Bands of Human Kindness and Cords of Love

15 November, 2015 Posted by liascholl

A sermon based on Hosea 11.

A friend asked in a coffee shop recently:

How do you reconcile the idea of a loving God with all that happens in the world?

It’s the oldest question in the world. And when we look at the stark horror of what has happened this week in Paris, in Beirut, in southern Japan, in the Bosso district of Niger, and in Baghdad It’s hard to start anyplace but disbelief and sorrow.

How can we reconcile the idea of a loving God with all that has happened in the world?

This is the question, I believe, that the book of Hosea seeks to answer. In fact, I think it’s the question the whole of the Bible seeks to answer. Why do bad things happen, if God really loves us?

Here’s a little background of our text from Hosea this morning. Hosea is one of the “minor” prophets. The major prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel. Their books are longer, and their content has broad, even global implications. The minor prophets are smaller (although Hosea and Zechariah are almost as long as Daniel) and the content is more narrowly focused.

Minor prophets are not less inspired than the majors. It’s probably just hard to think of them all as one body of prophets.

Hosea’s ministry happens about 100 years after Elijah, and this places it in the eighth century BCE. So perhaps 760 to 725. This is smack in the time of the Assyrian captivity of the Hebrew people. The Northern Kingdom was hauled off by Sennacherib, and the Southern Kingdom, including Jerusalem, was besieged, but not taken.

The book kind of goes like this:
God tells Hosea to take Gomer as his wife, an unfaithful wife (some translations even say “a wife of whoredom.”). Then they have children. They name them God scatters, No mercy, and Not my people. Uplifting, isn’t it? Then Hosea returns to her former lifestyle.

The overarching metaphor of the text is that Hosea is God and his wife is the people of Israel. It is, by the way, a metaphor that makes my poor feminist heart shudder. On the other hand, that metaphor serves a few points: first, to indicate the idea of covenant between God and the people, second, to underscore the inequality of that relationship between God and Israel (remembering that there was inequality in the marriage relationship during this time), and finally, to understand what happens when the covenant is broken—this book is like a lawsuit against Israel for breaking the marriage covenant between man and wife.

But our text this morning? Found in the 11th chapter, it’s a love song, and even a lament. It is also a promise. Think for a minute how you picture the God of the Hebrew Bible. Many say that vision of God is a graceless, mean, angry God. But this text stands in opposition to that. This imagery is so filled with love, longing, and hope.

And ultimately, answers the question, “How can we reconcile the idea of a loving God with the horrible things that happen in the world?”

So what is love? In our text this morning, the word for love is ahav, not hesed. Hesed is that abiding, covenantal love. But ahav is the word for romantic love and parental love, which means to nurture, or to devote completely to another.

I went to the internet to find some definitions of love.

James Thurber, who wrote The Secret Life of Walter Mitty said, “Love is what you’ve been through with somebody.”

Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, says, “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”

Victor Hugo, who wrote Les Miserables said, “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved—loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”

But the best definition I found was from Neil Gaiman:

Have you ever been in love? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life. You give them a piece of you. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness,…It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.”

What if God’s love for us makes God that vulnerable? Because I think it does. I think you can hear it in this passage today. These are the ways this love poem goes:

God’s love looks like a mother.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. “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. I bent down to them and fed them.”

God’s love doesn’t end.

“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.”

and more

My heart recoils within me; compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

God is saying:


Fall on Your Faces

8 November, 2015 Posted by liascholl

A sermon based on 1 Kings 18.

I wonder if you all know the composer, Arvo Pärt. He was born in Estonia in 1935. He is a rather prolific composer, which includes choral pieces and orchestral pieces. My favorite is a piece called Spiegel im Spiegel, or Mirror in Mirror, which was written for a piano and violin.

In a recent Guardian article Gunter Atteln said, “In order to understand Pärt, one needs to know that he is a religious person. You don’t need to be religious to feel his music, just as you don’t need to be religious to feel the music of Bach.”

