Theme: Unconditional Love (Sunday 23 August, 2020)
Series: Lovestory (2020)
Bible Reading: Hosea 11:1-8
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
This Service will be run Online Only – 9am on our Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/turramurrauniting/live/
Week #2 of talking about love. Last week we looked at a story from the Biblical book of Song of Songs – a love story of two people who were truly, madly, deeply in love. We saw how their experience of love could reflect the way that God loves us … that sense of seeking and pursuing, of celebrating love and of the way that God’s love covers us, surrounds us and is with us forever.
I started last week’s sermon with a disclaimer saying that not all experience of love is like the two beloved from Song of Songs … and that some people’s experience of love can be tinged with heartache or doubt or confusion or even pain. This can arise when someone we love is no longer with us, through death or relationship breakdown. Sometimes love hurts when it is not returned back to us … or sometimes love can be distorted by broken trust or an imbalance of power or unhealthy expectations and this can be so damaging that we might even begin to doubt the power of love. And that is what I want to look at today … a love story where love was hard and sometimes hurtful.
And so I wish to say upfront, that if today’s topic stirs up a bunch of feelings or issues that you need to talk about … make sure you call me or someone that your trust and talk about them. We are here to care for you. And while I am acknowledging that this topic could be hard for people, I think that it is worth exploring … not only because it is real, but also because this too can give us an insight in to the way that God loves us.
For those year 12-ers who have just finished or are in their trials … firstly, we are praying for you … but I can still remember a quote from my English text.
Never was a tale of such woe as that of … who knows the rest? Write it in the comments …
Never was a tale of such woe as that of Juliet and her Romeo.
I think today’s love story could give that title a shake as it is a lovestory full of heartache, doubts, and suffering, yet within it is also a story of unconditional love.
Do you know what I mean when I talk about unconditional vs conditional love? Sometimes people place conditions on their love. They say we will only love you if you do this or behave this way. For example:
- Some unintentionally parents show more love to their kids more when they get good grades or succeed in something, but are a little colder to their children if they get bad grades or not come first.
- Some guys will say to their girlfriends … I will only love you if let me kiss you.
- Some close friends will love you when things are going well … but if you get sick or life gets really hard for you … some friends seem to be not around as much.
Have you ever experienced any of those? It hurts because it seems like their love or their friendship is conditional. While you fulfil the condition you are loved … when you don’t, they are gone.
The opposite of conditional is … unconditional. Where we say to people:
- You are my friend because I like you for you not for what you do
- I love you no matter where you came in the race
- I am here for you whether things get better or worse.
I want to tell you the story of a young woman called Gomer – a young lady who discovered the difference between conditional and unconditional love. Gomer grew up in a Middle Eastern country where women were treated as second class citizens. It was a common belief in her country that the only good thing about a woman was her ability to get married and give birth to baby boys. Gomer was the first child born in her family and when she was born her father was actually disappointed that she was a girl. Can you believe that … her father was disappointed in her for something that she had absolutely no control over.
Her childhood was tough. Her mum tried to give her the love that Gomer so desperately wanted but she had been treated so poorly when she was growing up that she had little idea of how to do that … besides she had many other children to look after besides Gomer. In the end all her mother could do is encourage her to “accept her life as it was and get on with it”. So poor Gomer felt like she was a constant disappointment to her father and an inconvenience to her mother. Because Gomer was a girl, she did not go to school. The only teaching that she got was from her mother when she wasn’t busy looking after the younger children. Gomer longed to have some friends outside the home, but wherever she went … people seemed to look down on her.
But the time she was 14 Gomer’s life had hit rock bottom. She tried and tried to win her father’s approval, but he hardly spoke to her, let lone notice her efforts. Her mother just demanded more and more from her.
One day, she noticed a married man looking intently at her. She knew what he wanted and she knew it was wrong but she was so despite for affection that she allowed him to take advantage of her. It seemed to be the first time in her life that someone appreciated her … well at least what she could give. Even though she felt dirty … she also felt exhilarated. Maybe she was ok after all. But that all came crashing down when the next time she saw this man he totally ignored her. She tried to speak to him but he rebuked her. She was totally devastated. She now saw herself as others treated her … as a worthless piece of garbage.
He became just the first in a long line of attempts to seek affection and approval. Some lasted for a short time, but all ended the same way – being rejected. But that was nothing compared to the day her dad found out what she was doing.
As he hurled abuse at her, as he called her a bunch of horrible names, Gomer felt it was slightly ironic that this was the first time her father had spoken to her in years. The most cutting blow came when her father, just as he was walking away, yelled at her … “You will never get a man to want to marry you know.”
Gomer’s father sent her away to a relatives place in a nearby town. Gomer continued the same lifestyle, although now she was not sure if it was seeking affection or just because she didn’t know any other way to live.
One day, something remarkable happened. She met a man and … well instead of taking advantage of her, he talked to her.
Hosea seemed genuinely interested in who she was, not what she could give him. Hosea came back the next day, and the next. To be honest … she was scared of Hosea … because he didn’t play by the rules that everyone else played. He seemed to like her for who she was, not what she could give him. Then he asked Gomer to marry him!
Her father tried to convince Hosea out of it. He told Hosea all the stuff that Gomer had done. He called Gomer all the horrible names and yet Hosea still wanted to marry her. Her father was glad to get rid of her, and she was married. MARRIED.
Gomer struggled in her marriage to Hosea. She could not accept that Hosea loved her. No-one had ever loved her. How could Hosea. She gave birth to three kids, 2 boys and a girl … but even the instincts that came with motherhood could not help her accept Hosea’s love for her.
