Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
Talk about names that would never be in a modern romantic movie or novel. Who would ever pick Hosea and Gomer as the names of the two people with problems of love? I can just hear someone pitching that script. Can you imagine the “Pretty Woman Character” being called Gomer not to mention that Richard Gere Character being called Hosea? We knew this was going to be a flop. It just did not make any sense.
To quote Ecclesiastes: “Nothing makes sense! Everything is nonsense. I have seen it all— nothing makes sense! I said these things when I lived in Jerusalem as king of Israel. With all my wisdom I tried to understand everything that happens here on earth. And God has made this so hard for us humans to do. I have seen it all, and everything is just as senseless as chasing the wind.”
We first have to start knowing that human wisdom is very shallow and leads nowhere. Human wisdom about the basics of life seems at first glorious but then seems less and less. So, when it comes to understanding Hosea and Gomer we at first do not see the real issue. It is all about understanding God’s compassion.
In the old musical, Green Pastures, God is looking out over the ramparts of heaven toward the earth. Every form of wickedness is visible to His eyes. It is the defining moment of the drama. The words “everything nailed down is coming loose!” are proclaimed in heaven.
What will God do? He strides forth from the safety of his heaven and says, “Hold on children. I’m coming!” Hosea reveals God in the moment of His greatest disappointment with his people. “My heart is torn within me” (11:8a), cries God and all creation takes a deep breath before being destroyed. Wait. “and my compassion overflows” (11:8b). Can it be?
Our sinful ways evoke compassion and not judgment from our God. Yes. Oh God have mercy, yes!
Regardless of her offenses Hosea was sent to reclaim Gomer as his wife. One cannot in one lifetime do anything that will so offend God as to cause Him to no longer love you. His seeking, searching hands will pursue his children throughout their lifetime. As long as there is life there is hope. God requires repentance eventually. To quit something is to stop doing something. It is never enough to just stop being bad. Repent means to quit AND to return.
The returning is more important than the quitting. David was a man after God’s own heart, not because he quit sinning entirely, rather because he always returned to the source of his salvation: God.
In Luke you have brothers fighting over their father’s estate. Jesus refuses to get caught in the middle of their dispute. He does give some advice: “Don’t be greedy. Real life is not measured by how much we own” (12:15). Come to one’s senses while there is still time!
He then told a parable. I believe His parables came from the real life he had lived in Nazareth. I imagine that one day a man came into Joseph’s shop saying, “Joseph, I need bigger barns. Come and tear down my old ones and enlarge them.” (The “barns” of that region were holes in the ground lined with stones and having a stone stairway spiraling down to the bottom along the side. The top was made of wood and sod much like the roofs of the homes. I had always wondered why you would tear down a barn to build a bigger one. In my region we would build another barn and use both! To enlarge the barn the stones had to be carefully removed and the hole dug out to a larger diameter. Then the stones would be replaced, and new stones added, since the wall was a larger surface area than the old wall. The stair would be rebuilt as they worked from the bottom up and finally a new roof would be constructed.) Before Joseph could complete this job, I imagine the man’s widow coming in with her sons saying, “My husband died last night. Can you carve out a tomb for him in the nearby hills?” Now, whose will it be?
The parable spoke exactly to the brothers’ situation. Their father had died, and they were fighting over his estate. The tragedy was that their father was only concerned with where to store the surplus, not what to do with it. He assumed he would keep it all! God himself speaks in this parable to the man. The topic is so important God himself appears. The man is told that his wealth will give him no control over his future. A stunning reversal! Our society is totally immersed in the fool’s delusion. Jesus makes it clear that worldly prosperity is no safeguard against an empty repository of faith. God writes the stories of our lives. He decides how our story will end. Only a fool would fail to consult with him on such important issues as life and death.
In one of the first churches I served we had a women’s Sunday school class named after Mrs. Minnie Schaffer. Her grandson died and left his five children and his church equal amounts of his estate. Six weeks after reading the will, the trustees of our little church were invited back to the lawyer’s office to hear the reading of a codicil to the will. It was to be opened and read only upon the contestation of the original will. Three of the children had contested the will and were seeking to break it. The codicil read in part, “I had hoped this would not have to be opened and read, but some of you have decided to seek relief from my final will and testament. Therefore, I hereby amend my will to leave all who have joined in the contestation one dollar and the remainder to be divided among the remaining heirs and my grandmother’s church.” There was much discussing and cussing. Threats to break the codicil were met with the calm measured voice of an old lawyer saying, “Don’t waste the only dollar you received trying a second time to circumvent your father’s will.” Sadly, he knew his children and made provisions for their wickedness.
Jesus was reminding the brother of the profound truth: It is appointed unto man once to die and then judgment. His brother who had cheated him was not present. A multitude was there, so Jesus used the circumstance to reaffirm what really is important. One must be rich toward God. Jesus did not give the man what he requested. This is common in our experience with God. Every story I can think about where the person got what he wished is a tragedy. Aladdin got three wishes from the genie in the lamp and by the time he had his third wish he wished he had never seen that lamp! Midas asked that everything he touched be turned to gold. One day his daughter whom he loved more than his own life ran to him. As he swept her into his arms, she turned into a golden statue. He cursed his “blessing.” My favorite Christmas story not in the Bible is “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart. After a series of reversals he prays, “I wish I had never been born!” He gets to see the tragedy of his wish being granted. We only know how to ask for what we want, but God in his infinite wisdom knows how to not pay attention to what we say and go straight to the heart of the issue.
There is another side of the truth: There is nothing I can do in one lifetime to make God stop loving me. It is: I must refuse to judge the goodness of God by the limited experiences of one lifetime. The man’s brother wouldn’t share with him. Gomer would not stay faithful to Hosea. In neither case did the world end, as they both thought it would. We can stand more than we think we can. Through the suffering comes clarity about our situation. To love only those who have not sinned against us is to love no one. To keep faith only with those who keep faith with us is not Christian. Jesus’ words “Father, forgive them. They do know not what they are doing.” was O.K. for him to say, after all, he is God. My brother steals from me, my wife cheats on me, life deals me a sorry hand and I am supposed to stick a flower in my hat and be happy? Do I look like a fool? Yes, but you are not yet a fool for Christ. It is our only hope of getting out of this world alive.
There is no more passionate and moving expression of God’s heart than this anywhere in the Bible. God speaks as the loving father of Israel, who called his son out of bondage in Egypt. At that time Israel was like a helpless child, a new nation facing the might of the Egyptian empire, wandering in the desert with no prospects of food or drink. God taught them to walk, either taking them by the arms or (as the RSV) taking them in his arms. He led them gently, guided them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. If the metaphor of parent and child continues, then we should translate v 4b as: ‘I became for them as those who lift a child to their cheeks. And I reached out to feed him’. This seems better than assuming that there is a change to animal imagery with God removing the yoke from the beast’s neck (lit. but surprisingly, ‘jaws’) and bending down to feed it. Either way, the picture is of tender care bestowed on Israel. Israel, however, showed no response. In fact, the more I called Israel, the more they went from me (2, 7). They did not realize that God was the one who healed them (3).
All the signs are that Israel must be utterly destroyed, but God cries out in anguish. How can he make them like Admah and Zeboiim, cities which perished forever along with Sodom and Gomorrah (Dt. 29:23; cf. Gn. 14:2, 8)? To human reason it seems there is no alternative, but God is God, not man (cf. Mk. 10:25–27).
The last part of v 9 means either ‘I will not come against a city’ (see the NIV mg.), or ‘I will not come in wrath’ or ‘burning’.
