Sermon: God’s Heart

August 4, 2019
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Hosea 11:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

by Eric Anderson

Well, it’s kind of a downer week for a church picnic. The lectionary editors, I have to say, did not consult with local church pastors when setting out the readings for Sundays in August. Because Hosea’s judgement and the Rich Fool are not exactly church picnic-compatible stories.

What do I hear on the wind?

Is it the sighing of a dove?
Or the sighing of a deity
watching warmly, tenderly
as the Creator’s children stray?

What do I hear in the trees?

Is it resilience in motion?
Or the groans of a deity
swaying in unison
with the Earth’s moaning?

What do I hear on the waves?

Is it the rhythm of ocean?
Or the sobs of a deity
embracing the suffering
of all They have made?

What do I hear in the cosmos?

Is it the cry of expansion?
Or the wrath of a deity
frustrated with evil
beyond all endurance?

What do I hear in the Earth?

Is it the silence of affection?
Or a deity’s anger
cooling, reforming,
bearing us upon forgiveness?

What do I hear?

(“God’s Weeping” by Eric Anderson used by permission.)

Last week in Gilroy, four died. Yesterday in El Paso, twenty died. Last night in Dayton, nine died. Three mass shootings in a week. Two within twenty-four hours.

Except there were actually eight more between the gunfire in Gilroy and the gunfire in El Paso, and there’s been another one in Chicago this morning. Between them, they add another eighteen fatalities. There have been 253 mass shootings in the United States so far this year, killing 281 people and wounding 1032.

Today is the 216th day of 2019.

Mass shootings, in which four or more people are injured, are horrifyingly the visible portion of a much deeper problem. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 33,037 violent incidents involving guns this year, costing 8,735 people their lives and sending 17,330 to the hospital. At least, that was true as of this morning.

And it doesn’t include suicides. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, suicides by firearms claim another 22,000 lives each year.

Friends, we have given our worship to the firearm. It is an angry, relentless, and jealous god. It demands human sacrifice, and it gets it at the rate of 100 Americans a year.

What do I hear, beyond the gunfire and groans and the grief?

I hear the frustrated tears of God.

A few years ago, the Rev. Matt Crebbin, pastor of the Newtown Congregational Church UCC, put it this way: “We don’t have a Second Amendment issue. We have a Second Commandment crisis.”

For those of you running through the commandments in your head, that’s this one: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”

Anna Case-Winters writes (in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3, Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), “In the normal anxiety that attends finite and fragile human existence, it is natural to seek to secure ourselves, and idolatry arises in that self-seeking and self-securing activity. We invest ourselves in intermediate goods (e.g. national security, personal well-being) but are disappointed because these things inevitably fail. Whenever we take something out of its rightful place in our lives and raise it to the status of the ultimate, we break the harmony of life.”

In Hosea’s day, the people turned to actual idols, figures of foreign deities, placed in their sanctuaries in order to further the national policies of the monarchs. It was standard operating procedure in those days, when making an alliance with another nation, to welcome one or two of its gods into your own sacred spaces. It was a practice despised by prophets such as Hosea, who accurately foresaw that the alliances would crumble and that the people’s faith in Israel’s own God would be compromised. That brought about the anguish and frustration God expressed through Hosea: “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.”

In Jesus’ day, he looked about and saw plenty of foreign idols – Romans and Greeks throughout Judea worshiped their own gods – but also discerned another object of worship in that simple question, “Help me get my inheritance from my brother.” Elisabeth Johnson writes: “The rich farmer is a fool not because he is wealthy or because he saves for the future, but because he appears to live only for himself, and because he believes that he can secure his life with his abundant possessions.” He has worshiped his own wealth. He has placed his faith in his harvest, and his barns, and his goods.

And God weeps.

So many Americans place their faith in wealth. So many Americans place their faith in power. A frightening number of Americans place their faith in being white, or male, or straight, or Christian, or something other than… the Other. So many Americans place their faith in guns. When their whiteness, or their wealth, or their wishes appear threatened, they’ll turn to violence.

And God weeps.

It’s said of Gilbert de Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, that after the American Revolution he returned to his home and France. A poor harvest one year affected much of the district, but his barns were full of wheat. One of the managers, knowing that prices would be high, gleefully told the Marquis that, “This is when we sell.”

Lafayette, thinking of the people, replied, “No. This is when we give.”

Now this is also when God weeps, but weeps a different kind of tear.

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?… My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim.”

We don’t need God’s help to destroy ourselves. We have all the power we need for that. It’s a funny thing about these false gods of ours: They have no compassion for us. They have no regard for us. They offer destruction and they deliver.

How different is the heart of God.

God weeps for our self-destruction. God’s tears dry at our repentance. God smiles to see us set a new course. God laughs when we gather in joy.

It’s kind of a tough day to play games and celebrate at our picnic. Nevertheless, we are here. We are here for each other. We are here for God. We are here to share. We are here to worship. We are here to rejoice in the goodness of God. We would be fools to abandon this opportunity to eat, to laugh, to smile, and to embrace.

It’s not just with selfishness but also with sadness that we can be fools.

So come to this table and come to those tables knowing that as we do so we do so beneath the smile of God.

Come to this table and come to those tables aware that we do so within the loving blessings of God.

Come to this table and to those tables knowing that we do so embraced by the warm heart of God.

Come to these tables.


Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on August 4, 2019

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