9:30AM Sunday School
11AM & 7PM Worship

2203 San Antonio St.
Austin, TX 78705

The Holy One in Our Midst

San Williams

August 1, 2010
Hosea 11:1-11


Next week in our Wednesday night faith and film discussion, we’ll watch scenes from a move called “The Invention of Lying.”  The movie employs a stereotype of God that everybody in the movie calls “the Man in the Sky.”  The Man in the Sky is responsible for all the good in the world but also all the ill.  He’s something akin to the Man Behind the Curtain in the Wizard of Oz, an omniscient deity pulling levers to manipulate events on earth.

The story reminds me of that cartoon showing a man walking along the street while a crane holding a piano dangles over his head.  Way up in the clouds the Man in the Sky sits before a kind of computer with his finger about to hit the “smite” button.  Granted, these stereotypes of God are childish and somewhat silly, but nonetheless they tend to stick in people’s minds, and they may even be the reason many people keep themselves on the periphery of the church, or outside of the church community altogether.

Our Early Parenting Class is planning some sessions this fall titled “How to Talk to Our Children About God.”  This is such an important question, because the ideas about God we learn as children can be hard to dismiss.  In his autobiography, the American journalist and critic Thomas Matthews, writes, “Try as I may…I still think of God…as I was trained as a child to envision him—as a watchful, vengeful, enormous, omniscient policeman, instantly aware of the slightest tinge of irreverence in my innermost thought, always ready to pounce if I curse, if I mention him in anger, fun or mere habit…But how can that kind of fear of that kind of God be the beginning of wisdom?”

These days it’s not enough to believe in God.  The more important question is the kind of God in whom one believes.  A famous New York City preacher of the last century was interrupted one day by a distraught college student who burst into his office and announced:  “I no longer believe in God.”  Unruffled, the preacher said, “Well, sit down and tell me about this God you don’t believe in.  I may not believe in that God either.”

What is your image of God?  Our Sunday evening book group is discussing a book titled Reimaging God.  Well, we all need to re-image God.  And of all the places in scripture that can help reshape our image of God, none is more instructive than the verses we just read from Hosea.

Our reading began with a poignant depiction of God whose goodness is like that of a loving parent. In these verses, God reflects on his relationship with Israel from the beginning to the present. God’s ruminations are similar to that of a parent of grown children pulling out the family photo album.  Seeing first the pictures of the child’s birth stirs those feelings of indescribable affection that a new parent feels for a son or daughter.  Then there’s the picture of the parents teaching the child to take her first steps.  What a joyous memory that.  Another photo in the family album shows the parent lifting the child to her face and feeling the soft cheek against her own and being filled with tenderness.  Still another photo shows the parent bending down to feed her baby to whom she is bound with cords of kindness and invisible bands of love.  Such parental endearment, the prophet proclaims, gives us an image for what God is like.

John Cavin, seizing upon this image, speaks of God’s self-revelation in terms of divine accommodation. Calvin comments, “As nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to ‘lisp’ in speaking to us.”  Like a gentle Father, like an affectionate mother, like a devoted nursemaid, God lovingly accommodates to our capacities.

But lest our image of God become overly sentimental, we must note further that God’s love is a pained, grieved love.  “My people are bent on turning away from me,” laments God.   This turning away from what theologian Paul Tillich called “the ground of being”—what Hosea likens to a loving parent, and whom Jesus knew as a heavenly Father—is the sad tragedy of history.

God’s love is an anguished love because God’s own children have turned to other gods, put their trust in various idols, and sought security in human instruments of power.  In the verses just prior to ours this morning, the prophet denounces his people’s  idolatry:  “You have plowed wickedness, you have reaped injustice, you have eaten the fruit of lies.  Because you have trusted in your power and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people.

Of course, the tumult of war continues to rise against us as we persist in putting our trust in our own power.  Several of us from UPC went to see the movie Countdown to Zero.  It’s a sobering documentary about the 23,000 nuclear weapons stockpiled in some nine nations with other nations or terrorist groups on the cups of acquiring such weapons.  We have constructed these weapons for our security and deterrence, but they now hang over our heads—as John F. Kennedy put it—like the sword of Damocles threatening the death of millions. From the prophetic view, such reliance on these terrible instruments of human power is idolatry; a turning away from God.  Like a parent to whom the child no longer listens and whom the child no longer trusts, such is the grief in the heart of God.

And yet for all this, God cannot abandon his people.  Yes, God’s anger is great and justifiable, but because God is God and not mortal, God does not act on God’s anger, but always and forever meets human resistance with divine compassion.

Friends, we need to re-imagine God as the Holy one in our midst.  We need to hold in our hearts and minds the image of a God who loves us more deeply than the most loving parent loves a child.  God’s longing to restore his relationship with us is like that of a mother who prepares a feast, sets her table and then calls out to her children, saying, “Come and sit down. Let’s feast together.  All the love that is my heart I freely give to you.  Come home.  Come home.”