Given the slightest gap or crack in our armour or an open moment in our life and God seems to take hold and grow from the inside out! Like a sweet strong fragrance on the breeze, like a drumbeat from a distant camp, like an invasive weed God takes root and grows where ever the divine can take hold in us. And we can prayerfully participate or resist.
In the reading from Hosea (1:2-10) we hear the strange and confronting story of the prophet who is directed to marry a whore as a visible commentary or allegory on the unfaithfulness of Israel. Now don’t get me started on this description of a woman who does God’s bidding and whose children bear such terrible names so that the stiff necked chosen ones can see what they are doing! But if we can see past the culturally gendered images of the time we can reflect that God is not fooled but is highly and painfully aware of the unfaithfulness of the chosen people and yet still seeks them out. For the Lord who, through the prophet, brings blessings to the outsiders because the desire of God to give good things will not be blocked by the unfaithfulness and disinterest of the chosen (a cautionary-yet-encouraging tale for those of us “in” the church). And even the cursed chosen ones will eventually again be known as ones that the Living God lives amongst. What mercy and faithfulness on the part of God!
And if you read the portion of Genesis (18:20-32) about the negotiations between Abraham and God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah you will see the desire of God to save everyone even if there is only the smallest number of righteous ones, the smallest chink for the spirit to squeeze through! It would seem that God’s desire to be merciful is so great that any excuse to forgive and restore will be considered. Which is quite different to the ghoulish delight some Christians seem to take at the prospect that punishment might be visited upon people who see the world differently to themselves!
Whichever Old Testament reading you have chosen it would seem that God very much sees and grieves the sin of those who live unjustly and unwisely. And yet God will do whatever is possible to enter into our individual and corporate lives with mercy and healing. And we can spend our time and energy resisting or participating with the Spirit in the journey of growth and flourishing.
Our New Testament readings this week (Colossians 2:6-15 and Luke 11:1-13) can be seen as teaching how we might participate in this growth. Honouring the image of growth from Paul’s writings I want to suggest there are at least three ways that we can participate in our own growth and development as beloved ones of God. Firstly through openness and receptivity. When Jesus was asked by his disciples to teach them how to pray he responded with what we call the Lord’s Prayer, or the Our Father. This prayer covers everything we need to say really beginning with greeting God in such a way that we remember how beloved we are and how intimate a relationship we are invited into. We are then encouraged to simply and boldly ask for what we need and to declare that we are ready to live and act as though the kingdom of God were already established in our individual and our corporate life.
Secondly we can participate in our restoration and growth by persistence and constancy. Having taught his disciples how to pray Jesus then explains the nature and value of prayer with a few strange stories. Are we really to imagine God as a grumpy old neighbour who only gives us what we ask for to quieten us? Or to entertain that as parents we would consider for a moment to give our children snakes when they need eggs? I think these stories remind us that we know that even we, when we are sleep deprived and lacking in resources, instinctively know how to be decent and generous. Therefore how much more does God know how to be merciful and infinitely generous. It is very important to note that this generosity is not that of Santa Claus who gives good children the list of toys they have asked for but that the gift given is the Holy Spirit. God does not need us to beg because the divine one is deaf or playing some sadistic game but because persistence and constancy help us to grow, to become more open and available to gifts that are truly needed and less conditional in our loving. We are to pray until we stop asking for a long list of wants and we desire the Spirit of God to fill us and spill out of our lives into the lives of others.
And thirdly we might think of the intimacy and delight and faithfulness that we are called to as marriage or union with the divine. I appreciate that the language of marriage can be painful or unappealing because as a human institution it is still excluding of some and problematic for many. But as a metaphor for union and oneness most of us can understand what might be implied as a state of belonging to and with the divine even if human marriage is not available or desirable to us. Given that we have already considered the image from Hosea of an unfaithful marriage we can reflect on all the positive ways in which the imagery of marriage or union has been used in Scripture and by the mystics to describe union between the divine and human soul. Song of Songs plays with the image of lovers to convey the relationship between the soul and God. The prophet Isaiah describes the relationship between God and Israel as like that of a bridegroom and his bride. In Matthew’s account of the sayings and parable of Jesus there is often reference to Jesus as the bridegroom and wedding feasts. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians describes the relationship between the church and Jesus Christ as like that of marriage. And the last book in the Bible describes the culmination of all things as being the marriage of the lamb and the bride.
This week we are reminded that the love of God will come searching for us regardless of our situation. But when we participate in our own salvation and growth by opening ourselves up to the gift of love we start to grow and thrive in the way a plant does and humans do in loving relationships. And to whatever extent we can make room, even if only a chink, God will find an in and come to us.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come to us as we are and grow us in your love.