A sermon at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio, after a week of White supremacy and gun violence culminating in two mass shootings in less than 24 hours. The readings include Hosea, Colossians, and the parable of the self-satisfied rich man.
God has always loved you.
This is the message that the prophet Hosea wants us to hear, even in the midst of mess, even in the turmoil of a life filled with strife; even in the aftermath of sin: God has always loved you.
“I taught Ephraim to walk,” God croons, “I lifted them into my arms. … I was their mother, their father, their nurse, who lift infants to their cheeks, and cradle them to feed them.”
But “the more I called them, the more they went from me.”
Hosea is writing to a people who have turned away from the covenant that their ancestors made with God: to love God first and best; to refrain from lying, stealing, covetousness, or greed, and from killing. The people have forgotten the commandment and their promise to put no gain ahead of the love of God.
In the latter part of the eighth century BCE, a succession of assassinations and coups d’etat left the northern kingdom of Israel in tatters and disarray. Eventually, there was no king left in Israel, and the kingdom was partitioned by its adversaries.
Hosea, watching all of this befall throughout his career as a prophet of the living God, recognized that while nothing, and no one, can end nor defeat the love of God, God’s forgiveness does not necessarily remove the consequences of our fallen, foolish, and sinful decisions to turn away from the covenant of righteousness established in perpetuity even in our prehistory.
Israel, Ephraim, and Samaria have sown the wind, the prophet says, and now they are reaping the whirlwind (Hosea 7:7a).
Hosea recounts how tenderly, as a nursing mother, God loves Israel. Hosea loves his country. And he is calling it to repentance.
You may have seen recently on social media the church sign that commanded, under the seriously ironic name of Friendship Baptist Church: America. Love it or leave it. Of course, the pastor was quoting President Trump, not the prophets, when he posted the sign.
Bishop A. Robert Hirschfeld of New Hampshire responded this week, in part by writing,
Some six centuries before the birth of Jesus, a prophet burst on the scene in Jerusalem. Jeremiah was disgusted with the state of his nation which he saw was threatened, not so much by outside empires poised to invade and conquer, but by the loss of its soul. …
The mistreatment of immigrants, refugees, and strangers, the neglect of orphans and widows, and pledging fidelity to material idols were rampant in Jeremiah’s day. He saw the injustice and brutality of his time as a betrayal of God. …
Jeremiah loved his country, though its betrayal of the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor caused a burning within him that would not allow him to be silent.
Jeremiah, prophesying a century or so later and a few miles south of Hosea followed in his prophetic footsteps. Both knew firsthand the love of God, God’s tenderness for God’s people; and both knew that the nation bears responsibility for its own acceptance or rejection of the way of God’s love.
The murders of two children and a young man last week at Gilroy, and the death of their teenaged killer, drew little notice in a country so attuned to gun violence by now that we are almost numb. The fact that White supremacist literature and statements were linked to the gunman surprised nobody, and elicited little comment. Yesterday, we saw the same sorry story played out again in El Paso, Texas, resulting in even greater loss of life, pain, and injury. And of course, overnight, it visited Dayton, Ohio.
The deadly combination of targeted hatred coupled with widespread individual armouries – an obscene proliferation of weapons of death tucked into our daily life – continues to wreak havoc among us. This is the product and the consequence of sin.
If we love our country, it is past time to call it to repentance.
You know that the clergy of Washington National Cathedral – an Episcopal Bishop and two Deans – called the question in an open letter, addressing the racist rhetoric coming from the highest office of the nation most recently. They wrote (again I am quoting in part):
Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous.
These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.
When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.
If we continue to allow the wind to be sown with prejudice, greed, idolatry, and weaponry we will continue to reap the whirlwind of violence, mass shootings, and civil despair.
Certainly, the prophets would agree that words matter. Certainly, we who follow the very Word of God, Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, must agree that words matter, and have power. Words make things happen, for better or for worse. In the beginning, God spoke the word, “Light,” and it sprang into being.
Paul agrees that words matter. “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the higher things,” he says. “Get rid of … anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.” Shun the hatred and selfishness, the idolatry that breaks in two the tablets of God’s covenant with God’s people, the commandments handed down through Moses and the prophets. Seek the life of Christ, who died to fulfill the Law and the prophets, rather than succumb to the temptations of the hour to arm himself with battalions even of angels; who put away violence, and who took up the little children in his arms.
God has always loved you, the prophets tell us. For God’s sake, love one another! Reject all calls to discrimination, to the disinheritance of your brothers and sisters and siblings. Restore justice for the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the alien among you. Do not imagine that you can hoard blessings for yourself without showering your neighbour, the stranger with love, too. Isn’t that the message of Jesus’ parable? It’s a message straight from the prophets.
God has always loved you, the prophets and saints continue to tell us. God is not far from you, even in times of great trial. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.