So she tried to prove to Hosea why she was unlovable. She went back to her ways of pleasing other men … only this time she was a married woman. When Hosea found out, his reaction was completely different to her dad’s. Hosea cried as if he was in pain, yet he kept saying over and over to Gomer how much he loves her. There was no threat of kicking her out … just a plea to remain in his love and not live that way.
Gomer freaked out. She could not handle this love, so she ran. She left Hosea and the children and ran to the big city. She got the only job that a woman like her could get – her started working as a prostitute.
Her boss would give her food and shelter on the condition that she belonged to him for life and do whatever he asked. Finally a relationship that she could understand … he treated her like garbage and she had to live up to his expectations.
And then the impossible happened. Hosea had found her. Apparently he had searched everywhere since she had left. It took him some months but he had found her and had paid her boss the equivalent of about 1 year of his wage and half his crop harvest to buy her back.
Hosea looked at her and said, “I love you too much to let you walk away. I want you to live with me for the rest of your life. I don’t want you to be a prostitute or intimate with other men. I want you to accept my love for you and live with me.”
Amazing true story of unconditional love from the bible. It’s found in the book of Hosea chapters 1 to 3. Hosea was a prophet living in Israel around 730 BC. As a prophet, God had called Hosea to be one of his spokesmen to his people. You could just imagine Hosea is sitting in the town square chatting with God…
Hosea, I want you to tell my people something.
Sure God … what’s the message.
Tell them how much I love them.
OK … how much do you love them?
Oh, Hosea. I love them so much. I love them unconditionally. I wish you could understand just how much I love them.
I would like to understand. Could you show me?
Mmmm. Ok then Hosea. See that woman over there.
What, you mean Gomer?
Yes. I want you to get to know her.
But God, she is not really my type. She has a bad reputation …
Hosea, I want you to love her and marry her.
Marry Gomer, despite her reputation as an adulterer. Love her and marry her.
It’s true. Read about it in Hosea 1:2. Prophets sometimes get a rough deal. Jeremiah had to wear linen shorts. John had to eat grasshoppers. Hosea was asked to marry Gomer … and he did what God asked. Hosea loved Gomer and married her. God showed him what it means to love a person as much as he loves each of us.
At the beginning it seemed to be going fine. They even had three children … which God gave terrible names to … but it was looking like Gomer had been transformed by Hosea love. But as we heard from Gomer’s side of the story … she had real trouble accepting Hosea’s love. She did not trust that he could love her so she went back to her adulterous ways. You could just imagine the conversation between Hosea and God afterward Hosea found out.
Why God? Why did you want me to marry Gomer, to give her my love if you knew she was going to just throw it away and go off with another man. Why God? It just hurts so much …
Now, says God, now you know how I feel when my people turn from my love. Now you can go and tell them how much I hurt when they go back to their old ways.
And he did. If you look in Hosea chapter 2 you can hear the hurt and bitterness in Hosea’s response. He is hurting badly. But within this we see that God hurts badly too when we reject God’s love for us. Hosea goes on for 13 verses like this … but then the heart of God kicks in. Somewhere between verse 13 and verse 14 Hosea’s message changes. Listen to some of the phrases he uses…
- I am now going to allure her back to me
- I will speak to her tenderly
- You will call me your husband
- I will betroth you to me forever … in love and compassion
- I will respond.
God is saying that to us to. We might hurt God badly when we reject his love but lets be clear … God does not walk away.
God tries to win us back. And to show us how far he will go he tells Hosea … go and buy your wife back from the pimp she is working for. In Hosea chapter 3 we read how Hosea spends a year’s wage and half his harvest to buy back his wife because he loved her too much to walk away.
In the gospels we read that it cost God his own son Jesus to buy us back because he loved us too much to walk away.
The last 10 chapters of Hosea goes the same way. God gets frustrated with our behaviour and the way that we treat his love like some sort of play toy.
- Hosea 4:6 – Why do you reject me?
- Hosea 4:17 – Leave idols alone.
- Hosea 5:13 – Why turn to earthy kings, they can’t heal you.
- Hosea 7:13 – I long to help them but they speak lies to me
- Hosea 9:1 – Don’t rejoice Israel, you have been unfaithful to me
- Hosea 11:2 – The more I call out to you, the more you walk away
Can you hear God’s frustration? Do we treat God the same way? But now listen to the way God responds. He wants to respond in anger but he can’t … he loves us too much.
Listen to what God says in Hosea 11:8-9:
“How can I give you up? How can I hand you over, Israel? … My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate you. For I am God, and not man– the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.
God loves us unconditionally. He is not like some sort of a social club that will only accept you if you play by the rules, or will only love you if you meet the conditions. God love comes with no strings attached.
Sure God gets hurt when people reject his love. God wants us to have the best in life and encourages us to live in a way which makes that happen … but be very clear – your actions does not effect the way that God loves you.
God loves you when you are close to him and loving him back.
God still loves you when you reject his love and turn away.
God loves you so much that he is willing to pay whatever it takes to have you back.
God is offering his love to you without any conditions.
Do you remember back to the sermons on Grace when I used the line … there is nothing that you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do that can make God love you less … God just loves you. Unconditionally!
I know that this can be hard to accept and for some people this is so scary that they want to just run away, cover their ears, just not think about it because it is too hard to deal with.
That is what Gomer did. She could not accept Hosea’s love for her and ran away. But just like Hosea’s love for Gomer … God will keep loving you. God will go to whatever lengths it takes to chase you and win you back because he loves you too much to give up and walk away.
It is my prayer for all of us here that we might be open to God’s love for us. Amen.