But you also have to understand that for nearly ten years, he didn’t write a single piece. In his young life, he composed many songs, but in the 1970s he seemed to go through an existential crisis. He quit composing. One writer said, ” Pärt no longer believed in the musical forms he was depending on.” During this time, he tried many ways to return to music, saying “I hoped, of course, that I [could] find the way out, but also the hopeless was an everyday guest,” He continued, “I was full of energy. It was possible that I explode from all of this situation.”

In 1976, he wrote his first piece with a new style he began to call “tintinnabuli” from the Latin, “little bells.” The style consists of two lines, the first is the melody, which proceeds mainly in steps up and down the scale. The second line underpins each note of the melody with a note from a harmonizing triad that is positioned as close as possible to the note of the melody, but always below. Pärt says, “This is the whole secret of tintinnabuli. The two lines. One line is who we are, and the other line is who is holding and takes care of us.”

For me, that is the key both to todays’ text, and to the idea of prayer that we’ve been talking about today. “Who we are, and who is holding and caring for us.”

Let’s look to Elijah. I have always wondered what the big deal about Elijah is… Malachi prophecies that Elijah will return before the day of the Lord comes. When Jesus asks the disciples who the crowds say that he is, the disciples answer, “Some say that you are the prophet Elijah.” When Jesus is standing on a mountain, at the Transfiguration, he is pictured with Moses and Elijah. Later, one of the disciples asks, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus explains that Elijah had come, and that they did to him whatever they pleased. But what is the significance of this prophet who we hear about in the first and second book of Kings?

As I have studied this morning’s text and the passages about Elijah’s life, I began to see something. I began to see Elijah as a prophet during what Thomas Cahill calls “a hinge time.” This is a time when everything changes, and Elijah stands in the middle, connecting the past to the future, bringing about a new and different covenant with God.

We don’t know anything about the call of Elijah to prophethood, but we do know about the time when he was called

Ahab was king and Jezebel was queen of Israel, the Northern Kingdom. The text specifically says that Ahab was the worst king. “He did more to provoke the anger of the Lord than had all the kings of Israel before him.” He worshiped Baal. He killed prophets. He formed illicit partnerships with other nations. Ahab was a bad dude. So God brought drought to the land. Which, of course, brings a famine.

Remember the other famines? Famine drove Abram and Sarai into Egypt. Famine drove the Hebrews into Egypt where Joseph was in favor with the king. That’s how the Hebrews became enslaved to the Egyptians and to Pharaoh in the first place. Famine in the land caused Naomi to flee Israel. Famines were bad. But this one didn’t send the people of Israel out of the land. It did, however, send Elijah to the widow of Zarephath’s home, where God filled up her pot of oil and her stash of flour each day so that she might feed her family and Elijah.

So God sends Elijah to see this wicked king. Elijah challenges Baal, the god of Ahab, to a duel. Two altars are built. Two sacrifices made. The one swallowed up in fire wins. The prophets of Baal dance around their sacrifice, calling on their god. They wait and they wait for Baal’s sacrifice to catch fire. Elijah taunts the prophets of Baal with questions, like “Is your god sleeping? Is your god out traveling?” The altar of Baal does not catch fire. (Editor’s note: this would make an amazing Monty Python movie.)

Just to make the fight fair, though, Elijah saturates the God of Israel’s altar with water. Gallons and gallons he pours over it. He calls out to God, only once, and the sacrifice is swallowed in fire.

Of course, this makes Ahab and Jezebel very angry. But what makes them even angrier is that Elijah’s fire has convinced the people that God is God, and they round up the prophets of Baal and kill them all. The drought ends, rain falls on the land of Israel.

I am sure that Elijah thought that this would make him a hero. I think he thought the nation would turn on a dime, repent, and begin worshiping God again. But it doesn’t happen that way. Instead, Jezebel is seeking to take Elijah’s life.

So he bolts. He runs for the hills. He sits himself under a broom tree and begs to die. Then he sleeps. And sleeps. And sleeps.

It’s easy to see what’s going on here. Elijah is suffering from a loss of his dreams. He is suffering from a loss of hope. He is suffering from depression. An angel comes, taps him on the shoulder, wakes him up, and feeds him. The angel says, “Get up and eat. Otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” It’s provisions from heaven, like the manna from the sky.

