Dysfunctional Family Love

Sermon Text – 06.30.2019
[Hosea 11:1-11]

          I originally wrote this sermon a couple years ago. It was written in response to tragedy. Do you remember in 2017 when the Las Vegas gunman killed over 50 people and wounded hundreds more. It was horrible, and then in the small town I was living in at the time – two days later, a young man in school system took his own life. And in those moments when one tragedy piles on top of tragedy – it all becomes a little too much. We have become callous, almost expecting terrible things from the world – but when it comes so much, so fast we are filled with questions. And it’s not just our children asking questions, but we have questions in our hearts too? What is this? Why did it happen? God, how could you let it happen? Where were you? And we don’t know how to answer the kid’s questions, because we don’t know how to answer our questions – and so we’re left feeling helpless and overwhelmed. And that’s frustrating and leads to bitter feelings and sometimes anger.


          Today, I want to tell you the story of Hosea. And I’ll warn you, Hosea is a very strange story in the bible. Hosea was a prophet in Israel, way back in the Old Testament. He was God’s messenger to the people. God would talk to him, and then Hosea would talk to the people – usually to warn them about something bad that was coming. But with Hosea’s life, God did something unusual. God told Hosea, your life is going to be a metaphor for my relationship with the world. Your family is going to be a symbol for how I relate to the world. You’re going to get married, and you’re going to have kids – and it’s all going to reflect and represent God and the world. So then God tells Hosea, go marry a prostitute. A woman named Gomer. Hosea is like God, and the woman is like the people in the world – who are unfaithful to God. Go marry a prostitute, and then get her to quit her day job. So already, this seems like a bad idea. This is a very dysfunctional family. Hosea the prophet, the man of God, who marries Gomer the prostitute. But it gets worse. Hosea and Gomer have three kids together. And Hosea names the kids the worst names you’ve ever heard. The first child, Hosea names “Jezreel” – which is the name of a place where a disaster happened in history. So it’s kind of like naming your child Hiroshima or Chernobyl or something like that. Now, if I’m Gomer – I’m furious with Hosea. You named my child after this horrible thing that happened in the past. I mean, when my son was born we went with a family name William, and we call him Liam, but I wonder what would have happened if I tried to convince Sara that we should name him “Epic disaster.” Then the second kid comes along, a daughter this time and Hosea names that child Lo-ruhamah, which means You are not loved. That one’s not really funny, now we’re crossing a line here. And then they have another kid, a second son, and they name him, “Lo-ammi” which means not my people. This is all in chapter one of the book. We have this really weird set-up, a strange metaphor/reality story. Hosea, your life will represent, it’s going to be like a metaphor, like a symbol for me and my people. And then at the end of chapter one, he says one day, we will change the names of the children, but I’m getting ahead of myself. 

