Last week we looked at Jesus’ teaching on prayer. And as disciples who would pray in his way, he teaches us to begin by calling God “Father.” Not because God is a man in the sky, but because if we’re going to deal with God in the way that Jesus does, we begin with intimacy and confidence and boldness. We begin with trust and love and the deep assurance of knowing that we belong to the household of God—it’s God’s name, God’s reputation, God’s abundance, God’s faithfulness that defines our lives. Our Father in heaven. There’s so much going on there.
And now this week, we’ve got Hosea leaning into this image of God as Parent: God as Mother leading her children by the hand; God as Father teaching his kids to walk; God the Parent who presses Israel against holy cheeks, showering her in divine affection. It’s a beautiful image.
All this parent imagery had me thinking this week of a moment that comes to my mind every once in a while. It was one of those times when who and how God is really sunk into me. A sort of touchstone moment when I suddenly understood God’s love a little bit better. Believe it or not, it actually happened in church. I was in church with my family. We were singing a song, so we were standing, and Levi was just in front of me, (Jude was little, in his mom’s arms) he was leaning into me and I had my hand on his shoulder. And suddenly, for no particular reason, I was overcome with delight in my boy, my son. It wasn’t anything extraordinary. I just looked down and was glad to have him there. And this image of God as Parent landed for me in a new way. I realized in a new way that something like the way I feel about Levi and Jude is something like how God feels about me—about us—only way more so. (“If you who are wicked know how to love your kids…”) I realize this is kind of cheesy, but it was also quite moving for me.
I have a tendency to think of God in abstract ways. I like theology. I prefer a good lecture to an emotional prayer meeting. I like to be in my head. But this image of doesn’t work that well if it stays in our heads. It eventually forces us into our hearts, to deal with God not in abstract but in intimacy. We are God’s beloved children.
It goes without saying that not all parent-child relationships are good, let alone holy. But the Scriptures over and over again describe God as the Parent who is good, who is holy, the One who loves us with radical tenderness; the One whose delight is to lead us in kindness, who bends down to give us what we need; the One who does love us as we’re meant to be loved. Even if my (earthly) mother and father abandoned me, sings the psalmist, God will lift me up in love.
Jesus said that the only way to receive the kingdom of heaven is like a child. The only way to really understand what God is about in this world is as a child of the Father. It really is a beautiful and freeing image, if we let it work on us. Getting in on what God’s about in this world doesn’t require us to prove ourselves, doesn’t require us to grow up and get to work, doesn’t require us to get serious about making something of ourselves. It’s about obedience to the One we trust to lead us. Getting in on what God is about requires a dependence on our divine Parent to give us the things we need for life and righteousness—which God does, lavishly. Getting in on what God’s about in this world has to do with trust and playfulness, and the kind of generosity and openness to the world that small kids tend to have. The kingdom of heaven invites imagination and delight; it’s space to roam and explore all the wonders of God’s goodness and grace. I mean, it’s marvelous.
And it’s also kind of deeply offensive. It strikes a nerve for us who would rather make something of ourselves, who have been taught to grow up and get serious, to be independent. If it’s not offensive, it’s at least impractical. The “real world” demands that we keep our spiritual playfulness, our curiosity and wonder, and especially our dependence for Sunday mornings at best. We may be children of God in the sanctuary, but outside we’re expected to get on with things, to accomplish stuff, to make ourselves autonomous and secure. Because that’s freedom. That’s liberation. We have to set aside the sorts of naïve and childish things—the impractical and inefficient things—that Jesus calls us to so that we can fully function in the land of the grownups.
But Hosea pulls the curtain back and reveals, perhaps to our surprise, that the land of grownups isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The people who forget what love they have been given that they should be called children of God, and instead run off to do things that are more self-asserting, find themselves on rather less solid ground than expected. The sword rages in their cities, the prophet says. It consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes.
Relying in their own best will and effort has not lead God’s people into freedom, it hasn’t made them more secure, it hasn’t brought them to anything like the kind of maturity that they’d imagined when they thought they’d pick their own ways, or the ways of their neighbor’s, over God’s.
Instead, it’s led to a world of violence, which is what inevitably happens when what’s important is protecting our own interests, our sovereignty—asserting ourselves. When what’s important is getting what we want and keeping it, we can’t seem to avoid violence of all sorts—even if we manage to hide it in overseas factories, and distant plantations. Our brands of freedom always seem to come at the cost of someone else’s.
Instead of the word of God that satisfies souls, the voice of the loving Parent who encourages each step, the world Hosea hears is full of the noise of oracle-priests—hucksters selling the latest in spiritual fitness, the next keys to success, the next big thing in self-promotion, the next thin hope of immortality. They are bent on turning from the One who loves them wildly, and instead they follow the siren song of lifeless things; they sink their heart, soul, mind, and strength into the service of idols and lies.
Instead of a world that pulses with the shalom of God, the peace and joy and love of the Lord who spoke it all into being and blessed it, the people of God find themselves ground down by scheming—desperate attempts to make something of themselves, for themselves. Hosea sees clearly that they are “devoured” by their own schemes. That’s a powerful image. They are being consumed by their own willfulness. It’s a deep reminder that we just don’t have the staying power to play God. The temptation to be as gods—to decide for ourselves—is always a temptation to death.
