God Is Calling (November 10, 2019)
Hosea 11: 1-12
God Is Calling
Hosea is a prophet of God sent to the kingdom of Israel, the northern kingdom of Israel. It’s during the time of the split, shortly after Elijah, and right as Israel was about to be conquered by the Asyrians. Some think he preached actually into the time after Assyria’s conquest.
Hosea is an interesting prophet. If you have a chance to read the book this week, there’s a lot in there that is stuff to mull over that we’re not going to completely get into. But we are, I think, meant to see ourselves in the story that Hosea keeps presenting to us. We are meant to see ourselves in different places. Sometimes we’re meant to see ourselves in Hosea himself, sometimes we’re meant to see ourselves in the people of Israel, sometimes the people of Judah, sometimes even in God’s shoes. We’re meant to see ourselves and ask “are we like these people? Are we like this person?” This story is no different. I think we see ourselves in the people of Israel, and the people of Judah. And the question really becomes which one of those are we? There’s so many lessons we take from placing ourselves there. It’s these little lessons that I want to look at today.
First, we see that God calls all of us, and that God calls us from the very beginning. We see that God says “when Israel was a child, I called him.” Now Israel, of course, is special in comparison to all of us, because the Promise came through him. He needed to be called. But at the same time, I don’t think he’s so special in comparison to us that the lesson doesn’t go through. God calls Israel in infancy, just as God calls each of us in infancy. From the moment of our birth God is calling us to come, to be with God in life. It is important to note that God calls Israel before Israel has earned it, before Israel is worthy, God calls this person who becomes a people. God calls them for the very beginning.
And we see that God calls us no matter what. Skipping ahead a little bit, we see that Israel has done some things that make God a little upset. Israel has done terrible terrible things. It’s bad enough that God says “Why don’t I just leave these people to the gods of the nations they want to worship. Let’s see what happens. Oh, you want to pull the TV off the TV tray? Let’s see what happens.” It’s so bad that God says God should just leave them to it. And yet, that momentary thought of abandoning the people to their choices, we’re told, causes God’s heart to recoil.
God cannot do it. God cannot stop calling the people back to him. No matter what we’ve done God longs for us to come home. I’m reminded of the story of the prodigal son. We have these these two sons who have looked upon their father with contempt. One has actually insulted him and left for a far country. And when he comes back, we see that he is ready to to bow down and and take whatever punishment comes from the father. And yet the father runs out to meet him, the father, who represents God for us in the story, runs out to meet him and uplift him, and bring him back into the fold. We see that this whole time the father has wanted nothing more than for the son to just come home.
And we’re meant to see the older son of course, who does not come in when called and so the father comes out to him as well. And the father says, “come home. I long for you to come back.” We see that no matter what happens, God calls us home. There is nothing we have done, nothing we can do, that is so bad that God stops calling us home. God does not come to us in wrath, but with mercy, ready to forgive. God always will come out to us and call us home. We do still have to come back though. This is another lesson that we see. God did not go to the far off country to bring the younger son home; we must come back. Judah does, we will see that happen next week. But there at the end of our reading today, we see that Judah has come back, but Israel does not. Israel continues to walk away.
This is another lesson that we see. We as human beings have a tendency to walk away from God. Both Israel and Judah, we’re told, walked away from God. And we’re told that the more God walks toward them, the more they walk away. I’m reminded of a dog that has gotten loose. Have you ever had a dog get loose and run off on into the field or into the street? How do you get a dog back that got loose? I had to learn this lesson the hard way. You sit down and you call the dog.
What happens when a dog is loose if you walk towards it, even with a treat and with a loving voice. If you walk toward the dog, the dog thinks it’s a game, and they walk the other way. If you run toward the dog, the dog will run the other way. The only real way to get a dog to come back is to sit down and call it. And this is the lesson, this is the realization that God has come to: the more God walks toward Judah, the more God walks toward Israel, the more they walked away. That’s us, that’s our story with God too. We walk away. As the old saying goes, if you can’t see God’s face anymore, it wasn’t God who turned around. That’s the lesson. And ultimately, of course, if we walk far enough away God has no choice any longer but to stop walking and call us. There comes a point where there’s no other option but to leave us to the devices we’ve chosen; to sit down and not walk any further. Even if it pains him. Even if it makes his heart recoil.
That’s what happened with the people of Israel. They were worshiping the Canaanite god Baal. And part of the reason they were doing that was because Baal was visible; they could see that statue. And everyone said this is the god who brings rain. So when it rained, they credited it to Baal and not to God. And they begin to ask the question, “Well, Baal brought rain for us. What’s the God of Israel done for us? I mean, yeah, He brought us up out of it out of Egypt, out of slavery; but what has God done the last hundred years? What have you done for me lately? Baal brought the rain. I’m going to worship him.” And God answers that here in Hosea by saying, “what have I done for you lately? I taught you to walk. I raised you. I have loved you from the moment you were born.”
That’s the thing about Prevenient Grace: God has been with you since before you were born, since before you could possibly know what God even was. God was always there. You are like a fish in the ocean: you’ve always been surrounded by God’s grace. You can’t conceive of a life without God anymore than a fish conceive of a world that isn’t surrounded by water. And what happens with that is that sometimes we don’t realize when God is acting because we don’t know what it’s like to not have God act. We don’t know what it’s like to not be with God and not have God teaching us, and so we think that God isn’t there because we don’t feel anything new. I think that’s what God is trying to say here with the whole “I taught you to walk,” stuff. “It wasn’t Baal that brought rain; I did that. Everything you think this block of wood has done for you, it really was me. What have I done are you lately? Everything.”
What we see here is that God proves that God is always calling us. And God is always willing to welcome us back, like the prodigal son. Judah did some pretty nasty stuff too. And yet, we’re told here at the end of our reading that Judah is still faithful; the implication being that they won’t suffer all of the things that Hosea predicts for Israel; or Ephram, the largest tribe in the North and the one from which most of the Kings came. Ephram will suffer these things, and Judah won’t.
And the only real difference is who came back. We are meant to see ourselves in the people of Israel and the people of Judah here. The question is: are we with the people of Judah who are still faithful and come back, or are we with the people of Israel who would just rather go with the god that they can see? Because we all have done some bad things. Hopefully we haven’t done quite as much as Israel and Judah had, but we’ve all done something. The good news today is that God wants us to come home, that God recoils at the thought of abandoning us. But are we coming home?
This is what Hosea is calling Israel to do, and what I think the Scriptures are calling us to do as we sit here today. Come home. Be with God. And the way you come home is to accept God. Open your heart to the Spirit. Seek to follow the good and joy-filling teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ in discipleship to him. If you are interested in doing that, I invite you to join me. If you have gone astray, whether you have gone just a couple of blocks down the road and that’s all you have to do to come back home to God, or whether you’ve gone thousands of miles away; open your heart to the Spirit today and come home with us. Pray this prayer with me if you feel that longing.
“Lord God, you have watched over me my whole life long. You taught me to walk. You cared for me. I confess I have not always lived up to your calling. Forgive me my shortcomings. I open my heart to you today. Wash me clean again, and call me anew to your service. May I follow you all my days. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”