Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 12 2023

Posted on November 14, 2023, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

November 12, 2023

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Hosea 11:1-9
Mark 10:13-14

Worship Service Video Sermon Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

When the 9/11 attacks happened, I was co-teaching the high school Sunday school class at the church I attended then. On the Sunday that followed, the other teacher and I sat with the students and asked them how they were feeling about what had happened and how they were dealing with it.

And we also asked them what they thought God might be feeling. Many of them said either “angry” or “sad.” But one student said, “Disappointed.” And that answer has stayed with me because, for me, it holds a deeper meaning. Because when someone disappoints you, or you disappoint someone, it means you have a relationship with them. And it means the door is open for repentance and healing.

As people of faith, we know that any disappointment God might feel with humanity didn’t start on that day – it dates back millennia, because God’s love for humanity dates back even further. In the Bible, we read story after story of God’s people making mistakes and turning their backs on God. And God saying, “I still love you and I’m still here for you.”

Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard some of the high points in Israel’s history – about the kingdom being united under King David, and then being split apart under his grandson, King Rehoboam. After the split, the Northern Kingdom continued move farther and farther away from God.

And some of the prophets, including Hosea, write about God’s heartbreak as the people broke the covenant. In the first chapters of this book, Hosea calls out Israel’s hypocrisies of worship and allowing social injustices to happen and persist, and their trust in political alliances with other nations instead of trusting in God.

In what we read today, God is portrayed as a loving parent whose teenaged child has effectively said, “You don’t know anything. I don’t need you anymore. I can make my own decisions!” And God tells them that the consequences of their decisions and actions will be being conquered by the Assyrians.

But God doesn’t stop with the consequences. God never stops there. God promises that, in the future, they will have a king from the line of David who will bring God’s blessing. God wants to transform their hearts and lives so that they love God in return. God wants that relationship with them.

And in chapter 13, this transformation – this healing – describes Israel as a lush tree that will grow deep roots and broad branches, and offer shade and fruit to all. It’s an image of God’s promise to Abraham – that Israel would become a blessing to the nations.

The capacity of God to forgive and offer another chance in spite of humanity’s nearly repetitive failure, reveals the depth of God’s faithfulness. And in God’s faithfulness is God’s belief that we can embody that same faithfulness in our own lives.

In other words, God has faith that we can do it. As Christians, our model for it is Jesus. We know what that faithfulness looks like because the apostles documented their experience of it. And God believes in humanity’s capacity to embody it.

It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? That faithfulness? Having that mindset, that orientation, toward forgiveness and mercy and compassion. The willingness to embrace it as a way of living so that it doesn’t only benefit the person or people that are in power. But rather, so that it honors everyone.

It is a lot. It’s easy to make yes/no decisions, or not think through the consequences of our actions. It’s way more work to live God’s way because it involves the risk of relationship and the work that goes into nurturing relationship. But God believes humanity has the capacity to do it.

When I served in Costa Rica, the church partnered with community leaders to initiate a program called Futbol por la Vida – Soccer for Life. Its purpose was to go into the communities that the church serves, which are poor and underserved, and not only teach children and youth in those communities how to play soccer by the rules, but also teach them how those skills transfer over into life skills.

And these were kids whose parents work all day, every day. So, before and after school they were on their own; and during school holidays, they were on their own all day. And this program helped fill the after-school time slot, and some of the holidays, too.

The coaches knew from the beginning that they couldn’t just tell the youth, “Hey – this is what this action or behavior looks like off the soccer field.” They had to model the behavior themselves. So, for example, when it rains in Costa Rica during the rainy season, it rains. And, often, outdoor activities are either suspended or canceled.

On those days, the coaches showed up to tell the youth directly whether practice was going to be canceled, and didn’t just leave them to make assumptions. And through that simple action, they were able to build relationships with the players and gain their trust.

One day, after the program had been going for about six months, one of the coaches’ cell phones went missing at practice. And they figured out that one of the players had taken it on purpose – this was the early 2000s, so cell phones still weren’t very common. They confronted him, he admitted that he’d taken the phone, and he gave it back. And then the coaches had to decide what to do from there.

They knew that they didn’t want to kick him off the team, because that went against the program’s objectives. So, they suspended him; but the terms of his suspension were that he had to show up and warm the bench at every practice session and every game for three weeks. And if he did that, he’d be allowed to play again.

It was a risky decision, because a lot of these kids came from homes where there’s only punishment, instead of accountability and second chances. The kid showed up every day and honored the terms of his suspension.

Situations like that are relatively easy to resolve. But they show us on a small scale that having faith in relationships like that is transformative and healing. And that small scale is where most of us spend most of our time.

It’s hard to read Bible stories about God’s faithfulness to humanity, and the consequences of humanity’s failure to live in response to it, and not draw parallels to what’s going on in modern-day Israel and Palestine. To the broken relationships that are at the root of it.

And I don’t, in any way, mean to imply that the U.S. has it all together. Because we don’t.

Killing innocent civilians is wrong. And it is essential to stand against both Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism. And it’s possible, and necessary, to hold those together at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive.

When we speak out against the killing of innocents, and against Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, we embody God’s faithfulness to humanity; and God has faith in our capacity to do this. We do it best when we know who our neighbors are. When we pay attention to the concerns of the local synagogues and mosques, and work to ensure their safety.

And in our conversations with friends and family members who might have different thoughts and opinions.

Being willing to embrace God’s faithfulness – God’s love and compassion – as a way of living isn’t easy. But it opens the door for transformation and healing, because it nurtures relationship – our relationship with others, and our relationship with God. And God has faith in our ability to do it. Thanks be to God! Amen.