The end of this section is a promise of salvation which takes some previous metaphors and reverses their sense. The LORD will be like a lion, not to destroy (cf. 5:14) but to give a signal for his sons to come home from wherever they have been scattered. They have previously been described as a silly dove, fluttering to get help from Egypt or Assyria (7:11), and about to be snared in God’s net. Here they are fearful, but not silly, and fly eagerly back to the LORD and to their homes (10a, 11b).
The prophecy is an amazing testimony to God’s grace, perhaps only surpassed by the events of the gospel: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son …’ (Jn. 3:16). (Butterworth, G. M. Hosea. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition [1994, Downers Grove, IL] 4th ed p776-7)
In chapter 11, the other side of the main body of the book’s prophecies, Hosea again presents us with the fruits of his reflection on his marital experience. It is a nice fact that this further reflection implies some rather different perspectives on God and on marriage and family. It suggests new insights on their interrelationship and on the way, they help us understand each other.
Yahweh gives us a testimony to a long history of parental experience. In the picture Yahweh paints, Israel starts off as an orphan in Egypt. There in Egypt was this lonely child, and Yahweh fell in love with it, the way a couple who cannot have children fall in love with a child in an orphanage. There is a huge reservoir of love in their hearts, and it longs to find an object. Yahweh is love, and this love in Yahweh finds its object.
So Yahweh summoned Israel out of Egypt as a son. Israel was adopted into Yahweh’s family. The really weird thing is that Israel has not related to Yahweh as one might then have expected. Instead of calling responsively on Yahweh, they have made a habit of making offerings to the gods of Canaan (v. 2b).
Like a mother or a father, Yahweh taught Ephraim to walk (v. 3a; “Ephraim” means the northern kingdom as a whole). Yahweh picked this child up when it fell over and tended its grazed knees. But it did not acknowledge that Yahweh was the one who healed it. The NRSV has “did not know,” but the verb yada˓ covers the range of “acknowledge, recognize” as well as “know,” and Hosea is fond of this usage. It is not that the child has received a present from an anonymous benefactor. It is that the child has refused to recognize where its benefactions came from.
Like a mother or father with a child that has just learned to walk, Yahweh has led Ephraim along and kept it on reins to make sure it did not wander too far and get into trouble. These are thus humane and loving reins. The love that set the adoption going continues as the parents bring up their child. Keeping control of children by means of “reins,” of course, is an image from animal husbandry, and by the time of verse 4b Hosea is more explicitly picturing Yahweh as like a farmer caring for animals. The wise and caring farmer or parent does not pull on the reins in such a way as to hurt the animal or child and makes sure it gets its food.
But the “child” has failed to “return” to Yahweh (v. 5). The verb is often translated “repent.” “Return” helps to make clear the nature of repentance. It is an act of the will: we turn from walking in one direction to walking in another. The verb reappears in verse 7. Strictly it means “turn” rather than “return,” and there the NRSV assumes it refers to the fact that the people are turning (away) and not turning (back). The usage further clarifies the Old Testament’s understanding of the people’s relationship with God. It should involve walking in the way Yahweh points and not turning from this way, but if we do turn away, our business is to turn back.
So far God’s words have constituted a radical indictment of the people and a threat to bring a radical calamity upon them, and much of their power issues from Hosea’s use of the parenthood metaphor. It is in keeping with Hosea’s account of his parental experience in chapter 1, and his use of this image there to bring home the terrifying nature of what God will do to Israel. The parent owed this child nothing, but decided to love it, adopted it, delivered it from the place where it was being abused, taught it to walk, tended its hurts, protected it, nourished it, and so forth. But it has made no response. It has treated other people as its providers and not recognized who its parent was. It has been invited and challenged to come back but has declined to do so. Therefore, it will be thrown out.
But how could a parent do this (v. 8)? How can a parent divorce a child? Yahweh recoils from the idea. Yahweh’s tenderness makes it impossible to act in anger. Yahweh does not go back on the feeling of anger or abandon it. Rather, Yahweh determines to contain it, not to execute it (v. 9a). The Bible assumes that there is nothing wrong with anger in itself; it is part of the emotional repertoire that belongs to human beings through their being made in God’s image. It is an appropriate emotional response to the way people sometimes treat each other. The question is what we do with our anger. Are we in control of the occasions when we may properly express it and the moments when we should absorb its force within ourselves? There is more obligation on the stronger of two parties to absorb its anger. That applies to parents in general, and thus to Yahweh in particular.
The reason is that Yahweh is God and not a man (v. 9b). The NRSV has “I am God and no mortal.” It is natural for human beings to be overwhelmed by wrath and to have to express it, but God is different. God is “the holy one.” The distinctive nature of God as the holy one, not a human being, is to restrain and absorb anger, and to let tenderness win out over the instinct to lash out.
The children will find that the parents throw them out of the house for a while, but the door is not closed and barred forever. (Goldingay, J. Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost, Year C. In The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis For Sunday’s Texts [2001, Grand Rapids, MI] Vol 1 p470-3)
This chapter is one of the boldest in the Old Testament—indeed in the whole Bible—in exposing to us the mind and heart of God in human terms. We are always in danger of thinking of divine majesty in terms which we have learnt from earthly potentates, ‘the kings of the Gentiles’ whom our Lord summed up in Luke 22:25–27 in contrast to Himself. Even when we speak of God as Father, we may hesitate in case we read too much into the word. But our chief danger is in reading too little from it, drawing our ideas either from an earthly father’s indulgence, caring too little for his children’s training, or from his self-indulgence, taking the convenient path of a domestic tyrant.
Here, by contrast, we are made to see this title in terms of accepted cost and anguish. God as a father rebuffed, torn between agonizing alternatives, may seem too human altogether; but this is the price of bringing home to us the fact that divine love is more, not less, ardent and vulnerable than ours. ‘For’ (as verse 9 will remind us, correcting our inverted values) ‘I am God and not man.’
More than once we have been reminded of the bright promise of Israel’s youth, so rapidly to fade. The promise arose out of God’s grace rather than their good qualities, and the fading of it out of their sheer perversity—for it is one of Hosea’s emphases that Israel’s sin, so far from springing from ignorance or hardship, was their reply to heaven’s kindness and concern.
The tenderness of verses 3 and 4 completes two (or perhaps one—see below) of the pictures God has used in nearby passages. Fatherly love, merely stated in verse 1, is now charmingly portrayed in a scene that any family will recognize, with father absorbed in coaxing and supporting the child’s first staggering steps; picking him up when he tires or tumbles; ‘making the place better’ when he hurts himself (though Isaiah 66:13 will remind us that father is only second-best at this). But Ephraim (that is, Israel) is a child no longer. Like some aloof and scornful adolescent, he has forgotten or never realized—or simply does not want to know—what he owes to this relationship.
Likewise, the rejection of God as king has to end not merely with the disappearance of the kings they chose instead of Him (the theme of 10:3, 7, 15) but with the iron rule of a foreign super-power. If RSV is right in verse 7b (but it is rather a big ‘if’), this ‘yoke’ stands in marked contrast to the one that was handled so gently in verse 4; and on any reading of the text there is now held out no prospect of relief.
So, the very thought of abandoning the people He has lived amongst (‘in your midst’, 9), to an extinction like that of the cities of the plain, stirs God to strong revulsion. But how does this fit in with what in fact transpired? For Ephraim/Israel (the northern kingdom) fell in 722 BC and was deported to Assyria. One answer could be that she was given, after this prophecy, yet another chance to repent. More probably the answer lies in the remnant who threw in their lot with Judah, and whose descendants returned with them from Babylon (1 Ch. 9:1–3) to be part of the continuing Israel which meets us in the New Testament as the parent stock of the church. The next paragraph seems to bear this out.
