Sunday, September 29, 2019

Investing in Their Future


Luke 16:19-31; Jeremiah 32:6-15

 

        Sometimes Jesus said the strangest things. In Luke 16:13, Jesus insisted, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” The implication is if you have money you must be evil. That is as ridiculous as suggesting if you are poor you are blessed. Well Jesus said that too but we know he was speaking allegorically. On hearing both statements the Pharisees reacted vigorously. They pointed out that without money the synagogue could not exist and what on earth would people would do without the church.

        Instead of arguing, Jesus told a story. Once upon a time there was a rich man who loved to eat. Morning, noon, and evening he could be found surrounded by friends consuming the finest wines and the richest foods. Just outside the dining room was a beggar named Lazarus. The presence of the beggar never seemed to bother the rich man. As it turns out the only thing the beggar and the rich man had in common was they died on the same day. Here is where the story gets weird. The rich man faced eternal torment while Lazarus rested in the arms of Abraham. The rich man called out, “Father Abraham, send Lazarus down here that he might dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Abraham refused.

The rich man tried again, “Send Lazarus to my house to warn my brothers not to live like me. Please Father Abraham, they would see the truth if they could hear it from someone who came back from the dead.” 

Abraham responded, “They have Moses and the prophets and they won’t listen to them. Why do you think they will listen to someone raised from the dead?” 

There are a number of rabbit holes we could take in looking at this text. The obvious is the turn or burn message. You have the wrong preacher to go down that road.

We could spend time looking at the Jewish understanding of afterlife as it evolved from a strict Deuteronomic Code to a curiosity based on Persian Folklore. But that sounds best suited for a Sunday School lesson. Besides, if I am going down a rabbit hole, I would rather travel with Jesus.

Jesus lived in two worlds. When preaching in the countryside Jesus was overwhelmed by request from the poor and the sick. Often poverty led to poor health. Certainly sickness leads to poverty. That is just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. On the other hand Jesus got invited to eat out quite often. He would dine with folks who worked hard and their labors were rewarded. It was these folks who were privy to many of the stories Jesus told. Usually he was not as much concerned about wealth as he was about how one’s wealth was being used. After all Jesus did say, “To those to whom much has been given, much is expected.” So maybe this story is more about the line, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they wouldn’t even listen to someone resurrected from the dead.”

The Pharisees were experts on Moses and the prophets.  They knew the law they loved evolved from the exploits of Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. They knew these prophets were visionaries. The prophets saw the conditions of today as a springboard for the possibilities of tomorrow.

A prime example would be the story of Jeremiah. If you have never read the book of Jeremiah don’t attempt it without alcohol. If Jeremiah hadn’t been a prophet he would have been a country music song writer. I think Jeremiah was probably the inspiration for the line, “Help me make it through the night.” Yet even Jeremiah could recognize the flicker of light that exposes itself just before the sunrise.

Jeremiah lived in horrific times. Jerusalem was being besieged by the armies of Babylon and he didn’t have to be a prophet to know things were going to end badly. Most folks were writing their last will and testament. Jeremiah decided to go into the real estate business. Let me put this into a perspective we can all understand. This would be like buying property in the Bahamas the day before Hurricane Dorian made landfall. What Jeremiah was about to buy would soon be worthless.  But Jeremiah did not live for the moment. This melancholy poet took the newly purchased bill of sell, placed it in an earthen pot, and planted it into the ground. He believed one day the Hebrew people would return to Jerusalem.  When they did, the land purchased would be the place a new beginning would begin.

This is a dominate message that resonated through the Old Testament and into the stories of Jesus. God wants us  to invest in the future of someone else. The Hebrews kept asking, “Am I my brother and sisters keeper?”  God’s answer was always, “Yes.” The Pharisees endlessly asked Jesus, “How do I become a good neighbor?” Jesus always responded, “By showing mercy.”

The sin of the rich man was not his wealth, it was his eyesight. Day after day Lazarus came to his house. Day after day Lazarus was unseen. Then one day God, who has a remarkable sense of irony, turned the tables on the rich man and he miraculously developed 20/20 vision.

Thanks to the generosity of this church Deb and I spent our last two weeks immersed in a journey which covered 2,000 years.  Part of our experience was exploring the most impressive cathedrals in the United Kingdom. I am not sure which was more inspiring, the end product or the stories of their construction.

