A Sermon for Proper 12: Hosea 1:2-10, Psalm 85, Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19), Luke 11:1-13
Throughout my working life, there have been hard things I have had to do. I had to fire an employee. I was the one to tell a customer the actions of their staff has destroyed all the company’s data. Yes, we can rebuild it, but it would be by hand, and charged by the hour, with no guarantees. There was no way to give an estimate, the work required looking at one sector of 512 bytes at a time; there were 6 ten megabyte discs requiring 11,700 individual search actions, and each had to be examined for information about the file structure information so the links of each sector in any file could be reestablished in the correct order. I was the Account Executive who had to explain to a customer how their employee, a personal friend, who had been honored by our community, embezzled from the company. I was part of a committee chosen to tell a fellow parishioner we have voted not to recommend him to the bishop for ordination. As a priest and a member of the Commission on Ministry, I voted not to recommend a postulant for ordination, that vote carried. As a member of a bishop nomination committee, I had to call and tell a candidate they had not been selected to proceed to the next step. And as a police chaplain, I accompanied a police officer to knock on a stranger’s door late one night, to tell them their child had been killed in an auto accident. All of these were hard in their unique way. Yet, all of them are categorically less challenging from other sorts of actions.
Oskar Schindler set out to make his fortune in Nazi Germany with bribes, the use of the black-market sources and employing Jewish prisoners as cheap labor. He experienced growing success. Then, after observing a Nazi killing random Jews in a public square he begins to use his businesses to save Jewish worker prisoners. He saved many hundreds by transferring them to a new munitions factory, that never produced a live round of ammunition. By the end of the war, he has spent his entire fortune and saved 1200 Jewish workers (Wikipedia).
Like Schindler God is caught in an intractable, a stubborn problem. Israel would not acknowledge its idolatry. They still believed in Yahweh. So what if they offer a little allegiance to Baal and Asherah or the gods of their pagan neighbors that promised fertility and prosperity, success and victory, just to cover the bases. Schindler realized praying wasn’t enough, speaking was dangerous, only action, discrete action, would do. For God, once again, only action would do, this time a bit of some shock therapy (Mast). The action is told in the story of Hosea.
A brief look at today’s verses. Marriage is an established metaphor for God’s relationship with Israel. Here it is vividly conveyed in the marriage between a faithful husband, Hosea, and a faithless wife, Gomer (Yee). God is faithful. Israel is promiscuous, while proclaiming allegiance to God, they also make offerings to Baal, Asherah and other gods of local power, just in case there is a need to assure fertility, and profits (Yee). The three Children’s names are significant. Jezreel, the oldest, is named for the site of the zealous coup of Jehu, in which Israel politically and religiously corrupt Royal house of Omri, Joram, Jezebel, all of Ahab’s sons, and King Ahaziah of Judah are all assassinated (2 Kings. 9–10) (Keener and Walton; Harrelson; Gaventa and Petersen; Yee). The second child, a girl, is named Lo Ruhamah, which means “No Mercy” (Harrelson) or not pitied” (Gaventa and Petersen). The youngest child, a boy, is named Lo Ammi which means “Not My People” (Harrelson). Both these names are negative reflections of Israel’s assumed relationship with God. All there are far worse names than a boy named Sue.
There are other difficulties with this passage, especially in its depiction of women. Gomer never speaks. What are her feelings about naming her children after a place of a bloody coup, “Not- loved” and “Not- My- People?” (Yee). All the children’s names are reminders of Israel’s darkest days or contrary to long-held beliefs about their relationship with God, You will be my people and I will be your God (Exod 6:7; Lev 26:12-13) (Yee). What her thoughts about “whoredom” or “prostitute”?” Truth is the English is misleading. The Hebrew Zānâ is an inclusive term, covering a range of sexual transgressions (Yee). A better translation is ‘promiscuous,’ which for us may not make a difference, but in her day it does because promiscuity excludes the role of pagan temple prostitution. Gomer is likely habitually promiscuous; it is very doubtful she was a sexual agent for other gods (Yee; Couey; Keener and Walton). The story relates God to men and sin with women, which is harmful to women. Would a woman prophet (and there are implicit women prophets in the Bible) be commanded to marry a promiscuous man? What would her prophecy look like (Yee)? When we imagine the relationship between God and Israel from a feminine perspective and the decidedly different experiences of spousal infidelity, we find wholly different, though of no less valuable, revelation (Yee).
