I can't give you up
Hosea 11:1-11

I love “word processing”.  It is unbelievably important to me.  My work requires a lot of writing; and writing is never quite right until you write, and then rewrite, and then rewrite again.  “Word processing” with a computer makes it so easy to fix mistakes, try something a different way, change it back if I want to.  (Mind you, there was something quite satisfying with the old typewriter – kids, ask your parents to explain later – something satisfying about ripping out a sheet of paper and crunching it up dramatically and hurling it across the room!  You never get to do that when you’re typing on a computer!)
Throwing stuff away – mistake-ridden stuff, stuff that makes you angry, broken stuff, damaged stuff, “it’s no good anymore”, “it’s not right” – that kind of stuff – throwing it away – “Aargh!” – you know what that feels like.
And then, every once in a while, just occasionally, maybe some time after you’ve gone to bed because you’ve given up and you just don’t want to anymore, and you lie there tossing and turning, and you’re still angry or disappointed or frustrated but ...  Just occasionally you might quietly go and find it, fish it out of the bin, realize you want to try again.
This year, as we have followed the Gospel of Luke, we’ve come across story after story in which someone -- a shepherd, a woman, a father in the parables; Jesus in the real-life dramas – someone is fishing around and looking for that broken life, that mistake-ridden life, that frustrating life:  “The lost sheep”, “the lost coin”, “the lost son” – or maybe the widow who has lost her husband and son, or the blind man or the lame man who have lost health and independence, or the leper who has lost his family and community, or the tax collector who has lost his integrity and respect, or the rich young man or the rich old fool who have lost their perspective, or the centurion who has lost his confidence, or the judge who has lost his compassion, or the Pharisee who has lost his insight, or the woman who has lost her honour, or the fishermen who have lost their courage, or the disciples who have lost their way, or the masses who have lost their security, or the governor who has lost his authority and control, or the criminal who has lost his discernment, while his companion is resigned to having lost his life.  Call it “lost” by virtue of apathy, or carelessness, or greed, or spite, or a rebellious spirit, or anger, or hurt, or disappointment, or ignorance, or circumstance – wrong place at the wrong time – it doesn’t matter how well you edit the sentence or the paragraph you know as well as I do that it won’t ever completely explain the whole of the human condition....  But we recognize the “lostness”. 
To be quite frank:  for all that our world holds up and celebrates achievements and accomplishments and great improvements, we are equally as conscious of the way that the whole world is in a scramble to somehow regain control of what has gone wrong; and sometimes the “wrong” is so significant that there is a strong sense of being “lost”, broken, discarded, forgotten....  Everyone recognizes that something is “wrong”, even when they can’t quite work out “what” or “why”. 
At the heart of Luke’s Gospel Jesus says, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
I saved today’s Old Testament reading for now.  This is a reading in which God kind of rips the page out of the typewriter, hurls it across the room, and then sits and stares at it.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.  The more I called them, the more they went from me; 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 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.  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 he does not raise them up at all.  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?   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.   They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.  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.  (Hosea 11:1-11)

For me, over many years, I have returned again and again to listen to the pain in God’s voice in this proclamation.  I don’t know that there is a more powerful expression, in words, of the wrestling within God – his absolute hate of sin and all its debilitating and destructive consequences over and against his absolute faithfulness and love for his created, his children.  The visual image contrasting the crucified Christ and the risen Christ shows the same thing; but in these words you can hear, in a very accessible way, God’s pain and God’s strength.  You can sense the Father’s despair when over and over and over and over the one he loves “walks away”, neither listens nor talks, receives blessing without recognition or thanks or regard for the giver, carelessly or even rebelliously does his own thing and then even has the gall to complain when things go wrong; and yet, out of that despair comes a “roar”, a defiant declaration that your weakness and mine, your sin and mine, even your arrogant rudeness and mine, will not stop God from being who God is:  God is the creator; God is life; God is love; and God is all of these eternally – always and forever!
Look at the contrasting metaphors in this text!  First is the parent who tenderly rubs her cheek against her child’s; who patiently walks slowly while the child learns to toddle; who nurses her child at her own breast; and then comes the lioness who, sensing her cubs are in danger, roars defiantly with a power and authority that nothing in all creation can counter.
As the Good News Bible translates it:  “How can I give you up, my child? ...  My heart will not let me do it!  My love for you is too strong.” 
This is the Word of the Lord.  This is the Gospel of your heavenly Father.  This is the father’s love that Jesus proclaimed when he told the story of a profligate son, wallowing in slops and despair, to whom the father rushes, runs with compassion, and relief, and nothing but thanksgiving that his child is safe, within the home that is his love.  This is the Gospel Jesus proclaims to Peter, three times(!), after Peter’s defiant denial!  This is the liberating Gospel Jesus gives to the woman caught in adultery who, when all the evidence points to justifiable anger and punishment, Jesus says “I do not condemn you” and blesses with his own “depart in peace” and “sin no more”.  This is the confronting “What are you doing?  What is happening between us?” when Jesus stops his petulant child Saul on that famous crusade to Damascus, filled with self-righteous anger and zeal, but blinded to the compassion of the one who will, only a little later along the journey, be his ever present comfort in prison, salvation in the storm, loving strength in time of weakness and doubt, hope and peace and joy in every circumstance.  That same Saul/Paul will later stand in Athens, among a crowd of people who know the feeling of “lostness”, who know that something is “wrong”, who instinctively feel that something is missing, but they don’t know what or where or who – Paul stands up, calls them God’s “children”, and tells them that the “unknown god” (and the “unknown good”) is theirs to know in the loving gift of the Father who loves the whole world so much that he gives, and lives, and loves in compassion, in identifying with the lost, in Jesus.
You make sure you know this love of God for all his children.  In our living together as a community of Christians, we end up with a very full agenda of lots of important things to learn, and remember, and think about and do.  Our ecclesiastical vocabulary is full of technical terms that describe and define and determine our faith journey, our discipleship, our doctrine, our church membership, our mission.  We wrestle with our own weaknesses, and we pray for guidance and support; most of us walk around much of the time feeling that we never quite match our high intentions and expectations and frequent opportunities with the realities of required commitment, and courage, and confidence.  Let’s be honest – that struggle is very real. 
So you make sure that above it and beneath it you remember this love of God for all his children.  Because whether at home, or within the “walls” of our little church community, or within your friendship groups, or with your workmates, or neighbours, or friends, or in all the various community groups of which you are a part, or even on occasion with the stranger struggling somewhere where you just happen to be – wherever and whenever, you remember the all conquering, all enduring, ever faithful, absolute love of God for all his children.  You are “armed” with that always.  It is yours to speak, to “roar”(!); yours to act, to live, in any situation.  Even if you cannot quickly sort out right from wrong, justice from injustice, good from evil, you know that God looks at you, or at whomever, and says, “I can’t give you up!  My heart will not let me do it!  My love for you is too strong!”
Whatever this week brings for you, remember that “there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord”.  That is the heart statement of your God, for you, and for all.  Make that the foundation of your living in every situation and circumstance this week.