“Rich Toward God” — Rev. Chelsea Page
Dog Days of Summer
July 31, 2022
First Reading Hosea 11:1-11
Gospel Reading    Luke 12:13-21

Who here has gone up into the canyons recently to beat the heat? Isn’t it amazing how it’s like ten degrees cooler up there? Climate change has made this a really bad year for extreme weather events, with heat waves all around the world. It was nice to get a break from that, and be comfortable outside for a few hours.

Have you ever wondered why the hottest days of summer are called the Dog Days? I always thought it was because we lie around panting from the heat like dogs. But actually, for the ancient Greeks, this was the time when the constellation Sirius, the Dog Star appeared in the night sky. It was a significant time of year when the summer planting began showing signs of its impending bounty, but the harvest was not yet guaranteed. It was a time when you wanted to get all the good fortune you could from the stars or gods or whoever you prayed to, in order to be blessed with a good harvest come fall. As ancient farmers watched over their developing crops and prayed for good weather to hold out, they lived in a holy awareness of being at the mercy of forces larger than themselves.

Today in our industrialized world of air conditioning – thank God for air conditioning – perhaps our daily dependence on nature is less than crystal clear. But while we may no longer feel a sense of daily reliance on God for protection from the elements and other forces of nature, we do still tend to want things from God, whether we are aware of it or not.

A 2002 book called Promise of the Soul: Identifying and Healing Your Spiritual Agreements by Dennis Kenny, calls these things that we want from God “spiritual agreements.” We may in our spiritual lives have moved away from treating God like a vending machine – behave in a certain way, push those moral buttons, and God will spit out blessings for you – but many of us do still carry around core desires about what God should do in our lives. And even if you don’t believe in a “God” god, this can still apply to any source of transcendent or higher power greater than yourself.

In his research, Kenny found that most people tend to fall mostly into one of three categories, based on personality patterns which are learned in childhood. If you lean toward feeling dependent on others, you will want love and warmth from them, including love from God. The images you have of God may tend to be more warm like things that make you feel loved. If you lean toward feeling the need to be independent, you will likely crave some share of influence or control over others. Your images of God may then tend more toward wanting a share of God’s power to help you feel brave and in control. And then there is a minority of people who only want truth from the universe. If this is you, you may find yourself longing not for divine love or aid, but for greater knowledge and understanding, and God’s wisdom is what speaks to you.

So take a moment to think about it. Do you want God to be a strong hand that can pick you up and set things to rights when times get tough? A God who is willing to place their unlimited power at your service?

Or do you just want a god who will gather you into their loving arms, tell you everything is okay, and hold and rock you tenderly? That’s where I tend to fall.

Or do you just feel you need to fully understand the divine and what you really crave is an Answer?

What do you want from God?

In our gospel story today, a person approached Jesus wanting help from God, or at least from God’s law. And Jesus basically refuses to help. Instead, he tells a parable and then tells the person to be “rich toward God.”

Now if we’re being honest, all of us would like to get rich from God, to receive a share of divine love, power, or knowledge as we are able.

But what if, in the words of Jesus, we became rich toward God, instead? What if instead of always needing things from God, we simply celebrated God for being amazing, and approached God with wonder, curiosity, and awe?

Our scripture from the prophet Hosea today gives us a paradoxical image of God – God as a fierce lion, both powerful and loving, all-knowing and vulnerable. Hosea’s description of God seems to be non-binary in gender. A lion who roars and frightens like a powerful father, is the very same lion that leads and feeds her children as a mother. Like the goddess Sekhmet, this God overcomes the spectrum of gender stereotypes by uniting love and discipline, strength and tenderness, kindness and fierceness, and defies the easy categorization of human, animal, and divine.

Furthermore, this lion God changes and evolves their approach over the course of their parental relationship with Israel, confounding Israel’s expectations of an easy rescue when times get tough. In Hosea, the people are crying out to any god, or higher power who might be listening, to save and fix them, or else they will question God’s love. To this demand, no helpful answer is given, yet God is present. God may refuse to deliver like an idol or vending machine, but still God clings to Israel’s side, hovering with desperate love over the child who grows and stumbles as they learn how to walk.

Friends, despite our recent hope over the potential for new climate change legislation, sometimes it seems that climate change will be the end of our story on this planet. But what if human beings are still just in the infancy of our potential as a species? God certainly seems to relate to us as children who are growing, maturing, and finding our own way by learning from the consequences of our actions.

Ultimately, what we need from the divine life is not a weapon that can fix or discipline us, or a love potion that can soothe and pacify us, or a rulebook that assures us we are right. What we need, and what humans will always need, is a God who calls out to us from the horizon of a better way of life on this planet.

Brian McLaren, in his new book Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned, says (and I’ve adapted this a little):

I dont need a constricted Christian worldview” that teaches me to see the world as a machine and God as the almighty engineer who created it and now tinkers with it. What I do need is the hopeful striving I experience in the universe around me. I sense that the whole universe itself is filled with a Spirit that is brooding, gestating, laboring, becoming, yearning, learning, reaching – like plants growing toward light, like salmon leaping up rapids toward a life-giving telos, and like lifeless planets undergoing metamorphosis from hot volcanic hells to Edens full of emerald rain forests and shimmering coral reefs.

These are the vibrant, vital, living images of God we need for today. We need the Bible’s perplexing Lion God, who loves us like a mother, who teaches us how to walk, who roars at us when we are going the wrong way, who calls us to turn away from our path of self-destruction – all the while refusing to take the heat for us. Instead, this Spirit coaches us to stand up on our trembling feet and spread out our trembling wings and return to who we were created to be, striving to be rich toward God while running toward the way that leads to life. Amen.