the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

(given @ StNicholasEpiscopalChurch, midland)

Hosea 11. 1-11
God has always been and will always be a god who loves!

So, there I was, eating lunch on a Monday afternoon, as usual, with friends. The lone Lutheran among a cadre of Episcopalians. Nancy was telling about an upcoming trip to Dallas. Rick was talking about new responsibilities in Odessa. And I still remember the shocked look on both their faces when they realized Rick wouldn’t be able to fill in. And before I realized what I was doing, I’d volunteered to be here, with y’all, this morning!

Honestly, it’s good to be here. And, just for the record, I brought my own, personal copy of the prayer book! 1979! First printing! I got it from a friend back in 1984 from a friend who was rector, at the time, at Grace Episcopal Church in Carlsbad, NM. I was only five months ordained, at the time! That was back before there was an E.L.C.A., an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Back before there was a full-communion agreement between us and the Episcopal Church. When we – officially – recognized each other as real, honest-to-god churches. Sharing people. Sharing communion. Sharing pastors.

But I, also, want to thank you for the lessons we read, this morning. Normally, we read the same passages from the Revised Common Lectionary. Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, Gospel. But during the summer, there’s an option. Two roads diverging in the woods, if you will. The Second and Gospel Readings are the same. But the First Reading and the Psalm can be different, if you want. And apparently, you want! It’s called the semi-continuous readings. Rather than bouncing back and forth through the bible, each week, like ping-pong balls, there’s an alternative, where passages can be read … well, semi-continuously! That means while the Lutherans, back home, are reading a passage, this morning, from Ecclesiastes, here, the Episcopalians are reading Hosea! And I want to thank you for that!

You see, Hosea is my favorite book. And this passage – chapter 11, verses one through eleven – is my most “favorite-est” passage …

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son”

That’s the verse Matthew uses to justify Joseph’s flight into Egypt with Mary and Jesus after Herod went off the rails that first Christmas. But there’s more to it. For me, there are no other words in the entire bible quite like these. None as gentle. None as tender. Overflowing with passion, with compassion. And from start to finish, from beginning to end, they’re all about god! That’s unusual, even for the bible. More often than not, there are causes and effects, ifs and thens, you-scratch-my-back kind of things. But this mouthful of verses is different. Here, it’s grace! Pure, unmitigated! Love free! Unearned! Undeserved! Love! No ifs, ands, or buts! Love! No strings attached! Not before! Not after! God loves! Period! End of sentence!

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt – out of the mud pits – I called my son”
But the more I called them, the more they went from me;
sacrificing to the Baals, offering incense to idols.”

God remembered what it was like when Israel, when faith, when life, was young …

“I taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms;
I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.
I lifted them like infants to my cheek.
I bent down – knelt down – and fed them.”

But with time, those cords frayed, those bonds wore thin. And the love became anger, the anger rage …

“Because they refuse to return to me, they shall return to the land of Egypt,
The sword will rage in their cities – consuming, devouring. 
My people turn away from me. Therefore I’ll turn away from them …”

It’s what we’ve come to expect. Especially here in the Oil Patch. Fire and brimstone. Wrath and retribution. Turn or burn. “I raised you,” says god. “I fed you! I changed your diapers! I wiped your nose! I tucked you in! I told you stories! I kissed you good night! When you had bad dreams, I was there! And this is what you do? This is how you thank me?”

“You fill the streets of Charlottesville with hatred! You walk into a Walmart in ElPaso and murder the innocent! A street in Dayton! A dance club in Orlando! A synagogue in Pittsburgh! A mosque in Christchurch!” “Enough is enough! No more,” says God, turning, walking away, door closing behind. “To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all.” They’re on their own … We’re on our own …

But then comes the good part! The really good part! Something happens! Something unexpected! Something amazing! Something inspiring! The people don’t change their ways. They don’t say they’re sorry, that they’ll never do it again. But god does! God changes! God repents! God is reconciles! To us! God chooses to love the unlovable! God shows mercy to the unmerciful! For no other reason than god is god! Listen, again …

“But how, how can I give you up? How can I hand you over?
My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 
I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy;
for I am God and no mortal, and I will not come in wrath.
I will not come in wrath!”

When was the last time you heard that in a sermon! But that’s the Amazing Grace we sing about! “I will not come in wrath!” That’s the grace that saves us, that finds us, that opens our eyes! That is the grace that teaches our hearts to fear and those fears relieve! That’s the grace that brings us this far and will take us the rest of the way! And it has nothing to do with us! What we think and what we feel! What we say and what we do! Nothing to do with us and everything, everything to do with god! “For I am God and no mortal, and I will not come in wrath.”

That, my friends, that is the gospel of the lord!