How Good It Is to Return Home

given on Sunday, July 27, 2014–concluding a review of the book of Hosea.

 

Summer is winding down—at least in terms of vacations and reunions and travels. Having lived all my childhood and adult life following a school calendar, summers have their own rhythm. As a farming family my earliest years meant summers were filled to overflowing with chores, field work, deep cleaning, gardening, and the list just keeps growing.

Then the store shelves begin filling up with school supplies. Closets were checked for worn out or out grown clothes. A trip to the shoe store for that new pair of school shoes was made. And if we were lucky, the family might go on a trip—even if only to a state park for an overnight stay. No matter what though, it is always good to return home.

Regardless of how long one is gone or how far a vacation takes you, the return home is welcomed. Vacations can take us to new places, provide us tastes of new foods, lead us to new experiences, and show us sights unseen at home. Yet, as we drive up to our homes, unload the car, and drop things on the floor, we all experience how good it is to return home.

Returning home after a vacation or any type of extended absence is one of the benefits of having vacations. By experiencing that warm sensation of belonging, we can also appreciate how God feels when any of his children returns to him.

In Hosea 12:6, the prophet is doing all he can to convince the Israelites that they needed to return to their own God:

But as for you, return to your God,

              Hold fast to love and justice,

              And wait continually for your God.

The Israelites had lost their independence and were under Assyrian control. Their very way of life was disrupted and God’s chosen people began following the pagan traditions of worshiping Baal. Such pagan traditions include idol worship or wooden sticks as Hosea referred to them in his prophecy.

God was beside himself just like we are when one of our own kids just will not listen. I remember when my son was only five years old and he disappeared. He had gone out with his fundraiser box to do his best. The parameters were to the neighbors directly around the house just while I was preparing his lunch.

Small town, all the neighbors were within eyeshot, and he never ventured any further before. I was confident that it would be just a few minutes before he walked back in. So I fixed lunch with an eye out the window and not a fear in my mind.

Isn’t that how God felt with his children of Israel? He had chosen them to carry his message throughout the world. He had taught them how to depend on him and trust him. He loved his children and wanted all the peoples of the world to live in harmony, allowing him to take care of their needs:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and I called my son out of Egypt.
But the more I called to him,
the farther he moved from me,[a]
offering sacrifices to the images of Baal
and burning incense to idols.
I myself taught Israel[b] how to walk,
leading him along by the hand.
But he doesn’t know or even care
that it was I who took care of him.
I led Israel along
with my ropes of kindness and love.
I lifted the yoke from his neck,
and I myself stooped to feed him.

When your son disappears, all these thoughts go zinging through your mind. Where is he? Why didn’t he listen to me? How dare he! By considering how I felt, I can understand how God feels when one or even when a country filled with his children disappear. Crying out for them, searching for them, begging them to return, God never gives up.

In chapter 14, Hosea pleads with the Israelites one last time:

[a]Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for your sins have brought you down.
Bring your confessions, and return to the Lord.

The cry echoes in my own ears. I imagine all the horrible things that can happen when a child disappears. One wonders how can anything like that happen in a small, rural town. Yet, God loves each and every one of us just like we love our own kids. When Israel disappeared from his family, he pleaded for them to return:

“O Israel,[c] stay away from idols!
I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.
I am like a tree that is always green;
all your fruit comes from me.”

The prophet lists all that God will do:

4The Lord says,
“Then I will heal you of your faithlessness;
my love will know no bounds,
for my anger will be gone forever.
I will be to Israel
like a refreshing dew from heaven.
Israel will blossom like the lily;
it will send roots deep into the soil
like the cedars in Lebanon.
Its branches will spread out like beautiful olive trees,
as fragrant as the cedars of Lebanon.
My people will again live under my shade.
They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines.
They will be as fragrant as the wines of Lebanon.

My son was just out selling items for his den and never realized that we were searching for him feverishly. I had called his dad at work, and he had no luck. We called all the neighbors, still no luck. We even called the police so all the fire department and police and neighbors were out looking for him. When he came out the door of a house, fundraiser in his hand, he was spotted. Less than five blocks from home, he was absorbed in his purpose and all was good.

Returning home as though he were a king, a reprimand seemed unimportant. All that mattered was that he was home, safe and sound. He had no idea what all had gone on to find him, he returned home and life resumed as normal.

Israel probably did not realize how far they had strayed from God. They were out doing their own thing, trying not to upset the Assyrians now controlling their land. But, they had failed to remain steadfast in their love of God.

Giving in to temptations around us causes us to wander away from God, too. Once we step away from God, we find other worldly pleasures filling our time. We can become involved in activities that make us feel good for the moment, but then feel let down or drained when it wears off (such as with excessive eating, drinking, or any similar addictive behavior).

Each day we stay away from God, we find it harder and harder to return to him. We see that in our own children or even our own lives. It is critical that we “return to our God.” When we return, we will discover all that he does for us. We can savor the treasurers he provides today and on through eternity.

The most difficult thing is to return. The farther or longer one stays separated from God, the harder it is to return. In your own heart, do you need to return? Is there someone who needs prayerful and verbal urging to return to God? Be the prophet Hosea in your world. Talk with your family, with your neighbors, and anyone you meet about what God’s role is in your life. Urge them to return. Assure them that the hardest step is the first one; but once they do return, the joy goes beyond measure.

But as for you, return to your God,

              Hold fast to love and justice,

              And wait continually for your God.

When you return, worship him. Study the messages he shares, demonstrate unconditional love to one and another, and fight for social justice so fragile in today’s world.   Hosea’s last words provide guidance for us while we wait for God:

Let those who are wise understand these things.
Let those with discernment listen carefully.
The paths of the Lord are true and right,
and righteous people live by walking in them.
But in those paths sinners stumble and fall.

Closing prayer

         Dear loving Father,

Hosea pleaded for the Israelites to return to you,

And today we have so many who have turned away

Or who have never known you.

Guide us to look deep into our own hearts

And decide if we, too, may have turned away.

 

Give us the strength to return to you now,

Even if we have only been gone a short time.

Give us the skills to help others return, too.

Let us hold fast to love and justice

In all that we do, in all our prayers,

And in all we teach to our family, friends, and neighbors.

 

May each and every one of your children,

Whether here or beyond our neighborhoods,

Find you and discover the joy of your grace.

We will do all that we can, for all we can,

In as many ways as we can

While we wait for you. –Amen

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