Works of art like the cathedrals in Salisbury and Canterbury were not completed in a matter of years. In some cases the work took two or three generations. The men who began these projects knew their dream would never be completed in their lifetime. So they thought ahead. Massive trees were cut down to suspend the ceilings. Then seedlings were planted so the next generation could have an ample wood supply for the completion of the project.   The future was planned by those who would never see a finished product.  They invested in future of their grandchildren.

All of us have been blessed. Think of all the opportunities we have to invest in the future of our neighbors through simple acts of mercy. Many of you were teachers. Many of you worked in health care. You invested your talents on behalf of those around you. Today we continue to recognize the plight others and respond through our outreach ministries.  Next month all those programs will be on display during worship and we will have the chance to further support them with our hands and hearts.

But over the last few weeks we have witnessed a younger Lazarus standing outside our door. Children, articulate children, have spoken to Congress, to the United Nations, to us, about rising seas, melting glaciers, fossil fuels, and plastic waste that is killing our oceans. These young voices are asking us to invest in their future.

You see, if we look, if we listen, if we remember Jesus and the prophets, we might discover opportunities for transformation just outside our doorsteps.      Amen.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

There is Always Something Left


Luke 14:7-11

 

        PK’s are never impressed with Church dinners. If you haven’t guessed PK’s are “preacher’s kids”. There are three basic rules associated with being a PK. These rules were passed down from my beloved father and I faithfully passed them down to my children.

        Rule #1 - PK’s will be at church whenever the doors open.

        Rule #2 – A PK is allowed only two responses, “Yes ma’am or No ma’am.”

        Rule #3, and this is the most important rule of all. Never, under any circumstances, go anyplace but the back of the line at a church dinner.

        Once, after missing out on deviled eggs three church dinners in a row, I asked my father why I always had to go to the back of the line. He frowned and said, “Luke 14:11.”

        I knew better than to ask my father what Jesus had said in the 14th chapter of Luke. He already had me memorizing the names of the books of the Bible and I didn’t want to learn how to spell them. So I looked it up. “All who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

        I knew the meaning of the word humble. When you are PK that is one of the first word you are taught. It lesson comes immediately after uttering  the phrase, “I want.” But I had never heard the word exalted. I was only six and I don’t remember my Second Grade Primer exclaiming, “See Dick run. See Jane be exalted.” To avoid a confrontation I went back to the Book of Luke and read the whole story. 

Jesus and his disciples were invited to a wedding. They evidently arrived early and the place was half full. The disciples picked out what appeared to be the choice seats and sat down. Jesus quickly corrected them. “You might be taking a seat that has been designated for the parents of the bride or groom. Think how embarrassing it would be to be asked to move. Sit in the back. When the host comes and sees us, he can ask us to move forward. Be humble and people will invite you to move forward.”

My initially thought was no one has ever come to the back of the line and offered me a deviled egg. I realized the sayings of Jesus were too complex for my limited in-sights.

Even today, the idea of the first shall be last and the last first seems a bit farfetched. The New York Yankees have won 27 World Championships.  They didn’t accomplish that by being humble. In contrast the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals have not won in 50 years. Isn’t that a long time to wait to be moved up to a better seat? What is Jesus trying to tell us?

In 1949 Howard Thurman wrote Jesus and the Disinherited. It begins, The significance of the religion of Jesus to people who stand with their backs against the wall has always seemed to me to be crucial. Why is it then that Christianity seems impotent to radically deal with injustice?

Thurman offers three truths that haunt the disenfranchised and one solution. The first is fear. Thurman calls it the persistent hound of hell. People in general have their cavalcade of fears. Those at the back of line daily live with fears we never consider. Some folks, just down the road from us, live from one pay check to pay check. That is frightening.  Some folks, just down the road from us, have to decide on spending their pay check on food or medicine. That is frightening. Some folks, just down the road from us, are frightened when they see blinking police lights in their rear view mirror.  That is their reality, not ours.

The second is deception. Thruman claims this is the oldest of all techniques by which the weak protect themselves from the strong. It is a technique used by the Psalmist. The king has done something outrageous. The people are outraged and turn to the poet. If the poet stirs up the people, soldiers will descend on the weak. So the poet prays to God. The Psalm describes the outrage but the words are addressed to a heavenly source. The king can only bow his head. Violence is avoided, but the conditions remain. The strategy is tragic but the weak survive.

