I’ve blogged before but it’s been awhile. When I was in my doctoral program I created a blog called “Adventures in Preaching.” I created 4 posts: https://adventuresinpreaching.blogspot.com
The idea behind “Adventures in Preaching” was to reflect on the process of preaching and sermon preparation. When I returned from my residency to the parish, I did a lot of reflection on preaching, but I didn’t carve out time to write about it. The reason why it’s still a good idea is that people experience a sermon as a finished product, but the best sermons remain a work-in-progress. Homiletician Fred Craddock said that the preaching doesn’t finish the sermon, the listeners do. The sermon is finished in the living of word preached. Which is why Craddock advocates for sermons that don’t tie up all the loose ends but leave enough of them for the people to work with.
Speaking of works in progress, my last “Adventures in Preaching” post, on June 21, 2011, was about “Scriptures I Can’t Live Without.” I meant to include 10, but only got through three: Genesis 1, Exodus 15: 20-21, and Psalm 139. here’s another one I will now add to that list: Hosea 11:8:
“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.”
I fell in love with this passage early in my ministry when I heard it read by my colleague, Rev. Jim White, Senior Minister of First Congregational Church in Colorado Springs while I served as Associate Minister for Children, Youth, and Families. He was reading the passage to our Confirmation Class, 20 or so teens in 9th and 10th grades, and his voice cracked with emotion. From Jim’s reading I realized how much pathos there is in the Book of Hosea.
The way Walter Brueggemann describes it, for Hosea, Yahweh is like a parent dealing with a recalcitrant teenager. Yahweh tries to set some rules but Ephraim the teenager breaks them. Yahweh gets increasingly angry and impatient and the teen just keep screwing up until it reaches a breaking point, like the point where the parent is about to scream, “Get the hell out my house! I don’t ever want to see you again!”
But then, inscrutably, something changes in God’s own heart, some tiny flicker of compassionate love. God is now the parent who remembers what it was like the first time she held Israel in her arms and smelled the top of his head. God remembers the snuggles and kisses, the first steps, the first words, the first day of school, the way it felt to be called “Momma.” And Yahweh finds that it is impossible to give Ephraim up. Got is stricken with compassionate love. God’s heart grows warm and tender.
Hosea 11:8 barely beats out Hosea 13:8 where God is a mother bear tearing to pieces anyone who would harm her cubs. The other side of warm and tender is righteous anger that will not tolerate harm to the vulnerable.