Elijah gets up, walks forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb… Hmmm. 40 days and 40 nights—reminds me of Noah, when the rains came 40 days and 40 nights. And 40? Wasn’t that how long the Hebrew people wandered in the desert? 40 years? And that number 40? Wasn’t Jesus in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights as his preparation for ministry?

And let’s not forget that Mt. Horeb (which is another name for Mt. Sinai) is where God has done some pretty amazing stuff. God called Moses out of the burning bush there. God gave the 10 commandments there. God also showed Moses the promised land from Sinai. It’s a place of covenant and promise. A place of hope. Being on Mt. Horeb is like proclaiming, “I am going to do a new thing here!”

Then God asks Elijah a question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah answers, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, for the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Poor, poor pitiful Elijah. It’s like that song  “Nobody loves me, every body hates me, I’m gonna eat some worms.” Elijah holes himself up in a cave and doesn’t come out until…

The fireworks begin. The wind rushes through. BUT GOD IS NOT IN THE WIND. A might earthquake rumbles. AND GOD IS NOT IN THE EARTHQUAKE. Then fire burns everything in its path. AND GOD IS NOT IN THE FIRE.

Sheer silence follows.

A small murmuring. A still small voice, some translations call it. When Elijah felt the silence, he knew. It’s a new thing. And he slipped his cloak back on, this cloak that is the symbol of his prophethood, takes one look back at his old calling, the old dreams, and says to the Lord, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, for the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” The emphasis moves from “poor, pitiful me,” to ““God called me to do this work. I’m gonna get off my butt, stop my crying, and build it again.”

Then God says, “Go.” Elijah goes. He follows in the footsteps of Abram in Genesis 12:1-3 when God tells he and Sarai that they will start a new nation. He follows in the footsteps of Moses in Exodus 3 at Mt. Horeb, watching the burning bush when God says, “Go to Egypt and get my people out of slavery.” He makes way for the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.” And Elijah forms a path for the Advent of Jesus into the world.

Elijah stands at a hinge in the history of salvation. Bridging the covenant of God with Abram, with Moses and the Hebrew people, bridging the new covenant of God through Jesus, bridging between the Tower of Babel, when the shared language was destroyed, to Pentecost, when languages become one again.

In today’s text, Elijah stands at a hinge in his own personal journey. His call changes after meeting God in the sheer silence. While he continues to look at the past, he is called into a future that is different. No longer a force to be reckoned with, he becomes a bridge to the future—anointing the new kings of Israel and Judah, and anointing the next prophet, Elisha.

And Elijah’s greatest fear, and his greatest wish, under that broom tree never happens. Even though he prays for death, he never meets it. Instead, he travels to Bethel, where Abram build the first altar to the Lord, he walks past Jericho, where Joshua led the people to take the Promised Land, and he parts the Jordan River, like Moses parting the Red Sea. Elijah never dies. He is taken up to God on a chariot.

Each of us stands, at some point in our lives, in this hinge where the silence of God takes us to a new place, a new calling. We may be standing in this hinge today. The Church universal is standing in this hinge. The question is, will we listen to the still, small voice? Will we accept the mantle? Will we get off our butts, stop our crying, and rebuild?

The good news is that we’re not alone. We serve a God who believes in our value and our worth and loves us like crazy, loves us enough to take on that mantle, the cloak of humanity, through Jesus, to join us on our journey.

The only way to hear the still small voice is to pray. The only way to stay connected to “who we are, and the other line is who is holding and takes care of us” is to pray. The only way to move through the hinge time is to pray.

You have been given a pledge card this morning that says PRAY. Will you pledge to pray with one another today? I’m asking that during the next moments of silence, that you pray—to decide how to fill out the pledge card. Then, when you are ready, bring it forward to place it on the altar.



30 Days of Gratitude–Day 7

7 November, 2015 Posted by liascholl


My friend Steve Huff wrote a beautiful piece on his high school drama teacher on Facebook. It made me remember teachers who influenced me. One in particular.

She was a biology teacher–a partner in a teaching team who taught all the biology classes at my high school in Nashville. Her name was Mrs. McGee, and her teaching partner was Mrs. Welch. I remember laughing heartily at calling them McFlea and Belch. (I did mention this was high school, right?)

