We May Give Up on God, But God Never Gives Up on Us

Sunday, May 8, 2022
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Hosea 11:1-11

I was a pretty good kid growing up. I generally followed the rules. I was respectful to adults. I had a great relationship with my mom, who raised me. I didn’t like to cause waves. And I hated getting in trouble. But there was a season toward the end of high school where all that kind of fell off the rails. Some may call it rebellion. I would call it doing some “premature adulting”. I dated a girl who probably wasn’t the best match for me. I stopped telling my mom where I was going. I made some stupid teenage mistakes. Nothing too out of the ordinary from most teenage experiences. Though, I remember it feeling very out of the ordinary at the time.  

 That combination led to some not-so-comfortable moments between my mom and me. I remember one time getting into an argument with her after not coming home all night. Kids, this is not a good idea, by the way. After arguing and not getting anywhere, I stormed out the door. I got in my ‘88 Honda Accord and took off. I didn’t know where to go, so I just drove around for more than two hours. And the longer I drove the more I worried that I had gone too far. I wondered if there was any way to repair what felt so broken. I remember wondering if my mom would love me again. As a parent now, I know this sounds ridiculous, but it was very real at the time.  

 Maybe this situation sounds familiar? Maybe you were that kid who was doing some “premature adulting” or the parent who is at wits end not knowing what’s happening with your child. Maybe your marriage has had more conflict lately and you’re not sure what to do, or you’ve had a falling out with a sibling.  

 Maybe over time, you’ve figured it all out and have healed what once felt so very broken. Or maybe you still feel the hole that is left from unresolved conflict and broken relationship.  That’s just real. Right? That’s part loving people. It’s not always sunshine and roses. Relationships can be messy and painful and complicated and beautiful. Sometimes all at the same time.  

 God is familiar with these kinds of relationships too. If you know anything about the Old Testament, you know that the relationship between God and God’s chosen people was not always sunshine and roses. In fact, much of the time God was chasing after a stubborn and wayward people. Hosea writes of a God who is like a parent watching her children rebel and reject everything that the parent has nurtured. “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.” God watched in anguish as Israel’s rebellion led to suffering and distance between God and those he loved. When we live outside the covenant God makes with us, bad stuff tends to happen. And it breaks God’s heart. In this case, the powerful armies of Assyria were coming for Israel. Rather than turn back to God, they clung to idols. They sought protection from Egypt, their former slave masters, of all people! After God called to them and was rejected, all God could do was shout, “You’re going the wrong way!” It reminds me of the line from the hymn, Borning Cry, when God says, “I was there when you were but a child, with a faith to suit you well. In a blaze of light you wandered off, to find where demons dwell.” 

 There’s a way we Lutheran Christians understand this move of faith and wandering. We read Scripture through the lens of Law and Gospel. These two paradoxical partners weave their way through much of the Bible. They also act on our ongoing relationship with God through faith today. The Law calls a thing what it is – whether good or bad, right or wrong. Love your neighbor is a law. It’s a command to establish right relationship with others and it sounds good. Right. The Law also convicts the conscience when that Law is not being followed. The Law is that twinge you feel that reminds you of the part you are playing in a conflict. It’s often that little voice in the back of our heads that echoes, “You’re going the wrong way!” But that twinge often isn’t enough to change our hearts or our actions. If you have any stubborn streak in you, and let’s face it, most of us do, that twinge often causes us to double down and dig in our heels. 

 The Israelites likely continued their disobedience and distancing from God in Hosea because they knew they screwed up. They knew they weren’t being faithful. Like a child, they expected punishment and consequences, even if they were already facing the consequences of their disobedience. They had forgotten who God was, that God “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” God’s anger and frustration doesn’t burn hotter than God’s compassion, but both do burn together. God is both just – setting the path for what is right and good; and merciful – willing to give us another chance when things go off the rails.  

 That’s the gospel. It’s God’s persistent, unmerited, surprising grace when we least deserve it. It washes over you and tells you that you are more than the sum of your mistakes; that despite your failures and shortcomings, you are loved beyond measure. Author Rachel Held Evans put it this way, “Dignified or not, believable or not, ours is a God perpetually on bended knee, doing everything it takes to convince stubborn and petulant children that they are seen and loved.” 

And it’s this gospel, this good news of God stooping down on bended knee to show love beyond measure that compels us to repent, to seek a new way forward with God and with those God calls us into relationship with.  

 When I finally pulled my car back into the driveway after that big fight with my mom, I honestly felt like throwing up. I was so scared to hear what she would have to say. And I knew I had to apologize and admit that I was wrong. I walked in the door, and she stood in the hallway, tears on her cheeks and arms opened wide. Now, I had tears on my cheeks too. As she hugged me, she gently said, “I love you.” More tears came, and I squeaked out, “I’m really sorry.” And then she added with a slight smirk something like, “Don’t do that again.” I was home. I knew the pain I caused, but I also knew that a mother’s love was greater than the sum of my mistakes.  

The same is true and more for God. God’s heart breaks when God’s people go astray. And things get messy and continue to break when we won’t acknowledge what’s wrong. And yet, God will call like a roaring lion, to bring us home. God will never relent from wanting to pick us up and hold us to God’s cheek, like a loving parent, and to remind us that no matter how much we give up on God, God never gives up on us. Amen.   

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