A Divine Call To A orally Repugnant Action.

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.

 

References

Couey, Blake. Commentary on Hosea 1:2-10. 28 7 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 7 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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/&gt;.

Wikipedia. The Shawshank Redemption. n.d. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shawshank_Redemption#Plot&gt;.

Witchger, Anne Marie. Prayers, Pentecost 7 (C) – July 28, 2019. 28 7 2019. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Yee, Gale A. The Book of Hosea, Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections. Vol. V. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. Olive Tree. 28 7 2018.

 

 

 

 

Between Humpty Dumpty & The Looking Glass

 

A sermon for Proper 12: Hosea 1:2-10, Psalm 85, Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19), Luke 11:1-13

This morning we are somewhere between Humpty Dumpty and the Looking Glass. We all know the nursery rhyme; you may not know it is a parody on the ineptitude of the King’s Calvary

“All the King’s Horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

It was necessary to speak in metaphor and parody because to criticize the King was a hanging offense. With that in mind, let’s look again at Hosea. It is abhorrent that a prophet, a man of God, would associate with any woman not absolutely beyond reproach. Gomer does not qualify. It is not until we pay attention to their children’s names, that we begin to see the prophecy. I’m sure you remember that in ancient days peoples’ names were significant. This is especially true in the Bible. Think about how many times God or Jesus renames someone. The kids’ names are Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi. Jezreel is named after the city where the king’s great-grandfather killed off the family of the previous rulers, establishing his family’s reign. Lo-ruhamah means no mercy and Lo Ammi means not my people (Harrelson). The sequence would be heard

  •  no king,
  •  no compassion and
  •  no God (Bratt).

All this is happening because of Israel’s behavior. The King and the court have turned their back on God building alliances with other kingdoms. The Temple and priest have turned their backs on God, with empty rituals and shallow sacrifices. The merchants have turned their backs on God through economic injustice. The people have turned their backs on God through hedge bets to the Baals, the Canaanite god(s) of fertility to ensure the crops would be plentiful (Nysse) (Sakenfeld). Just so you will know how the story ends, the prophets are right. Israel, the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom, is completely destroyed by Assyria. They never recover. Judah was not conquered by Assyria; however, later they were overrun and sent into exile by Babylon. As you know, they return from exile, reestablish Jerusalem and the Temple and live under a variety of foreign empires until Rome burns Jerusalem to the ground to suppress a revolt about the year 70. Israel as we know it today was carved out of the British colony of Palestine after WWII in return for Jewish support against the Axis forces. But I wander.

Now you would think that after the destruction of Israel, exile in Babylon, and being occupied all those many centuries lessons about fidelity to God would kind of be important. And they were; well sort of.

Fast forward to the end of the Gospel time. Jesus’ followers both Jew and gentile (which is really everybody not Jewish) broadly proclaim Jesus to be the incarnation of God, the perfection of Moses, the perfection of the prophets, and whose resurrection shattered the injustice of a corrupt crucifixion and secured for everyone who believes justice, and eternal life in God’s presence. This story runs smack up against Jewish traditions, which leads to Saul’s vicious persecution of Jesus’ early followers. Then Paul (note the name change) gets converted by a private audience with Christ in God’s presence. Understanding that God has done through Jesus what the people could not do through the Temple and Torah, Paul sets out on what the Pharisees always understood the next step to be, taking the light of God to all the nations of the world. Thus we find Paul in gentile lands proclaiming Christ in preaching, in person and through letters, Yes, he ran into difficulties. Certainly with Jews living in foreign lands. At first, they just objected; they remember their history. But there was also trouble with Jewish Christians, who believed that for gentiles to be truly Christian, they had to follow Jewish laws. There were also some converts who had been followers of Greek or Roman teachers who taught you had to follow an ascetic lifestyle that included a specific set of visionary rituals. Paul’s letter circulating through churches in and around Corinth is clear don’t be deceived by human philosophies and empty deceit, old traditions, or new festivals. Beware of shallow rituals and empty traditions; do not lose touch with Jesus (Walsh). For Paul, there was nothing beyond Baptism. Through Baptism

  • we acknowledge Jesus as the center of hope
  • we commit to proclaiming that Jesus’ death and resurrection changed the balance of the world, and of the cosmos.

Paul teaches that Jesus, God’s Christ, is the fullness of God on earth. Through Baptism we are now “In Christ” and therefore we are also the fullness of God on earth (Hoezee, Colossians).

So, here we are. Two thousand years later. A couple days away from the end of one political convention, a day away from the beginning of the next political convention, and if you read the news, you’d think we hadn’t learned a thing. A review of the world reveals a commitment to God in Jesus that is as corrupt as Hosea’s world and as shallow as Paul’s world. As I listened to folks around town or read social media, I hear a constant loud voice

“That if we’d only recommit to following God’s word everything would get back to normal.”

I don’t disagree. I’ve had enough of shallow rituals and empty traditions. There is only one small trouble; their faithful way of being in Jesus is my shallow rituals and empty traditions; and my, our way of being in Jesus is their shallow rituals and empty traditions. I’ve about had enough; have you had enough (Lewis)?