The third is hate. Hatred cannot be defined, only described. Some of you remember Pearl Harbor. All of us remember 9/11. As a nation we wanted revenge. We act righteously and in some cases unrighteously. In 1941 Japanese-Americans were interned in prison camps in Arkansas.  In 2001, anyone from the Middle East was eyed suspiciously as an enemy. Even today too often a person is condemned because of the color of their skin. Occasionally preachers like myself will offer sanctimonious words from the pulpit, but those words are forgotten by both the spokesman and the audience before lunch. Hate is so easily justified by righteous indignation because the pronoun in our hateful speech is always “They”.

Jesus was born an outsider. The color of his skin was brown. The Jewish people were dominated by Rome and Rome was to be feared. The Jews used polite deceptions to try to overcome the dominance of this Empire. The Governor of Rome hated his position and he hated the people under his thumb. Jesus was no exception.

Jesus could have grabbed a sword and started a revolt. Some expected it. He could have retreated into the desert and started a prayer group. Many would have eagerly followed. Instead Jesus told stories. Amazingly, so many of those stories revolved around a simple theme. Every person is essentially another person’s neighbor. Jesus said loving that neighbor began by breaking down every barriers. Think of all the stories. The obvious is the Good Samaritan. But it didn’t end there. He told stories about broken relationships, stories about lost sheep, stories about widows, and stories about lepers. No one hung out with the sick, the blind, the gentiles, the Pharisees, the good, the bad the ugly like Jesus.  He sat with friends and enemies, truth tellers and manipulators, rich and poor, good and evil. It didn’t matter. You invite Jesus to lunch, he would show up. He would do anything but go to the head of the table. And why was that? Jesus knew there was always someone there who had been labeled as unworthy, so Jesus offered up his seat to them.

Jesus entered a world which lived by two basic truths. The first was, “An eye for an eye.” The second was similar. “Vengeance is mine.” Jesus rejected both. He claimed the Spirit of God had fallen upon him to preach good news to the poor, the sick, the lame, the broken, the forgotten, and the disinherited.” His motto was, “God loves you, God forgives you, and so do I.” Imagine what the world would be like if fear, deception, and hate could be nullified by love. Maybe the world Jesus longs to see begins when folks like us are willing to head for the back of the line.

To God Be the Glory.   Amen.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Saints Among Us


Hebrews 12:1&2

 

        Yesterday I preached the meditation for the funeral of a saint.  Everyone should have the opportunity to do that at least once. That might sound a bit morbid but I found it to be quite uplifting. Maybe we should recognize the saints among us before they die. They would be embarrassed by our accolades but isn’t it wonderful to bath in a feel good story.

        The most amazing thing about a saint is they allow us to see beyond what is right in front of us. Everyone recognizes problems. Everyone fears potential failures. We struggle with drama because we expect things to go sideways. Saints point out what God and godly folks are doing in our midst. Saints accomplish what we believe to be impossible because saints are not subject to our limited vision. Saints function like a pair of corrective lenses. Remember the first time the optometrist put a pair of glasses on our nose.  I was nine years old before realizing leaves fell from trees. I thought they just appeared on the ground. Saints don’t suffer from limited vision.

        My favorite saint is Alice Taylor. I am certain I have mentioned her but her story is worth hearing again. In the late 1970’s Alice was stuck in an abusive marriage. Alice was also trying to come to terms with discovering she was a lesbian. Her church told her she was damned to hell unless she would renounce her discovery. She tried conversation therapy.  Her minister attempted to perform an exorcism. Her husband divorced her and Alice was literally thrown out on the streets of Va. Beach. She went to St. Columba Presbyterian Church and asked the minister, Nibs Stroupe, if he had any odd jobs she could do to earn some money. Nibs told her if she could sweep floors twice a week she could sleep in the sanctuary. Alice confessed to Nibs that she was a lesbian.  

Nibs responded, “Do lesbians not sweep floors?”

Alice was horrified at the response. She cried out, “I am a lesbian. It would be shameful for me to sleep in the sanctuary.”

Nibs responded, “Who told you that? You are a child of God. Where else should you be but in your father’s house?”

Alice eventually was made the part-time custodian and also she was put in charge of a food and clothes pantry. But the demographics of the community changed as the neighborhood houses were demolished and turned into shopping malls. The church was forced to close its doors. Alice went to Norfolk Presbytery and asked if the building could become a ministry for homeless folks. Her adventure survived at its original location three years. Then Alice moved to a deserted fire station. She used the expanded building to minister to the city of Norfolk. She began a winter homeless shelter that operated within 15 churches. Many of those folks slept in you guessed it, the sanctuary. Eventually she moved to another building and spent every waking hour helping folks get off the street and into affordable housing.  Alice never left the Presbyterian Church. Ten years ago she became an ordained elder. Her partner of 35 years recently graduated from Union Seminary. Alice is now retired but St. Columba Ministry continues to thrive in the Hampton Roads area.

