Monday, April 18, 2016

The Lord of the Hunt

Preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 17, 2016

Scripture readings: Hosea 2: 5-8, 14-16, 19-23; Luke 15:1-10

More than once, I have heard guys use a certain line to describe how they courted and won their wife. Their line is this: “I chased her till she caught me.” Unfortunately for me: the times I tried this, it never worked.
Walking along Lower Crab Creek, Starting at Lake Lenice
North of Desert Aire/Mattawa, WA: April 2016
In Hosea, the prophet the Lord chasing after his unfaithful wife, Israel, while she is chasing around with other gods. These other gods promised to give her all the things she wanted if she chased after them. But they didn’t give her anything, in the end, because they were false as well as false-hearted. The Lord kept sending her what she needed to live, and she thought it came from the gods she was chasing.
The Lord kept the chase going because he loved her. Just so, God keeps going after us, and God keeps us going, and we don’t even know it or admit it. God gives us what we need (and more so), even when we want anything but him. Yes, he loves us that much.
Israel was chasing around because everyone (all the nations around her) were all doing the same thing. The gods you could chase after were the gods who wanted you to think that you could make deals with them.
These gods were called baals. Baal isn’t a name. It means lord, in the sense of being a master: a master of slaves. These masters claimed to be able to give you lots of the kinds of success you wanted, whatever it was: money, sex, being in control, getting your way, getting good crops, putting down your enemies, safety and security.
The list of such things goes on and on. There are so many gods; so many baals; so many things that we make our masters.
These are the masters we are tempted to make deals with. They take charge of us. They become our false gods and we slave after them. All our best relationships suffer because of these masters: including our relationship with God who made us, and loves us, and would come to our rescue in Jesus.
False gods: the more you chased them the less you had, until you found that you had gotten caught, in a bad way, and really had nothing that truly satisfied you.
In those old times, when Israel was chasing around, she didn’t realize that she was being chased, herself. The Lord was chasing her, prowling for her, hunting for her. The Lord would put barriers and roadblocks in her path to discourage her from doing all that running and slaving.
Speaking for the Lord, Hosea said: “I will block her path with thorn bushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.” (Hosea 2:6) Just so the Lord puts up roadblocks to make our lives harder and harder for us, when we want something besides him.
Then the Lord says: “I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert, and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor (the Valley of Trouble) a door of hope. There she will sing (or respond) as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.” (Hosea 2:14,15)
In “The Message” (Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase translation) Hosea says: “And now, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to start all over again. I’m taking her back out into the wilderness where we had our first date, and I’ll court her. I’ll give her bouquets of roses. I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope. She’ll respond like she did as a young girl, those days when she was fresh out of Egypt.” Hosea gives us the picture of God chasing his people: God romancing his people.
Jesus says that God is like a shepherd looking everywhere for one, single, lost sheep, or like a housewife turning her house upside down, looking for one lost coin.
Most people talk about a search for God, a search for the truth, a search for meaning and purpose. People search for spiritual experiences. They search for harmony or enlightenment. Most religions, especially the Eastern or New Age religions, are all about this search.
The God of the Bible is not a God who can be found; unless he lets us chase him until he catches us. God playfully pretends to give us the grace of letting himself be found by us. The truth is that he gives us the grace of our being found.
The God of the Bible is a God who finds you. So the message about the God who came into the world, in Jesus, is not about wish fulfillment. It’s not about pursuing your dreams.
The God of the Bible does not fulfill our wishes. God confronts our wishes and our dreams. God overwhelms our wishes and dreams, and transforms them, and gives us something better than we wished for.
Who is in charge of a hunt? Who is in charge of a search? It is true that, in certain lakes and streams, there are special fish, old and wise fish, who are smarter than most fishermen. That’s what some fishermen say.
Maybe there are deer like that, too. But normally we think that the hunter is smarter. At least, that’s what the hunters would like to think.
The Bible begins our story in the Garden of Eden and the story tells us about a search. The first problem came when there was a contest between who would be in charge. Adam and Eve decided that they would be in charge, and that was their big mistake. It’s a problem we still live with. We’ve inherited the mistake.
We search for the truth that we can claim for our own, and when (and if) we find it, we decide whether it was the truth we were really looking for, or whether we should keep on searching for something else. 
