08/04/2019 Sermon


August 4, 2019

Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church

Rachel Lemke

Hosea 11:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Hosea 11:1-11

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

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

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

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 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.[
f]

10 They shall go after the Lord,
    who roars like a lion;
when she roars,
    her children shall come trembling from the west.
11 They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
    and like doves from the land of Assyria;
    and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord.

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But Jesus said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight. Amen.

This text involving Jesus, the person in the crowd, and the parable of the rich landowner only appears in the Gospel of Luke. You will not read this story anywhere else in the Bible. Which I only say to justify my ignorance of this passage of scripture. Please join me in exploring our Gospel story for today. Jesus is once again surrounded by a crowd of people, and a man speaks up. We have no idea who this man is and we know nothing about him, other than he was able to speak up and get Jesus’ attention. He was asking Jesus to do him a solid, asking Jesus to use his authority to force this man’s brother to give him a part of their inheritance. We do not know whether the man was wronged in the distribution of inheritance and was demanding his fair share, or if he was asking for more out of greed. Of course Jesus, being a wise teacher, responds with a question: who set me to be judge or arbitrator over you? Jesus, apparently, sees this man’s request as greedy and says that life is not about abundance of possessions. Essentially: not my problem, suck it up. Naturally, to further prove his point, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who had questions.

To me, this parable in Luke sounds like a Shakespearean play: there’s this rich landowner, who makes a decision that seems to be some mixture of bizarre, foolish and greedy. His societal class and selfish discernment make him a detestable figure, despite the fact that we know very little else about him. Then suddenly the plans of the rich fool in the parable are upended when God comes in and announces the man’s imminent death. The use of comedy, irony, and tragedy feel more like something out of King Lear than a parable of Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus’ message rings clear with the narrator’s final comment, declaring that those who “store up treasures for themselves [are] not rich toward God.”

Ultimately, the rich landowner’s hopes for contentment and abundance mean nothing. God intervenes, speaking directly to the character in the story, which is something we do not commonly see in Jesus’ parables. So this story must be important to Jesus’ message and preaching against wealth and abundance. We can clearly understand the passive message in this text, that being rich and having much will not get very far with God. So what is the active message in this parable: what are we supposed to do in order to be “rich” toward God? What does that even mean, being “rich” toward God, especially when Jesus explicitly speaks out against wealth in the Gospels? What are we to do with this strange and isolated story, and what does it mean for our relationship with God and with others?

I’m reminded of the passage in Hosea, now, as we consider the character of God. In Luke, God is an active, merciless character who clearly knows what God expects of God’s people. God speaks out and intervenes and tries to shift our focus to Godself rather than our prized earthly possessions. In Hosea, however, God has tender, turbulent, human-like emotions. The chosen people of Israel have been turning away from God, again. So God uses the life of the prophet Hosea to demonstrate Israel’s infidelity, by having Hosea marry and attempt to start a family with a woman given to wandering. Hosea has to go, reclaim and even purchase his wife from men who would purchase and abuse her, a situation into which she seemingly wants to return. Thus, Hosea’s prophetic proclamation of God’s word reflects God as scorned spouse, desiring to take revenge on Israel for their tendency to trust in worldly gods and not the God of their redemption.

Yet in Hosea 11, God is more like a hurting parent. God goes through various stages of despair, reflecting on God’s love for Israel and feeling betrayed by these unfaithful children. I taught you to walk, I held you, I kissed and healed all your boo-boos, I fed you and loved you, God seems to say to Israel. In verse 4, where it is often translated as “I led them with bonds of human kindness,” the word ahava from which the phrase “human kindness” seems to derive, should be translated to say “love.” Often meaning love between humans, but also meaning love between God and God’s people.  I love you. Yet you keep abandoning me, choosing to run toward what is not good for you rather than accepting the love and care I have to give you. I do not have children, but I feel like this is common feeling among parents. You can do all you possibly can, including giving up the last piece of apple pie, and yet children are often forgetful of that love and react in ways that can hurt or disappoint. You do not stop loving, though. God, in all God’s wrath and power, can easily destroy Israel for continuing to flee. Yet God, despite all the human-like qualities attributed to God in this passage, does not react in rage. God continues to love, transcending all our understandings of love. God continues to call, hoping that Israel will at last return, like a wandering child.

How can the compassionate, emotional God in Hosea be the same God that condemns death for the man who was just a little too rich and maybe a little too selfish? We again return to the question of, what does this mean for us, our relationship with God and our relationship with others? God, in both texts, is…well, furious. I’d say “pissed off” but I’m not sure how you all would respond to that. God’s emotions range all over the place, and yet God continues to love. It’s harder to see God’s love and mercy in the story about the rich fool. A man is threatened with death, seemingly as if God is striking him down. Yet Jesus’ ultimate message through telling that parable is to shift our focus to God because we do not need abundance here on earth. We do not need to rely on our own means.

This summer, I have been dog and house-sitting for a few wealthy families living up in Prospect. On July 27th, only 6 days in to a 15 day house-sitting gig, my car died. It required a repair that I thought was easy and fixable, but this time, my car couldn’t support it. My car died less than 2 months before student loans and scholarships came in; I’ve been working part-time for minimum wage campus jobs and travelling to house-sit all summer, I was only making enough to pay the bills until that sweet loan and scholarship money refilled my bank account. Here I was, living at a literal mansion for the summer, getting paid close to nothing, for people who can afford to travel and purchase art around the world, while I borrowed money from my 15-year-old brother’s savings account to help pay the down payment of a new car. I was really feeling Jesus’ preaching against the wealthy.

The mansion I was house-sitting for had a piano in their basement. It was obviously not played very often, but it held the tuning well enough. The day my car died, my boyfriend graciously drove me to the mansion. Distraught and confused and angry, I told him I had to go take my emotions out on a piano. Looking at the stack of music I brought, I picked up a solo piano arrangement of “His Eye is On the Sparrow.”

Why should I feel discouraged?
Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely
and long for heaven and home,
when Jesus is my portion?
My constant friend is he:
his eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me;
his eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
for his eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.

I was angry with God. I felt betrayed by God. I was overwhelmed by my lack of abundance. Yet, how could I give up on a God who somehow continues to take care of me? God has brought me to this point, how could I think God would leave me here?

Sometimes, I feel that there is just too much in this world to fix. There are children in cages at our borders, people trying to desecrate sacred ground in Hawai’i, and the constant barrage of the despicable behavior of our foolish-rich-man-in-Chief. The school-to-prison pipeline continues to flow while unarmed black boys are shot in the street. Our environment is dying, and we keep contributing to our earth’s destruction at astronomical rates. How can there be people who are so wealthy, who choose not to use their funds to fix it all, but rather build bigger barns to hoard their abundance?! God is not calling us to fill up our income and store up treasures for ourselves. Your car could die tomorrow (I hope that is not the case for any of you). God is calling us to love God, and love the presence of God in one another. We continue to frustrate God by abandoning our Creator for things, stuff, social media, and ideology. I abandon God daily.

Yet God, as the Motherly God in Hosea, keeps calling us back. We need to shift our focus. Look around and do what we can to show the love we have been given in abundance. I do not know how to fix all the world’s problems. I do not know how to quit abandoning God. I do know that God has enough grace for all of us. God is bigger and deeper and broader than anything we can imagine, and God will continue calling us back and sending us out. Amen.