It is true, Alice was bigger than life. Folks throughout the country know her story. I am blessed to have worked with her and our friendship is a highlight in my life. But most saints work in obscurity. That doesn’t mean that the work they do is any less important.

My friend JoAnn married a young man called to be a minister. Spouses of ministers often get buried in the shadow of the one they love. JoAnn seemed happy to stay in that shadow. Malcolm preached. JoAnn sang in the choir. Malcolm ministered to adults. JoAnn nurtured children. My two children, Martina and David, loved JoAnn.

JoAnn and I co-wrote five Vacation Bible Schools. The only resource we used was the Bible. I think that was the beginning of my discovering how much amazing stuff is in this book. Our productions were magnificent. Cecille B. DeMille would have been jealous. But the most amazing part was JoAnn insisting children have a major role in anything we created. JoAnn believed children could visualize the impossible because adults had not yet ruined their imaginations. If you were a child at Winter Park Presbyterian it was like being transported to Never Neverland. Only Jesus was Peter Pan and Captain Hook did not exist.  

While Deb and I went on to new adventures, JoAnn stayed behind in Wilmington. Malcolm died 18 years ago but until last week JoAnn was still going strong. The only complaint I ever heard from JoAnn was that occasionally adults kept limiting what was possible. She undertook her last adventure at 85. She signed up for a Ukulele Camp. Everyone in the camp was under the age of 15, except for JoAnn. Once she completed the camp she asked the worship committee to allow her friends to lead the music one Sunday month. She said it would give the old folks in the choir a break.

The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us put aside every excuse and run the race that is set before us.”

I know while I was telling these two stories, some of you were reminded of saints in your life. They may still be living. He or she may be sitting next to you. They are those folks, young and old, who are not limited by age. They are those folks who are not limited by labels. Sainthood is not an exclusive club. Every one has been given a Godly vision. It just takes some of us longer to understand the talent we have been given. It’s easier to recognize sainthood in others.

So here is what I want you to do. Take a moment and think of someone who has been a saint in your life. Now I am going to count to three. When I say three call out the name of that person. Say it loud and say it proud. They have run a race for you. Here we go 1…2…3.    

That was awful. Say it like you mean it. Say the name loud enough so God can hear you. One more time.  1…2…3.

How did they become a saint? What was her story? What did he overcome? What was the constant anchor in her life? For Alice and JoAnn it began with a faith in a living God who would not let church or culture or limited thinking push them into the shadows. They found the courage and perseverance to move forward because they never doubted God had put them here for a purpose.  To paraphrase the words of Martin Luther King, “Everyone can be a saint because anyone can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree. You don’t have to have a million dollars. You don’t even have to make your subject and noun agree. All you need is heart full of grace and a soul motivated by love.”

I am going to count to three one more time. This time say your own name. Say it loud and say it proud. 1,2,3.  

        What you heard was the roll call of the saints. Now go out there and make God proud.          Amen.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Does God Still Have Faith in Us?


Isaiah 1:10-20; Hebrews 11:1-3

 

        I am tired of waking up every morning and seeing the flag at half mast.

 

        I am tired of politicians blaming everyone and everything but themselves.

 

        I am tired of commentators claiming they are experts when they have no idea what they are talking about.

 

        I am tired of wearing out my knees praying to a God who seems to be absent.

 

        If the book of Isaiah had a preface these complaints would have been the laments of the prophet. Jerusalem was a mess. Assyria had destroyed Israel and appeared to be headed for Judah. King Uzziah, one of the most corrupt kings of Judah was on his death bed. The majority of the inhabitants of Jerusalem lived in poverty. The Temple was essentially closed for worship. And the few faithful that were left prayed to God for relief from their misery. The answer was hardly what they expected.

        The Book of Isaiah begins with these words. “Your prayers, your sacrifices, your worship is an abomination to me. You remind me of Sodom and Gomorrah.” You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to know that God was not happy. The text continues. “I can’t bear listening to your prayers. You have deceit on your lips and blood on your hands.”

        This is a dangerous text. The sacrifices of the people have been rejected. They went looking for God and found how risky that can be. The people cried out for salvation and were told, “You are the source of your pain. Are their forty or twenty righteous people among you? Is there even one in your midst who is faithful? Are you worth the energy it would take for restoration? Even if I did what you ask, what guarantees do I have you won’t return to your wicked ways.”

