Sunday, July 31, 2016

Return; Sermon on Hosea 11:1-11

Rev. George Miller
Hosea 11:1-11
July 31, 2016

I grew up in a home with a bird-feeder. A bird-feeder that was lovingly built by my Father. A bird-feeder that was lovingly stocked with seeds by my Mother.

A bird-feeder with bricks neatly lined up underneath that was begrudgingly swept up each and every day by my siblings and I.

A bird-feeder that was always busy with squirrels, cardinals, blue-jays and even migrating ducks.

So I’ve always had a love for birds, even if I don’t know their names or behaviors. So when a documentary about birds came out called “Winged Migration”, I went to see it.

The narrator says “The story of migrating birds is the story of a promise; the promise to return…to survive.”

The film features stunning images of birds from all seven continents, during all four seasons, as they make their way across the globe to mate, give birth and return.

The film captures snow capped mountains and lush green fields. It captures the reality of eggs falling from their nest, snagged birds left behind, and predators of both the animal and human kind.

“Winged Migration” is about survival and promise; it’s about the journey that birds make; how they face odds, obstacles, and great distances to flourish season after season.

Recently we came to an end of one of our seasons: Vacation Bible School. It was another success.

The week was based around Psalm 104 in which the kids learned how God cares for all of Creation.

The children celebrated that everyone is different, and that’s OK. They learned the importance of respect. They learned the importance of following instructions that were designed to keep all of them safe.

They planted a tree, made crafts, learned about gopher tortoises. They sung vibrant songs.

The children ate delicious hand crafted meals. There was more than enough and no kid went to bed hungry.

The children of our VBS were not only “Grounded In God” but they were well fed, well taught, well protected, and well cared for.

They were safe.

As always, the last day of VBS had a mix of emotions. Good to see it over, sad to say goodbye.

There is always a sense of melancholy when saying goodbye to a group of children.

You wonder:
-will they recall the lessons they learned?
-will they remember to show respect?
-Is there someone in their lives to help do their homework; to tell them they are smart?
-will they have a place that is safe when the rest of the world is in chaos?

How do those who are parents and grandparents do it?

You create life; bring a child into the world
-teach them to walk
-pick them up when they fall
-kiss their boo-boos when they are hurt
-try your best to show kindness and love
-feed them with food that’ll help them grow.

And rarely during this time of nurturing are you thanked. More than likely you are taken for granted: it is assumed that’s what you’re supposed to do.

You’re damned when you discipline; barely noticed when you show an ounce of grace.

And then….you have to let go:
-the 1st day of school as they get on the bus
-their 1st field trip
-their 1st overnight sleep over
-1st date
-their 1st romantic heartbreak
-1st time driving alone in a car

Seasons come, seasons go, a child’s time of migration arrives and, if you are a good parent, a strong parent, you let go…

You trust.

You know they will fail and fall down. You hope they will succeed and soar.

You pray that when they come back it will be by their own accord and not with too many ruffled feathers or a broken wing.

If you have children, if you’ve ever worked with children, if you’ve dealt with the raising up of children, you understand all too well what today’s scripture is all about.

Today’s reading is about God as parent. Not mother, not father, but parent.

Hosea 11 gives another unique look at God; it’s a tender, loving and heart breaking image.

God who gives so much and blesses us every day- but instead we turn to worship things, Baals, thinking they made us who we are.

God, who calls us, carries and leads us, but still we want to do things our way, follow our own ego, our own decisions rather then try to discern what God is still speaking.

God takes a step closer, but we migrate away.

God grants us freedom, but we’d rather be slaves.

God’s desire is for us to flourish, but we’d rather forsake the gifts before us and try to survive doing it our way.

We see this happen again and again throughout scripture:
-the freed slaves in the wilderness wishing to go back to Egypt
-the Israelites in the land of milk and honey who stop doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with their Lord
-thinking that Jesus’ place belonged upon the cross and not at the table beside sinners

For millennia people have been migrating from God not aware that it was the Lord who called them, lifted them up, and bent down to feed them.

Thankfully, God is not a human, God understands. God is patient.

God operates on a different time line then we do; an eternal time frame in which no amount of seasons is too long to be away.

Nor any distance too great to journey back from.

We all, at one time or another, in some shape or form, wander away from God.

God waits.

When the seasons change, when we get to the place in which we are tired, when we are weak, when we are worn, we can return.

When we’ve lost all that matters, when we find ourselves surrounded by pigsties and craving something more, so much more, we can return.

When the shadows of night appear, when darkness seems to last longer and longer, we can return.

When we are done with false gods and hungry hearts and ruined lives, we can return.

When we can’t stop the collective silence and chose instead to speak, we can return.

Like beautiful, noisy, trembling birds we can return.

We migrate back to God.

Like a mighty lion, God will roar loud and sure so the direction is clear.

Our feathers might be a bit ruffled, a wing may be broken, but no matter what has happened, we will be forgiven; the grace of God never fails.

We will be forgiven, because no matter how many seasons come, no matter how many seasons go, God is awaiting our return.

We will be forgiven; because the heart of God becomes our home.

The place where we are washed in the water, the place where we taste the grain of the field and fruit of the vine.

To fly towards the Son, to be lifted on high by the Holy Spirit and to know that no matter who, no matter what, God is awaiting our return.

That is God’s promise to us.

Amen and amen.

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