Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13
I enjoyed swimming in the ocean last week. A friend gave me earplugs when we went swimming last summer, but I didn’t wear them this time. In the moment, I frolicked without a concern. But that evening and the next day, all sounds were muffled in one ear. It took a lot more effort to hear and pay attention. The loss made me appreciate what I previously had. Why settle for something so much less? Remember what it’s like to lose part of your perception.
The psalmist tonight says idols, gods which humans make, are not worth worship. “They have mouths but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. … Those who make them are like them; so are all who put their trust in them.”
Idols cannot perceive. They are not alive. Don’t trust them, says the psalmist. Rather, “you who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord.” Likewise God speaks through the prophet Hosea, not about other nations but God’s own people. “With silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction. … an artisan made it; it is not God. … Though I write … the multitude of my instructions, they are regarded as a strange thing.” Focused on what they made, they do not hear or pay attention. It’s like their ears are full, muffled to God’s voice.
We make idols when focusing our attention on something instead of God. Idols muffle awareness of God’s presence and distract from trusting God’s goodness. We can make an idol out of anything, out of person by overly seeking their approval or appreciation or time. Work, hobbies, or avocation may become an idol. Wealth and getting stuff may be an idol when we seek more and more of it. It’s not so much what the thing is as how we use it, or how much we focus on it such that we don’t hear or can’t see. When a family member or colleague or neighbor says “I can’t get your attention” or “Did you hear me?” or “Listen!” that indicates a problem. If I don’t hear the people around me, how am I hearing God?
We lack perception when out of balance. We need silence in order to listen just as we need rests in order to make music. We need both solitude and community to come to know ourselves and to pray. An idol may be from a lack of balance or a lack of control. What is getting in the way at this time? What is muffling your ears? What distracts your awareness of God?
In our Gospel lesson, a demon-possessed man who was mute is brought to Jesus. He could not speak, could not ask for help even before being further bound by a demon. Jesus frees him from the demon and restores his speech.
Jesus then goes throughout the area teaching, proclaiming, and healing. “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Over and over again, I find myself like a sheep without a shepherd. Not because the shepherd is absent, but because I am distracted, focused on something else. I have an idol that impairs my perception or a wound that hinders me. We all keep finding ourselves in need of a shepherd, in need of a savior. We need Jesus. The good news is Jesus is alive with power and compassion to set free and heal again and again. Jesus is God made flesh, with eyes that see and ears that hear and a mouth that speaks attending to all who are in need with love, forgiveness, and healing.
I have much more experience walking along a beach than swimming in the ocean. Last week I began and initially stayed with what I know. But I felt an invitation and risked getting in the water. I was surprised again how easy it is to float. I didn’t have to do anything. The water fully held me. I could relax with my hands on my head and my feet crossed as if on the floor.
What is on your heart tonight? What hurts? What needs healing? What distracts or is getting in the way? Jesus is for you and with you with power and compassionate love. Like the water, trust Jesus to hold you. You don’t have to do a thing. Just get in the water. Turn toward Jesus, whether on your own or brought by others. “You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord.”
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