Hosea 11:1-11            Luke 12:13-21


          About three years ago I had an interesting conversation with a friend.  Right after our hellos and how are yous my friend asked…”What do you do if forgiveness doesn’t work?”

Hosea…in today’s lesson…and in his own life story…gives us the answer.  But…first….

Let me tell you a little about my friend and why she asked the question.  In some ways you’ll find some similarities in her life to pieces of your life…or the lives of other people you know.  I did.

She is a widow and mother of four adult daughters.  Her husband’s business was quite successful… so she’s and her children are comfortable financially.  All of her children have married and divorced.  Some have married a second time.   There are a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  When we spoke there were some significant points of tension between her and her children…though everything I’ve seen suggests she raised them with great love…attention and devotion.

The details of those points of tension are not important.  They are not unique to this family.  They occur in many…if not most families…from time to time.  They result in actions that hurt…sometimes intentionally…sometimes just because the one doing the hurting is selfish…sometimes because the one doing the hurting is unaware….sometimes because the one who feels hurt doesn’t know the full circumstances…and sometimes because the one who hurts takes personally an action that was not at all meant to be personal.  They usually occur because the relationship between those involved is not as rich as it could be.

After she asked her question…I asked my friend why she had asked.  She told me.  Again…not unusual situations…though she made it clear that she had offered forgiveness…but the results weren’t there.  She was still feeling hurt and separation.

Instead of giving her an immediate answer I told her a part of my life story…and what I had learned from it.  My parents divorced when I was eight years old.  That was a long time ago…when divorce wasn’t the frequently accepted easy way out of fixing differences between a couple.  My mother took my sister with her.  They moved to South Carolina to live with my aunt…my mother’s sister.  I stayed in upstate New York with my dad.

I heard nothing from my mother and did not know how to contact her until she came to my wedding when I was twenty years old.  We shared a couple obligatory and unfeeling hugs at the wedding….but the tension was high and the amount of communication was low.  If it hadn’t been for a half-sister who came with mother to the wedding I wouldn’t have received any information that would allow me to contact my mother at a later time.

A few weeks after the wedding I sent a note…with no response returned.  I tried again a few weeks later with the same result.  There were no more communication attempts for nearly fourteen years…until that half-sister phoned me to tell me mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

The three of us talked on the phone a little bit that day…and a few times after that.  I was living in Dubuque, Iowa at the time.  During one of those conversations we agreed that I would visit them in South Carolina the next Christmas.

I did.  The time together was tense…but during the time I visited I also fell in love with the community and found a job here.  I moved to Greenville shortly after that.

My mother lived for another 19 years after I moved to Greenville…but during all of that time we could never establish a relationship.  Neither of us tried very hard to forgive…to put away all of our differences.  My mother died without that breach being repaired.

After I told my friend my story…I told her that the answer to her question was not that forgiveness doesn’t work.  The answer is another question… How effective…and active…and persistent… are you at showing the love that will build a rich relationship after giving the forgiveness?  Remember this Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive.  Jesus said seventy times seven.

Hosea demonstrated how that works.  He deeply loved his wife…Gomer.  However, she became a prostitute…giving herself to other men.  Hosea continued his love.  Hosea came to understand God’s great grace and forgiveness when he forgave his wife and took her back into their home.

Hosea was able to better preach God’s sermons…preach them with much greater passion…because Hosea had experienced the same hurt that God experienced when Israel had rejected God.

But…both Hosea and God forgave…and reached out…reached out with persistence to build a relationship rich in love…because of their love…love for those who had rejected and hurt them.

We should know…as Hosea and God know…that forgiveness is important…a beginning…but those words alone will not rebuild a rich relationship with God…or with those we love.  Reaching out to them…in love…is the work that often must follow forgiveness…reaching out with persistence every day…even when it results in more hurt.

Jesus told the disciples the same thing when he told them to be rich toward God.  Jesus was telling us…”Don’t be like the people to whom Hosea was prophesying…people whose relationship with God had become a one-way relationship of convenience …a relationship that was good only when it filled the barn with so much stuff that a bigger barn was seen as the solution.”

Let us search our relationships…those that are earthly as well as our heavenly relationship… forgive where forgiveness is needed….even if you’ve done so many times…and ask Jesus…the one who sends the Spirit to walk with you daily…the one who reaches out with his love and forgiveness…to help you reach out in love… constantly reach out in love… to make every one of your relationships a rich relationship…within your family…within your community…at your place of work and business…within our nation and throughout God’s world…reach out…before it’s too late.

Here’s the rest of the story…about my friend and her family.  She took Jesus’ command to Peter to heart.  She constantly reached out to her children and grandchildren.  Today…three years later…she is 88 years old.  She is in reasonably good health but chooses not to travel very far from her home in Greenville.

Yet…every week…at least one of her daughters is joyfully visiting my friend…the daughters coming from points as far away as Walterboro.  And…every week…with great celebration…at least one of her grandchildren is visiting my friend…coming from as far away as Denver.

As Jesus said…it’s not the size of your barn that determines how rich you are…it’s the richness of your relationships…relationships based in love…and often filled with forgiveness…that matters.

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