Gomer’s perspective is interesting but what intrigues me is that God asks Hosea to take morally repugnant action, marrying an unfaithful woman, possibly prostitute, have children by her, and give their children names that are counter to Israel’s national story. God knows he is asking Hosea to do something morally repugnant, at personal cost (Keener and Walton).
There are times when we are called to speak out condemning evil deeds and conditions, urging a community to repent and turn to the Lord. Today’s news provides examples enough,
- immigration troubles
- Arkansas’ Juvenile detention troubles,
- Medicaid and Medicare
- provider fraud,
- emphasis on Corporate profits
- at the cost of social welfare
- of hundreds of thousands
- of our neighbors,
and so on, you know our challenges. There are times to console the wounded with gentle words, all of us have and will know these. There times when words are inappropriate, lacking, or nonexistent, these occasions call us to act in ways that will accomplish God’s will (Yee). Not all such callings are pleasurable, today’s reading is an example of this. Not all callings look like service to God or God’s people, Hosea and Schindler are examples of this. Hosea reveals that such times require a believing trust in God, not unlike Jesus telling Thomas and all disciples, including us, to trust and be believing (John 20:24-29).
Jesus’ teaching about prayer is about trusting and believing when we ask for divine help, or search for divine presence, or knock for the divine way to be revealed. Jesus teaches
- it is a good thing to pray;
- it is a shameless thing to publicly pray for divine presence of the midst of ours’s and the world’s troubles (Couey);
- it is a believing thing to seek God/Jesus/Spirit’s guidance, help,
In his life, ministry, death, and resurrection Jesus teaches us it is a trusting thing to follow God’s call [pause] especially when it compels us to speak, compels us to act in ways against currently accepted standards and the assumption that God is on our side (Epperly).
Friday there was a letter in the opinion section of The Washington Post signed by 149 former Obama administration officials, all people of color. They begin noting they have heard the call to go home before. It has been and is part of a surge in racism. They proclaim their stance with all those currently under attack. They are proud of their heritage as immigrants, refugees and the enslaved Africans who built this country while enduring the horrors of its original sin. They demand equitable access to health care, housing, quality schools, and employment. Their love of country lives in their commitment of [their] voices and [their] energy to build a more perfect union; and they call on local, state and congressional officials, as well as presidential candidates to articulate their policies and strategies for moving us forward as a strong democracy, through … equity lens that prioritizes people over profit. They close noting Frederick Douglass warning that
The life of a nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful and virtuous (Kinder, Moore, and Khalilah).
I know nothing of the authors’ religious thoughts, I do not know if they have heard a divine calling. I do know, like Hosea they are taking a public stance a significant number of people of Americans object to. I hear their compulsion to speak, their compulsion us to act in ways against accepted standards, of many, including those who assume God is on their side. It is an example of action grounded in trusting and believing in the true healing of God’s presence (Epperly). It reveals a passion not simply for justice, but honest, truthful, and virtuous love, and righteousness for all; which in the end drives Hosea to follow his calling.
Somewhere in the daily torrent of words streaming towards us is our calling; our challenge is not simply to hear, but to follow Hosea, Schindler, and others in a prayerful, trusting, believing response.
Couey, Blake. Commentary on Hosea 1:2-10. 28 7 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 7 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Kinder, C., Jesse Moore, and Khalilah. “We are African Americans, we are patriots, and we refuse to sit idly by.” Washington Post (2019). <washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-are-african-americans-we-are-patriots-and-we-refuse-to-sit-idlyby/>.
Mast, Stan. Old Testament Lectionary Hosea 1:1-10. 28 7 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/>.
Wikipedia. The Shawshank Redemption. n.d. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shawshank_Redemption#Plot>.
Witchger, Anne Marie. Prayers, Pentecost 7 (C) – July 28, 2019. 28 7 2019. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/>.
Yee, Gale A. The Book of Hosea, Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections. Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. Olive Tree. 28 7 2018.