11:1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
11:2 The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.
11:3 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.
11:4 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.
11:5 They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me.
11:6 The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes.
11:7 My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.
11:8 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.
11:9 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.
11:10 They shall go after the LORD, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.
11:11 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.
I spend a fair deal of time changing diapers these days. Not nearly so much time as my wife does, but it is still a daily task for me. Changing diapers can help one gain a sense of perspective. Because the thought occurs to you, that at one point in your life, someone also did this for you. At one point you too were tiny and helpless, you too were wailing and covered in your own poo, and someone else cared enough to change your diaper for you. It is possible to go your life without once changing a diaper, just as it is possible to go your whole life without ever helping the vulnerable. Changing diapers and helping the vulnerable are optional in this life. Having your diaper changed on the other hand, being the one who is vulnerable and in need of help, this is not optional. We were all once infants helpless in our poopy diapers, and if we’re lucky, we might live long enough to need help changing ourselves in old age. Once we grow older and stronger and a little more independent, we tend to forget that for much of our lives we were in need of help, we were vulnerable and we needed to be saved.
Although Jesus is rightly famous for referring to God as Father, the prophet Hosea, writing 7 centuries before Jesus, had already imagined God as a loving and caring parent. Listen to his description of God’s election of Israel while they were enslaved in Egypt and of God subsequently leading them through the wilderness, “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 Ephrahim 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.” Whether we believe God had anything to do with it or not, we are all, all of us, indebted to those who taught us to walk, those who led us with cords of human kindness and bands of love, those who fed us when we could not feed ourselves. In the Church we say that the love and grace and protection that we experience in this life are blessings from God. They are not earned, nor deserved, they are gifts for which we are to be eternally grateful. God did not leave us alone in our time of vulnerability, through parents, grandparents, loved ones, and community, God loved and cared for us, God fed us and taught us to walk.
Immediately after this beautiful portrayal of the intimate caring love of God, Hosea abruptly announces that the people have turned away from God. The result of this turning away is disastrous. “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.” The cities of Israel will be destroyed by violence and they shall be taken away by a foreign power and returned to bondage as in Egypt. The people whom God chose as God’s own, the people that God loved as a mother loves her child, these people turned away from Her. These people brought disaster on themselves by refusing to return to God.
Twenty years ago we were all learning about a new and terrifying phenomenon- the suicide bomber. The events of 9-11 awakened us to the reality of this new danger, but the men who killed themselves and thousands of others that day, were merely a few among thousands that made the choice to end their own lives by taking as many innocents with them as possible. I can remember how incomprehensible this action was at the time. Who would do something like that? Who are these people? Perhaps the easiest way to deal with this phenomenon was to ascribe it soley to others, others who were somehow so unlike us that being a suicide bomber would make sense to them. It must be something about their religion or their culture that caused them to do this. So we labelled them radical Islamic terrorists. We learned that they were radicalized over the internet, where they nurtured a sense of grievance against the world, a sense of grievance so strong that it led them to hate those who were different from them, so strong that it could lead them to kill themselves and others in the name of God or country. We made sense of this insanity by locating it only in others, others a world away, others completely unlike us.
Over the last week our own country experienced three domestic terrorist attacks: in Gilroy, California, in El Paso, Texas, and last night in Dayton, Ohio. These are only the most recent of the now hundreds of such attacks that we have suffered in the past twenty years. These attacks are carried out by white men, men who look very similar to me. These men have nurtured a sense of grievance over the internet- where they found an ideology that blamed all their misfortune on black and brown people, on immigrants and Jews. These men purchased weapons of war and attacked innocent people, killed innocent people, and then killed themselves. Even those who did not kill themselves and were not killed by law enforcement, even they did not have a follow up plan. No plan for escape, no plan to continue their action, just the plan to kill as many as possible before being killed or captured themselves. The difference between a mass shooter and a suicide bomber is only in their choice of weapon, and the people they have learned to hate. That which seemed so incomprehensible that it could only be done by others completely unlike us, has become commonplace in our own country.
I do not believe that these shootings are the will of God. It is my strong belief that the God who loved us into life wills only the best for all of us. The God of which Hosea speaks, the Holy One who fed us all and led us with bonds of love, this God does not will for his beloved creatures to suffer. However, I do believe that sin has consequences. Just as Hosea believed that Israel’s turning away from God would bring their destruction, and just as Paul said that the wages of sin is death, I believe that our failure to love God and neighbor as ourselves comes with devastating consequences. We elected a President who openly demonizes immigrants and asylum seekers, who refers to populations of non-white people as infestations, who claimed that we are being invaded by Hispanic people. And now we have mass shooters who adore this president, who echo his language of genocide, and who give their lives taking the lives of others that they believe are inferior. Any ideology that values one group of people over all others, any ideology that demonizes other human beings, any ideology that uses the vulnerable as scapegoats for our larger problems is a sinful ideology. Adhering to it is turning away from the God who lovingly created us all. This turning away from God, this sin, has fatal consequences. The sword raged in the cities of Israel, the assault rifle rages in the cities of the United States.
What then are we to do? Are we doomed to reap the wages of our sin forever? Will these domestic terrorist attacks ever end? Has God abandoned us to suffer these consequences of our sin? Hosea did not believe that God had given up on Israel. Despite their sin, Hosea believed that God still loved and cared for God’s people. The cords of human kindness and the bands of love could not be broken by the people’s failures. Listen to Hosea’s words, “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 a God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” Nothing that we can do can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. There is no sin too awful for God to forgive. There is no situation that the love of God cannot redeem. When the people of Israel were dead in their sin, even then God called them to return. I believe that God has not given up on us either; God has not abandoned us to the consequence of our sin. I believe that God is calling us right now in this very moment to repent of our sins, to return to the ways of God, to once again walk hand in hand with our loving and merciful God.
But the decision to repent, to give up our sinful ways, and to heed God’s welcoming call is ours to make. To return to God we have to give up our sin. We have to stop thinking that United States citizens are somehow superior to other people. We have to stop believing that where you were born or what religion you practice determines your value to God and to the world. We have to start believing that lives are more valuable than legal precedent. We need to recognize that the vulnerable are not our enemies, they are our sisters and brothers, they are us. When people come to this country fleeing violence with their children in tow, we should recognize them as people who are vulnerable just like we often are, instead of making them out to be criminals, and monsters.
Our worship of whiteness and gun ownership is idolatry and it cannot and will not save us. If we wish to end this warring madness we have to return to the God who commanded us to love our neighbor and to honor all people. We must begin to recognize that evil is not only located in others; we must recognize that we are as capable of great evil as everyone else, and we that we are presently enthralled by this evil. This is what repentance will look like for the United States. It is our moral, ethical, political, and religious duty. My prayer is that God will give us the courage to face our own vulnerability, to see ourselves and Christ Jesus in the faces of the vulnerable, and to begin living from the truth that we are all vulnerable people loved by God and commanded to love one another. O God of love and power, make it so. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Greenhaw
Eternal Student, Christian Minister, Buffalo Wing Enthusiast