God’s mercy, in the great soliloquy of verses 8 and 9, decreed survival and a future for His people, when they deserved neither. But (as the rest of the book has shown) nothing facile would do, for without a change of heart survival would mean only a repetition of the past. So, it is a chastened people, ‘trembling … trembling’, that will at last come home from being ‘wanderers among the nations’ (9:17). The ‘silly dove’ of 7:11, always flitting between Egypt and Assyria, will have had its fill of both, and of the lands beyond the sea, and be thankful for its own nest. More important, it will be the Lord whom Israel will ‘go after’ (10), not the ‘lovers’ whom she had once pursued (2:5).
What is certain is that the final event will far surpass our wisest thoughts and wildest expectations. (Kidner, D. The Message of Hosea: Love to the Loveless J. A. Motyer & D. Tidball, Eds [1976, England: Inter-Varsity Press] p100–106)
The Preacher is well qualified to search for the meaning of life—exploring many avenues of human experience and leaving no stone unturned in his quest. Throughout time, people have been aware of the power of words. A rousing, impassioned speech has often changed the course of events—a book has changed the course of history—and even an impromptu remark has enhanced or diminished someone’s reputation. Such things are sometimes the result of momentary inspiration, but often they are the products of careful deliberation. Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches and broadcasts were peppered with phrases that would express and inspire the resolve of the British people in their fight against Nazi tyranny. We now know how carefully rehearsed they were.
It appears that the Preacher has thought long and hard over this matter and uses a phrase that will precisely and concisely put over his message. It is as if he is saying, ‘Here is my point and you can quote me on that!’ This phrase, vanity of vanities, is used many times within Ecclesiastes; and the singular, vanity, frequently occurs in the Old Testament. The employment and repetition of this term stresses the importance of what the Preacher is saying. To understand his argument fully, we must look further into the meaning of this word.
The Hebrew translated as ‘vanity’ is hebel, which literally means ‘breeze, breath or vapor’. It is used in a number of ways in the Old Testament and these give us an all-round picture of what the Preacher is telling us about the meaninglessness of life under the sun.
Vanity, i.e. Hebel speaks of the transitory nature of things. It is used in this way in the Psalms, where human life is described as ‘a vapor’ (Ps. 39:5, 11). Derek Kidner likens it to, ‘A wisp of vapor, a puff of wind, a mere breath—nothing you could get your hands on; the nearest thing to zero.’ Everything in an earthbound life is fleeting. It is utterly futile to try to hold on to anything, for, in the end, all will burst like a bubble and be taken from us. Jesus reinforces this when he refers to ‘treasures on earth’ (Matt. 6:19).
Vanity in relation to value
The Psalmist also uses the same vanity (hebel) for that which is false and worthless. ‘Therefore, their days he consumed in futility … The LORD knows the thoughts of man, that they are futile (Ps. 78:33; 94:11). Jeremiah also takes up the theme, when he speaks of ‘worthlessness and unprofitable things’ (Jer. 16:19). Many things of this world have a habit of disappointing us. They only flatter to deceive. We may invest our lives pursuing things that at first seem almost priceless, only to discover that we have been wasting our time in pointless activity.
Hebel is also used in reference to idols. Jeremiah employs the term in this context (Jer. 10:8, 14). Idols will consume our interest—even become our gods—keeping us from the one true God. They can take many forms other than material objects crafted by man. We may idolize our children or grandchildren, friends, careers, homes, our ambitions and dreams.
‘Vanity of vanities’ is an expression of the absolute. Nothing exceeds the vanity that the Preacher has discovered in his search for the meaning of a life without God. This method of repeating a word is used elsewhere in the Bible for the same purpose (Exod. 26:33; Gen. 9:25; Deut. 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:15).
The Preacher refers to everything as being vanity. Although there is no specific reference at this point in his text, he will later explain that he is referring to everything that is subject to the temporal restrictions of life, under the sun. Without the Creator, the whole of creation is subject to futility (Rom. 8:20). Charles Bridges calls it, ‘one vast heap of numberless perishing vanities.’(Winter, J. Opening up Ecclesiastes [2005, Leominster] p14–17)
It was common for people in Palestine to take their unsettled disputes to respected Rabbis; but Jesus refused to be mixed up in anyone’s disputes about money. But out of that request there came to Jesus an opportunity to lay down what his followers’ attitude to material things should be. He had something to say both to those who had an abundant supply of material possessions and to those who had not.
(1) To those who had an abundant supply of possessions Jesus spoke this parable of the rich fool. Two things stand out about this man.
(a) He never saw beyond himself. There is no parable which is so full of the words, I, me, my and mine. A schoolboy was once asked what parts of speech my and mine are. He answered, ‘Aggressive pronouns. The rich fool was aggressively self-centered. It was said of a self-centered young lady, ‘Edith lived in a little world, bounded on the north, south, east and west by Edith.’ The famous criticism was made of a self-centered person, ‘There is too much ego in his cosmos.’ When this man had a superfluity of goods the one thing that never entered his head was to give any away. His whole attitude was the very reverse of Christianity. Instead of denying himself he aggressively affirmed himself; instead of finding his happiness in giving he tried to conserve it by keeping.
The Romans had a proverb which said that money was like sea water; the more you drink the thirstier you become. Similarly, as long as our attitude is that of the rich fool our desire will always be to get more—and that is the reverse of the Christian way.
Jesus had something to say to those who had few possessions. In all this passage the thought which Jesus forbids is anxious thought or worry. Jesus never ordered anyone to live in a shiftless, thriftless, reckless way. What he did tell people was to do their best and then leave the rest to God. The lilies Jesus spoke of were the scarlet anemones. After one of the infrequent showers of summer rain, the mountainside would be scarlet with them; they bloomed one day and died. Wood was scarce in Palestine, and it was the dried grasses and wildflowers that were used to feed the oven fire. ‘If’, said Jesus, ‘God looks after the birds and the flowers, how much more will he care for you?’
Jesus said, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God.’ We saw that God’s kingdom was a state on earth in which his will was as perfectly done as it is in heaven. So, Jesus is saying, ‘Bend all your life to obeying God’s will and rest content with that. So many people give all their effort to heap up things which in their very nature cannot last. Work for the things which last forever, things which you need not leave behind when you leave this earth, but which you can take with you.’(Barclay, W. The Gospel of Luke [2001, Louisville, KY] p194–197)
In Jesus’ story an exceptionally good harvest makes a rich farmer even richer. His problem is not the most obvious one: what to do with his crops. It never occurs to him to do anything with them except keep them, and so his problem is simply where to keep them, and the solution is a major building program on the farm. In a soliloquy that betrays his self-isolation from anyone for whom he has real concern (compare the man in v. 13, who wants his property solely for himself), he anticipates the security he will enjoy, having all he needs for a good life for years to come.
This control over his life is largely illusory, as we can see from the way he acquired his wealth: there just happened to be a good harvest. His wealth, in effect, was given to him. The same goes for all of us. To a limited extent we make our lives for ourselves, but only on the basis of or in conjunction with what is given to us: what we owe to family, friends, circumstances, occurrences which simply happen to us—good fortune, bad luck, or however we choose to interpret whatever we cannot engineer or control for ourselves. The writing of the stories of our lives is done only a little by ourselves, mostly by other people, by what happens to us, but ultimately by God. It is the affluent who most easily forget this. People living on the edge of destitution are naturally aware of how dependent they are on what happens to them. But the seduction of wealth is the illusion it gives us of control over our lives.
The shock of verse 20 for the rich man is in discovering that it is God who really writes his story. Not only his wealth but his very life has been given him and can therefore be taken back. The verb “required” suggests that the man’s “soul” or “life” was given to him on loan by God, who can therefore require it back at any time. And the divine interruption has an apt sting in its tail: “the wealth you have stored up for the future—who will get it now?” (There may be an echo here of Ps. 49:10.) Whereas less selfish people might find some pleasure in passing on their wealth to their children or having it distributed to the poor, this man’s wealth has no value for him except as his own wealth.
