Loving the Unlovable

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

July 31, 2022
8th Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture readings – Hosea 11: 1-11 and John 13: 34-35

Picture the following scene: an older couple sit in a courtroom in the visitors’ section.  Over the past few days, they have observed and listened as witness after witness came forward and gave testimony about all the wicked things their beloved son had done.  Their son sat at the defendant’s table with his attorney – a good attorney that his parents had paid good money to defend him.

As the evidence against their son grows more and more dreadful, the couple begin to lose hope.  They knew their son had been involved in shady things because they had seen his behavior change over the years from a delightful young man that was always friendly and attentive to them into someone they barely recognized.  Now the trial was over, and the jury had returned after only a short time with their verdict; to no one’s surprise, it was guilty as charged.

If I were to compare this scene to the relationship between God and his ancient people of Israel, I think the comparison would be pretty accurate.  In the beginning, Israel was a faithful child who loved the Lord and did all it could to honor that love.  The Lord loved Israel and tenderly cared and watched Israel as any good parent would.

But then…things began to slowly change.  As time passed, Israel became more and more distant.  Israel began experimenting with strange people and strange practices – practices that involved honoring other gods, not the Lord God who had raised and cared for them and loved them so tenderly.  It was not complete heartbreak, but the Lord knew bad things were coming.  Other prophets who were sent with the message to “repent before it’s too late” were ignored or sidelined with thoughts such as, “We don’t have to worry…we are still loved” and “I can always count on the parents’ love because they’ve always gotten me out of trouble in the past” and “I am an adult now…I can make my own decisions…that’s my right.” 

Now let us return to the courtroom and the next part of the trial.

A few days later, the young man was led back into the courtroom, but this time his hands and ankles were firmly bound with shackles.  His parents were again in the visitor’s section, but this time they were both holding onto each other for dear life it seemed.  Their faces looked frightened, worried, and exhausted.  They knew what was coming, and their only hope was that thy punishment phase was not too bad.  They also know it wasn’t much of a hope.  Their son had been found guilty, there was no doubt about that, and there seemed to be nothing that they could appeal.  Today, he would be sentenced to a long prison term; the couple dreaded to hear how long that sentence would be.

Before it was pronounced by the judge, there was a time for people to give “victim impact statements” – which were small speeches that they hoped would influence the judge to be harsh and unmerciful in his sentencing.  Their son had ruined many, many lives with his wicked deeds, and it didn’t matter how sorry he was or how bad he felt now.

So, victim after victim after victim came to the microphone and addressed the judge.  Each of them listed the deeds that had been done by their son and what it had done to their families.  Each of them was like a knife in the heart of both the guilty man’s parents, but they remained quietly listening, holding each other, and not bothering to wipe away the tears that coursed down their cheeks.  Their son, for his part, sat motionless as he also listened to stories of how he had ruined so many lives.  His heart was heavy, but he also knew there was nothing he could do today.  So, the best he could do was to face each victim as he or she spoke.

Finally, the judge asked if anyone else would like to speak.  To his great surprise, the father of the accused rose and asked politely if he could have five minutes to address the court.  The judge agreed, and everyone stared as the man made his way to the microphone.

How many different prophets did the Lord God send to his people to warn them to turn away from their sins, to turn back to Him, to change their hearts from the acquiring of goods and idols to the true worship their fathers and forefathers had known?  How many were heard?  How many were ignored?  How many truly made an ounce of difference in the time they were given?  The bottom line is reflected in Biblical history: the once-mighty kingdom of Israel split into two suspicious, arrogant kingdoms.  The once-mighty kingdom of Israel faced invaders for hundreds of years, paid tribute to avoid being conquered, and ultimately were swept from the land they had fought so hard and traveled so far to get from their Lord.

They wasted their gifts, they wasted the Lord’s loving care, and they didn’t seem to see the end coming until it was too late.

Just like all the other prophets, Hosea also warned the people of God to turn away, to put away their tin idols, to change their hearts.  And just like all the other prophets, the people ignored Hosea, refused to listen to Hosea, and continued down their own chosen path of self-destruction.

In the end, Israel and Judah were gone, and their people paid the price for their lack of love for the Lord God who had loved them so much for so long.

Now let’s return just one more time to the courtroom scene when the father of the guilty man is going to speak.

