You know, some relationships end - and some seem to end more easily than others.
I was in 6th grade and I had a girlfriend. Her name was Katherine and we really made our relationship official when at the end of our 5th Grade year we couple skated holding hands at the local skating rink. Unfortunately, then we went on to 6th grade, that was middle school and in middle school things were different. There was this guy there named Ben and he gelled his hair and before I knew it I was climbing into the school bus when one of Katherine's friends ran up and told me that Katherine would be breaking up with me because Katherine was now going with Ben. It seems to me that after you've couple skated with someone the decent thing to do is to at least break up with them face-to-face, but Katherine didn't see it that way and just like that the relationship was over.
It was less simple for a friend of mine in 8th grade. She called up her boyfriend Steve to deliver the bad news - that they would be breaking up - but Ol' Steve, he saw it coming a mile away and wasn't about to let this relationship end, so he had this Boys to Men song playing in the background when she called:
"'Till the end of the road,
Girl I can't let you go,
You belong to me,
I belong to you."
Now with that song playing, this break-up wasn't so easy.
And maybe the break-up should never be easy. Maybe the break-up should always be hard.
There was a time when a group of Pharisees came to Jesus, to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" This is a significant question because what divorce meant back in the time of Jesus was that a man could drop his existing family to start a new family in a time when only men could work and own property, so if he decided that he would rather start another family, he could just write her a certificate of divorce and could move on from that first family as though nothing had ever happened.
He could just hand her that certificate of divorce on her way up into the school bus and it was over - she and her children would be without a home, without a source of income, and without an honest name to make their way in the world. So, Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart [Moses allowed you to divorce so easily]. But if two have become one flesh - do you really think they can ever be separated again?"
Do you really think a man can just walk away as though nothing ever happened? Do you really believe that a man can just pretend that the children never happened, that the life he made didn't really happen - that he can just hit the reset button and start all over again?
You know what - some people do. But not so with God.
Our Scripture Lesson from the book of Hosea is among the most beautiful in the Bible, but not only is the passage beautiful - it's powerful in the sense that the prophet Hosea is married to a prostitute and he is married to this prostitute to illustrate his point that if God is married to us, then it is a marriage just like a holy prophet being married to a prostitute.
That if God is married to me - that if God is married to you - it is like a holy prophet being married to a prostitute.
Certainly, any Pharisee would have approved should God have wanted to issue a certificate of divorce given our condition, but Hosea won't divorce his wife Gomer, the prostitute, even though she keeps returning back to the brothel. Despite who he's married to, Hosea, like our God, just won't let the relationship end.
In Bible studies on this passage I've heard women and men identify with God as the divine takes on even more human or super-human attributes in the 11th Chapter. Several years ago, a woman named Mrs. Jane Edwards pronounced that this is a mother talking here in Hosea:
"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
[But] 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...
I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks."
This does sound like a mother to me - or a grandmother.
The kind of grandmother who loves her grandsons so much that she even loves the little greasy handprints all over her sliding glass doors and won't clean them off because of how much she loves the greasy little hands who put them there.
The kind of mother who can't help but bite the little cheeks of her daughter, smell that little smell that only comes from her baby girl.
The kind of mother or grandmother or father or grandfather who remembers lining up the Cheerios on the couch cushions so that the baby would pull up and shuffle down, step by step, cheerio to cheerio until little Israel could walk.
And the couch is still there years later - even in those days when he doesn't come around because he has other people to impress. The couch is still there even in those days when the baby now grown seems to think only of himself. The couch is still there even if he falls farther and farther down the pit of drugs or alcohol, crime or indiscretion.
Our God still looks at that couch and remembers the baby we used to be even if we've forgotten who we ever were and have walked so far away from the light that we can't see our way back home.
In this moment it's easy for us to believe that our God will be like our 6th grade girlfriend. Considering all the wrong we've done, it's easy to believe that God will just issue us a bill of divorce and be done with us.
So, I've known plenty of people who've been to church their whole lives, completely sure that they're going to hell - the only question is how soon, but we read here in Hosea God saying something different:
"My people are bent on turning away from me
[But] how can I give you up?
How can I hand you over?
My heart recoils within me;
My compassion grows warm and tender,
For I am God and no mortal."
I believe that too often we misunderstand what love really is. And I say so because I misunderstand it all the time.
Last July my mom sent me a birthday card - and on the front of the card is this little boy with his bike helmet on and he's pushing his little blue bike up a gravel road and the card says: "Son, sometimes I find myself smiling just remembering something you said when you were little." And there's big part of me that expected to open the card to read the words: "But then you became a teenager and you hurt me again and again and again." But instead, you know what the card said? "And today, I just hope you know how very much I love you - and how grateful I am to call you my son."
Now that's kind of a miraculous card, but this kind of miracle isn't so far away. And I say that because I know there are some of you who have known friends who cut ties with you, maybe even friends that you've had to cut ties with. There may be children who you still love but you don't ever see, parents who you loved at one time and wonder if you still do. There may be wives listening now who have been issued that certificate of divorce - tossed aside like yesterday's news, and that there are husbands here who have loved and lost and want to tell that poet Alfred Lord Tennyson that he's crazy thinking that it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
I know there are people here who don't feel worthy of the love of God because they've learned about divine love based on human love, but the love of God is more. And the God who once lifted you up to his cheek - who bent down to you and fed you - can't just walk away.
You see, we're talking here about a "love that wilt not let me go." A "grace, greater than all our sin." The love of a Father who waits at the window praying to see his Prodigal Son return home.
It's like Hosea here is quoting that great Sam Cooke song when he sings to the woman who treated him bad but still he sings:
If you ever change your mind
About leaving, leaving me behind
Oh, bring it to me,
Bring your sweet loving
Bring it on home to me
Because we're talking here about the love of a God who can't just walk away from the baby who learned to walk in her den regardless of the mistakes that he's made or the man he's become - and I say that this is God according to the book of Hosea, but is this you, is this me?
Having been loved like this, by the living God, can we love like this while we are living? Can we begin to forgive the ones who hurt us the most, because if God is in the business of forgiving us, what justice would it be for you or me to just go around cutting people off? Can we let go of the old hurts? And I say we should - because for you and me, God already has.
Because of this wondrous love, we have to start moving on, and even if there's no going back to the way things used to be, remember those strong words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
So, having received the love of God - the amazing, miraculous, divine love of God - we must all be so bold to embody the words of Colossians - "seeking what is above. Putting to death whatever in you is earthly" loving not as the world loves, but loving as God loves.
We must get rid of anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from our mouths, stripping away our old selves and clothing ourselves with new selves - living according to the image of our creator.
For while some may have treated us like a 6th grade sweetheart, the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord - that is a love that never ends.