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Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian (OLD)

Sustaining Romance

Hosea 3:1-5

This weekend we continue in the book I’m in <3.  The major image we are using to describe a relationship with the Holy Spirit is the image of romance.  We started this series by realizing that all our images of God are faulty in the sense that we are using what is familiar to humans to describe a God that is indescribable.  The images we use to talk about God always fall short because God is mysterious and beyond our best understanding. 

This is true of romance as an image for our relationship with the Holy Spirit.  While it is a biblical image from the prophets and wisdom books, particularly Song of Songs, it has its difficulties.  Describing the Holy Spirit as romancing us is incredibly powerful when it reminds us of awe and joy, losing ourselves in blissful embrace and celebrating years of deepening trust.  For happily married couples this is a powerful image.  However, to be honest, there is another side to romance. 

Sustaining romance takes work.  Passion can grow cold.  We can lose the twinkle in our eyes in a relationship and pretty soon just go through the motions.  In fact, our hearts can wander from our first love.   It happens all the time.  What was once tender and caring can become rejection and sorrow.  We once trusted but our trust was betrayed.  We made ourselves vulnerable and our hearts were crushed.  Let’s talk about not only healing the wounds of betrayal but re-igniting the flames of romance for God.

When Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well in John 4, he asked about her husband, knowing full well he was touching on a deep place of pain in her life.  She had experienced the loss of love and rejection of five husbands, and was now living with a man not her husband.  Why would Jesus embarrass her by reminding her of failed romances?  The answer is that he wanted to heal her of the old wounds and bring her back into joyful passion for himself as the trustworthy Messiah.  Jesus knew she needed healing of the old wounds in order to trust again.

The Bible uses romantic images in order to take us to deep places of fidelity and trust, patience and persistence.  The Bible uses romance, wedding, marriage imagery multiple places.  The Hebrew prophets used these kinds of images to describe how much God loves the chosen people.   Even when people lose their flame of passion for God, yet the Spirit remains faithful, trustworthy and committed.  The Apostle Paul describes Jesus’s faithful love for the church as his bride—the “bride of Christ.”  These are holy images.  But they can also be painful images.  Many have been the through the loss of love and felt what was once hot passion turn cold and lifeless.  Perhaps the most amazing place where this romantic image touches on the deep wounds of betrayal shows up in the life of the prophet Hosea. 

Let me set up Hosea chapter three. 

The Bible tells us that Hosea fell in love with a beautiful wife.  He gave his heart to her.  She bore him three children.  Early in their marriage they felt the joyful bliss of passionate love.  But somehow the love grew cold.  She no longer felt the love she had for him at the beginning.   Eventually, she wandered.  She broke his trust with another lover.  He felt betrayed.  She left him.  He became depressed.  She rejected his attempts at reconciliation.   Then her lover betrayed her as she had betrayed her husband.  Her lover sold her into prostitution.  That is where we pick up the story line in Hosea chapter 3.

3 The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”

For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days. (Hosea 3, NIV)

The couple, after twenty-five years of marriage finally went to a marriage therapist.  The counselor asked why they were there.  The wife described their problems.  She talked about her feeling lonely and abandoned by her husband.  She explained that he never listened to her or even acknowledged her.   He never held her.  She went on and on until finally she was sobbing.  The therapist asked the husband how he saw the situation.  “I don’t know,” was all the husband said. 

The wife continued sobbing while the husband ignored her, so the therapist walked over to the wife and held her hand as he told her it was okay.  The therapist let her sob into his shoulder as he held her.  After a few minutes she stopped crying and thanked the doctor.  Returning to his chair, the therapist explained, “Did you see what I did?  This is what your wife needs.  Here is my prescription to save your marriage.  Make sure she gets this treatment at least twice a week.”

The husband thought about it then replied, “Well, I can drop her off on Mondays and Wednesdays, but on Fridays I have golf.”

