Scripture: Hosea 1:1-9, Hosea 14:1-9
“Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall!” – Hosea 14:1
As a father of two young girls who love books, and love to be read to – I read a lot. Bedtime, morning, afternoon, you name the time and there is a good chance a book is being read in the house. There are undoubtedly a lot of cringe-worthy books in publication (books I eventually need to hide for my own sanity), and there are a lot of cute or funny books that we love to read, but it really is remarkable how insightful and deep children’s books can be – even the simplest books can open up pretty deep truths or serve as wonderful conversation starters even for me as an adult.
One of the books we read many times when the children were younger is a book called The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd. The story is simple, a young bunny who keeps running away from his mother in this imaginary game of hide-and-seek. He joins a circus, climbs the highest mountain and much more and each time the Bunny’s mother is there, countering the bunny’s wild imagination with her ever present and consistent love. And by the end of the story the bunny realizes the foolishness of running away from his mother and so he remains in their burrow, being rewarded with a carrot!
It’s a wonderful and reassuring story about a parent’s love for a child, perfect as a child drifts off to sleep – but it is more than that. It is also the perfect image to have in our minds as we embark on our preaching series focusing on Minor Prophets and what it means to Cultivate a Biblical Imagination and more specifically as we look at the book of Hosea this morning.
This children’s story is a perfect image because just like the little bunny, Israel (and us if we are honest with ourselves) is constantly running away from God, willfully choosing new and unique ways to flee from him. It was the role of the prophets to call Israel back to faithfulness, call Israel back from wherever they were running away to and from the depths of their sin back into their faithful relationship with God. The message of the prophets was that God, like the loving mother in the children’s story, was always pursuing his children Israel, always ready for their return from their willful flight away from him.
Each week we as we dive into eight of the twelve minor prophets, we will here variations of the same story and theme, with different emphases and different reasons for their message – beginning this week with Hosea.
In our readings from Hosea this morning, we heard from the beginning and end of the book, of Israel’s flight from God and of God’s faithfulness in the end – we heard of God’s prophetic call to Hosea, his word of judgement against Israel and then of God’s faithfulness of God’s enduring love for Israel and of his mercy and grace.
The images of Hosea are far more stark than the images of the Runaway Bunny, they are hard images to wrap our heads around and perhaps this is the reason they do not appear very often in the regular readings of the Church.
The central metaphorical image of the Book of Hosea is the prophet’s own marriage and the story it tells is pretty dire – he is ordered by God to take a ‘woman of whoredom’ an unfaithful woman to symbolize the unfaithfulness of Israel in it’s relationship with God. The challenging image continues with the naming of Hosea and Gomer’s children – Jezreel (God will sow or scatter), Lo-Ruhamah (which means not loved) and finally Lo-Ammi (which means not my people).
In the very family life of Hosea and we are given a glimpse at the depth of Israel’s unfaithfulness, a glimpse of their sin and flight from God. In subsequent chapters we hear the extent of Israel’s sin – pursuing other God’s, seeking refuge and protection not from their God, but from the nations that surrounded it, prostituting themselves before other God’s both metaphorically but also literally – breaking their covenant, being an unfaithful partner in the marital relationship between God and Israel.
We may not worship at the altar of Ba’al or seek refuge in the power of the King of Assyria, but our actions and the actions of the Church throughout history nonetheless share many commonalities with the ancestors of our faith in Israel – we too wilfully runaway from God.
Whether we want to admit it or not, just like the little bunny in the children’s story, we willfully run away from God – sure we convince ourselves that our sins, our disobedience, our flight from God are accidental, they are merely the mistakes we make when we are distracted or tempted away from the right path – we don’t really mean to not love our neighbour, or sacrifice the lives of our children by our terrible stewardship of the earth, or covet wealth and power, or trust the wisdom of the world over the wisdom and lordship of God.
But the truth is we are just as guilty as Israel, even as Christ’s body here on earth we are susceptible to wilfully fleeing from God – and so Hosea’s warning is for us, a warning to stop trying to runaway from God, a warning to stop our disobedience, to stop our pursuit of the false Gods and idols of our day and age – it is a warning which speaks of what existence is when we choose life away from God (not being his people, not living in the love of God, scattered by God – the prophetic names of Hosea’s children).
Although Hosea’s prophetic voice carried and still carries with it the warning we have heard this morning in our first reading – the good news for Israel and for us is that while we may flee from God, God never forsakes us, he never truly abandons us – like the mother bunny in our story God is always there, always seeking her children, always seeking us out when we wander away from Him – no matter how far we go, no matter how disobedient or unfaithful we have become God is there looking to reconcile us to him, looking to bring us back into the warm embrace of his love and mercy, looking to restore us to abundant and eternal life in his kingdom, just as it was in the beginning.
In our second reading from Hosea, we heard of God’s promise to:
“heal their waywardness, and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew of Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon.” (Hosea 14:4-6)
It is a beautiful vision of God’s promise, and God’s faithfulness to Israel – the restoration, healing and flourishing of God’s people even after their continual disobedience and idolatry is an overwhelming show of God’s love mercy and grace for the world and for his people. God will always seek out his people, like the Mother Rabbit in our story, no matter the scenario we dream up, no matter how willful our flight has been – God will always be there with open arms to welcome us home.
In Jesus, in his life, in his death on the cross and in his resurrection – God has dealt with root of our disobedience, he has sought us out, he has made it possible for us to want the life that he intends for us. In Jesus, in his Incarnation amongst us he has redeemed and sanctified the totality of our humanity and our experiences – by his life among us he has given us the possibility of sharing his divine life.
In his death on the cross Jesus has dealt with once and for all the consequences of our disobedience and our running away, he has ensured that we are not separated from God forever because of our foolish and willful flight.
In his resurrection he has opened for us abundant and eternal life, he has opened for us the possibility of God’s kingdom here in our midst, here in the fellowship of this very church, in your very lives lived here in South Scarborough, and through us and our proclamation this life is offered to the world.
Over the next eight weeks as we plumb the depths of the prophets of Israel, hearing the tales of their disobedience, their lack of faith and their willful fleeing from God – let us not be too smug, let us remind ourselves how much we have in common with our ancestors of the actions and attitudes we share with them – but let us also always keep in mind God’s faithfulness to the end, God’s unending love for us and for the world; let us imagine what our life would be if we took God’s hand and stopped fleeing from him: what would our lives look like? What would the life of our church look like? What would the lives of the people in the world around us look like?
May we discover these answers, may we always seek the Lord, may we learn not to flee from him, and may our imaginations transform our common life together. Let us pray.