Another wisdom saying (v. 21) draws the moral explicitly. Accumulating wealth cannot give the security people expect from it, because it is impotent in the face of the most basic uncertainties of life, including the possibility of unexpected death. The parable suggests that, after all, it is really only sanctified common sense to trust God for the only kind of security we can have. It is only trusting in God that can overcome the primal human fear and insecurity that believes the false promises of mammon to provide security.
So true wealth—what really gives security—is being “rich toward God” (v. 21). This is the wealth we acquire when, trusting the future to God, we use what is given us unselfishly. The principle applies not only to material possessions, but ultimately to our lives and ourselves. The parable points us back to that strange, provocative epigram that lies at the heart of Jesus’ attitude to life: “Whoever wishes to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, if we direct our efforts to gaining for ourselves what we think will make life good and make sure of it, then security is bound to elude us. The way to real life is to give our lives away. If we expend ourselves and our possessions in the service of God and others, giving away what is given to us, then we find real life with God. Even in death, which is the ultimate disaster for the rich fool, we find life with God.
It hardly needs to be said that contemporary Western society is in the grip of the rich fool’s delusion. That life consists in what we can get and keep and spend is probably the loudest of the confused voices of our mass culture, conveyed with seductive expertise in the advertising that forms our consciousness subliminally as well as overtly. Of course, we may soon discover that what we have acquired so far brings no real fulfillment in life, but the rich fool’s philosophy encourages us to think that therefore we need more: a constant supply of new material possessions that cannot satisfy, new and expensive ways to take it easy, eat, drink, and enjoy ourselves. In simple cultures it does not take long to discover that material things cannot satisfy, but in affluent cultures, with their endless production of novelty and excitement, there are always other things we will soon be able to afford and to which we can attach our desires for fulfillment and security.
For most of us fools in a foolish society, the awareness that security lies entirely beyond our reach in God can come only with the shock of divine intervention in our lives. When the parable works for us—and reminds us of all the stories it epitomizes—then it becomes itself that divine interruption of our lives. Through the parable we experience the rich fool’s shock at second hand, and so what for him came too late reaches us before it is too late. The divine intervention which ended his story so unexpectedly can be for us an intervention which ends, not our story, but our attempt to write the story ourselves. (Bauckham, R. Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost, Year C. In R. E. Van Harn (Ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis For Sunday’s Texts [2001, Grand Rapids, MI] p volume three (pp. 380–383)
“Watch out!” says Jesus. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (v. 15). Luke refers more frequently to the dangers of material possessions and wealth than do the other Gospels, but this is his only reference to “greed” or “avarice” and, apart from Mark 7:22, the only such reference in the Gospels. Jesus detects a covetous desire behind the man’s request for a settlement of the inheritance, and he warns that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Few sayings of Jesus are more relevant to the consumer mentality of the modern world than this statement, for life cannot be measured or judged by the amount of stuff we own, amass, or win.
The Greek language had three words for “life” that Luke could have chosen. One was bios, which referred to quantitative life, i.e., how long one lived, how many goods one acquired. Another was psychē, which referred to qualitative life, i.e., to the values and relationships that constitute personhood. The third was zōē, which referred to quintessential life, i.e., to the life offered to humanity in the call to follow Jesus, and through him to live in a personal relationship with the Father. The first form of “life,” bios, could, in fact, be measured by one’s possessions. Luke does not use bios, however, but rather zōē, the word that describes God’s life and the abundant God-life offered to the world in the gospel (John 10:10). Zōē cannot be reduced to, measured by, or satisfied by stuff. We do not earn or merit zōē but receive it freely and undeservedly from God through the person of Jesus Christ. Zōē is relational rather than material, I-Thou rather than I-It, eternal rather than temporal and fading. Bios leaves us restless and insatiable, hungering for more; zōē produces contentment, peace, and joy. “Be on your guard,” says Jesus, against trying to achieve and satisfy zōē with things! (Edwards, J. R. / D. A. Carson, Ed The Gospel According To Luke [2015, Grand Rapids, MI] p369-72)
There is so much wonderful material about love this week it can only be hoped that there is a wedding happening soon. The themes about God’s love no matter what in Hosea shows that the idea of God’s all powerful and consuming love that Jesus underlined was already well established as a way of thinking about God. We also have the wonderful words about what we consider wisdom is not wisdom at all. The subject of God’s love is a wonderful and deep idea that can be treated lightly for a few minutes. However, the wonder of God’s love and wisdom we all must admit along with Paul that we only see through a glass darkly. The main point is again and again it is that it is always there with God reaching out towards each of us.
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The term “romantic comedy” seems specific, and yet knowing exactly what fits the mold can be tricky. Sure, it’s a movie that’s romantic. And of course, it’s funny. But what about movies that have an element of both, but aren’t focused on either? Or, are focused on a lot of other things, too, like friendship or self-discovery? It all starts to get a bit...murky. So earlier this week, we asked you to let us know what you feel makes the cut.
The answers were a little surprising. For instance, Coming to America, whose IMDB description is literally “an African prince travels to America to find a suitable woman to marry” only 26 percent of readers thought was a rom-com; the remaining 74 said it was just a com (yes, Eddie Murphy is hysterical, but come on, the man is looking for love!). Meanwhile, readers were split practically right down the middle as to whether such famous flicks as Breakfast at Tiffany’s (57 percent yes versus 43 percent no) and The Princess Diaries (42 to 58) should be included in the genre. Perhaps the problem is we’re all dealing with a different definition. We couldn’t help but wonder: What is it that makes a romantic comedy a romantic comedy?
According to Chloe Angyal, who holds a Ph.D. in media studies with a focus on the romantic comedy, the distinction is fairly straight-forward: “To me, the definition is a comedic movie, with a romance at its core, that ends with the couple together,” she says. When Harry Met Sally? Check. 10 Things I Hate About You? Check. Notting Hill? Check.
But when you accept that definition as a standard, a lot of movies fall out of the genre, too. Bridesmaids, for example, which explores themes of love and marriage, in fact wouldn’t really count. “It’s not really about getting the guy,” says Angyal of the Kristen Wiig comedy. “It’s about her and her relationship with her friend. He’s a human bonus prize, and you can still imagine a happy ending to that movie, even if they never get back together.”
Or Legally Blonde, a funny movie in which the action is spurred by a breakup—does it fit the definition? “I think Legally Blonde is borderline,” Angyal says. “But I think there’s a strong argument, given that the catalyst for the movie is her getting dumped, and she meets a new man relatively early on who’s pretty present throughout.” Plus, another happy ending in which, we can at least assume, Elle said yes to Emmett’s proposal. (Sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t seen it, but the movie came out in 2001—the statute of limitations on spoilers is up.) On the other hand, the movie is largely about Elle coming into her own as a lawyer and the ending is plenty happy even if she passes on a big white dress and a bouquet toss.
The last year or so leading up to the Rom-Com Renaissance in which we currently find ourselves has shown us that this genre amounts to more than the sum of its tropes. Rom-coms can speak to the experiences and hopes of people from any background, age, race, income level, or sexual orientation (see: To All The Boys I've Loved Before; Love, Simon; What Men Want)—but only when the people writing them and the studios producing them take the genre seriously enough to make these considerations. And they should: When done correctly, a romantic comedy can be a box office money-maker and a genuine cultural touchstone. (Ahem, Crazy Rich Asians.)
