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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, August 4, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | Hosea 11:1–11

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 Ephraim 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. 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. My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.

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 God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west. 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. (NRSV)

Khalil Gibran, writing poetically on the subject of children, says, “You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

Anyone who has ever given care to another, especially as a parent, coach, or mentor, likely recognizes the feeling of helplessness Gibran describes. Try as we might, we cannot force another to be like ourselves or follow our direction. At some point, advice will be ignored, promises broken, and progress will reverse. As caregivers, then, our feelings often oscillate between anger and encouragement or frustration and inspiration. In today’s passage from Hosea, we experience God also in caregiving mode as images of familial relationship are center.

Perhaps the most visible emotion God shares here is anger. Anger can be a necessary but unwieldly quality, even for God. Anger can be a sign that we care about the outcome of an incident or the fate of a person. But the extent of anger expressed in this passage can make many of us uncomfortable and rightfully so. We can all recount examples of anger run amok in our lives and communities. Anger begets anger, and the result is the same old story of violence, war, and revenge.

But the story to catch here is that God pulls back from anger. The logic of love inevitably redirects the path of burning anger away from retribution and toward empathy. Where is it that you feel a righteous anger or frustration? How might you channel those powerful emotions into pathways of love?

We live in a world of ruptured relationships, O God, so we thank you for a love that will not quit. Thank you that your compassion pursues us even when we are wrong or stray from your path. Where we are quick to cast off each other, help us practice a patient love with all those touched by our lives. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

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