Sometimes I think that God’s theme song must be Harry Chapin’s “All my Life’s a Circle.” I mean human beings keep doing the same thing generation after generation. How many times, how many different ways does God need to show us that we were created in Love for the purpose of loving? Will God’s patience ever run out?
Look at any of the prophets. Hosea is one among many whose call for repentance went mostly unheeded. How long will faithful people prostitute themselves to the lesser gods of our own making? When will we finally learn that empires rise and fall along a familiar pattern? When human beings stray from holy ways and believe our own lies, disaster always follows eventually.
In Israel’s history God would gather a fragile group of people and they would begin to form a strong nation. They would care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger among them. Over time those with power would become enthralled by it and the accumulation of wealth and power would take precedence over caring for the vulnerable. As the rich became richer, they became more convinced of their invincibility. That’s when the enemies would gather at the gates and wait for the prime moment to topple the top-heavy government. And the people would be carted off to Egypt or Babylon or held captive by the Assyrians, the Greeks, or the Romans. It happened again and again.
In those days the fall of Israel to another nation was attributed to God. The prosperity the first enjoyed was assumed to be because they were pleasing God. I have no doubts that God was pleased when the people of God worshiped together and cared for those who could not care for themselves. Prosperity grew out of a community living holy ways. And when wealth became the goal rather than the outcome, the nation fell apart. And they believed that God was punishing them. God probably wasn’t happy with selfish behavior that neglected hospitality and love of neighbor. No need for God to punish anyone, though. Natural consequences took over as Israel fell at the hands of its enemies.
We still have a tendency to believe that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing and adversity is God’s punishment. A surface level reading of scripture might confirm this belief. However, it doesn’t make any sense. By this reasoning, Donald Trump is blessed by God and Mother Theresa was not. Or areas that have been afflicted by floods, famine, earthquakes, tornados, mudslides, hurricanes, or the like are being punished by God and global warming has nothing to do with human behavior. Attributing prosperity to God’s blessing and adversity to God’s punishment abdicates human responsibility. Moreover, it diminishes God into something punitive and exacting rather than loving and forgiving.
If we claim to be people of God and seek to live in holy ways, then we must oppose anything that interferes with love of neighbor. Blaming the people who put their lives at risk to bring their families across the U.S. border with Mexico and treating them as less than human is not in keeping with God’s mandate to care for the stranger. Discriminating on the basis of a person’s gender expression or sexual orientation violates God’s commandment to love one another. White supremacy and white nationalism violates God’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves. All of these actions and policies create division and fear by diminishing the personhood of the targeted individuals. There is only one explanation for these kinds of things. Those in power feel threatened. They will violate every moral and ethical principle to ensure that they stay in power. As far as they are concerned the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger – the vulnerable among us – can fend for themselves after they have had every ounce of dignity and humanity ripped from them.
Haven’t we prostituted ourselves to empire long enough? Haven’t we tried storing up treasures on earth long enough? The pursuit of wealth and power is vanity; it is not holy. God’s true blessings are experienced through love. Period. God punishes no one. Most affliction can be traced back to human actions. And just because we cannot explain the rest, doesn’t mean we should blame God. Let’s take some responsibility for ourselves and the generations that have come before us. Maybe we should learn the lessons of history before God’s patience finally runs out…RCL –
RCL - Year C - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Hosea 11:1-11 with Psalm 107:1-9, 43 or Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14; 2:18-23 with Psalm 49:1-12 Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21
Photo: CC0 image by Dmitri Posudin