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1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. 3 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. 4 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. 5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes. 7 My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all. 8 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. 9 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. 10 They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west. 11 They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.
For those of you who are kids in the room and those of you who spend a significant among of time around young children these days, you may already be familiar with a popular children’s’ show called Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
But for those of you who aren’t, it’s a delightful show based on Mister Roger’s Neighborhood and the land of make-believe. And obviously, the main character is Daniel Tiger, who embodies the spirit of Mister Rogers throughout the show. In fact, not only is it a delightful show, but it’s a helpful show. Each episode has a catchy song, helping parents teach their children. For example, a song on how to be independent:
Try to solve the problem yourself and you’ll feel proud.
Or even to help with potty training:
When you have to go potty stop and go right away…flush and wash and be on your way!
It is a show that teaches about sharing, or feeling sad, or eating your vegetables, and even how to welcome in a new baby brother or sister.
But for as helpful as the show is, there is a glaring problem with the show and many parents have spotted it. It is the children who often struggle with something in the show. It is the children who lose their temper. It is the children who feel jealous. Meanwhile the parents always seem wise, cool, calm, and collected.
Which, if you’ve ever watched an exhausted parent try to grab some groceries at Econo after a long days work while the kids climb all over the cart like a jungle gym, is not an accurate portrait of parenthood. We are not always calm and collected.
Which is why parents everywhere momentarily rejoiced when an article starting going around the internet that in an upcoming episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Mom Tiger is finally going to just lose it. The articles states that after receiving complaints from many parents, the creator would be producing a more realistic episode called “Daniel won’t stay in bed,” in which after Daniel gets out of bed for the millionth time demanding his stuffed animal, or scared of monsters, or needing a sip of water, after which Daniel’s mom finally slam down her cup of water and finally shouts, “GO TO BED! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! I NEED SOME ALONE TIME!”
Have you ever lost it? Just finally let go? Raged a bit? Or kids, have you ever seen your parents just get really, really mad?
Yeah, we know that feeling. We know what it’s like. We know that’s really what life is like. And many of us parents long to see it portrayed in this wonderful show, but sadly, the article was just satire and the episode won’t be airing.
But the point is still true. Parents know what it’s like to have a phony, stereotypical portrayal of themselves put out there in society and then to long for a more realistic picture of things.
God knows it’s like too.
God knows what it’s like to have a phony, stereotypical portrayal of God’s self put out there in society too. But it is almost exactly the complete opposite problem from the story about Daniel Tiger’s mom.
Too often, Christians avoid the Old Testament because there is a stereotypical view about the God we will meet there. A God who has no problem losing it. A God who gets angry. In fact, the biblical word we think of is wrath – the wrath of God. I think there are few scarier phrases in all of scripture than the wrath of God. We all shutter just a little bit when we hear that. Most of us somewhere along the line have picked up this idea that the God we see in the Old Testament is an angry and wrathful God, who is smiting and destroying people left and right. A power hungry deity who demands obedience and love to send punishment.
A couple of years ago, I was at a retirement center teaching a bible study on the book of Nahum from the Old Testament. Now, the book of Nahum is particularly difficult when it comes God, because it does show an angry and vengeful God that few of us would want to welcome into our life. There is a reason why Nahum is never read in the Sunday lectionary. So as you can see, the problems with stereotypes is that there is a sliver of truth to them. (Sam Wells). There are texts where God is angry and vengeful. Last week we heard about God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. But while we were wrestling with this in the study, one person raised their hand and said, “But that is the God of the Old Testament. It’s a good thing we have the God of the New Testament in Jesus.”
Which is what many of us do, we separate the angry vengeful God we think we find in the Old Testament, with the peaceful and loving God we think we find in the New Testament, as if they are separate gods. When in fact, neither stereotype gives us a full picture of who God is. Just like Mom Tiger’s constantly calm and reassuring and never anxious presence is not a full picture of the reality of parenting, or the reality of being human, to say that the God we find in the Old Testament is just an angry and vengeful god is to miss the full picture of who this God is.
But in this morning’s Old Testament episode, if you will, from Hosea, we finally get that fuller picture of God in the Old Testament. A picture that both God and we have always wanted to see. A God who is tender and gentle and who just cannot stop loving the children of God, despite their constant throwing of food or shoving of siblings or ignoring of the parents request.
As preacher Sam Wells has said, this reading from Hosea shows just how impoverished our stereotype of God in the Old Testament really is. If you were going to advise a newcomer to Christianity how to see God in Old Testament, you’d best skip Genesis, Exodus and the rest, and start here with Hosea.
Listen again to these words of God in the Old Testament, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the other gods, and offering incense to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught (them) to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4 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.
This is the image of a heartsick parent who just cannot stop loving the children, even though the children have turned away.
Have you ever felt that undying love and commitment for someone. That commitment to someone despite their persistent failure in the relationship?
God goes on to say, “How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? How can I destroy you. My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy you; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” That’s our God in the Old Testament. A God caught in the gears of parental love and parental anger. And when faced with the choice between utter abandonment or risky, faithfulness, this is a God who chooses risky, faithfulness every time.
I think we can catch a glimpse of this God refracted in the story of Jack Casey. Casey was raised in a tough home, the child of an alcoholic father. But something happened to Jack when he was a child that changed his life, changed his heart. He was having surgery one day, and he was frightened. He remembers the surgical nurse standing there and compassionately reassuring him. “Don’t worry,” she said to Jack. “I’ll be here right beside you no matter what happens.” And when Jack woke up again, she was true to her word and still there.
Years later, Jack Casey became a paramedic. One day he was sent to the scene of a highway accident. A man was pinned upside down in his pickup truck, and as Jack was trying to get him out of the wreckage, gasoline was dripping down on both of them. The rescuers were using power tools to cut the metal, so one spark could have caused everything to go up in flames. The driver was frightened, crying out how scared he was of dying. Jack remembered what had happened to him long ago on the operating table, how that nurse had spoken tenderly to him and stayed with him, and he said and did the same thing for the truck driver, “Look, don’t worry,” he said, “I’m right here with you, I’m not going anywhere.” Days later, the rescued truck driver said to Jack, “You know, you were an idiot, the thing could have exploded and we’d both have been burned up!”
“I just couldn’t leave you,” Jack said.
How can I leave you, O Israel. That’s who God is…despite the risk and pain of stepping into this world with us, God just cannot leave us on our own. That’s the God of the Old Testament, which is the very same God embodied in the life of Jesus in the New Testament.
People will use the stereotype of the Old Testament God to scare us. We’ve all seen people holding big signs with BIG SCARY LETTERS saying GOD HATES SIN. And you know, there some truth in that sign. God does hate sin. God hates the things that draw us away from each other and loving our neighbor and draw us away from God.…but that is not the full picture of who God is. Those signs have skipped over the episode of Hosea 11.
O my people, I have loved you since you were a child. I have raised you up. You turn away from me. But how can I turn away from you. How can I give you up? I will not come in anger or in wrath. I will come to take you home.
Thanks be to God. Amen.