This weekend I want to talk about sustaining romance.  The Holy Spirit models a sustainable romance.   The Spirit of God not only woos us and dates us but invites into a long-term lifetime relationship of growing trust through faithfulness.   Such a relationship is built on commitment, patience, persistence, and vigilance against false gods. 

Hosea’s wife was unfaithful.  Yet God called Hosea to remain faithful to her anyway.  In fact, after she had prostituted herself, Hosea was called to buy her back out of her bondage and renew their marriage covenant.  He was to help her heal by growing her trust in him even though she had failed him.

Hosea remarried his adulterous wife and then used his experience to preach about the relationship God has with believers who fall away from their faith.   God is faithful even when we are not.  God gives us second chances even when we feel guilty.  This is Hosea’s message out of his own pain of betrayal and failed passion.

Here is the truth.  The flame of passionate love will have times when it flickers lower and even threatens to grow cold.  Serendipitous romantic dates before marriage turn into shopping trips to Costco with the children.   All relationships have highs and lows.  The same is true with our relationship with the passionate Holy Spirit.  How do we maintain our love for the Holy Spirit after the honeymoon period is over?

The answer is to stay engaged with the community of faith.  Remain faithful in the rhythms of fellowship and worship, accountability and vulnerability.  There is an image I find helpful in this regard. 

A Scottish pastor went to call on a parishioner who used to be faithful like clockwork at church, but in recent months had fallen out of the rhythm of church.  The pastor was offered tea at the house and then sat down in front of the fireplace.  Calmly the pastor asked how the parishioner was doing and mentioned they missed him at church.  The man explained that he just didn’t feel like church these days.  No big upset or anger, just out of the habit.

The pastor sat for a while and then without saying anything reached over the poker sitting next to the fireplace. The pastor took a piece of wood and pulled it away from the flames. The two watched as the separated wood slowly lost its flame.  Then it smoked for a while.  Eventually it grew cold.  After watching the sequence, the pastor stirred up the flames and moved the piece of wood back into the midst of the fire.  It picked up the flame again and was soon burning hot with the rest of the wood.

It takes work to keep the flame alive in our romance with the Holy Spirit.  Just like any loving relationship there are times when the passion fades and the mundane requires our attention.  But remaining connected in the life of the faith community helps get us through the cold seasons as people around us help fan the flames of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Kate and I went through a couple really tough years when our four children were in their teens.  Four teenagers in the house can stress any marriage, but on top of that our oldest son had nearly died of a coma his junior year of high school.   Some weeks and months were just hard.  Our connections were unraveling.  Our unhappy times outnumbered the happy ones.  Anybody able to relate?

How do you make it through such unhappy times and re-ignite the flames of love?  Sometimes it simply comes down to maintaining the rhythms of devotion and fellowship.  We each kept praying daily.  I remained faithful to attending a men’s group I was part of.  In fact, I recall a day I walked into our men’s breakfast and asked someone older and wiser to remind me that I would make it through this season.  “Just tell me I will make it through the crazy years of parenting teens and disconnection from my wife.”  The men joked around for a moment about fatherhood and marriage.  I repeated my request, “Please just tell me I will make it through this.”  More laughter and bantering.  I asked a third time, “Can someone tell me it will be okay and we make it through such tough times?”  A retired doctor among us got serious.  “Bruce, you WILL make it through this.”  And that was enough for another day.

 Eventually we pulled it back together.  We decided to be extra tender with each other.  We chose to interpret hurtful misunderstandings with grace. We practiced assuming the best in each other’s intentions.  We worked at making deposits into our joint love account of trust and friendship.  After a couple years of unraveling, it took us several months to emerge again into playful trust and joyful connection. 

Just as Hosea re-married his wife and loved her, so God remains faithful and invites us back into the flames of passion.  If you feel like your love for God has grown cold, I have a word for you. “God loves you.  You WILL make it through this.”

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