Sermon Seeds: Cords of Love
Sunday, July 31, 2022
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost | Year C
(Liturgical Color: Green) 4
Hosea 11:1–11 and Psalm 107:1–9, 43
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12–14, 2:18–23 and Psalm 49:1–12
Cords of Love
In and With: A Plumb Line (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl Lindsay
God is love. That means love is a state of being as much as action, emotions, and attitudes. Further, in the same way that God cannot be fully fathomed, neither can love. It manifests in innumerable ways and evokes a plethora of emotional and attitudinal responses. This holds especially true the further God’s people drift and deviate from the plumb line of God’s abundant, extravagant, and flourishing love.
God’s love manifests in the book of Hosea who gives us access to the tenderness and vulnerability of God’s own heart. We can experience what it is like when God’s heart gets broken. We can ponder God’s response to unfaithfulness in a covenantal relationship. We can observe what seems to be a very unhealthy pattern of God forgiving the same behavior over and over again. If God were our friend, what would we want for God in this relationship? Would we advise God to protect themselves and sever the relationship? Would we suggest counseling? Who among us would encourage our Friend to stay in this unequal and often draining relationship?
The book of Hosea is a testimony to love reaching beyond rejection. From the prophet’s love for Gomer, which was the basis for his purchase of his adulterous wife, to Yahweh’s self-expression of love for Israel in chapter 11, the theme of love is found repeatedly in Hosea. What one learns of Yahweh’s love by way of illustration in chapters 1-3 is expressed succinctly and clearly in chapter 11: Yahweh’s love is persistent in the face of opposition and rejection. It is this persistent love that is introduced as the basis for Yahweh’s dealings with Israel, and it is in the book of Hosea that one finds for the first time the notion that the relationship between Yahweh and Israel is founded on his love.Linzy H. Hill, Jr.
Loving us leaves God hurting from rejection and betrayal. From Adam and Eve to the people of the Exodus to Peter and Judas, the pattern continues again and again. The covenant offered by God gets discarded by the recipients of the Holy One’s promise and fidelity. In Hosea, the relationship is likened to a marriage that began with a dubious and unequal match based on the conventional and historical understanding of that institution. Some may use Gomer’s identity as a prostitute and an unfaithful spouse to justify the subjugation of women, but a careful reading of the text reveals that the match in question is that between the Creator of all and human beings. Hosea’s love for his wife doesn’t make him a gullible and weak husband, it provides an insight into how God feels in this difficult relationship.
I often think of the biblical account as an epic love story, with its dynamic characters and often fantastical plot twists and turns. Most love stories are told as narratives, just like much of the Bible. But, the vastness of love cannot be captured just in the intricacies of plot. That’s why we need poetry…to give expression outside of the norms of storytelling…to share the heart beneath the story. I imagine that’s why so much prophetic literature intertwines narrative and poetry together. Barbara M. Leung Lai provides helpful framing of this passage from Hosea:
An understanding of Hebrew emotions through textual representations provides a vantage point for looking into the inner life of the Hebrew God, namely the divine pathos. Given that Hos 11 is poetry, I shall pursue this inquiry from three literary dimensions. Each is geared towards an axiom. First, the use of the “heart” and “inward part” of a human body is the Hebrew way of communicating emotions….Second, the language of religious faith is emotive language….Third, figurative language such as metaphor and simile is emotive language.Barbara M. Leung Lai
This word comes from the heart of the Holy One. Much of the anger has dissipated. In its place, the Holy One is left being who they are. Prophecy can take the form of divine lament. In the same way that human lament can move us from despair, hurt, and desperation to praise, assurance, and thanksgiving, God’s lament turned their weeping into forgiving, their pain into care, and their judgment into compassion. The expectations have changed, and we witness God’s healing through the progression of the passage: “The poem in Hosea 11 can be broken into four stanzas. Form reflects content in the external design of the stanzas, which move from reminiscence to judgment to lament to proclamation of salvation.” (Merryl Blair) “How can I give you up?” God asks. “I will not execute my fierce anger,” God assures. “I am God and no mortal,” The Holy One proclaims.
A consideration of the material in the Book of Hosea related to our topic leads to two immediate impressions. First, there is a panoply of images and metaphors of remarkable diversity, so that the data admits of no simple or obvious construal. That plenitude of images is daring, offensive and evocative, for Hosea, in the depth of his passion and the richness of his imagination, was permitted to say the unsayable. What is unsayable and here said includes (a) the conviction YHWH has a complex relation to the life of Israel that fits no ordinary formulation because (b) YHWH has a complex, unsettled internal life. Hosea dares to take us inside that complex interior life of YHWH and thus to be exposed to a range of divine impulses not elsewhere available in Israel’s ancient text. Second, Hosea’s consistent and surely indispensable mode of articulation is poetry, an open, porous, imaginative presentation that struggles for exact nuance but that has no interest in or patience with closure; in place of closure, foe poetry simply rushes on to more and other, while the listener is always playing “catch up” with the porous utterance that leaves us destabilized.Walter Brueggemann
Part of the destabilizing occurs through the shifting nature of the relational focus in this passage. Last week, we noted that the divine-human relationship was rarely equated to marriage, and the instance in Hosea was unique. Typically, the metaphor of parent-child was employed to explain the connection between Creator and creation. This week’s focus text harkens back to that imagery. The Holy Parent seems to remind themselves of the true nature of the relationship. This isn’t a union among equal parties; it’s one based on shaping, dependency, and nurture. God created humanity, in part, for companionship, but human beings are designed as complex creatures who need significant time to grow to maturity. That maturation process takes place physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally.
