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“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me…. 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.” (Hosea 11:1-4)

This is Hosea’s portrait of God bending down to reach humankind – to touch us, to hold us, to heal us. It is a portrait of God’s infinite capacity to love all who are made in God’s image.

However, Hosea goes on to describe a growing separation between God and humanity, a story that repeats itself not only within human history, but within our individual lives and the communities to which we belong.

Hosea warns that the people beloved of God “shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. The sword rages in their cities, … and devours because of their schemes. My people are bent on turning away from me.” (Hosea 11:5-7)

It is a discouraging picture. The very people who have been rescued from slavery, brought safely through the wilderness, and bestowed with the promise of a land and a future, have once again become a rebellious people, turning away from God.

It doesn’t take much, you know – a few good months in the stock market; good enough health; harmonious family relations; meaningful work or meaningful retirement – life going fairly smoothly, in other words!

Slowly, almost without noticing, you drift away from acknowledging God for the gifts and the blessings and the joys of your life!

Slowly, almost without noticing, you begin to think that you are entitled to have things be the way you want them to be, only to be surprised when life again becomes difficult or challenging or out of control!

The prophet Hosea implicates God’s people in their own troubles, speaking of their return to Egypt, to the very slavery from which they have been rescued, if they continue in their sinful ways.

We, too, forget our history. In the United States we have a history of racism. We have made progress toward racial equality and justice in my lifetime, but we haven’t arrived yet in creating a society that provides the same opportunities and protections to all of our citizens.

Usually it is the people who are the most clueless about systemic racism who are quick to say we have moved beyond it. People say things that belie their prejudice or intolerance, all the while denying having any such attitudes. It is in these ways that we, too, can “return to Egypt,” if we turn a blind eye to the racial tensions and injustices around us.

Hosea, chapter 11, is a psalm of lament. God calls people to be faithful and to live with the intent of honoring God with their lives, yet so often we choose the slavery from which God has time and again set us free. We choose to belittle our neighbors who are different from us.

Abraham Heschel claims: “Prophecy is not concerned with imparting general information, but deals with what concerns God intimately.”

What concerns God is that we learn to love our neighbors – including our homeless neighbors, our gay and lesbian neighbors, our black or Latino neighbors, our immigrant neighbors – neighbors different from us. When we fail to love our neighbors, we fail to love the Creator of us all!

Words (c) 2013 Mark Lloyd Richardson