The father began by thanking the judge for the opportunity to speak.  Then he once again surprised the judge and everyone in the courtroom by saying that he was not going to defend his son or his actions; he was not going to beg the judge for mercy for his son; he wasn’t making excuses for anything or anyone.  

Instead, he apologized to everyone for all the trouble and heartbreak his son had caused.  He addressed the judge and acknowledged that the judge had a job to do, a difficult job, and they would accept whatever the judge had to say.  The punishment phase of their son’s trial was not the judge’s fault; it was the fault of their son.

Finally, the father addressed his son…his beloved son.  With the tears now flowing freely but in a voice that was strong and clear, the father repeated what he had said so often:

  • He loved his son and always had.
  • His mother loved her son and always would.
  • Nothing – including this trial and whatever punishment was coming – would change that.

The father then asked which prison their son would be sent to.  The judge told them, and the father told his son that he and his mother would sell their house and move into a different house that was closed to the prison so they could visit him more often.  Their son tried to protest, but his father kept on going.

Then the father told his son the following: “Your mother and I have always loved you.  We will continue to do so, no matter what.  We will never NEVER give up on you.  We will visit you in prison as often as we can. We will come even if you don’t want us to visit.  We love you and we want to see you, even if it’s in prison.  That love will never end, Son.  It is the love that cannot be broken, even by the events and decisions of today.”  With that, the father ended his speech and returned to his seat.  

The courtroom remained absolutely hushed for several minutes as the judge sat and thought about what he had just heard.  Then the judge began to speak.  He addressed his comments only to the guilty man.  He told him that because of his crimes, he would be serving a long sentence in prison, but that he also had the opportunity to get out.  He urged the man to consider strongly what his father had just said.  He said that he knew many, many families abandoned their sons or daughters when they went away to prison; this man was lucky –  his parents remained at his side and still remained as his loving parents.  His time in prison would also give him a chance to make something of himself, to actually pay the price for his crimes, and to return to society someday truly rehabilitated.

He wished the man luck as he sentenced him to the maximum amount of time for his crimes – 15 years without the possibility of parole.  The judge brought his gavel down and left the courtroom.  The bailiffs walked to the guilty man and began adding handcuffs and shackles to his wrists and feet.  The man’s parents walked up quickly and asked permission to hug him one more time.  Although it was totally against the rules, the bailiffs took a small step back.  Both parents hugged his son and kissed his cheeks.  They told him they loved him and that they would see him soon.  Then they let him go and their son was taken away.

What was so different about the message that Hosea brought to God’s people?  How was Hosea different from the others?  

Hosea’s message – over and over and over again – included messages of tender love from the Lord God.  Other prophets may have hinted at that love, but most of their messages was exactly what the Lord told them to say: turn back before it’s too late, you are bringing disaster upon yourselves, I am here waiting for your return.  Hosea’s message didn’t ignore this tone either.  Page after page of Hosea’s prophecy is filled with warnings, predictions of the wrath of God that will be coming, and terrible events that will overtake the people of God because of their wickedness. 

And those other prophets – and Hosea too – were roundly ignored by God’s people.  So, they had to face the consequences eventually.  

But Hosea’s message also included this… and verse after verse after verse of how the Lord love them and still wanted to have a relationship with this.  Listen to the following:

  • “When Israel was a child, I loved him.”
  • “I led them with cords of human kindness with ties of love.”
  • “But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.”
  • “I will heal their waywardness and love them fiercely.”
  • “I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.”

The Lord never gave up on his people, even as the Lord was sending their punishment and their destruction.

The Lord still loved his people, even as they worshiped their little stone, tin, and wooden gods, even as they turned to Baal instead of to Him in their times of trouble.

The Lord still hoped for his people, even as they grew overly confident in their own skills, their own power, their own armies, and even in their own arrogance!

That kind of love cannot truly be explained.  It is a love that defies all logic.  To love a people who do not love in return seems to be the height of foolishness.

And yet…it is in that same love that all of us today find our hope.  Despite our best efforts, we all fall short of earning the love of the Lord.

But we are loved anyway.  That’s a miracle, isn’t it?

We are unlovable and yet still loved.

And what did Jesus command us to do?  

Love one another.

Love one another.

Love one another.