That process is one of perpetual stabilizing of what becomes destabilized in the progression of growth…like growing pains. The Holy One reminds themselves that they have led with cords of love.
Cords resemble strings but have more substance, layers, and weight. They provide connection and can promote stability. Cords are created by a process of weaving individual strands together to create something more powerful and binding.
Cords can unravel, like a relationship after betrayal, but, unlike string, they are hard to break. The layering and weaving of strands together makes the cord stronger than all the individual strands that may be in proximity but lack connection. It’s the connection–the cords–that make the relationship. That’s God’s love. It’s faithful and familial. It’s abiding and true. It experiences emotion, but it also lives, acts, and breathes. It’s enduring and beyond measure. It heals and restores.
It is and remains…the plumb line.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
All my life I have searched for a place of belonging, a place that would become home. Growing up in a small Kentucky town, I knew in early childhood what home was, what it felt like. Home was the safe place, the place where one could count on not being hurt. It was the place where wounds were attended to. Home was the place where the me of me mattered. Home was the place I longed for; it was not where I lived. My first remembered family dwelling, a cinder block house with concrete floors on a hill, stood as though naked against the lush backdrop of a dense natural landscape: trees, honeysuckle vines, blackberry bushes, and wild strawberries all made the concrete house seem out of place, set against nature, but unable to take over the world of lush wild things since the house was fixed unchanging and the natural landscape adamantly growing.
In this wilderness where I first moved and lived and had my being, I was nature and nature was me. Nature was the intimate companion of my girlhood. When life inside the concrete house was painful, unbearable, there was always the outside. There was always a place for me in nature.
Over and over again the grown-ups would tell us to respect the wilderness around us, to understand that it could be friend or foe. Our task was to learn discernment, to be in nature as nature, to understand the limits of the natural world and of the human body in that world. Nature’s generosity made it possible for us to have the pleasure of walking through fields and fields of homegrown vegetables, the pleasure of popping fresh yellow and red tomatoes into one’s mouth straight from the vine. In this early childhood I experienced firsthand all that poet Gerard Manley Hopkins evokes when he writes that “nature is never spent,” that within it “lives the dearest freshest deep down things.” As a young child I believed the wilderness land around me had its own special perfume, that when I stayed outside for a long while that scent entered me and came with me indoors, the scent of a fecund world of growth reckless and without boundaries.
— bell hooks
For further reflection
“It’s the spark of love’s memory inside your heart that recognizes them and most of the time they recognize you too. That spark is the magnet that always brings us back to each other. Like glue, it binds us together with an invisible cord from lifetime to lifetime, soul mate to soul mate.”— Kate McGahan
“No cord or cable can draw so forcibly, or bind so fast, as [love] can do with a single thread.” — Robert Burton
“It is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.” — Charlotte Brontë
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
Create cords out of fabric, yarn, or raffia as a symbol of the divine-human connection of love.
Blair, Merryl. “‘God Is an Earthquake’: Destabilising Metaphor in Hosea 11.” Australian Biblical Review 55(2007): 1–12.
Brueggemann, Walter. “The Recovering God of Hosea.” Horizons in Biblical Theology
30, no. 1 (2008): 5–20.
Hill, Linzy H, Jr. “Hosea 11: Yahweh’s Persistent Love.” Southwestern Journal of Theology
36, no. 1 (Fall 1993):27–31.
Leung Lai, Barbara M. “Hearing God’s Bitter Cries (Hosea 11:1-9): Reading, Emotive-Experiencing, Appropriation.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 26, no. 1 (June 2004): 24–49..
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
Hosea 11:1–11 and Psalm 107:1–9, 43
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12–14, 2:18–23 and Psalm 49:1–12
11 When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.
3 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.
4 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.
5 They shall return to the land of Egypt,
and Assyria shall be their king,
because they have refused to return to me.
6 The sword rages in their cities,
it consumes their oracle-priests,
and devours because of their schemes.
7 My people are bent on turning away from me.
To the Most High they call,
but he does not raise them up at all.
8 How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
9 I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
10 They shall go after the LORD,
who roars like a lion;
when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west.
11 They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria;
and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.
Psalm 107:1–9, 43
1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
4 Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to an inhabited town;
5 hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
6 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;
7 he led them by a straight way,
until they reached an inhabited town.
8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
9 For he satisfies the thirsty,
and the hungry he fills with good things.
43 Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the LORD.
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12–14, 2:18–23
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
12 I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13 applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14 I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
18 I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me 19 —and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23 For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
1 Hear this, all you peoples;
give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
2 both low and high,
rich and poor together.
3 My mouth shall speak wisdom;
the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
4 I will incline my ear to a proverb;
I will solve my riddle to the music of the harp.
5 Why should I fear in times of trouble,
when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me,
6 those who trust in their wealth
and boast of the abundance of their riches?
7 Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life,
there is no price one can give to God for it.
8 For the ransom of life is costly,
and can never suffice,
9 that one should live on forever
and never see the grave.
10 When we look at the wise, they die;
fool and dolt perish together
and leave their wealth to others.
11 Their graves are their homes forever,
their dwelling places to all generations,
though they named lands their own.
12 Mortals cannot abide in their pomp;
they are like the animals that perish.
3 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 8 But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”