 So we fast forward to our scripture lesson for today. The rest of the book is really unpleasant. It talks about wickedness, and people being unfaithful, and untrustworthy, and it talks about punishment and all the bad things that are going to happen – consequences for actions, that kind of stuff. But then we get to chapter 11, and the metaphor shifts. It was a husband-wife relationship, but it moves to a Father-son relationship. So now God is the Father, and the people are the son. [read verse 1-2]. Does this sound familiar? Not the sacrifices and idols thing, but the first part. The more I called to him, the farther he moved from me. God says, “the more I called to him, the farther he moved from me.” It keeps going, [read v.3-4]. I don’t know what it is, but those verses, I read them over and over and I just never thought about God that way. I mean, yeah – God is our Father. We say “our Father” for the Lord’s prayer, but the image of God teaching a child how to walk. It says “leading him by the hands” and the image is actually of putting your hands under someone’s arms – supporting them. Like when you teach an infant to walk. And remember the metaphor. We are the child, God is the Father. [read verse 3 again]. God teaches us how to walk.
      Then the tone shifts, [read v.5-7]. Now, he’s talking about what’s actually about to happen to Israel. Literally, the Assyrian Empire is about to crush and destroy Israel. When we make mistakes, there are consequences. And as the parent, as the Father, God has this frustration – his children are leaving, they are abandoning all the right things he taught them. They’re not listening, they’re not obeying. We are not listening, we are not obeying the Lord. And he knows that’s going to hurt us later. He knows what is coming. He sees the consequences of our lives coming back to hurt us. He says, “My people are determined to desert me, They call me the Most High, but they don’t truly honor me.” You can feel the parental frustration. The anger. But I want you to hear the pain in verse 8. Imagine a parent of a toddler. After one of those nightmare days when the kids were horrible. Just infuriating – they don’t listen, they don’t obey, they don’t learn, they’re not even trying to be good. They’re cranky and screaming and just.. They’re just selfish, obnoxious, little monsters determined to drive the parents insane. And it’s been a long day, a long, frustrating day. But then, finally, the kid’s asleep. And no matter how horrible they were. As a parent, you’re standing over the crib. And that little face, that face that was beet red, and screaming and snotty and drooling like just an hour ago – when they fall asleep, they look like little angles, right? And you’re standing over the crib, looking at the child, and I hear the words of verse 8. [read v.8-9]. A God who has every right to destroy us, wipe us off the earth for all the pain we have caused – looks on us and says, “How can I give you up?” How can I let you go? My heart is torn within me. Do you see who God is in these verses? In the moment of pain, God chooses forgiveness, God chooses hope, and love – instead of giving up on us. God never gives up on us. God our Father stays with us.
    The last two verses turn to the future. [read. V.9b-11]. And so we have this victory, this tone of power and might. It’s kind of scary. Anybody a fan of C.S. Lewis? Lion, The Witch and the wardrobe? Remember Aslan the Lion – this is where he gets it from. There’s this image of God, roaring like a lion. Maybe, if you don’t know C.S. Lewis, you’ve seen the Lion King right? After all the pain, and darkness and desolation, it’s raining, and it’s miserable, and Simba climbs to the top of that mountain. And just roars. Maybe part of it was crying out in pain, in sadness at what happened, but eventually it turns into a roar of victory. God calls his people, and they come home. Literally, in history this happened, Assyria came, and conquered and they get deported for a while – but God brings them home eventually. So we’ve got all these metaphors and images, but it’s all connected to the real world. Let’s go back to Hosea. Hosea married Gomer, a prostitute. Because a prostitute abandons her husband, just like humans abandon God. And it’s a terrible idea – right? Why would God bother with humans who will hurt him? If God is all powerful, why does he keep giving us free will? Why doesn’t he just come in and force us to be good? Why would a man give a prostitute a chance, someone you know is unfaithful? You know they’re going to make mistakes. Remember what Hosea named his kids? Disaster, you are not loved and you are not my people. Because the children of this weird dysfunctional family are going to be disasters who feel like they are not loved and feel like they don’t belong. The reality of the situation is a mess. Both in Hosea’s real life, but in God’s connection to people – it’s a dysfunctional mess of a family. But at the end of chapter 1, God changes the picture, he changes their names. Literally, they rename Hosea’s children. It says,[read v.10b]. There will be times in life when you will feel like a child of a broken relationship, you will feel like a disaster, you will feel like you are not loved, you will feel like you do not belong. But when God roars like a lion, out of the dysfunction – God brings redemption. So we have this dysfunctional family mess, and God turns it into a dysfunctional family love. It’s still dysfunctional. The world is far from perfect – but with God, we catch a glimpse of hope.

          The good news this morning is that God parents us. God’s action in the world, God’s love for us is not some far off judge, or commanding Father who doesn’t care about his kids. God parents us. God guides us, teaches us, despairs when we turn from what he shows us, and then he watches in pain and anguish while we cause problems and reap destruction on ourselves. And then God steps in roaring like a lion to bring us home in the end. God loves you, and that love is the love of every Father and mother on earth, but even better. Such parental love is creative, it brought us into this world. Such love is instructive – it teaches a child to become a better person. Such love is tolerant and patient – it allows mistakes and accepts children in forgiveness. Such love is corrective – it intervenes when a child strays too far. And most importantly, such love is healing – it brings us back to wholeness. God parents us.