        Having released all that wrath God regained emotional control and declared to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,

        Wash yourself,

        Learn to do good.

        Seek justice for the poor.

        Stand beside the oppressed.

        Defend the orphan.

        Plead for the widow.

 

        If you do this, even though your sins are like scarlet, I shall make them as snow.

 

        When I read this text my initial thought was, “Can it really be that easy?” But then my suspicious mind wondered how often the folks in Jerusalem actually saw snow. Was this a once in a lifetime experience. To my great surprise I discovered it snows in Jerusalem three or four times each winter. Forgiveness was possible. The real question was, “How do you thaw a frozen heart?”

        I attend Sunday School every week. It was a habit I started as a child and I never got over it. I promise you a favorite topic of any Sunday School class is faith. The first question is always, “Do you have faith in God?” Nine out of ten folks will respond, “If I didn’t, do you think I would be here this morning.” Allow me to ask a different question. “Do you think God has faith in us?”

        That hardly seems to be a fair question. Isn’t faith all about what God will do for me? Didn’t God create me? Didn’t Jesus die for me? Didn’t God resurrect Jesus for me?  Did you ever consider that those questions are the beginning and not the end of our relationship with God?

        Here is another strange question. What if us getting into heaven was never God’s primary objective? What if God’s primary goal is helping us to make earth more heavenly?

Quoting the Book of Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.”

Could it be that from the beginning God has hoped that we would have the conviction to:

       

 

 

Learn to do good.

        Seek justice.

        Stand beside the oppressed.

        Defend the orphan.

        Plead for the widow.

 

        That takes a lot of faith on God’s part because it seems our convictions toward those objectives are often lacking. Like those folks in Jerusalem we appear overwhelmed by the tragedies that surround us yet we continue to insist any solutions are too far difficult or constitutionally out of the question. So we pray to God for a miracle.

        Might I suggest you read Hebrews 11. After defining faith, the author takes us to Sunday School. Remember Sarah. She became pregnant at 90. Yes that is a miracle, but you think God raised Isaac? Sarah fed, bathed, and nurtured the child until he left home. Deb keeps our grandchildren for a week and it about kills me. How did Sarah manage? She had faith in God and God had faith in her.

        Moses saw a burning bush. Yes, that was a miracle. But then Moses took on Pharaoh, crossed the Red Sea, spent 40 years in the wilderness and every single day the children of Israel whined. Why did Moses sign up for all that misery? He had faith in God and God had faith in him.

        The walls of Jericho fell before Joshua. God pulled them down. But Joshua spent the rest of his life getting 12 tribes to act as one nation.

        The easiest thing David ever did was kill Goliath.

        God brought down fire on Mt. Carmel but that was only the beginning of Elijah’s work. Consider Jeremiah and all the prophets? They were ridiculed, jailed and murdered. But did they deny their faith? Maybe. Did God desert them? No!

        Finally the writer of the Book of Hebrews points to Jesus. We remember all the miracles like feeding the 5,000, walking on water, resurrecting Lazarus, restoring sight to the blind. We forget the majority of his work was teaching 12 illiterate men, lifting up the oppressed, standing beside children, recognizing the poor and blasting the religious folks for failing to be moral. Jesus consistently sang one son. “God loves you. So why can’t you have faith in one another?” Yes, Jesus had faith in God, but God also had faith in him.

        So where do we place our faith? Is it in God? Is it in an economic system? Is it in leaders who tell us they know what is good for us? Is it in dreamers? Is it in those incapable of dreaming? Is it in anyone? That question might be far too complicated. So let me ask another. What do you think God expects of us? Has God’s vision radically changed since the time of Isaiah?

        I like to think of myself as an optimist.  I have always believed America to be the land of the free, a land of justice and righteousness, a land capable of putting an end to violence, inequality, racism, and greed. But many Americans have never experienced the opportunities I had from birth.

        So I wonder, if God grows tired of waking up to the flag at half mast. I wonder if God is growing tired of everyone blaming everyone but themselves. I wonder if God is growing tired of talking heads that have no idea what they are talking about. I wonder if God is growing tired of our divisions and lack of moral integrity. I wonder if God is growing tired of waiting for us to have the courage to do more than pray.

        What are we waiting for? Snow in December?

                                        To God be the glory.   Amen.

