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Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Hosea 11:1-11 & Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23 & Psalm 49:1-12, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21

Those who parent us are among the most profound influences on our lives—for good or ill, often for both. Those who parent are equally affected by the children they parent. Children can be lovable, annoying, demanding, thoughtful, diligent, lazy, mean. You add your own words.

The parent-child relationship here does not have to be biological. Uncles, older sisters, neighbors, friends, cousins, and a myriad of others all parent. Whole congregations and communities sometimes act as parents.

Admittedly not everyone has good memories of father or mother. Many do, and most long for the ideal of love associated with a parent who cares deeply.

Hosea offers us that kind of picture of God this week. Granted that the passage has a political setting with consequences still influencing politics in the Middle East, it is first and foremost a picture of God as a parent (whether male or female is not stated) grieving over wandering children (Israel or Ephraim). “The more I called them, the more they went from me . . .” (Hosea 11:2) God remembers teaching the child to walk. “I took them up in my arms . . . I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love . . . I bent down and fed them.” (vss. 3-4)

The God whom we see in Hosea is one who is persistent, who doesn’t give up. It is tempting to get angry and cut off the offending child, but by verse 11, God cries out “How can I give up . . . My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger . . .” (vss. 8-9)

Hosea presents an Old Testament parallel to the story of “The Prodigal Son.” Psalm 107 has some of the same elements in it—the wandering people whose soul faints within them, who cry out as the “prodigal” finally did, and God guides them and reaches out to them with “his steadfast love.”

Hosea tells us that God is a parent whose Love is unconditional, who never gives up on us. For me, anytime we’re talking about God I believe we are talking about the very nature of reality. Maybe all we have are metaphors, some of them powerful, but they point to a truth about the cosmos. We live in a cosmos, I believe, that never gives up on us, that feels pain when we fail to treat it kindly and lovingly, that strives to heal the damage we do. It is a cosmos in which each one of us (and our contribution) matters beyond measure. It is a cosmos which values who and what we are, because without us it wouldn’t be what it is.

Probably never thought of yourself as living in a Cosmic Parent, did you—although we do, from time to time, talk about “Mother” earth.

Two of the other readings this week touch upon the heritage passed from one generation to another. The “Teacher” in Ecclesiastes despairs of meaning, this week mentioning that everything he (or she) has worked for will just be left “to those who come after me—and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish?” Who knows what they will do with it? (Ecclesiastes 2:18-29)

Luke, chapter 12, gives us the story of a brother whom comes for his share of the inheritance. (vs. 13) Jesus uses that incident to introduce a parable about a greedy man who gained more and more riches, storing them in ever larger barns, relying on the philosophy of “relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (vss. 16-19. At the end he dies and finds that he can’t take it all with him, the punch line being, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (vs. 21)

The man was following a course similar to those Hosea speaks of as following the “Baals.” (Hosea 11:2) Jesus says that there is something more to life than pursuing riches and pleasure. Both Ecclesiastes and this passage for Luke can call us to consider what heritage we are passing on to the next generation. Parents sometimes wonder whether they have properly helped their children ground their lives in values that endure and build up. The nature of the future we are preparing our children for, and preparing for our children, is a serious matter. Their very lives may hang in the balance. Has our world sold out to riches and comfort, doing great damage to the environment so that it is beyond repair, so that Mother Earth can no longer bear the pain and pay the price? Should we, with Ecclesiastes, say, “All is vanity”?

I don’t think it is too late. The prophets all held out hope, calling the people to change directions. God, like a good parent, they said, never gives up.

Finally, if our focus is on parenting, there is something we can pick out of the epistle lesson from Colossians as well. Paul talks about the values we are to live by as followers of Christ, using the image of putting on new clothes. (Colossians 3:10) In the verses immediately following this week’s reading, that image is elaborated. “ . . . clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love . . .” (vs. 12-14) Parenting involves providing clothing for the children, in this case spiritual clothing. The values mentioned offer an alternative to the riches stored up in barns.

Galatians 3:27 speaks of us as having clothed ourselves “in Christ.” God, the ever-loving parent, wants us to be clothed in nothing but the best—in the Love (God’s Love) that we see embodied in Jesus, the Christ.

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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