Okay, so then, what about movies with male leads, that appeal to men, but still fit within our aforementioned standard (comedic movie, romance at core, happy ending)? Forgetting Sarah Marshall (which more than a quarter of readers said was not a rom-com) was written by and stars Jason Segel, and features plenty of Judd Apatow Extended Universe actors making boyish sex jokes, but it’s also genuinely a comedy and centrally about love. Though many women like it, it seems pretty geared toward men. Just look at this trailer (which, I must say, doesn’t do the movie’s actual thoughtfulness and humanity much justice) and tell me they weren’t banking on mostly cachet dude guys buying tickets:
“From the guys who brought you The 40-Year-Old Virgin...” Sigh.
But rather than disqualifying Forgetting Sarah Marshall for its more “bro comedy” elements, it’s important to keep male-centric romantic comedies in the canon. The moment we exclude movies like The Best Man Holiday or Knocked Up, we reinforce the idea that love stories are only of interest to women. But men need and desire romantic love, too. By excluding them from the genre, we're not exposing men to celebrations of vulnerability and sensitivity. We’re saying that finding true love is something worth aspiring to for women, but not for men. But shouldn’t all humans aspire to connect with other humans on a deep and personal level? Is this why toxic masculinity exists? Because men haven’t seen Notting Hill?
Maybe we’re overthinking it, but with a resurgence in interest from studios to make romantic comedies, it’s important to do so with thoughtfulness and intentionality. We don’t want a repeat of the rom-com’s downfall, in which clever tropes gave way to rote ones and in which any excitement, spark, or beauty was completely sucked out via the vacuum of laziness. Let’s talk about romantic comedies as a legitimate genre. Romances, too. And let’s also acknowledge when a woman-centric film fits into a longstanding male-centric genre, like how Girls Trip is definitely a buddy comedy. Ultimately, it’s about breaking down the partition that unnecessarily separates art specifically for women from art for everyone. The moment we do, all art is going to be much better for it. (https://www.marieclaire.com/culture/a26115125/romantic-comedy-definition/)
Romantic comedy (portmanteaus: romedy, romcom or lovecome) is a genre with lighthearted, humorous plot lines centered on romantic ideas, such as how true love is able to surmount most obstacles. One dictionary definition is "a funny movie, play, or television program about a love story that ends happily" Another definition suggests that its "primary distinguishing feature is a love plot in which two sympathetic and well-matched lovers are united or reconciled".
Romantic comedy films are a certain genre of comedy films as well as of romance films, and may also have elements of screwball comedies. However, a romantic comedy is classified as a film with two genres, not a single new genre. Some television series can also be classified as romantic comedies.
In a typical romantic comedy, the two lovers tend to be young, likeable, and seemingly meant for each other, yet they are kept apart by some complicating circumstance (e.g., class differences, parental interference, a previous girlfriend or boyfriend) until, surmounting all obstacles, they are finally reunited. A fairy-tale-style happy ending is a typical feature.
The basic plot of a romantic comedy is that two characters meet, part ways due to an argument or other obstacle, then ultimately realize their love for one another and reunite. Sometimes the two leads meet and become involved initially, then must confront challenges to their union. Sometimes they are hesitant to become romantically involved because they believe that they do not like each other, because one of them already has a partner, or because of social pressures. However, the screenwriters leave clues that suggest that the characters are, in fact, attracted to each other and that they would be a good love match. The protagonists often separate or seek time apart to sort out their feelings or deal with the external obstacles to their being together, only to later come back together.
While the two protagonists are separated, one or both of them usually realizes that they love the other person. Then, one party makes some extravagant effort (sometimes called a grand gesture) to find the other person and declare their love. This is not always the case as sometimes there is an astonishing coincidental encounter where the two meet again. Or one plans a sweet romantic gesture to show that they still care. Then, perhaps with some comic friction or awkwardness, they declare their love for each other and the film ends on a happy note. Even though it is implied that they live a happily ever after, it does not always state what that happy ending will be. The couple does not necessarily get married, or even live together for it to be a "happily ever after". The ending of a romantic comedy is meant to affirm the primary importance of the love relationship in its protagonists' lives, even if they physically separate in the end (e.g. Shakespeare in Love, Roman Holiday). Most of the time the ending gives the audience a sense that if it is true love, it will always prevail no matter what is thrown in the way.
There are many variations on this basic plot line. Sometimes, instead of the two lead characters ending up in each other's arms, another love match will be made between one of the principal characters and a secondary character (e.g., My Best Friend's Wedding and My Super Ex-Girlfriend). Alternatively, the film may be a rumination on the impossibility of love, as in Woody Allen's film Annie Hall. The basic format of a romantic comedy film can be found in much earlier sources, such as Shakespeare plays like Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Some comedy films, such as Knocked Up, combine themes of romantic comedies and stoner comedies, creating a new subgenre that can be more appealing to men, as it already may be to women. Often known as "bromance", such films usually use sexual elements which bring the two characters together. Films in this genre include American Pie 2 and even Wedding Crashers. Having sexual elements in the movie is starting to become more popular in romantic comedy movies. In almost all of Nicholas Spark's movies there is some type of sexual scene even though these movies are aimed more towards women. They can be considered to be aimed more towards women because of the hopeless romantic love scenes that are usually present in his works.
The convention underlying a romance book or film is there is two people, normally male and a female, who fall in love with each other. They have a good situation going on for a while, but then the couple finds a major obstacle in their way, which usually starts to pull them apart or makes one of them leave. Before they can overcome this obstacle, one (or both) realizes that they are perfect for each other and proclaims their love for the other. The films usually end with the couple either getting married, engaged, or giving some indication that they live "happily ever after".
People are supposed to love other people (and perhaps, pets and local sports franchises). So why is it that consumers are prone to borderline-romantic infatuations with stuff ranging from cars to computers, and even guns? Why do they go so far as to fawn over these inanimate objects and pamper them with complementary products and services? A new study says loneliness is primarily to blame.
The study, titled “Truly, Madly, Deeply: Consumers in the Throes of Material Possession Love” and authored by a trio of marketing professors for the Journal of Consumer Research, takes a close look at “love-smitten consumers” who are particularly ga-ga over four products: cars, computers, bicycles, and guns. Material possession love, as they define it, involves an attachment that incorporates passion, intimacy, and commitment. Some marriages don’t have all three of those. But the guys who wax their sports cars in the driveway weekly, and who are heartbroken when the bumper is scratched? That’s true love.
To investigate why consumers can become so attached to their possessions, researchers spoke with smitten car owners like Jerry, a 55-year-old empty nester who calls his car “my baby” and talks about his wheels like others might talk about their lovers:
I just don’t want anyone else touching her. I just don’t want anything screwed up. She has a special aftermarket oil ﬁltration system with a reusable ﬁlter. Most shops just don’t have the patience to work on a mid-engined car and they don’t know what to do with a reusable stainless-steel oil ﬁlter. But I know her and I know how to do it right.
(MORE: Want Happiness? Don’t Buy More Stuff, Go on Vacation)
What’s up with this passion for something that sucks away your money and doesn’t love you back? Through surveys and the work of other researchers, the study points to loneliness as the root of material possession love. Consumers are particularly likely to fall in love with possessions they own for a long time, such as the ones focused on in this study. When someone suffers from “social deficits” (i.e., loneliness), he’s more likely to grow attached to possessions. This sort of love may, in turn, lead to further “deficits,” causing a chicken-egg situation for those in the throes of materialistic love, the authors write:
It is also plausible that an all-consuming love for a possession may in itself create social isolation and loneliness.
(Speaking of chickens, perhaps it’s also loneliness, or some other “deficit,” that could explain the bizarrely passionate attachment so-called “super fans” have for certain fast food chains. The Associated Press found one fan so in love with Chick-fil-A that he’s made the chain’s mascot (a cow) best man at his wedding. Another couple had the Chick-fil-A logo stamped onto their wedding bands.)