On one winter day in the 10th grade, in biology class, I was not ready for our daily quiz. In fact, I had been sick the day before and missed it, so I was making it up. My lab partner started helping me with answers. Cheating. Shocked?

Mrs. McGee may have been shocked as she came over to me and removed the quiz from my hands. “Lia,” she said,”Do you not know that if you have to hide, what you are doing is wrong?” Or something like that. And I swear, these words have determined much of the mission of my whole life. It is certainly the reason I have advocated for an end to stigma for sex workers and LGBTQ folks.

What I learned? Don’t do stuff you have to hide. And even more than that, don’t hide stuff you do, even if the mores and conventions of this world aren’t ready to know that you do those things.

We all start out hiding ourselves. I think it’s because we have a deep seated fear that we won’t meet others’ expectations of us. But growing up, and being an adult means opening to the vulnerability of truly being ourselves, with no hiding. Because the only way we truly feel loved is if people truly know us. Otherwise, we think, “You can’t really love me, you don’t really know me.” It’s the easiest, biggest “but” we can have in life.

I know that God truly knows us, and truly loves us. No buts.

And for this, I am grateful.


30 Days of Gratitude-Day 6

6 November, 2015 Posted by liascholl

Books and ArtBooks

There is such pleasure in books. It’s hard to know exactly what the pleasure is—is it the type face, the actual words, or even the smell of the book? Is it the fan of the pages? Is it in the knowledge that is deep inside?

I love books. I love all books. But I especially love books I don’t own!

I’ve had  a love affair with books my whole life. From the 10¢ Harlequin romances of my youth to my theological tomes from Divinity school. I have had bookcases, and bookcases, and bookcases. And I’ve traveled with them, too, carrying them in boxes (bankers’ boxes are the best) from one home to the next and to the next and to the next.

Until now. I am now down to 8 or 9 boxes of books. And let me tell you, it is liberating to be free of all that weight. I culled my books before my last move, and donated more than I took with me. Now I can use them as a decorating option, rather than having to stuff them in layers on book shelves. Now they look neat. And now, each one is dear to me.

And I’m grateful for each one.

30 Days of Gratitude-Day 5

5 November, 2015 Posted by liascholl


Last night at our Wednesday night supper, a church member brought me gluten free brownies. I might have mentioned that gluten free anything can be rather lackluster. It’s not the taste, it’s the texture. (Hint: gluten is all about texture).

Oh, but these brownies. I think they’re sort of “trash” brownies. She poured in some caramel sauce. Threw in some leftover gluten free Halloween candy. There’s even nuts in there.

And they are delicious.

But seriously. It’s not the brownies. It’s how much love went into making them.

And I am grateful.

30 Days of Gratitude-Day 4

4 November, 2015 Posted by liascholl

The BEST Job in the World

Today was one of those days… you know them. Kinda dragging in (I mean, come on! It’s the first week of the time change). Meeting with folks at my new “office hours” on the campus of Wake Forest University (I’m in the North Dining Hall Starbucks, Wednesdays at 9:30-11). Within minutes, folks come in, and we’re laughing.

Then running over to the “real” office, where, well, more laughter. Then running over to campus and lunch with a staff person.

Then time with our Intern, then to the best part of the day…

A little background. Last May we discontinued Wednesday night suppers because our “chef” retired. Thinking we couldn’t have food that is as good for as cheap, we just cancelled. But by popular demand, Wednesday nights are back. Thanks to a catering menu at Subway and bottled ice tea, we’re meeting again. Proving that it’s not about the food (although we definitely miss the home-cooked part), but it’s about the folks.

I serve the best church ever.

And I’m grateful.

30 Days of Gratitude, Day 3

3 November, 2015 Posted by liascholl


Today, I made a new friend. Sure, we’ve “passed each other on the hall” a few times over the last year or so. We’ve shared the dais on occasion. We share interests and friends in common, and well, similar jobs.

But we hadn’t ever sat and talked. Unfortunately, it took an injury to give her the time to do it. But still, it was good.

And I am grateful.

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