Whitworth College Parents' Weekend Sermon 2002
Oct. 13, 2002
The most primal relationship in all of creation is the parent-child relationship. It is the core of human order, the only non-optional relationship in the human community. All people come from parents. Even within the Trinity, we find the parent-child relationship.
It follows that out of the most primal relationship comes the most basic human bond. It is where instinct roars. I once read a story of an American basketball coach who had taken his team to play in Argentina. One afternoon while swimming in the ocean, a furious riptide snared a couple of unsuspecting players. The coach, seeing this unfold, immediately jumped into the water and helped rescue the players. In his efforts, however, fatigue handed him over to the deadly current. He battled mightily, but it was over. He had utterly spent his strength. Nothing now could save him. Nothing until he heard the voice of his two small children calling from the beach, "Daddy, don't give up." At that moment, he pictured his children growing up without their dad, and it was a picture he could not abide. Although impaired for years by the lactic acid released into his body, this coach now recalls that his superhuman, life-saving effort was beckoned by two small voices on the beach that needed a dad. The tether between life and death was the parent-child bond.
Do you not agree that we all continuously draw life from this bond? Three nights ago, Bonnie and I sat down for the half hour of talking that marks the end of almost every day that I am home. At the close of a particularly troublesome day for both of us, our conversation turned to the gratitude we feel for our children, and that was the point at which everything in our lives absolutely snapped into perspective. There is nothing more precious in life than our kids. Fortunately, everyone understands that. I recall spending almost three years trying to set a fund-raising call with the inventor of Teflon in Corpus Christi, Texas. Finally, it happened. But then our daughter got a speaking part in the church Christmas play. I never did get to Corpus Christi, and the inventor was filled with delight when I told him the reason. And parents, we have no emotional monopoly on the parent child bond. I wish you could see the joyful eyes and broken hearts in our students as they tell of their relationships with you. You mean the world to them.
As we conclude parent's weekend, we need no convincing that the parent-child relationship, whether natural or adopted, is a bond that must be ruthlessly guarded and unceasingly nurtured. When that bond is broken or frayed, life doesn't seem to work right.
In one of the great passages in all of Holy Scripture, God takes the voice of a frustrated parent, almost two parents, lecturing Israel, the wayward child. All of you who hated "the talk" more than the spanking itself, will bristle at this passage where God lays "the talk" on his unfaithful children. As for me, compared to the spanking, I rather liked the talks, and brought up every subject I could think of to prolong the pounding.
The text of this scolding is taken from Hosea 11. And if you remember the story of Hosea the prophet and his wife Gomer, you'll agree with me that God's object lesson in this book was significantly more vivid than your typical children's sermon. God had Hosea marry a prostitute who would be unfaithful and bear children of out of her adulterous relationships. In Hosea 1:1, we read that the word of the Lord came to Hosea. Wouldn't you have loved hearing that word…
"I've picked a wife for you."
"Lord, no way, get outa town, that is so great…"
"Hosea, easy, she might not be exactly what you were hoping for."
"Well, is she pretty, Lord?"
"Actually, ya, she is."
"And will she teach women's bible study fellowship?"
"I don't know if I would have her do that, Hosea. She's not too much the synagogue type."
"Oh, so you're saying she's more of a professional woman?"
"Aah, ya, that's a pretty good description, she's a pro all right."
"OK, and will we have children, Lord?"
"Uh, will you have children, uh, she will!"
"Great, great. What are their names?"
"Cast-away, no pity, and not my people."
"What? What's going on, Lord?"
"You better sit down, Hosea."
So, Hosea marries Gomer, and she plays the harlot. She spirals downward into utter destitution, annulling her marriage contract and ending up on the auction block in naked shame. But God comes to Hosea and says, "Love her still, Hosea." And he does love her and buys her back and implores her to be faithful.
The next seven chapters of Hosea chronicle Israel's captivity and serve as a prologue to this great picture of God the parent in the 11th chapter. In the first four verses, I hear my dear mother. Perhaps you hear your father. But I hear my mother's heart in this exquisite poetry.
1 "When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 But the more I  called Israel,
the further they went from me. 
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
3 It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love;
I lifted the yoke from their neck
and bent down to feed them.
Do you hear the heartache of a mother who her delivered her baby, taught him to walk, nursed him through sickness, fed him faithfully, even when he didn't know who was feeding him, and loved him with the cords of human kindness and a mother's love? Perhaps I am misunderstanding this passage, but this sounds more like a mother who's wondering if she spoiled her son than it sounds like Jehovah God. "I gave him everything, and the more I gave the more he rejected my love. What am I suppose to do?" "I lovingly bent over and taught him to walk on his own, and now he uses what I taught him to walk away from me." Some 20 years ago, I worked in prisons and on visitors' day, I would hear this lament over and over again. Just like the parents of the prisoners, it sounds like God just couldn't help himself. He just loved so much that he did everything for Israel.