(MORE: Do You Love Your Stuff Too Much? Maybe It’s Because No One Loves You)
But it’s not loneliness alone that plays a role in the need to embrace stuff. One’s need to control also seems to be a factor:
Because material objects are not sentient beings, without consciousness and free will, such objects offer consumers relatively predictable and controllable—albeit one-sided—relationships. Therefore, those exhibiting this trait seem more susceptible to possession love.
However you fall in love with a possession, the result is often that caring for that possession winds up costing the owner plenty in terms of time and money:
We found possession love driving nurturing, meaning consumers giving of their time, energy, and other resources to foster their beloved possessions and their relationships with such possessions. Nurturing is accomplished, in part, by buying complementary products and services, in deference to the beloved; thus, the assortment of products and services nurturing beloved possessions represents substantial revenue opportunities for marketers.
The takeaway is that coping with loneliness sure can be expensive.
The mind and intellect of man is an amazing thing. It has brought us from cave dwelling to modern civilization. It has been responsible for imagining and producing powerful computers, trips to the moon, and cures for major diseases. But the mind and intellect of man has also been responsible for some very dangerous things like wars, genocide, cults, and atomic weaponry that could destroy the earth and civilization. And the most dangerous of them all, the mind has the ability to lead you to believe that there is no God, that you are so smart that you have no need of God, or that you are God. In these scenarios, you actually become your own God which is the height of arrogance and pride. As my mother would often tell me, “Young man, you can become too smart for your own good”.
I recently heard a powerful testimony from one of the most intellectual people I have ever known. This person was born and raised in a Jewish home. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in psychology. He searched most of his young adult life for the deeper spiritual meanings of the universe. He was majorly involved in Eastern religions and the New Age movement but he never could find what he was seeking for. But one day he found himself in the Holy presence of the Almighty Jehovah God. At that point, he could no longer deny that God was real and he surrendered his whole being (Body, Soul, and Spirit) to the Creator through His son Jesus Christ. That encounter, and subsequent surrender, changed my Jewish friend’s life forever!
The Bible has a lot to say about the conflict between man’s intellect and God’s wisdom:
1 Corinthians 1:20-21: “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe (writer)? Where is the disputer of this world (lawyer)? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe”.
1 Corinthians 1:27: “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise”.
I am often reminded of the story of Job in the Bible. Job was a very prosperous and Godly family man that lost everything in one day. He lost his seven sons and three daughters and all his vast possessions (due to an attack by Satan, not God). Shortly after that Job was stricken with boils (by Satan, not God) all over his body and his wife told him to just curse God and die.Job was deep in grief when three of his close friends came to counsel him regarding his tremendous loss. They all blamed Job for the calamity and made accusations that he, or his children, must have sinned to bring this calamity and judgment from God on themselves (even though the attack was actually not from God but from Satan). They accused Job of everything from being a liar to being a very vain person. At the end of all this fancy and lengthy religious rhetoric from his so-called friends God himself spoke to Job, referring to the counseling sessions by the three friends, and said, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” God went on to ask a long list of questions directed toward the intellect of man like where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth, and where were you when I commanded the morning, created the stars, and formed the oceans? God was not happy with the counsel from these three friends and I am often reminded of God’s questions on this matter when I’m ministering to very intellectual people.
The intellect of man can physically save a life, but it cannot save a soul. The intellect of man can reach the Moon and Mars, but it cannot reach Heaven. The intellect of man can assist in delivering a new born baby, but it cannot cause your Spirit to be reborn. The intellect of man can change and shape the visible, but it cannot change and shape the invisible (which is actually more real than the visible since it is eternal). At some point, in all of our lives, we must recognize these severe human limitations and submit ourselves to the one and only God that created us and can open those doors for us. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of true wisdom! I am speaking of the God of the Bible, not some mystical force! He stands at the door of all human hearts and knocks. If you have not answered that knock, we encourage you today to open the door and let the King of Glory (Jesus Christ) come in and fill you with His power, wisdom, and understanding. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). Jesus said to him, “I am the way , and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6) . “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). It will be the most glorious time of your life and your eyes will be opened to a whole new dimension and a brand new life. (https://www.newlifenetwork.org/blog/human-intellect-vs-gods-wisdom/)
The twentieth century produced an information explosion unparalleled in human history-instant access to volumes of knowledge at the click of your mouse. Yet with all we have learned and with all that's been written, man's wisdom is still impotent to answer life's most basic spiritual questions like: How did we get here? Where do I go when I die? What is the meaning of life?
I once read a book by a psychiatrist on how to deal with depression. A section entitled "Reprogramming Your Conscious Mind" particularly caught my attention. Her first suggestion was that every time you have a negative thought, shout, "Cancel!" She also recommended sleep programming-playing a tape recording all night that contains lots of positive feedback. During the day, according to her, you should listen to positive music.
The doctor also thought it would be helpful to cultivate a meaningful spiritual philosophy. She said you need to find a belief system that works for you-any will do-but be sure to avoid people who talk about sin and guilt. Her final recommendation was to find the light in yourself. Unfortunately, that is the best human wisdom can do.
True Wisdom Begins with God
God defines wisdom this way: "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding" (Job 28:28). That verse describes saving faith-both fearing God and departing from evil take place initially at conversion. So you begin to be wise when you fear God by trusting in Him and repenting of your sins. As long as you have only human wisdom-or to put it in James' words, that which is "earthly, natural, demonic" (James 3:15)—you cannot know God or true wisdom. Without that critical first step, there is no relationship to the Giver of all wisdom and understanding.
On the other hand, if you have submitted to the gospel in repentance, you know the "only wise God" (Romans 16:27) as your Father. His book of wisdom is open to you as a Christian. The indwelling Spirit of wisdom illuminates to you the wisdom of His H Word-you truly can be wise.
Why then do we still have a sinful tendency to look first to man's wisdom and virtually ignore the sufficiency of God's wisdom found in the Bible? I think if we truly understand the stark contrast-the absolute opposition of the one to the other-we will leave behind the elementary understanding of the world to embrace the riches of divine wisdom.
Human vs. Divine Wisdom
Today your thinking is attacked by worldly philosophies and methodologies in an attempt to divert you from the Word of God-the only source that can satisfy the deep needs of the human heart. It's not a new attack; the Corinthian believers had the same problem. They were strongly influenced by the prevailing ideas of their day. When they became Christians and were awakened to the revelation of God, they were exposed to an obvious conflict.
Paul, describing that conflict, said, "The word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.... Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Corinthians 1:18–20). While the first-century philosophers viewed the wisdom of God as foolishness, in truth, God exposed their so-called "wisdom" as foolish. That opposition makes the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God incompatible-they are mutually exclusive.
God has given man the ability to study, analyze, categorize, and develop the physical resources of this earth to benefit physical life. But that's where his wisdom ends. Because of sin, his mind is totally unable to discern the spiritual dimension. He has no power to change his own heart, no understanding to solve his spiritual dilemma, and no resources to satisfy his soul-he is spiritually dead.
The wisdom of men makes no contribution in the spiritual dimension, and it doesn't need to make a contribution. God's wisdom is rich and infinite-it needs no supplement.
True Wisdom Is Divinely Revealed
First Corinthians 2:7 says, "We speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory." The Greek word translated "mystery" doesn't refer to something strange or puzzling; it's a technical term for the kind of truth man has not previously known but is now revealed. The truth that God saves sinners through the substitutionary sacrifice of His Son is now plain for all to see.
However, no one can come to that truth by himself because of sin. "A natural man [an unconverted person] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Corinthians 2:14). Divine wisdom can't be empirically deduced by analyzing data and physical evidence (verse 9). It comes only as a gift God gives when His Spirit reveals His Word to individuals.
