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Hosea 11:1-11;Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11;Luke 12:13-21
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
August 4, 2019 –Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Hosea speaks an oracle for us. He is channeling the thoughts of God, his lips speaks God’s words, and this is one of the best-known passages in our Hebrew Bible.
It is reminiscent of the soliloquy of a young lover pondering what they should do. They pick a flower and pull the petals off one at a time. “She loves me. She loves me not. She loves me. She loves me not.”
But the narrative speaks more as a parent contemplating their child and it is a bit turned around. It goes more like “I love them. I love them not. I love them. I love them not.”
God loves us because we are created by God and we live in God’s image. But we are mortals and subject to weaknesses. We are so good at times and so rebellious at other times.
As the Psalmist proclaims, we praise God because we realize again and again how fearfully and wonderfully we are made. But even as we give thanks for how greatly we are blessed we know we also possess a troublesome nature. We are organisms who strive to survive on earth…as mortals…kill or be killed.
One day my father and I were sitting with friends after a round of golf. They had all known me my whole life and I was finally grown up…out of law school and home on leave from the Army.
Sally Ramsey said that I was such a cute little boy that there had been some times when she just wanted to grab me and take me home with her.My father didn’t miss a beat. He said, “There were some days when you could have had him.”
That is pretty close to the sentiment Hosea expresses here. As God’s own children we are loved more than we know. As our Creator, God has higher hopes for us than we can imagine and we break God’s heart again and again when we squander the gifts we have been given to carry into the world with us.
Hosea brings his oracle to a happy conclusion not by dwelling on our shortcomings but by lifting up – once again – the greatness, glory and majesty of the one who gave us life and gave us freely to the world. “I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”
There was much for which my parents loved me and there were many times when they needed to teach me with firmness…many times when they needed to referee quarrels between their children.
Still, they loved us even when we were exasperating and that is when they loved us the most…and they made us love each other…not with their physical strength or their greater wisdom and experience… but with their love for us all.
God must be pouring out love for the world in heaping handfuls these days. The challenges around the world to self-government must be troublesome to God, who begged us not to set kings above us.
The acrimony between nations and parties and individuals must vex any God…or Savior…or Holy Spirit. But they love us and seek to intercede for us…with wisdom …and compassion.
Once again we have had mass shootings…this time in Texas and Ohio. This has become so ‘normal’ …250 mass shootings in the first 250 days of this year…that we shake our heads and cluck our tongues and then go on our merry way.
Once again, it has happened to people who live in a community that has seen itself as one of the safest in the country. Such a thing could not happen in such a city in Texas...in such a school in Florida…at such an event in Las Vegas…but it did.
The human isolation epidemic spawned by social media and automation of jobs have made us less aware of the wholeness of people that makes each of us so wonderful.
How can we measure our success in this environment? Why are we so unable to see the goodness in the everyday efforts of our neighbors… our children…our brothers and sisters?
The Methodist movement sought to answer this question from the very start. John Wesley began to preach in the streets because he did not have a pulpit to stir his deep sense of calling.
He had been rescued from a fire at the parsonage when he was five, and he felt that there was some special work he was called to do. He tried so hard that he fell flat on his face and found himself ministering to coal miners in Bristol.
They were digging the coal that was fueling the Industrial Revolution and they were living in terrible conditions. Life was hard for the miners…and their wives…and their children…and their neighbors.
So many people started coming to him to seek a way to work out their salvation that he could not see them all. He organized them into classes or bands of 12 people and they covenanted to meet once a week.
They read scripture, they prayed, they sang hymns and they talked about how they had failed and how they succeeded in the week before.
They had to give alms of a penny each week. Each class had a class leader and if anyone could not afford their penny that week, the leader had to put one in for them.
Life got better. Miners started making it home with their pay. There was food to eat. Children didn’t have to shift for themselves. Families became stronger. Neighbors became friends. Neighborhoods became more survivable…even livable…even home.
There is a spiritual movement underway today, too. It is not getting headlines and it is not drawing the thousands that John Wesley preached to in the fields, but it is there.
There is an aversion to organized religion, but there is also a spiritual hunger. Mindfulness has become a watchword…getting woke…being present…awareness of God’s presence in every moment.
It is very ‘in’ to say, “I am spiritual but I am not religious.” I love to hear that because it gives me one more chance to say, “I know a guy who was spiritual but not religious. His name was Jesus.”
It took Paul a long time to get this. He was religious but not spiritual. Like John Wesley, he had to be humbled before the grace became visible to him, and the means of grace became second nature to him.
They say that seeing is believing, but it can also be said that believing is seeing. By the time he wrote to the Colossians and us this morning he had seen the truth, he had practiced the truth, and he was able to write the truth with power and clarity.
Also like John Wesley, he understood how important it was to form communities so that the sacred moments…the sacraments… that Christ had instituted could be brought forward into each new day.
Do good and you can become good. The sacrament of communion that we re-created today was the tipping point for Wesley and Methodism.
He had been accused many times of stating a new denomination. He always denied it. It was a movement within the church, not a departure from it.
After King George III called his troops home and the colonists had won their independence, the Church of England called all their priests and bishops home.
Only pastors could offer communion. Only bishops could ordain pastors. With no bishops the supply of ordained pastors began to dwindle and the people had to wait longer and longer for communion.
Wesley was a great believer in communion. Without it, our connection to Christ became more tenuous and the spirit could begin to fade…the people would die.
Wesley finally consecrated Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury as bishops to America and Methodism was born. Your United Methodist Church is the quintessential American denomination. It alone was midwifed as a consequence of the American struggle for independence.
So we are a forward-looking lot, just as Paul was. Fill yourself with positive thoughts. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.
Paul formulates it for us today this way: Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Christ is all in all.
And Christ says the same thing to us today. “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions…This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
There is so much good to be done in this world. Those things that distract us from the good we can do separate us from God. Those things that lift up before us the good things we can do, draw us closer to God…and to our true nature.
And when you fill your life up with the good stuff, you don’t leave room for the bad stuff. Our minds become conformed to the things above.
Earthly things become incidental. Christ is all in all. O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us…through me…today? Amen.