A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga., on August 1, 2010.
What is the cure for a broken heart? Perhaps you have been thinking about this because someone close to you has broken yours. Was it your son or daughter, a grandchild, your mate, a friend or a neighbor? Just what is the cure for a broken heart?
The answer may surprise you, but I can tell you now that it is not to quit loving. I’ll hold you in suspense for a few moments while I introduce you to the writer of our text, Hosea, who has something to say about this question.
Hosea is the only prophet from the northern kingdom of Israel, yet he ministered to the people in Judah during the eighth century. He witnessed the fall of the northern kingdom to the Assyrians in 722 B.C., which certainly influenced his writings.
Those of you familiar with Hosea know that he used two metaphors to describe the relationship between God and Israel, marriage and parenting. In the first, God is the aggrieved husband and Israel the selfish and unfaithful wife. In the second, God is the loving and responsible parent and Israel the rebellious child.
Both metaphors vividly reveal why Hosea was so disturbed with Israel. He felt that his fellow citizens were not taking their faith seriously.
I am confident they disagreed with him and thought just the opposite was true. They worshiped daily and meticulously honored all the traditions. Serious about their faith? Absolutely they were and their attention to worship proved it.
However, their worship was not authentic because their lifestyles did not reflect the values of the covenant that God made with them through Moses: justice, mercy, humility, compassion, generosity, integrity and inclusiveness.
They had grown complacent, ungrateful, self-indulgent, irresponsible and rebellious. The cries of the poor had fallen on deaf ears because they were not in love with God, but power and possessions. They were making unholy alliances with foreign nations and adopting their lifestyles. Sadly, authentic worship had been replaced with meaningless traditions, shallow theology and selfish lifestyles. What was God to do?
This brings us to our text. Hosea describes a conversation that God is having with himself in which he outlines his options concerning Israel. Should he let his anger over their unfaithfulness have its way and destroy the people he birthed and nurtured? Should he just walk away and let them live out their days in bondage, as if they were back in Egypt?
In other words, was the cure for a broken heart to quit loving? Listen to words of God which the prophet puts in the first person.
“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 coils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger. I will not destroy Ephraim, for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” Hosea 11:8-9.
It becomes clear when you read this text what God decided to do about Israel. He continued to love them and worked to restore the covenant relationship, which answers the question I asked at the beginning of the sermon. The cure for a broken heart is not to quit loving, but to keep trying to find a way to repair and restore a broken relationship. This is a hard but good word for us today.
Relationships are messy, aren’t they? This was certainly true for God and Israel. What started out with so much potential and promise went awry. God’s dream of nurturing a people whose lives would be built upon justice, mercy, humility, compassion, generosity, integrity and inclusiveness fell on hard times as His people became exclusive, selfish, self-indulgent, arrogant, insensitive and corrupt. As with any relationship that goes bad, this caused a lot of pain and hard feelings.
We are all too familiar with this, aren’t we? All of us have experienced the pain of fractured and stressed relationships among family members, friends, neighbors or co-workers. As I said earlier, you may be struggling with this today and your heart is broken.
Perhaps you are dealing with a rebellious child, an unfaithful mate, a dishonest employee, an unfair employer, a selfish sibling, an uncooperative friend or a disagreeable neighbor. Dreams have been dashed. Expectations have not been met. Promises have been broken. Feelings have been hurt. The future is uncertain. What do you do?
Strained relationships lead to tough choices. This was true for God. What was He to do with the people he so tenderly nurtured? Should He cut His losses and go on? Should He find another people to fulfill His hopes and dreams?
Without a doubt, He considered doing this. However, He decided against severing all ties with His people. Instead, He decided to do all He could to reach out to his estranged children and restore the covenant relationship. Why? The cure for a broken heart is not to quit loving, but to keep trying to reconcile and move forward.
This is hard to do, isn’t it? Just how do you do it? Follow God’s lead.
Make a commitment to love unconditionally, which means you will love people at their worst, not just their best. Take the initiative to reach out to the one who has hurt you and clearly communicate your love. Recognize that the relationship is more important than your right to be offended, grieve or seek revenge. Don’t let anger control you. Cast a vision for a new relationship. Model the change you want to see. Celebrate small steps forward.
Most of all, refuse to let go. Never give up.
This is hard, so difficult I don’t believe you can do it by yourself. The challenge is bigger than you are. Where can you turn for help? Ask Hosea. This one who was the recipient of God’s unconditional love asked for help to give it, and He did. I am confident God will help you, too.