When I was a kid, we would go camping every summer in the mountains, in the forest, and we would do some day-hiking. When I was a child, my Dad would remind me that, in case I got lost, as soon as I realized I was lost, I should stop and stay put; because, if I was lost, and kept on looking, I would just get more and more lost.
If I was lost, my job was to stop and let myself be found. If I got myself lost, that meant I was not smart enough to find myself. And I would not be smart enough to find the people who might be searching for me. I had to let someone find me who knew the forest and the mountains.
Little kids don’t know how to hide very well (unless they are truly lost). When little children are deliberately hiding, even when they find a good place, they give themselves away. When you’re a parent, or an older brother or cousin, you know exactly where those kids are.
Maybe the truth is that a little child is smarter than any grown-up in at least one way. A child is smart enough to hide in order to be found. Older kids and grown-ups aren’t that smart.
We live in a world where God knows where we are, no matter how well we think we are hidden, no matter how completely we think we are lost. We are not hidden or lost to God.
There are times when a searching parent can’t see everything, but God sees everything. God knows where we are, even when no one else does.
Jesus told the parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin, because he came to seek the lost. There were people who thought so highly of themselves that they thought they didn’t need Jesus to find them. They didn’t know, or they wouldn’t admit, that they were lost.
Some of those lost people looked down on others whom they thought were not as good as they were. They thought these so-called inferior people were the ones who were really lost; but they had no intention of hunting for them or finding them. “Let them stay lost,” they said.
They looked down on Jesus, and they thought they were better than he was, because Jesus searched for little things. Jesus searched for those whom the self-righteous people thought should just stay lost.
Jesus came to be the great seeker, the searcher, the hunter, the rescuer. Jesus is God in the flesh. So he is a really good hunter. He knows what to do. He knows how to track his prey. He knows how to flush us out of hiding. The cross shows us who Jesus is hunting for: those who need mercy and forgiveness.
When people met Jesus, and judged him, they demonstrated that they didn’t know their way around the kingdom of God as well as they thought they did. This was because they were really just as lost as anyone could be.
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, it was because they wanted to be in charge of their own search for truth and meaning. That was when they, and we, got lost.
We are lost children searching for ourselves in the forest. We are generally getting more and more lost; until we give the job of finding us to the Lord: letting ourselves be found.
When Adam and Eve hid in the Garden of Eden, they didn’t want to be found, and they didn’t want to admit that they were lost.
If they let God find them, or if they admitted they were lost, then it would be the same thing as admitting that God was right; that God should be in charge of them. That’s why they got themselves in so much trouble. Most of the bad and the terrible things that happen in our world are the work of people who don’t want to admit to being wrong and lost. They don’t want to be flushed out of hiding by any truth that they are not in charge of.
In Eden, and in the Israel of Hosea, and in the Gospels, it’s the people of God who are lost along with everyone else. Even God’s people need to stop and let the Lord be their hunter and finder. They need to let themselves be found.
Sometimes, in the gospels, there are people who think they have found the Lord. In the end, though, they realize that they were lost and found.
Jesus is God come in the flesh, just as he is. The people he met didn’t have an easy time with this.
In the Garden of Eden, in the Israel of Hosea, in the gospels of Jesus, whenever someone was found, they were not given what they were searching for. They were given a new relationship with the Lord where the Lord was in charge.
This wasn’t what they were looking for. It was something different, something that would take them places they had not thought of before, something better.
The key to the Christian life is not in finding Christ, but being found by Christ. Suddenly this huge bloody and scarred shape comes crashing through the undergrowth, and there is Jesus. There he is. There God is. And he says, “Now what are you going to do with me?”
I see in God a glory, and a holiness, and a beauty that are so high, so magnificent, and God says, “What are you going to do with me?” Again, I see Jesus bloody, and bruised, and crucified for me; sacrificed for my sins, and for the whole world, and he says, “What are you going to do with me?”
I haven’t been given this choice because I am the one who is in charge. I have been given this choice because Jesus is the one in charge. I need to decide that, yes, this is so. Then I will let myself be the one who is found, and no longer the one who insists on doing the finding.

This is what God is all about. This is why Jesus came. And he says, “What will you do with me? Will you let yourself be found?”

1 comment: