Thursday, March 23, 2017

Return to God

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Thus says the Lord: Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt… I will heal their defection, says the Lord, I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from them. I will be like dew for Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and put forth his shoots. His splendor shall be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar. Again they shall dwell in his shade and raise grain; They shall blossom like the vine, and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. (Hosea 14:2, 5-8)

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

In distress you called, and I rescued you.
(Psalm 81:8a)

The Hand of God,, photo by Molinovski, Wikimedia Commons,
Public Domain

We pray to you, O Lord. We sing your praises. With all our being, we proclaim our love for you, O God.

Then, in the twinkling of an eye, or so it seems, something or someone comes along and diverts our attention. Soon you become a distant memory. We’ve been lured to that far away country. The idols we have come to fancy demand our adoration. And, we confess, we begin to bow down and sing hymns to these, our false gods.

What are their names? you ask. Wealth, power, prestige. The reflection we see as we lean over the pool. We really haven’t changed that much since you created the first man and woman. We still listen to the whisperings of the evil spirit, because we want to be like you. We want to be all knowing, all powerful. Some of us even dare to believe that we are.

Until it all crashes down around us. Our spouse deserts our marriage. Our children go astray. We go to work as usual and come home with a pink slip. We are diagnosed with a serious or even terminal illness. The person we hold dearest dies and leaves us grieving. In any of a myriad of ways, the worlds we have so carefully constructed collapse around us. We are not in control and the illusion that we ever were breaks into a million pieces.

Is it possible that the hand of God is outstretched toward us? No, we hurriedly think. It can’t be. The shame of the distance we have strayed from God weighs us down.

But the Good News is that God is reaching out, calling to us. We may be as unfaithful as the prophet Hosea’s wife, but God still loves us. Come back to me, God pleads. It’s your sin that has you in a state of collapse. Come back to me. I forgive you. I will always be your God and you will always be my people. I will be dew for you that you might blossom once again. It’s not too late, and you haven’t journeyed too far to come back. Let me love you, lift the burden of your guilt and give you a fresh start.

An honest self-examination is good any time of the year, but Lent is the season when we particularly focus on our sins, on what Jesus took upon himself on the Cross. Spend some time letting the light of day shine on even the darkest places in the innermost recesses of your being. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your sins and failings. God is not out to get us. Just as we saw in the first reading, God is begging us to return. God wants our friendship, not our fear. The Lord is ready to forgive us whatever we sincerely confess and to start afresh.

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