Children’s Time: Snake Plant that Absorbs Toxins

by | Jul 31, 2022

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Meg Peery McLaughlin
Children’s Time: Snake Plant that Absorbs Toxins
July 31, 2022
Hosea 11: 1-9

Our scripture this morning is Hosea chapter 11, verses 1-9

The last time I stood in this pulpit,
the lectionary text was the prophet Amos. The plumb line.
Today, the lectionary is another Old Testament prophet, Hosea.
He was writing about the same time as Amos
when the northern kingdom of Israel was about to be crushed by Assyria.
The crookedness of God’s people was clear—
they were worshipping other Gods and failing to care for their neighbor-
their unfaithfulness was breaking God’s heart.

But Amos and Hosea have such different vibes.
Isn’t it like scripture to give us multiple voices to describe the same truth?

Instead of visions of locusts and fire and plumb lines,
Hosea lets us listen in on God’s inner monologue,
a front row seat to the wrestling match going on inside God’s very mind.

To help us hear the Word this morning,
it’s good to know that Ephraim is the beloved name of God’s people,
and Admah and Zeboiim are names of cities that were destroyed.

And to help us hear the Word this morning,
Let us pray for God to open our ears, our hearts—

Prayer for Illumination

Living God, Word made flesh, silence our agendas; cast out our casual detachment. Confound our expectations. Enable us to actually, really, seriously listen. We know that you can, we pray that you will. Amen

 


Hosea 11:1-9

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 The more I called them,
the more they went from me;*
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.

3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.

5 They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
6 The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
7 My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.

8 How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart is changed within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
9 I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.*

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

If you’ll let me, I want to put this gorgeous piece of scripture
next to a poem I read recently.
Not all of us are parents, but every last one of us are children.
And this poem by Ada Limon, like this passage by Hosea,
captures the tender power of that relationship.

Listen:

When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet .

Church, let’s just say it:
our whole lives —
through every storm – the storms we’ve created for ourselves
and the ones we’ve just stumbled into–
we’ve been under the shelter of God’s arms.

The intimacy with which Hosea describes God’s love for us is stunning–
Can you picture
God’s steady fingers balancing teeter totters, cheering at first steps?
God’s soft shoulders wet with tears and slobber after a snuggle fest?
God’s dishpan hands making more mac n’ cheese?

And then, just as passionately, can you hear the disappointment?
God’s woundedness at the child’s waywardness, disobedience.
God’s ache at the natural consequences of their actions.
God’s hurt at the child’s hurt.
One translation calls this section the brokenheartedness of God.

I don’t know a one of us who couldn’t connect to this on some level—
as those who have known that holy love of a child
as those who have been the recipient of it, especially after a prodigal season
and even as those who access this depth of feeling
only through grief of what was lost,
or longing for what never could be.

But I tell you, reading this my heart has cracked open
for the pack of parents I know this in this congregation
whose names I will not speak
but whose stories have been bravely told, or perhaps only hinted at,
those parents who say on the daily:
how can I give you up?
how can I hand you over?
amid the storm of addiction,
the storm of mental illness or long-standing estrangement
the storm of depression or debt or divorce.
You continue to hold your raincoat open with deepest love.

And hear me plainly,
this love often means limits and tough decisions and boundaries
and therapy that may well drain your entire bank account
but I hear you — how can I give you up? You are an echo of God’s words.

Hosea ends this passage
proclaiming that God will not give up on his people;
chooses not to give her people that which they deserve.

But I want us to notice something important about what God says here:
God says my compassion grows warm and tender
I will not execute my anger,
For I am God and no mortal,
The Holy one in your midst,
And I will not come in wrath.

If I understand the text, the reason God has the capacity for this depth of forgiveness, this love, is because of God’s divinity. The holy one is wholly other .

As one scholar puts it, God absorbs the punishment that Israel deserves .
God absorbs the pain in order to maintain the relationship,
instead of blowing it all to bits in anger.

At the risk of reading Christo-centric theology back into Hebrew scriptures,
I can’t help but see this text is deeply revealing
of who we understand God in Christ to be .

The word we use for talking about what happens with Christ is atonement.
At-one-ment. We Christians proclaim that Christ makes us at-one with God.
At-ease, at-peace.

Perhaps we’ll do a sermon series on this one day, but there are so many ways Christians talk about this— I find some to be a bit disconcerting.
Wrathful God demands innocent substitute.
Jesus as a ransom paid to the devil or to God, like a business deal.

But here in Hosea what we see, long before the cross, is the love of God
that atones, that makes one,
that absorbs the brokenness and pain
and continues to choose new life and ongoing relationship.

It’s not something we can do,
we are not God,
but thank God that we are the ones
saved by such a love,
held by such a love,
told of such a love in this place over and over again,
until we somehow, someway come to trust it,
and be shaped by it.

 

Jarrett and I are parents, we don’t take that for granted–
when our kids were little, actually, even now, to this day,
when they get hurt, Jarrett sings Townes Van Zandt to them.
If he were preaching, he’d probably sing it to you, but today you have me,
so I’ll just tell you he sings:
If you needed me, I would come to you,
I would swim the seas for to ease your pain

I am excruciatingly aware that there is pain he will not be able to ease with that song,

friends, we are but human — broken, bruised, belligerent—
and try as we might, and try we should,
but the truth is our raincoats are just not big enough to keep the storms away.

But we need not fear,
For God is God and no mortal
And God does not come in wrath
God’s compassion is warm and tender
God is still teaching us to walk
Taking us up into God’s loving, everlasting arms.

So, snuggle in.
Alleluia. Amen.