    Now, here’s the important part. You heard the passion and pain and anger and love and hope in the way God parents us, with the story of Hosea. You saw that. If that’s real, if God parents us, if God is our father – what does that make you? Our response is to claim our identity as children of God. I am a child of God, you are a child of God. We are children of God, beloved by the creator and he is rooting for us. Remember Hosea’s children. “At the place where you were told, “You are not my people,” it will be said, “You are children of the living God.” This is our identity, this is our hope, this is our reassurance. I am a child of God, say that with me please. I am a child of God. Again. I am a child of God. God is your father, God is your mother. God is the ultimate parent. Teaching, Guiding, rooting for you, supporting you. God sits next to you and puts his arm around you every time you are hurting. God jumps up and down with glee every time you celebrate a big success. God cries bitter tears when you lose something, when you hurt. God encourages you when you are feeling depressed or out of place or abandoned. God is always there. More than anyone else ever could be. God is there for you. God parents us. You are a child of God.

          Teenagers, I’m talking to you. Adults, it applies to you to. I have one question. Where does your value come from? What makes you valuable to the world? I straight up stole this part from that guy Bob Lenz. It was good news then, it’s good news now. Where does your value come from? You are not valuable because of your boyfriend. You are not valuable because of your grades. You are not valuable because of your sports teams, or your friends, or your Instagram following. You are not valuable because of something on the outside. You are valuable because of something on the inside. [Pull out $100 bill]. This is a $100 bill. As a Pastor, I don’t get to see very many of these – so this is very exciting for me to hold this today. [Pick a youth, offer the money.] Would you like this $100 bill? [crumble it up] What about now, is it still valuable to you? But I crumbled it up? Okay, what if I rip it a little bit. What if I throw it on the ground? What if I stomp on it? Would you still like this $100 bill? What if I throw it on the ground and tell it that it is worthless? What if I break up with it? What if I give it an F? What if I don’t let it into the college the $100 bill wanted to go to? What if I cut it from the sports team? Do you still want this $100 bill? What if I say it’s worthless? What if I tell you it’s garbage and that it is not loved? What if I put it in a home with only one parent, or what if I give it a drug addiction? What if I tell you the $100 sometimes gets depressed and doesn’t know how to talk about its feelings? Do you still want this $100 bill? Is there still value? Answer me! Is this child still important? I don’t believe you – is this child still important?!? [crumble the money, throw it down the aisle. Pause. Go and pick it up. Smooth it out. Put it on the altar.] You are not valuable because of something on the outside. Nothing that happens in the world, changes your value. You are a Child of God. You are valuable because of something on the inside. For every mistake, for every abnormality, for every awkward, weird piece, for every loneliness, for every heart-break – there is a God out there who cries out in verse 8. How can I give you up? How can I let you go? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. 

     First, remember where your value comes from? Not out here, but in here. Second, cling to a God who understands. I’m not going to try and tell you everything will be alright. I’m not going to say, “It’s all part of God’s plan.” Because I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I don’t know how God is going to turn this twisted world around. But I read this text, and I see a loving parent who will not give up on his children. A God who will one day roar like a lion and we will come home again. There is hope, even in the darkest day.

          Sometimes I think when horrible things happen, we rage and cry out and ask a lot of questions – but the answers won’t make us feel better. The answers are not really what we want. In that moment, we feel like kids again. We feel helpless and weak and afraid. We want a parent. We want someone we can trust. We want to turn to our Father, and lean on his strong arms when we cannot stand it any longer. And so I leave you with this. May you turn to God and ask him to carry this burden when you are not ready to lift it yet. May you remember that your value does not come from outside, it comes from inside. And may you wait to hear the roar of our God who will one day call us home to redemption. Amen. 

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