Sunday, July 31, 2022 – Parkminster United Church
I have shared with you all before how much I love a good clear-out at home and so the other weekend I was sorting through some boxes and reorganizing other bits and pieces that I had long been putting off. As I worked my way through various boxes and drawers, I came across stacks of cards that I have saved over the years. Some bought, some homemade, all special. I’ve always had a thing for cards – and as much as I have appreciated the artwork and designs of them all, it’s the words inside that have made me want to hold on to them. Many in fact were from some of you as I recovered from my surgery last year – and I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the beautiful cards that Ginny sends to so many here at Parkminster –my family and I included.
The eloquent words contained in cards that we have all received over the years are one special way to communicate thoughts and feelings for someone. In a similar way, the inspired words of the biblical writers are printed in many forms to communicate thoughts and feelings and in this case, I am referring to the prophet Hosea. The verses read from Hosea this morning was not the most touchy and feely – definitely not the making for a greeting card.
The book of Hosea begins with a love story – a painful, personal love story, the prophet’s very own. Hosea has married someone who was constantly unfaithful. Yet the more unfaithful she was, the more Hosea loved her. We are given this personal glimpse into the prophet’s own life because for them it mirrors another challenging love story: the painful love of God for God’s people. The opening verses of today’s reading describe pain, God’s pain due to Israel’s unfaithfulness. Hosea is in tune to God’s meditation and deliberation on the relationship between God and the people of Israel. It’s as if Hosea is eavesdropping on God’s innermost conversation as God asks, “How can I give you up?”
Israel went through a rebellious phase. They worshiped other gods and performed unfaithful practices. However, even after all the stuff that Israel had been through, after all the trial, and the countless moments in which God’s patience was tried, the will to love overcame the will to punish. God forgives. God couldn’t give up on Israel.
This is my last Sunday leading worship for the summer before starting my holidays in another week. And being that it is my last preaching Sunday before vacation, I did not choose this scripture reading today to preach about unfaithfulness, deceit, or hatred – so we can all relax! Rather, I would like to focus on God’s compassion, God’s love, and God’s presence among us.
Next weekend, Kieran and I will celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary. Now that seems hard to believe! But another anniversary has been on my mind this week too. Can you believe that in September of this year, Joe and I will be celebrating our sixth year of ministry with you here at Parkminster?
But what some of you may not know is what happened long before I even started here. I wasn’t looking to change churches or move my family. But Joe was and he called me to tell me about Parkminster and how he was so excited about applying and interviewing. As long-time friends he wanted to pick my brain about team ministry since this was all new to him and I had been involved in various teams throughout my ministry. I jokingly asked him: why didn’t you tell me sooner; we could have applied to be in team together! Silence. Then he responded with: Would you? Would you seriously consider applying?!
The next thing I knew, I too was getting really excited about this community of faith. I also remember very clearly my interview with the search committee before this all became official. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I was pretty nervous. I remember meeting with the search committee in the family room. It was a Tuesday evening and I had just wrapped up a course at Conrad Grebel. When I walked into the room that evening and saw all those faces, I wasn’t sure what I was going to be hit with. But it turned out to be one of the best interviews I have ever had. The questions were thoughtful and challenging, but they were fair and each person around that room made me feel welcome, even excited to be in your midst. And it was from that moment on that confirmed, for me at least, that Parkminster was going to be a good place to share in ministry together.
And over the years, the hospitality has just continued. The way that our whole family has been accepted into your midst. The care and concern that you offer – not just to us – but to each other and to the community at large. The outreach initiatives. The commitment to anti-racism and right relations. The work of the Resettlement committee. Ministry with children and youth and of course, the music! And through it all there is the excitement that I have sensed from talking with some of you about this place and all the possibilities for ministry together. All these things have been such a blessing for me.
Has our time together always been perfect? Of course not. Will it ever be perfect? No. But we are blessed to be here together in community – an imperfect, but always loving place. A place where we feel God’s presence in the Spirit and through each other, a place where we foster relationships and seek justice, a place where hope not only dwells, but thrives.
Relationship is what we as a faith community are all about. It’s about not giving up on each other because we know that God does not give up on us. We are invited by God into a covenant relationship. God knows each of us personally, even intimately, and has called us by name. God knows our joys and our sorrows. God celebrates when we are exuberant and weeps with us when we feel despair. It is, as a wise professor of mine once wrote:
“Believing that this powerful and intimate love is offered freely to me, I need to realize that this love is offered to all people. The immense love of God for humanity challenges the way we are in relationship with one another. In knowing that God loves me so deeply, I am called to love others in the same way, to attempt to see others as God sees them. God’s call to love others is not just an invitation to a lovefest within our faith communities; it calls us into relationship in our local communities, our nation, and around the globe. In addition, God calls us to be partners in caring for creation through teaching, healing, being good stewards of the environment, and seeking justice for all.” (Johnson, p. 92).
I feel truly blessed to have the opportunity to work with you, to worship with you, to laugh with you, to grow with you, and to share with you. I pray that as our ministry together continues, we are challenged, we are inspired, and we can learn from and with each other on this wonderful journey of faith.
When we read between the lines of these verses of Hosea, we hear God cry out, “Oh Israel, how can I give you up!?” and alternately reply lovingly, “I won’t. I’ll be there when you need me and I hope you feel as much joy being loved, enjoyed, and cherished as I feel for loving you.”
And I could say the very same to this faith community. It is a deep blessing and gift to serve as one of your ministers. God is with us in this relationship, and we are bound together through God’s love and by our love and care for one another. How can I give up on you? I won’t. I hope you won’t give up on me.
Though it’s a bit early. Happy Anniversary. I look forward to continuing in sharing this ministry with you all. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Heather Power