A reflection on the readings for Proper 13C:( Hosea 11:1-11; Luke 12:13-21)
My recent trip to Salt Lake City included several days attending a stewardship conference called TENS, The Episcopal Network for Stewardship. If you have spent much time at conferences you know that there is no guarantee that the conference will be good or that it will satisfy your needs. This one was a mixed bag of information, some very good, other parts not so much.
After the conference I spent about a week with my family. I was born in Salt Lake City and still have many family members who live there. My family gathered to celebrate the life of my brother David, who died in April.
We buried him in a cemetery on the side of the mountain in Salt Lake City, where my grandparents, an aunt, and my mother are buried. Elsewhere in that cemetery many ancestors are buried.
Returning to the place of one’s birth, to one’s roots, to one’s extended family, is always a curious event. My family is comprised of some who are devout Mormon’s and some who are atheists, and some who are spiritual but not religious having rejected the Mormon church but not replaced it with another faith tradition.
What made this trip different from previous ones was the absence of my kids and husband. It was just me and my extended family. I stayed with my aunt, my dad’s sister, who happens to be only six years older than me. In my lifetime we have been more like sisters than aunt and niece. For a time she even lived with us. It has probably been forty years since I spent as much time with her as I did on this trip. Every night found us in long conversations over dinner and a glass of wine. We talked about the broken places in our family. We remembered funny stories. We shared our memories, often with very different understandings of what happened. We talked about pain and hurt feelings, about disease and illness and death.
There is a lot of brokenness in my family. The same is probably true in your families as well. We humans are like that; we have a tendency to hurt one another. True we also love one another and care deeply but life is a mixed bag of joy and sorrow, hope and despair, love and loss, birth and death.
Our readings this morning all point to this idea, that life is a mixed bag. In Hosea we hear this week, once again, about God’s dismay over the actions of God’s people. Last week Hosea was God and Gomer, the unfaithful wife, was us, the people of God. This time God is a mother and the people are portrayed as an ungrateful son. Hosea tells a complicated family story, told from God’s perspective, filled with hurt and loss and the persistent, ever present, unrelenting love of God for God’s people. But God’s love is not sappy or sentimental. God struggles to love God’s people, to love God’s own creation. But in and through the struggle God’s love is fierce, like a parent’s love for a wayward child, a love that wants the best for the child and will do everything to see that child through to a better, healthier place. Hosea beckons us to consider our role in this relationship. How are we loving God in return?[i]
Paul’s letter to the Colossians points to the ways we may or may not be living as God desires, loving God, self, and others. Through a list of possible grievances: greed, lying, self-absorption, indignation, racism, sexism, classism, the author of the letter to the Colossians lists some of the ways we humans break God’s heart and each other’s.[ii]
The Gospel picks up on a similar theme of greed and broken relationships. Here Jesus offers a parable as a response to a question about individual wealth. How much is enough? In the parable Jesus reveals that an appropriate concern for the future is balanced when we remember to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The Gospel asks if our desires and standards for what is enough are driven by a determination to store up treasures for our own pleasure, or by our understanding that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God, and gift that God intends for us to share with others?
And so, in a curious way, the workshops at the TENS conference, my time with my family, and our readings today all connect at the same juncture by asking us to consider what is important in our relationship with God and others. We are to consider these relationship and we are to work at them, striving to keep them whole, healthy, invigorated. In the words of Hosea we are to engage them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. We are to be like one who lifts an infant to one’s cheek, to be like a loving mother feeding her infant, to remember the fierceness of that maternal love, and never let it go.