Text: Hosea 11:1-9
“Let the little children come to me, for such as these the Kingdom of God belongs.”
Many of you probably have seen a picture or painting depicting this scene. Jesus is peacefully sitting on top of a hill, smiling and arms open, and all these cherub-like, innocent looking children coming to him. Maybe you can picture it in your mind right now. The children look like they’re coming, happy and carefree, not a care in the world, and Jesus just embraces them and makes their worries go away.
It was two months into my junior officer tour on USS JACKSONVILLE, and things were pretty rough. I was adjusting not only to the busy and stressful life of being submariner and obtaining my nuclear engineering qualifications, but the morale on the boat was pretty low and frankly, it was a tough place to be. I went home for Christmas, and I would tell my dad how I was feeling and he’d reply like he usually did when I was stressed by life, “Well, it’ll get better. It can’t be that bad. Keep your head up and stay positive.” But I was just feeling so overwhelmed by things, and when I returned after Christmas break, I stopped answering my phone. Friends, family, even co-workers at times. I didn’t answer my phone. My dad would call, leaving his typical voicemail, “Hey, you must be busy; call me back.” This went on for about four weeks….and I just felt more and more overwhelmed and my dad began to call more frequently. I would check my voicemail after he called, and they were still the same, until one day, my dad left this voicemail message: “Aaron, this is dad…..I know you’re busy, but I haven’t heard anything at all…..” his voice cracked, and he finished, “I’m starting to worry. Call me back.”
I called my dad back right then.
It’s been one of those weeks……tragedy striking our world again: a massive terrorist act in Paris that’s left about 150 dead, and even more seriously injured. All of France is on lockdown, people gripped in sorrow and fear. But I have to admit, when I heard the news on Friday, my reaction was that I really didn’t care too much. Earlier this week, a student at Churchland High School took his own life. And on Wednesday, 80-year old Stan Morrison – a member at St. Andrew – his car crossed the median on Highway 17 and was killed instantly in a head-on collision with a truck. Yet those are not the only things going on….there was also terrorist bombings in Beirut, Lebanon and Baghdad, Iraq this past week too that went unnoticed in our country. And there’s all the things in your lives – mourning deaths, struggling with illness, uncertainty – that some of you have shared with me this past week that seems to go unnoticed too. And we still are plagued in this country by persistent issues of race, socio-economic equality and justice and violence. To be honest with you, it all weighs heavily on my mind. I guess I feel so overwhelmed, so burdened by it all. Why do some go unnoticed and some get all the attention? Which ones do I pick, which ones are more important? I mean, isn’t what’s happening in Beirut and Baghdad just as important and France? And what about what goes on daily in Palestine? I sit here and believe with my heart that #alllivesmatter, but shouldn’t that also mean that I should care just as much about #blacklivesmatter too?
Now I realize that there are probably many of you who came here this morning, hoping to get away from things like this – getting away from the horrible things happening in the world and the struggles in our lives. We’d much rather be like those innocent, carefree children in the picture of Jesus I described at the beginning of this sermon this morning. And we’d like a calm, peaceful Jesus who seems to make all those things disappear.
But after a week like this, I’m not so sure that’s the God we need.
Hosea is one of the books of the minor prophets in the Old Testament. It often goes unnoticed…how many of you have read Hosea? But there’s something about the prophet’s words here, words that are really God’s. That’s what prophets do – they convey God’s Word to God’s people. I want to read our text for today one more time. I just want you to listen….what do you hear?
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.
They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
The nation of Israel in Hosea’s time was in the midst of their own struggles and tragedy: lousy king after king; crumbling kingdom; outside nations threatening to conquer them. And some of it was their own fault as they turned to a false god and worshipped Baal. But for these children of God, while they needed God’s Word a word of judgment and call to repentance – God knew that they needed to know more how God felt about it all…..and that God cared.
As God’s children today, I wonder if we know we’re not the innocent, playful cherubs of the Jesus sitting on the hill picture. I think we know perhaps, we’re more like prodigals….prodigal girls and boys living in a broken, suffering world, full of sorrow and overwhelmed and burdened by it all.
The fact of the matter is, my soul is just as burdened by the act of terror in France as it is for an 80-year old man who died in a car accident and a teenager who committed suicide this week. And that goes for every issue of violence, race, politics – you name it – under the sun. One isn’t greater than another, nor is one lesser than another. But perhaps it should be that our souls are so burdened that we feel overwhelmed by it all. For today, we simply are honest about that…..and it’s in feeling all of this so deeply, we turn and find a God who is feeling all these things just as deeply alongside us. God, who cares for a broken world and humanity that’s filled with so much suffering and sorrow right now.
Certainly we wait expectantly for what God might do in the days to come to bring healing, reconciliation, and hope in the days to come after such week…..but to know of a God who feels just as deeply as we feel, and cares so much to never let us go…….maybe that’s exactly the God we need RIGHT NOW. Amen.