First Corinthians 2:10 says, "To us God revealed [His truths] through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God." The Holy Spirit-the divine Author of Scripture-searches the deep recesses of God's Person and knows the mind of God perfectly. Therefore He is able to reveal God and God's will completely. The Bible contains all the wisdom man needs for solving all the spiritual struggles, problems, and issues of life.
Those deep things of God, Paul says, "we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words" (1 Corinthians 2:13). You have a resident Truth Teacher to enlighten you about essential spiritual truths. The Holy Spirit takes God's Word, the Word He has revealed and inspired, and illuminates it for those in whom He dwells. You can rightly appraise the Word, but only when you rely on the Giver of the Word.
Paul concluded, "We have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor]inthians. 2:16). You can understand if you are diligent and obedient to study and submit to it. Because it is revealed, its authenticity is guaranteed. Because it is inspired, its accuracy is guaranteed. And because it is illumined, its applicability is guaranteed.
Don't turn to human wisdom to solve spiritual problems. If the world had anything to offer, the best of its citizens would not have crucified the Lord (1 Corinthians 2:8). As a true believer, anchor all your confidence in the Word of God, the only source of true wisdom.
A legendary story about Henry Ford told of his driving one of his “tin lizzies” around Michigan. He saw another tin lizzie broken down beside the road. The owner was standing looking puzzled under the hood. Henry stopped and was recognized. “Mr. Ford, it is an honor to meet you.” “What is the matter?” “I don’t know. She just won’t crank. I have blistered my hand trying to crank her.” Henry leaned under the hood and looked around and then said something the man could not quite make out. He closed the hood and said try her again. She cranked on the first pull and ran like a new one. “Mr. Ford, you did not touch anything under the hood. What did you say?” Henry Ford said, “I said, Lizzie, this is Henry, who made you. Turn over.”
His father took a young boy of eight to New York on a business trip. He was told that if he would stay out of the way and keep up during the business portion of the trip his father would then take him to the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. The boy agreed and off they went. It went well the first day. He kept up with his father as they walked between building and he sat quietly in the outer offices while his father conducted his business. The second day the boy was tired, but he did not want to fail to keep his end of the bargain. He asked if he could hold his father’s finger today as they walked between the buildings where the appointments were waiting. His father agreed and off they went. As they walked one unusually long segment, the boy really began to be fatigued. His legs were giving out, but he did not want to lose his reward, so he said, “Daddy, I need you to hold my hand. My hand is slipping off your finger.” The father never missed a step. He reached down with his strong right arm and swept his child close to his breast where he held him the rest of the walk. All the child had to do was ask.
In People magazine there was a story about President Ronald Reagan and his family as they deal with his loss of his mind. It tells of his son Michael being the hugger in the family.
Ronald always called him the “son who hugs me.” During a recent visit, Michael and his wife visited with Nancy and Ronald at home. He was unable to connect with his father and realized that the disease had deepened. He got up to leave and walked out the door onto the porch with his wife. She turned and said, “You forgot to give your dad a hug.” He went back in through the door and his father was standing in the room with his arms outstretched awaiting his hug. His mind is going and almost gone, but his expectation of being loved is deeper in his soul than his mind. Love is not a figment of our imagination. It is the greatest thing in the world. It even survives the loss of one’s mind.
Sign on a Scottish golf course: “Members will refrain from picking up lost balls until they have stopped rolling.” It is the way God searches and seeks out his “lost” children.
G.K. Chesterton was not only a great Christian writer, he was hopelessly absent-minded. Once he telegraphed his wife, “Am in Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?” She replied, “Home.” As she said later, it was easier to get him home and start him off again on the right track than to tell him how to get where he ought to be from where he was. God finds us and brings us home. He does not just keep giving “helps for daily living” to men and women who are lost.
A young boy with the help of his grandfather carved a small boat to sail on their little pond.
One day the wind was down and the boat would not sail, so he took it to the creek behind his house and put it into the stream of swift moving water. The boat quickly outdistanced the boy’s ability to keep up with it while running along the bank. It was gone. Years later he saw his boat in a shop and went up to speak to the owner. “That boat in the window is mine. My grandfather and I carved it from a block of wood.” “I do not know about that, but I bought it from a kid for four dollars and it is for sale for six!” The boy thought about his love for the boat and his love for his now deceased grandfather who helped him carve it. He pulled out his money and bought the boat. As he left the store he said, “You are twice mine. I made you and now I have bought you.”
The Hosea text brings to mind the famous saying of Robert Frost that home is the place where, when you have to go there they have to take you in. God certainly would not have to take us in, but chooses to time after time in our lives.
“To love anyone is nothing else than to wish that person good.” (St. Thomas Aquinas) .
“To be loved, love!” (Decimus Magnus Ausonius: Epigrams) .
“Love is the medicine of all moral evil. By it the world is to be cured of sin” (Henry Ward Beecher) .
“These Christians love each other even before they are acquainted” (St. Celsus)
“Hate cannot destroy hate, but love can and does. Not the soft and negative thing that has carried the name and misrepresented the emotion. But love that suffers all things and is kind; love that accepts responsibility; love that marches; love that suffers; love that bleeds and dies for a great cause – but to rise again” (Daniel A. Poling) .
“Don’t want no Jesus here ‘cept’n One who can weep beside graves dug too soon; ‘cept’n One who can wash the mud off feet stuck in the shallows; ‘cept’n One big enough to lift the burdens of a broken heart; ‘cept’n One who can open the door again to a wayward son.” (Donald D. Denton: Don’t Want No Jesus Here ‘Cept’n) .
The Church of England has come up with a rather innovative way to try to entice people back to God. According to the Associated Press (3/5/04), the Church of England launched its first “virtual parish” in March and announced that they were searching for a “Web pastor.” The purpose of the Internet church, according to the Web site, “is to provide a Christian community for those who wish to explore Christian discipleship but who are not able, or do not wish, to join a local congregation.” The move was in response to the fact that only about 2% of the nation attend the Church of England on a given Sunday. The Web pastor will report to the Bishop of Oxford. The goal is for that person to be a dynamic Christian with savvy technology skills, who will be able to build community among the participants. The Church of England hopes that such a congregation will be especially beneficial to busy people who travel a lot, enabling them to receive spiritual care anywhere they are in the world. Information about the new virtual church may be found at www.i-church.org.
Although we often have our lives pointed in the wrong direction, we trust that ultimately God is able to get us to our intended destination. In the same way, when you drop a letter in a mailbox, you trust that the post office will find a way to get your letter to its intended destination. But sometimes that task isn’t so easy. For example, a bookstore in Bridgeport, West Virginia, wanted to notify a customer that the book she had purchased had arrived. But when they went to send her a post card, the store discovered that they did not have a complete mailing address for the customer. Instead, all they knew was that the woman lived in Elkins, West Virginia, and that the woman had said that she lived on top of a big hill. So the bookstore addressed the card: “Mrs. English, On Top of a Big Hill, Elkins, WV 26241” Fortunately a rural route carrier in Elkins who has been delivering mail there since 1987 had a hunch where to take the postcard. It turned out that the carrier was right, and the card reached its destination.
In Blessed Are the Cynical: How Original Sin Can Make America a Better Place, Mark Ellingsen comments on Augustine’s view of sin. Augustine compares sinners to addicts. Like sex addicts, the more we are driven to seek pleasure and self-fulfillment, the less we will be satisfied, and so the more pleasure we will need to seek. In other words, the more you desire, the more you sin, and the more you sin, the more you desire.
