+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
When I was looking ahead at this weekend’s services and I noted the confluence between the lectionary reading from Hosea and the observance of our annual Thankoffering service, I’ll admit that I was pretty excited. The tender love of God for the people of Israel was a natural complement to the themes of blessing and gratitude that accompany this celebration. For perhaps the first time in five of these Thankoffering services, I didn’t feel the need to adjust the appointed readings for the day to fit the occasion. Then Friday happened, and the hearts of people throughout the world were broken once again by cries of anguish and pain and anger and grief, this time occasioned by the horrific acts of terrorism carried out against the citizens of Paris, France. With deadly precision and unfathomable efficiency, six separate attacks claimed the lives of over 200 people in one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved cities and left many wondering how this could have happened. Some will point to ideology. Some will indict religion. Some will invoke mental illness as a cause of the carnage. Each of these explanations may be part of the picture, but none of them can be the sole cause of these atrocities, if for no other reason than that they represent just the latest in a series of violent acts that have laid bare humanity’s terrifying propensity for unleashing suffering and pain upon our fellow humans. Paris joins Chicago and Detroit, Aurora and Newtown, Beirut and Kabul and Damascus, Madrid and London, Mumbai and Abuja, Ciudad Juarez and Charleston, and countless other places that have experienced the worst of human hatred and cruelty, creating a terrible litany that should drive us all to our knees.
Today’s reading from Hosea was originally a word for the people of Israel, a message for a nation who had pledged their lives to God and then turned their backs, but in the present circumstances it’s clear that it also describes the condition of humanity at-large. If we take seriously the depth of God’s love for creation, love that led God to send Spirit rushing over the deep and to bring forth life, love that spurred God to imbue humanity with the imprint of God’s image and likeness, love that prompted God to write the commandments on our hearts and to guide us to a way of living compassionately with one another, then we must also take seriously the lengths to which we have strayed from that love. God has taught us how to walk, and we have responded by running to satisfy our hunger for power. God has held us tenderly cheek to cheek, and we have responded by lashing out at creation and one another. The more God calls to us, the further we stray from God’s guidance. This is not an Israelite problem. This is a human problem, and it affects all of us.
If there is anything to be thankful about in the face of such a daunting view of the world and our place in it, it is this: that God has not abandoned us to our own devices. God saw clearly the rebellion of Israel during Hosea’s prophetic career, and made sure that the people knew the depths of their betrayal, and yet God could not give that people up. God’s very heart recoiled at the thought of leaving Israel behind, of allowing them to receive the full measure of judgment for their injustice toward one another and their unfaithfulness toward God. By the same token, the incredible word of grace spoken to Israel is also a word for all of us who have gone astray, for a human family that has spurned God’s will for compassion and peace and love and joy for all people in pursuit of our own selfish desires.
This is the message of Hosea for Israel and for us: that the righteous and holy God who desires righteousness and holiness for humanity is also the gracious and merciful God who cannot give us up, and who continues to call us to turn from our love of self to live with love for God and for others. The signs of God’s continued presence with us are sometimes difficult to see through the pain and sadness we have wrought on our world, but they are there nonetheless: the people of Paris who in the middle of Friday’s attacks set aside their fears to offer open doors to strangers; the people of cities plagued by violence who nevertheless march and rally and raise their voices to express their hopes and dreams for their homes and streets and neighborhoods; the victims of hatred and conflict who speak words of mercy and forgiveness to the people who shattered their families and their peace; people of faith and goodwill throughout the world who continue to believe that compassion and understanding are possible even in the face of unspeakable evil. Wherever humanity has learned the lessons of our own selfishness and ambition and greed and distrust of others, God’s Holy Spirit continues to be active and alive, moving to give us glimpses of a brighter future where God’s will for abundant life and love and joy, rather than our own, is done, and reminding us of the truth that God in Christ is with us in our darkest moments, working to transform that darkness into the glorious light of resurrection life.
These are reasons for us to be grateful, brothers and sisters. In the midst of brokenness, God calls us to turn our hearts toward God and toward one another, sharing the gifts of grace and love and blessing that we have received with a world in need. Through the ministries of the Women of the ELCA and all the other ministries that are inspired by the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are given the opportunity to walk as God has taught us to walk, and to lead others to know the life and love that is ours in Christ. Because God has not given us up, we can hold fast to one another and support our neighbors in their need as we bear witness to God’s grace each day in everything we say and do. As we close this time of reflection, I would like to leave us with these words of lament from our hymnal. May they give us the strength to remain hopeful as we go out to serve this broken and beautiful world in the days to come.
When pain of the world surrounds us with darkness and despair,
when searching just confounds us with false hopes ev’rywhere,
when lives are starved for meaning and destiny is bare,
we are called to follow Jesus and let God’s healing flow through us.
We see with fear and trembling our aching world in need,
confessing to each other our wastefulness and greed.
May we with steadfast caring the hungry children feed.
We are called to follow Jesus and let God’s justice flow through us.
The church is a holy vessel the living waters fill
to nourish all the people, God’s purpose to fulfill.
May we with humble courage be open to God’s will.
We are called to follow Jesus and let God’s Spirit flow through us.
We praise you for our journey and your abundant grace,
your saving word that guided a struggling human race.
O God, with all creation, your future we embrace.
We are called to follow Jesus and let God’s changes flow through us.
Let it be so. Amen.