Hosea 11:1-11; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Have you ever sent a message by email or voicemail and then wished you hadn`t? It’s something many of us have done. Many of us have poured out our frustration or distress or anger in an email, letter or text, and then sent it right away, without considering the consequences. Even if we don’t use the technologies that are at our fingertips, most of us have said words in the heat of the moment that we couldn’t take back. That experience may help us enter into the world of Hosea’s poem this morning.
It’s a poem about God as parent of the children of Israel. Some of the imagery evokes traditional paternal roles; other parts of it remind us of a mother. We didn’t read it last week, so I decided to include it today. God has given the people of Israel everything, and yet they still run from her. They turn to idols, they treat the poor badly, they sell each other into debt slavery, they exploit the vulnerable. God, like any parent, is saying, “How did this happen? I’ve loved you, haven’t I? I’ve stuck with you, haven’t I? We had a deal! I’d be your God, and you’d be my people – and that means doing what I’ve taught you is right! I just want to give up – let you face the consequences of your choices. But how can I give you up, my child? How can I abandon you? I watched your first steps! I fed you and cuddled you on my chest! “
God begins by remembering everything he has done for the people, and then – the rant begins, with the threat of retaliation. But then, God draws up short. God stops and says, “Am I a human being to let my anger run away with me? No. I am God. I love my children, and I will not abandon them or destroy them.”
One of my favourite preachers and teachers Walter Brueggeman calls this “a rant versus a relationship”. He invites us to look at the pattern of God’s response to the wayward children of Israel, and to make it our own. I can’t tell you how many times in the life of congregations I have seen the anger and resentment and frustration of a few people deeply damage the congregation as a whole. An email is sent, a letter is written, harsh words are spoken, and they cannot be taken back. People have been hurt, gossip has been spread, sides have been taken, and the task of mending all of the repercussions of the rant becomes enormous. A lot of the times it simply can’t be done: the hurt is too deep, the gossip has spread too widely, the divisions have become too entrenched, and the call to forgiveness and reconciliation is not heard or embraced. People can’t, or won’t, move past those moments of carelessness to rebuild broken relationship.
You see, many of us think of church as a family, and in a lot of ways that’s a good thing. It means we care about each other, are comfortable with each other, look after one another. But there’s a downside to that image that I’ve only recently identified, and it’s carelessness. How many of us say things to members of our families that we would never say to anyone else? At home, we let our tempers show. At home, we don’t watch our words. At home, we don’t think about our actions before we act. It shouldn’t be that way, but it too often is. And when we carry that carelessness into the church, oh my! Danger awaits. At home, we count on those we love to understand and forgive us. One would hope we could do the same in church. But the truth is, for the most part, the ties are actually not strong enough to sustain those kinds of injuries, that kind of carelessness. Jesus and his followers told us again and again, that this is not how we are to be with one another! You know that famous passage about love that we so often read at weddings? (1 Corinthians 13) Love is patient, love is kind, love keeps no record of wrongs…etc. That’s primarily about relationships within the Christian community. THAT’S how we are to be together! The bond that unites us is the love of Christ, and our words and our actions need to reflect that.
The instantaneousness of contemporary communication promotes a kind of carelessness of the feelings or thoughts of others. You go online, you can say whatever you want and not be held accountable. A 140 character tweet takes a few seconds to type and it can completely destroy another person’s reputation. I know of a local congregation that fell apart because one member of the congregation created a blog in which he made unfounded accusations about the minister. Anyone who had a grievance could go online and add fuel to the fire. Dangerous stuff! And yet we see examples of the rant all around us, not the least of which is in the person of Donald Trump.
Now Trump is an easy target, shooting off at the mouth and saying the most ridiculous and bigoted things. What I was challenged to do through my readings of Scripture and my prayer time this week was to ask myself, “Where is the Trump in me?” Am I being cautious in my words, careful and caring in my communication? Am I “shooting from the hip” without regard for consequences, or am I speaking with respect for my hearers and awareness of the power of words to harm? Am I using words to control and manipulate, or am I using words to build relationship? Am I letting my anger control my actions, or am I letting love govern all?
Will I choose –will YOU choose – the easy rant over the relationship that endures? Or will we live in the image of our God found in this poem of Hosea’s – our God who turns away from anger, and remains faithful in relationships. What will we choose?