It’s a startling shift from the divine Parent besotted with Her children, pressing them to Her cheeks, to a situation in which “The Most High does not raise them up at all.” There’s an unbearable heaviness to a world sin-separated from the Father who called it into life. It’s a bleak moment. We see the futility of trying to assure our souls that we have it all figured out; that what’s left to do is “eat, drink, and be merry” because we have managed to satisfy ourselves, like the fool in the gospel lesson. The people of God have traded intimacy with the Living God—the One who makes and sustains them—for a pinch of incense at the feet of the lifeless idols that they’ve made for themselves. Hosea seems to recognize that they have gotten what they wanted. God lets his rebellious children try it their way, and they get what they deserve.
Mercifully, “deserve” tends to be a human sort of category. It tends to get confused in God’s company. In the face of rebellion and betrayal this is what God says to Israel: [At the thought of being without you,] My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 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. That’s divine Parenthood.
We see the ache of God’s heart for His people. And in that passionate love the Lord roars like a lion, scattering the things that destroy, sending the predators—sin and death, ravaging swords and noise-making liars—running in fear. And unlike the beastly schemes that devour the people, this Lion’s roar is a beckoning call to a people overwhelmed by a world of their own making, to come home, to remember who they are—whose they are; who they are made to be. Sin and death will not have the last word on them; God’s fierce love will.
This is the story we find ourselves in, not because we deserve it, but because we’ve been caught up with the Son who perfectly lived in the will of the Father; the Lion of Judah who once and for all destroyed the powers of sin and death, releasing their grip on us; the One who shows us what it looks like, what it will look like, when God gets the world God wants. Like Israel, sin and death won’t get the last word on us. Hosea’s word is a word for us, because in Christ we are adopted into God’s household. In Christ we see that God’s passion for Israel is God’s passion for the world, for us. It’s Jesus who calls us into the family that bears God’s name, who invites us into God’s abundance; who teaches us the rhythms of the holy household; who teaches us how to say (like his mom before him), “Not my will but yours; not our kingdoms but yours come, on earth as in heaven,” and to receive that kingdom and will with all the openness and dependence and wonder of a child.
We are called to get in on what God is doing by remembering and claiming our children of God status. If the Church will participate in the work of healing the world, we need to lean hard into the truth that we children of God. We need to let the rhythms and patterns and language of God’s household get deep into our bones.
As children of the Holy One who comes right into our midst, we don’t get to do theology in abstract. Instead, our theology, what we think and believe about God, is meant to come to life in our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. As children of the household of God our lives start to tell the world what that household is like: what it means to bear the name of the One who is good and gracious; who is merciful and forgiving; who is generous beyond measure; who loves righteousness and justice and reconciliation; who is abounding in steadfast love, a love stronger than death; the Father who longs for all his children to come home, to receive the child’s blessing: the robe and ring and feast that’s waiting for us.
What would the world be like if Christians really allowed ourselves to receive God’s kingdom as children? If we really remembered—with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength—who and whose we are?
Then the disaster Hosea sees—which feels awfully familiar—starts to unravel. If we are children of the Living God we have every reason, every freedom, to move out of patterns of violence of all kinds (not just physical); to stand against the raging violence that is the inevitable result of trying to protect what’s ours, the world we would make for ourselves; to stand with and for a world broken and groaning and in desperate need of God’s healing love.
If we are children of the Living God we learn to pay attention to the voice of the Mother who leads us in kindness, of the Father who presses us to His cheeks and stoops down to give us what we need. And as we learn the tone and timber of that voice, we can pick it out even in the midst of all kinds of noise. We learn to recognize God’s voice over the blather of our own oracle-priests, the voices selling us idols and lies. We learn to recognize the voice of the One who creates life with a word, and whose Word scatters the powers of brokenness and death. We learn to speak that way.
If we are children of the Living God we grow in a different kind of maturity. The Bible tells us to grow in faithful maturity. But the strange fact is that the height of Christian maturity is absolute foolishness for God. That’s the opposite of self-indulgent schemes that devour. To be members of the household of God means that we can take a breath. We’re freed from the kind of manic scheming that consumes us, the anxiety of self-protection and self-promotion that devours us, that demands our lives—as all idols eventually do.
We’re freed for a new imagination, new wonder, new possibilities. We’re children of the Living God, for heaven’s sake. If Christians all over the world gave up scheming about how to stay in control, and instead let ourselves have a bit of childlike creativity, a little more delight, a little more adventure, a little more holy mischief, a little more foolishness, I think the Church would be a lot more faithful. And I think the world would pay attention.
I don’t know exactly what that looks like. But I want to encourage you to let this image—us as children, God as Parent—make its way into your hearts. What does it mean that God is the divine Parent who loves you wildly, delights in you endlessly, who has compassion and mercy and grace for you without end, in your work? In the classroom? In our families? In our rest and our play? What does it mean that in Christ we know God feels that way about our neighbours, too? What does it mean that in everything we do, by the grace of Christ, we bear the name of God—that no sword, or huckster, or scheme, nothing in heaven, earth, or hell, will ever separate us from the love of God?
I think it means everything, it can change anything. It’s a truth that roars sending the stuff that binds and weighs us down scurrying away; it’s the roaring love that calls us home, that reminds us who and whose we really are, no matter what.
It’s the truth that allows our hearts to sing with St. John:See what love we have been given, that we should be called the children of God.
Thanks be to God.