As I mentioned, God here sounds an awful lot like my mom, dear Lillian Robinson. She couldn't give us enough. She gave us everything. Well, everything except the lickin's. We got those when dad got home from work. By the way, when does dad get home from work? Verse 5.
5 "Will they not return to Egypt
and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?
6 Swords will flash in their cities,
will destroy the bars of their gates
and put an end to their plans.
7 My people are determined to turn from me.
Even if they call to the Most High,
he will by no means exalt them.
Whoa. This is the roar of an angry parent. "I've had it with you! You are on your way to bondage and destruction, and there is no turning back. When you cry out for help, I will not hear you."
Picture this incredibly conflicted parent, anguishing between love rejected and raging anger. The bedroom is empty. No lullabies, no little boy. Would not this mother or father give life itself to win back the child? "NO, to hell with him. I've given him too much already. He's bound and determined to reject me. Fine. Even if he comes crawling back, the door is locked."
Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, we have all tasted of this wrenching internal conflict. Though it has not reached the proportions suggested by this Hebrew hyperbole, we have been here. And, I would offer the terrifying suggestion that God has experienced these emotions with not just Israel, but with all of his children who have sinned and fallen short of his glory.
In these seven verses, we see the cosmic clash in God's character, the conflict between his love and his justice. Which will prevail? Verse eight.
8 "Eprhaim, oh Ephaim, How can I give you up?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like like the cities on the plain of Sodom and Gomorrah?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
9 I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man-
the Holy One among you.
I will not come in wrath. 
Love wins. Love wins. When the Israelites prostituted their devotion to God and chased the Baals, God had every reason to pour out his wrath on them. And just when it looks like he is ready to clean out the barrels, it is as though he hears again the lullaby. He sees the child, and his heart his heart is changed. All his compassions are aroused. And he can't help it -- not because he is soft, not because he is weak, and not because the Israelites deserve a break. He can't help it because he is God.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man-
the Holy One among you.
I will not come in wrath.
Hosea, a minor prophet, offers us a major view of God's personality. We see all the emotions of a parent scorned by a child - love, frustration, incredulity, hurt feelings, sadness, regret, anger and even a touch of stubbornness. But the book of Hosea, and particularly the 11th chapter provides us with a very focused message.
The message of Hosea is that for God, love is the conquering emotion. And this is this is the gospel. That instead of wrath, God so loved the world that he gave his son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. And through Christ, every mother and father and son and daughter who wishes to live life in the pleasure of God has the power to make love the conquering emotion in their relationships with one another. And it is my prayer that you do.
This morning, many of you are feeling the glow of an awfully nice Parent's Weekend. Loved ones were reunited, the weather was beautiful, the athletic teams won, and there weren't even any cuss words in the musical. Right now love doesn't have much of an opponent in being your conquering emotion. But when you leave this auditorium, the battle resumes. What threatens your love as the conquering emotion of the parent-child relationship? Is it pride? Is it the need to be right? Is it the need to be in control? Is it distraction?
A few years ago I was at a speaking engagement in South Carolina. I was the Monday morning speaker. The Sunday night speaker was Jim Bakker, fresh out of prison after his 45 year sentence for swindling 700 Club followers was reduced for good behavior or something like that. As the other speaker, I sat next to Jim at dinner that night. At one time, I had felt sorry for him, not for going to prison but for being married to Tammy Faye. But over the course of the meal, I began to think they were a pretty good match until Jim told a story that I never will forget. The Bakkers were parents of a young son during the 700 Club days. Jim told me that he became so obsessed with money and fame that for his son's birthday, he would hand the kid a catalogue, ask him to circle whatever he wanted, then have his secretary order whatever had been circled. After Jim had been sentenced and was rotting in a Minnesota prison, his 16 year-old son came to visit him for a day. They sat in a sterile visitors room with other convicts and talked. When it was time for the son to leave, he said, "Dad, this has been the best day of my life." For one day in the life of Jim Bakker and his son, love had been the conquering emotion.
Well it doesn't matter if you are a mom or dad or step-mom or step-dad or son or daughter or step-son or step-daughter. Your relationships with each other will be visited by the same confusion, betrayal, sadness, regret and anger that God felt toward Israel. But when that happens, turn your eyes upon Jesus. And he will arouse all of your compassions. He will make love be the conquering emotion. In the name of the father, and of the son and of the holy spirit. Amen.