Although humans often have a difficult time finding their way home to God, carrier pigeons are much more adept in that regard. According to Reuters (2/5/04), British scientists think they now understand how carrier pigeons are able to navigate themselves so well. The answer, the researchers say, is that the birds follow the roads, just like people do. The researchers at Oxford University had originally assumed that the pigeons took their bearings from the sun. But when they used global positioning satellite technology to track the birds, they found that wasn’t the case. Instead, they discovered that the birds fly along highways, turn at intersections, and even go around traffic circles. In many cases, instead of flying direct from point A to point B “as the crow flies,” carrier pigeons often add miles to their journey by following the man-made roadways instead. The scientists said they were amazed to see pigeons flying along the highways near Oxford, and then sharply curve off at traffic lights and curve again at traffic circles.
When you have a contest that involves sinning, it’s probably not too much of a surprise if a contestant cheat. According to the London Evening Standard (11/28/03), a contest was held this past November to find the world’s biggest liar. But the winner was later accused of cheating, because instead of extemporaneously lying—as the contest rules required—the winner was found to have been reading from a script.
Although God sometimes employs punishment to teach us the errors of our ways, God does not use a “one size fits all” approach when meting out that punishment. In the same way, Finland does not have a “one size fits all” approach to dealing with speeders. Instead, traffic fines are based on a violator’s income. As a result, according to Reuters (2/10/04), when one of Finland’s richest men—Jussi Salonoja, the 27-year-old heir to the family’s sausage business—was caught going 50 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone, he was assessed with a fine of 170,000 euros, an amount equal to about $217,000. Based on tax office data, Salonoja’s income during the preceding year had been close to seven million euros. If the fine stands after it is appealed, it will exceed the previous record fines when an Internet millionaire was made to pay 80,000 euros and the president of Nokia was fined 35,000 euros.
The prophet Hosea often compares Israel’s infidelity to God to a woman’s infidelity to her husband. In contrast, though, Hosea speaks in today’s passage of a hope for a lasting faithfulness. According to the Associated Press (10/31/03), an example of such lasting faithfulness occurred when George and Amelia Limpert celebrated their 82nd wedding anniversary this past fall. They confess, however, that they had to work at their relationship. Originally her family did not approve of him, and they broke off their engagement three different times. But their love endured across the decades, and George says that his 100-year-old bride is still the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. The couple lives in St. Louis, and they have more than 260 descendants. They credit their long-lasting relationship to cooperation, and they attribute their longevity to drinking apple cider vinegar mixed with honey and water.
This text in Hosea, of course, is later cited in the Gospel of Matthew when the evangelist quotes, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (10/9/03), some modern-day Egyptians want compensated for what God did when God called the ancient Israelites out of their land. An Egyptian lawyer announced last fall that he was going to sue the Jews of the world for “plundering” gold from the Egyptians when they engaged in their Exodus. The biblical passage under questions is Exodus 12:35-36: “The Israelites had done as Moses told them; they asked the Egyptians for jewelry of silver and gold, and for clothing...And so they plundered the Egyptians.” Some Jewish commentators say that if the Israelites did receive valuable goods from the Egyptians, they had a right to do so to compensate them as wages. At the same time, other experts are considering whether it is possible for modern-day Jews to sue Egypt for having enslaved them. The attorney for the Egyptians declined to comment on how much he might be seeking to recover for the “plundering,” and he also refused to comment on which court he would attempt to present such a case.
Our very language is evidence of the increasing prevalence of sin. In just the past year, the following words were added to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary: air rage (an airline passenger’s uncontrolled anger that is usually expressed in aggressive and violent behavior); bioterrorism (terrorism involving the use of biological weapons); identity theft (the illegal use of someone else’s personal information in order to obtain money or credit); and narcoterrorism (terrorism financed by profits from illegal drug trafficking).
Often, we turn away from God because we are under the mistaken assumption that our misdeeds will never be found out. Such was the case with thousands of people in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. According to The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, David Callahan reports about how the September 11 attacks caused the Municipal Credit Union of New York City—a credit union serving some 30,000 federal, state, and city government employees—to lose its computer link with the New York Cash Exchange, the network of automated teller machines. The loss of that link meant that people would be able to continue to withdraw funds from the ATMs, but the credit union would not be able to prevent people from overdrawing their accounts. In light of the disaster, the credit union decided that instead of turning off all their ATMs and cutting off people from their money in a potential time of need, they decided to trust people to do what was right and not cheat them. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a mistake in many cases. Quickly the credit union members began to realize that their withdrawals were not being monitored. As a result, withdrawals began to skyrocket. When the New York Cash Exchange finally went back on-line, they discovered that at least 4,000 members had overdrawn their accounts, some by as much as $10,000. Hoping that many of those overdrafts were simply mistakes, the credit union sent letters to all the people, asking for the excess money back. While some of the money eventually got repaid, many of the letters received no response. After months of sending appeals to people to do what was right, $15 million was still outstanding. A criminal investigation finally had to be instituted, resulting in scores of arrests.
As in Hosea’s day, sometimes it is necessary for punishment to take place to lead people back to where they should be. In The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, David Callahan reminds us of how Sears was caught up in a huge automotive repair scandal in the 1990s. Previous to that, the Sears auto repair chain was the largest in the country, servicing some 20 million cars each year. But during the 1990s a different management team took over, and they required the repair technicians to work on a commission basis. As a result, the more repairs—needed or unneeded—they could sell to people, the more money they would make. That, of course, provided many technicians with an incentive to sell services that their customers didn’t really require. Within a year of instituting that new commission system, complaints from customers flooded in to consumer groups and state watchdog agencies. People complained about getting billed for repairs that they didn’t want or need, and generally people protested about the widespread dishonesty they were finding in Sears repair shops. Sears ended up becoming the target of an official investigation in 44 states, and 18 class action law suits were filed against the company. When the dust finally settled, Sears abandoned the commission system. They had learned a costly lesson, and they decided to try to return home to their roots.
“Man is born with his face turned away from God. When he truly repents, he is turned right round toward God; he leaves his old life.” (Dwight Lyman Moody)
“It can take less than a minute to commit a sin. It takes not as long to obtain God’s forgiveness. Penitence and amendment should take a lifetime.” (Hubert van Zeller)
“If I were called upon to identify the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, I would be unable to find anything more precise than to repeat once again, ‘Men have forgotten God.’” (Alexander Solzhenitsyn)
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good
People: His steadfast love endures forever.
Leader: He gathered the people from the east and the west, the north and the south.
People: They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
Leader: Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
People: For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.
Loving and Giving God, we confess that we store up treasures for ourselves and forget about anyone else. We plan ways to get ahead in the world and keep our possessions close to our hearts. But though we consider our lives and houses full, our souls are empty. We need something outside of ourselves, larger than ourselves...we need you. You created us and are our God. Forgive us for trying to be gods and rulers. Forgive us for our greed and lack of compassion for our neighbors. Help us to loosen our grip on our things and reach our hand out toward your outstretched arms. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Gracious God, we come before you are dedicating our tithes, our gifts and talents, our very selves to you. Use our gifts for the glory of your Kingdom and use us for your purposes. Show us your will in this church and in the world. Amen.
Almighty God, you promise to hear our prayers when we come to you in faith. This morning we come to you with our joys and concerns, placing our celebrations and our burdens in your mighty hands. We pray for our church and community. We pray for our own congregation, for those needs we know and for those needs that only you know. Comfort those who are ill, look with compassion on those who are suffering, and continue to guide those who feel strong, that we may all be Christ to one another. We pray for those congregations gathered in worship this morning around our community and our country. Open our hearts and minds that the Holy Spirit may transform us and we may better do your will.
We pray for our nation and our world. We know that we do not live in the Eden you created for us. By our own sins, we have chosen to put up barriers and walls against our brothers and sisters. Use us to break down the walls between races and nations. Use us to help bring peace to our earth. Show us how to love our enemies as your children. Strengthen us so that we may be good ambassadors of your Word. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen