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The Persistence of God (Hosea 11:1-11)

Rev. Mary Ann Lewis

I don’t know how you heard those words found in Hosea. Probably depends on how you think God works, who God is, by what name you identify the force and energy described as one who cares--the one calling the children home. If we personify that One as God, then it is pretty clear the story we find in Hosea tries God’s patience, breaks God’s heart. Causes one to wonder why God cared so much. Why was God so persistent in the pursuit.

We hear a longing from the very heart of God for the return of the child God loves; it is a beautiful testament to caring--one who caresses the tender cheeks of infants, one who bends down to feed the child, one who can’t bear to forsake God’s own. And yet what is the people’s response? Time after time after time they are rejecting the presence of God and going their own way. And God’s response? How can I give up on you? I can’t bear to think about forsaking you. And so I am not going to act on my anger because, I am God. I am not mortal. I am the Holy One in your midst.

We can surely find ourselves in this practice of rejection. Our very actions often deny what we claim defines our relationship to God and how we live it out. We duck behind our wants and desires when we are challenged to advocate for those who are victimized by injustice or poverty. Some give in to hatred. Concern for others is often our second thoughts, not our first.

Theologian Eugene Peterson points out that one of the habits we have developed in our thinking and living is the separation of the sacred and the secular--that we feel in the secular, we are in charge: our jobs, our time, our entertainment, our politics, our relationships. We leave the sacred to God--”worship, the Bible, heaven and hell, church and prayers.” He goes on to assert that worship space acts as a contrivance for a place to put God--we take charge of everything else. Peterson reminds us that the prophets contend that everything is the province of God--all our work and play, all of our family, friends and relationships. All are sacred ground. Adopting such an awareness might just change the way we live out the claim of God on our lives.

Think, for a moment about how God works. What is your sense of God’s activity in your life, where and how do you accommodate God’s presence? There are as many notions about that in this room as there are people. Some personify God as person--a way that fits with the idea of what it means to be made in God’s image--even that evokes as many different expressions as their are the minds churning. Others think of God as spirit or essence of life--breath of life. For some, identifying God as an image is confining and limiting. In whatever way you consider God, think about the way you experience that image, that energy, that Spirit.

It is inescapable that in this story, according to the writer, God had to be exasperated with the irresponsible behavior and the dereliction of decency that God observed in the people---the children. Just think back to some of the road trips you took with your kids. “Stop that fighting.” “She’s touching me.” And our response “don’t make me stop this car.” And we didn’t. We continued on our trip. We never stopped and left one of the kids because she stuck her gum in the other one’s hair. Perhaps you remember the difficult confrontations about violations of curfews or family rules. Move out of the close inner circle to the work-place or the church. Think about the rude and vicious rumors that sicken relationships. And we cannot leave this awareness without acknowledging the ugliness of politics filling our media, the incessant inhumanity of injustice--racial, gender, social strata. Why hasn’t God given up on us? But the fact of the matter is, God has not---God has stayed. Because God has stayed, endured, sustained redeemed, forgiven, we know that staying is a possibility for us as well. We are in relationship and claimed.

It is this God who gave the Mothers Group, appearing at the Democratic Convention this week staying power, the courage to stand and honor their children who had died at the hands of violence and injustice. The mothers of Sandra, Jordan, Travon and others spoke of their pain and determination to remember their children’s lives through action that would prevent such pain from happening to another child and family. Remembering by calling their names, keeping their lives real.. They were all grateful to God, they named God as good, for the life of their child and their own strength as they moved forward for good. They are convinced there is a way to make it better. One writer said “God doesn’t love you because you are good. God loves you because God is good.”

God has a compelling relationship to us, God’s people. Always there. Constant, persistent, insistent. We need a God who stays. We need a God who invades our lives with presence. We are the ones who move away, who put up barriers, who assign God to safe places in our lives and in our thinking. There is the old line, “if you think you can’t find God, who moved?

Imagine a world where God’s presence invaded every space. Imagine following that presence through the door to healing: healing of broken relationships; relieving painful and infuriating injustice, healing of ugly dialogue--offering peace and wholeness in its place. Because that is what the presence of God--the Spirit--Energy--can do.

And so the question becomes “what keeps us from acknowledging that presence?” How do we move to this in our own lives, everyday?

Well, we have to want it. We have to acknowledge it. We have to get out of the way. It is not magic. It is us living out what we know about God, living out what we find compelling about the presence. Experimenting with imagining what a “God-like response” might be, before we engage in the day, in an encounter, in living in relationship. Imagine ordering our day with a contemplative moment before caffeine. Richard Rohr give us this image “within contemplation you stand under an immense waterfall of mercy, compassion and forgiveness.” And the result is empowerment for servanthood, for living into accountability and becoming that presence in and through our lives.

“I am God. I am in your midst. I am the awe and the mystery that call you out of yourself to the good.” Listen to those words. The awe and the mystery--not something we understand or can describe but something we can feel when we allow ourselves to fall into the silence.

Fred Craddock tells about meeting a young woman who had just emerged from a church--her very first time in a church sanctuary. “How did you find it,” he asked. “Kind of scary” she said. “Kind of scary?” “Yeah” she answered. “Why?” Fred asked. And she responded “Because it seems so important. You know I never go to anything very important. This just seemed so important.”

Submitting to the mystery can be scary. We are so used to control, to gauging our emotions to fit the time and the place that allowing ourselves to sink into the presence is a step we resist. A Wendell Berry poem describes the process of giving ourselves to something we may not quite understand:

> I go among trees and sit still.

> All my stirring becomes quiet

> around me like circles on water.

> My tasks lie in their places

> where I left them, asleep like cattle.

> Then what I am afraid of comes.

> I live for a while in its sight.

> What I fear in it leaves it,

> and the fear of it leaves me.

> It sings, and I hear its song.

Another writer left us with this thought--all space and every place is sanctuary. Holy because of the persistent presence of God.

I AM IN YOUR MIDST. God is in our midst transforming space because “it is just so important”. God is in our midst transforming us because “we are just so important”.

Washed over by the waterfall of mercy, compassion and forgiveness, all life becomes the sanctuary surrounding us, empowering because it is just so important.