Monday, August 05, 2013

God's Passionate, Fiery, Liberating Love

Hey friends! What follows is the rough manuscript of a sermon I gave last night at Saint Peter's Church, where I've been serving as Vicar this year. It's primarily on the alternative Hebrew Bible lectionary reading for the Sunday, Hosea 11: 1 - 11. Please feel free to leave comments... I'd love to hear what you think.

So while the passage you just heard from Saint Luke certainly has some important messages concerning stewardship, true abundance and that sort of thing, I actually want to spend some time exploring our first reading from the prophet Hosea with you this instead. That’s right, we’ll be hanging with good old Hosea tonight, a “minor” prophet whose lesser known writings from the back of the Hebrew Bible profoundly speaks to many of the issues we face right now, in this time, in this place, in this city.

Part of the reason Hosea’s message proves so timely is that it greatly challenges how many folks in our time define the Church and indeed our shared Christian faith. The first way Hosea challenges us, though today’s passage is one notable exception, is that much of the book uses extremely patriarchal language. Hosea in fact spends most of his time saying God’s relationship with the Northern Kingdom of Israel is much like the relationship between a righteous man and an unfaithful wife, frequently “whoring” herself out to the Baals and other Canaanite deities. An honest reading of Hosea necessarily then indicts us as Christians... we must admit, we must confess in fact, that God has often chose to speak through the words of prophets who lived in extremely patriarchal, mysogynistic times. This isn’t a bad thing really... its simply a fact that God often chooses to work through the actions of human beings. As all human beings are imperfect, God’s work through the hands of humanity will thereby be imperfect, exhibiting the sins of whatever age they come out of. The danger comes my sisters and brothers when we don’t confess such sin, recognize and deconstruct the male bias of our Scriptures and thereby create space for its wisdom to be shared in a time that doesn’t exhibit quite the same set of sins.

The second way Hosea’s message challenges how many currently define the Church and faith is that the prophet absolutely obliterates the notion that Christians aught to be all polished and perfect, exhibiting a 1950s “Leave It to Beaver” sort of piety. Rather, Hosea portrays a chaotic, passionate and highly emotional God, a God constantly going back and forth between feelings of intense disappointment and even more intense love for Her children. If God Herself can be so passionate, so fiery, so intensely emotional, it gives us the permission to feel whatever it is we’re feeling, even when we are drowning in potent torrents of emotion.

Finally, and most importantly, Hosea challenges us by reminding us that sin is indeed a very real thing. Hosea highlights the stark fact that God gets disappointed when we screw up... Often in more progressive faith communities like Saint Peter’s that rightfully reject the notion of an angry, judgement God, the idea that sin is very real, that our actions can very much disappoint God, is unfortunately glossed over. Luckily, Hosea challenges us to remember that God isn’t just sunshine and roses all the time, but by no means is He an angry judge either, making arbitrary rules and then smiting us down for fun when we don’t obey. Rather, God is a God who has suffered on the cross, who has felt the worst possible human pain that humanity could ever inflict on itself, the pain of literally killing God, and She simply doesn’t want us, Her children, to feel such pain ever again.

One time when I was about three or four, my mom was baking cookies, and I for some reason waddled into the kitchen and decided to it would be a good idea to put my mouth on the hot stove. Right as my lips touched the hot metal front panel of the oven, and thereby erupted in searing pain, my mother screamed and lunged at me. This wasn’t a scream of anger though, but rather a scream of mutual pain and compassionate, aching love... she knew how badly I was going to get hurt, and she simply cried out in an attempt to stop me. But then, as I burst into tears, I distinctly remember her bursting into tears too while binding me up in her strong, loving arms and putting ice on my wound.

While Hosea may challenge us my sister and brothers, he is also crying across the millennia to us this day, in this time, in this city with immensely good news. For while we must confess and amend for the patriarchal foundations of our Scripture and tradition, we have the profound opportunity right now to reform into a Church that affirms the full humanity of all God’s children, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, race or creed. And while Hosea’s image of an emotional, fiery and passionate God may make many folks feel uncomfortable, it also grants you the permission to be the exactly broken yet beautiful child of God you are, with no changes necessary. Most importantly, Hosea proclaims the profoundly good news that like jealous lover with His heart broken to pieces, God craves relationship with us. Like a caring parent or a life long friend God keeps coming back to us again and again no matter what we do, never letting us go from the all-embracing, liberating love She proclaims to us in Christ. Amen.

Dustin currently serves as Vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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