Rev'd Daniel Irvine
The psalm set in our lectionary for today, is Psalm 145, verses one to seven, is about the greatness and goodness of God and it reads:
I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall laud your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendour of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
and I will declare your greatness.
They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
They are beautiful verses of praise, but they should also be verses that cause us to think, to stop and take stock of our own lives and our own devotions.
After all do we praise God and extol the Lord every day?
Have we praised God’s works and declared God’s mighty acts to the next generation?
Do we truly celebrate God’s goodness and sing of God’s righteousness in all we do?
I fear that none of us, me included, have truly lived up to these in the way that we probably ought to.
Over the years the Church, both as an institution, and often many of its members, have spent too much time and energy defending doctrine and dogma, instead of praising God.
We have been far too concerned about keeping things the way we like them instead of proclaiming God’s works to the next generation.
We are too caught up worrying about the right words that we have forgotten to consider what the words really mean.
And we have been much too preoccupied with trying to enforce our own social and culturally driven moral standards and stereotypes onto others than to truly celebrate God’s goodness and love.
Our actions, on the whole, are not much better than those of the Northern Kingdom, to whom the Lord’s words were addressed through the prophet Hosea in our first reading.
Hosea had bewailed the actions and works of many of those who thought themselves righteous, who valued forms of worship and the right ritual sacrifices as the most important aspect of our relationship with God.
In our portion today however, Hosea reveals the tenderness and love of God, who almost grieves like a parent would over a lost and wayward child.
To God it seemed that the more love that was shown to Israel, the further away they drifted; the more that God blessed them, the more they wandered.
But Hosea also holds a vital insight into how we might pick ourselves back up and turn our faces once more towards the Lord.
Our psalm says to praise God’s mighty acts to the next generation. But what acts are we to praise?
Are we to think, like ancient Israel, that God’s actions are only to be found in the Exodus, in delivering the Hebrews out of Egypt and bringing them into the Promised Land?
Do you think we are going to be successful in explaining God’s love to others and pointing them towards the path that leads to salvation by telling tales that are thousands of years old and telling them to believe it simply because it is written?
Tales, I might add, that are more often than not extremely bloody, highly sectarian and completely out of step, not only with what might be disparaged as “modern sensibilities” but are also often inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus!
Or instead, do we to take the time to really listen to what Hosea tells us this morning about God’s role in our lives?
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.
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.
Here I think is a different understanding of God that gradually unfolded in the teachings of the prophets until it finally reached its full bloom in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.
That God’s love for us is like the love of a perfect parent, being present with us in all things, leading and guiding us through love (not through vengeance and punishment), lifting us up when we fall and holding us close when we feel alone.
God leads us and prompts us with bands of love, not forcefully and violently like the heavy yoke of a beast of burden.
It is this image that is given further expression in our Gospel when Jesus invites us to come to God by saying:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
These deeds of love, and the provision of rest for our souls are the great deeds of God that we should be proclaiming to a world that is longing for hope.
Whether it knows and admits it or not, the world is longing to hear Good News, and we have the greatest news of all, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is a Gospel that builds on the foundations laid by the prophets to teach an understanding of God that is rooted in love, mercy, compassion and inclusion: not one that understands God in terms of rituals, regulations, condemnation and exclusion.
I pray that as we go away from here and meditate on the majesty of God and of the wondrous works of the Lord, that we may all come to a fuller awareness and appreciation of God’s Spirit dwelling with us; that we may have our eyes, our minds and our hearts open to accepting and recognising the incredible deeds of love and compassion that come from God and which enable this very world, in all its beauty and splendour, to exist; and that we may be so moved to proclaim God’s love and compassion to all people in all places and so help to build God’s promised kingdom of Love here and now.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.