       

  

 

         

Sunday, August 4, 2019

I Taught You How to Walk


Hosea 11:1-11

“I Taught You How to Walk”

 

I can never remember a moment I did not love my children. Granted, David and Martina are now both grown. Each has their own family which includes that wonderful component call grandchildren.  So you might accuse me of romantically claiming the parenting adventure was one joy filled journey with only great memories. But you would be wrong. I always have and always will love my children. But there were times they nearly broke my heart.

I still remember the first night we expelled Martina from our bedroom. The first thing every perspective mother and father does is read a book on parenting. It doesn’t matter if the author knows what he is talking about. We make our choice and claim those words to be holy. Our canon of enlightenment proclaimed that within a month of coming home the child must be given her own space at night. I think this was written by some guy who was jealous of the creature that had invaded his bedroom. None-the-less we, the faithful followers of the parenting guru sentenced Martina to a night alone in her new room. She wailed long and hard. Deb and I sat huddled just outside her door reminding each other that giving into her cries would begin our downfall as responsible parents.   We lost sleep. Martina learned independence, a trait she never relinquished.

David always went to bed without a problem. He played hard and slept hard. But no matter what we did David woke up promptly at 2:30 and he woke up angry. Only a bottle would quiet his demons. Sometimes David was so enraged he wouldn’t even take the bottle. I would pick him up, take him to the den, turn on the TV, and watch the TBS reruns of the Atlanta Braves baseball game. It took desperate measures by Deb to break both of us of that nightly habit.

Parenting is hard. I once asked my one year old daughter to please tell me what she wanted. Once she learned to talk, I swear her first word was “Why?”

Why do I have to eat vegetables?

Why do I have to go to school?

Why do I have to get up?

Why do I have to go to church?

Why do I have to wear socks that match?

Why? Why? Why?

 

I once made the mistake of responding, “Mommy and Daddy know what is best for you.” Neither of my children bought that explanation. We encouraged them to be free thinkers and they didn’t think much of what we thought.

But we did do a couple of things right. We allowed them to fail hoping they would learn from their failures. By doing this we discovered was how different our children were. Failure for Martina was the end of the world. We endured her pain. Failure for David was just permission to take the road less traveled. Sometimes he scared us to death.

We had and still have creative, intelligent, caring, and healthy kids. They never got into drugs or alcohol. They excelled in school, played sports, volunteered regularly at soup kitchens and our local Aids Foundation.   They were independent thinkers. If I said an intersection was dangerous they would build a tunnel to get to the other side. They wanted to learn life on their own. Until they were 21 Martina and David saw Deb and me as old-fashion and hopelessly set in our ways. They loved us, listened to us, respected us, but needed to choose their own path. Sometimes parenting was infuriating. So why did we keep doing it?                          We taught them how to walk.

For thousands of years humans have attempted to describe God. In the beginning God was best understood as the one in the storm. The storms were powerful, dangerous, unpredictable, yet they brought life-giving rain. Humans feared God because the showers of life could turn into the storms of death. As humans evolved so did their understanding of God. They began to speak of God’s personalities. Words like jealous, wrathful, all-powerful, demanding, even unfair entered the conversation. Then a Poet suggested God was caring, merciful, slow to anger, and steadfast in love. This was a radical thought, rejected by most, yet embraced by a wayward people trying to understand their pilgrimage from Egypt to The Promised Land to Babylon and finally back to Jerusalem. The Poet dared to ask, “How could God love us?”

The answer came in these words, “When Israel was a child I loved her. But the more I would call to Israel, the more she would turn to Baal. Yet how can I give her up. How can I let her die? I carried her in my arms. I lifted her to my breast and gave her milk. I taught her how to walk.”

Seminary exposed me to everything I would ever want to know about the doctrines of atonement, creation, incarnation, salvation and sin. But the poet from Hosea told me about God. In this marvelous book, God is described as a parent with memories that are both exuberant and painful. In Hosea, God shows anger and love, a broken heart and a spirit up lifted. Hosea gives us a God who understands separation, midnight feedings, tenderness, frustration and a desperate love which at any moment might be rejected.

I can remember more than once coming home in the evening and experiencing a self-righteous rant from my son or daughter. The topic hardly mattered. Deb and I were considered to be not only unreasonable but the worst parents in the history of the parenting. We knew the pain would pass by morning, but the sunrise was 12 hours away. The door would slam and the child would disappear into the safety of his or her room. I would look at Deb and ask why we signed up for this. And she would whisper, “We can’t give up. We taught them how to walk.”

Such is the love of God.

Amen.