Well, we are not alone. Jesus’ disciples are at their edge, just like we are. Only, they had the advantage of seeing Jesus going off to pray anytime the journey got stressful, which was all the time. They also saw how refreshed and renewed Jesus was after his time away in prayer (Hoezee, Luke). And so they finally ask a really good question “Jesus, teach us to pray like that?” And he teaches them what we know as the Lord’s prayer. And for your information, yes, Matthew’s version is different, and we’ve added a classical Jewish form of Amen to the end, so relax it is the same prayer. Now, what exactly does Jesus teach them and us?

It all begins acknowledging that God’s named is hallowed; everything dedicated to God only makes sense if God is above all (Sakenfeld). Then the prayer moves to looking forward to God’s Kingdom being on earth, literally, and right now! And that is connected to God’s desire to be in a loving relationship with all creation, being accepted. Then the prayers of our seeking forgiveness of our sins, not when we forgive others, but when we have the grace of the Spirit to forgive others because it is the same grace that allows us to see and accept our sins and God’s forgiveness. And finally, we pray to be shielded from the time of trial (Whitley).

A couple, well a few points. Jesus teaches us to address God, not convicted of our shortfalls, but as he does, with the power of the Spirit to claim our heritage of being in Christ (Pankey, Father). It’s similar to Paul’s emphasis on being in Christ.

The word ‘daily’ is not so clear. We don’t really know what it means because this is the only place it is used. It might mean necessary, or continual. No matter the precise definition Jesus’ meaning is clear, follow the wilderness tradition of relying on God for today’s needs, trusting that God will also take care of tomorrow’s needs (Pankey, Bread).

Part of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray is their observation that Jesus prays all the time. They realize prayer is not for special occasions or times of need. Jesus invites us to follow him in living all of life as prayer (Hoezee, Luke).

While it is not a part of the prayer proper, the parable that follows teaches us about God’s unreasonable grace. Actually, it is the hospitality God has always called people to live. The culture of hospitality expects a neighbor to help an unprepared neighbor offer hospitality to an inconvenient guest. So yes, God will answer our inconvenient, unreasonable prayers.

Except life reveals to us, it’s not that way, at least it doesn’t appear to be. At one time or another, all of us find ourselves at the point when we proclaim “How much more!?” Beware the prosperity gospel heresy of believing strong enough and it will be; magical deliverance from illness, or winning the lottery; it is false, it is not biblical, and it is dangerous. And I know that at the times we cry out:

  • “How much more pain and loss?” God answers “how much more strength will I give you.”
  • “How much more abandonment and rejection?” God answers” how much more will I be with you.”
  • “How much more disillusionment and disappointment?” God answers “how much more I will love you.” (Lewis).

The strength, the presence, and the love of God is always nearby, at least in the gentle ministry of the Spirit’s assuring whisper that the promise of the resurrection is true, you are in Jesus, God’s Christ. And just so we can remember, the next time we hear Jesus pray it is “Why have you forsaken me?” (Hoezee, Luke).

So this morning, as we stand between Humpty Dumpty and the Looking Glass with the endless variations of nihilistic ADHD narcissism flooding media of all sorts I’m reminded that we live in Christ in prayer, that the truth of God’s word is deeper than the surface of paper, that life lived deeply in God’s presence doesn’t reflect the empty rituals and shallow sacrifices the leaders of principalities and powers proclaim to be the way, and that there no end to God’s strength, presence, and love. I’m reminded that we live in the light of the King of endless mercy and infinite presence.

that we live in Christ in prayer, that the truth of God’s word is deeper than the surface of paper, that life lived deeply in God’s presence doesn’t reflect the empty rituals and shallow sacrifices the leaders of principalities and powers proclaim to be the way, and that there no end to God’s strength, presence, and love. I’m reminded that we live in the light of the King of endless mercy and infinite presence.

that the truth of God’s word is deeper than the surface of paper, that life lived deeply in God’s presence doesn’t reflect the empty rituals and shallow sacrifices the leaders of principalities and powers proclaim to be the way, and that there no end to God’s strength, presence, and love. I’m reminded

  • that we live in the light of the King of endless mercy and infinite presence
  • that life lived deeply in God’s presence doesn’t reflect the empty rituals and shallow sacrifices the leaders of principalities and powers proclaim to be the way, and
  • that there no end to God’s strength, presence, and love.

I’m reminded that we live in the light of the King of endless mercy and infinite presence.

 


 

References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 12CCenter for Excellence in Preaching Hosea. 24 7 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 24 7 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 24 7 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 12CCenter for Excellence in Preaching Colossians. 24 7 2016.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 11:1-13. 24 7 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. How Much More? 24 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Nysse, Richard W. Commentary on Hosea 1:210. 24 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. “Father.” 24 7 2016. Draughting Theology.

—. Give us today our [daily] bread. 24 7 2016.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Stamper, Meda. Commentary on Luke 11:113. 24 7 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Walsh, Brian J. Commentary on Colossians 2:615[. 24 7 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Whitley, Katerina. “Lord, Teach Us How to Pray, Proper 12 (C).” 24 7 2016. Sermons that Work.