if in fact the God we worship is not a violent and angry God at all, but a divine and loving parent who wants nothing more than to bring us to freedom, healing, and a reconciled life in the midst of whatever life is thrown at us?
Do you believe that God taught you how to walk? That God took care of you even when you didn’t know it or recognize it? That God led you with cords of human kindness when you were lost and wrapped you in bands of love. That when you fell God lifted you up and placed your face against his cheek. When you were hungry he worked behind the scenes to find you food.
!!! The message today is to see ourselves through the eyes of God, to see that God loves you like the best father or mother we can imagine, one who is filled with unconditional love, one who does not recoil or withdraw love from you, but continues to draw nearer nearer to thee. God is infinitely patience and spacious with you. He desires to bring you to healing and wholeness and to free you from the things that continue to bind you and scare you.
Heeding to the Light
As we lean into great challenges in our families and difficulties as a church let’s not collapse in hopeless misery. Let’s not grab the reigns and take control, Let’s not resist the hand of God which holds ours ever so delicately.
Let’s consider from the perspective of God what is it that God wants most from us in these moments?
And follow the words of George Fox:
…Heed every one the Life of God, and do not gad abroad from the Truth within; that ye may be kept out of all high-swelling Storms, Bustlings and Tempests, and with it ye may be kept over the World, to him and in him, that is not of the World. (G.Fox 1656 “The Light Within“)
I want to close with a very simple image. Will you close your eyes for a minute and imagine this with me?
Imagine yourself as an adult… or a parent who is gently holding the hand of a small child. Maybe the child is yours, maybe it is a grandchild, maybe it is someone else’s child who is lost. Your hand is much larger than hers and it wraps over her tiny fingers. You hang on as you navigate this child carefully through a large crowd on a very busy street. You assure the child that they are safe with you, that you know where you are going even as the crowd thickens.
What do you want from this child?
You want her to trust you. No matter what happens you want the child to hold you hand. To not let go. Not pull away. You don’t want them to try and go a different way. You want to be trusted that you have their best interest in mind. That your hands are like “cords of human kindness and bands of love.”
We see from our loving parental perspective that we want them to heed our guidance so you can bring them through the “high-swelling Storms, Bustlings and Tempests, and [so] you may be kept over the World.”
Just like God does for you.
How can I stay grounded and open to you Oh Lord, who I know wants to guide me through this?
To me this is the deep insight that Hosea gathers. Hosea enters into the divine pathos and finds that it is love and compassion and it is for us. It is much easier to move into death and life when we trust that the hand guiding us is wrapped in bands of love. And that it aims to lead us toward the healing and reconciliation of the whole world.
*Photo from Creative Commons on Flickr: Image