A sermon on Hosea 1:2-10
Hosea is a prophet in pain.
He lives in the northern kingdom of Israel in about the 8th century BC, at a time when the people were enjoying a booming economy: good harvests, full storehouses, and a competent administration.
But rather than responding to the faithfulness of God by deepening their covenantal relationship with God and with one another, many turned to the “Baals” – the gods of Canaan who were thought to have power over rain, crops, and fertility – with their prayers and praise. At their shines, the people gashed themselves with knives to offer the required blood sacrifices and had sex with the sacred prostitutes in the hope of securing further favour. Meantime, on the streets, the poor cried out – victims of injustice – at best ignored, at worst exploited so that the elitist upper classes could maintain their position and their power.
God’s response to their spiritual adultery is certainly a puzzling one: he commands the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute. And, obediently, Hosea binds himself in covenantal relationship to a “wife of whoredom” as today’s Scripture reading so elegantly puts it.
If you take the time to read the first three chapters of his story, you will quickly discover that Gomer is never very faithful for long. Old habits are hard to break, I guess? She leaves her husband and commits adultery with other lovers. Of the three children conceived during their marriage, only the firstborn (Jezreel) is directly mentioned as being Hosea’s son. Yet Hosea never stops loving her.
She is exploited and abused and eventually falls into slavery but Hosea pays the price to set her free, longing deeply for her restoration. Through his agony and his anger, he has discovered the heart of God.
Yet the heart of God is something that we do not – cannot – fully comprehend and, if we’re absolutely honest, we don’t always fully trust God’s desires for us, for our community, for the world around us.
We struggle, at times, with a sense of God’s inactivity. We wonder why life seems to work out so well for some, but not for others. We get into arguments with and render judgments against people who interpret the catastrophic pain that takes place in individual homes and whole nations as God’s justice against their wrongdoing.
And it’s passages like this one in Hosea that feed into some of that turmoil, for what kind of God would ask that three innocent children bear the weight of such awful names?
As a mother, I remember well how long it took to come up with names for our precious boys. Each name that was mentioned triggered for one or both my husband and myself memories and encounters with other people in our lives (even brief ones) who were so named and most were discarded because of some negative characteristic that we didn’t want somehow magically passed on to our children through sharing a common name.
Yet here we have Jezreel, Lo-Ruhamah, and Lo-Ammi, named by God:
the first for violence and vengeance,
the second for the exhaustion of God’s love for an unfaithful people,
the third for the disowning of Israel.
What have they done to deserve such a heartless legacy?
Yet what have any of our children done to deserve the leftovers of this beautiful planet – the polluted air and oceans and soil; the species that remain rather than the abundance that once was; the struggle for scarce resources that will further divide, further impoverish?
What have our grandchildren done to deserve an inheritance of homeless people who no one wants to make space for or welcome in; a world of walls and wall builders who exploit our differences and fears to accumulate their own power and wealth?
What have our great-grandchildren done to deserve the labels that we have held onto and honed and passed on from generation to generation as weapons against another’s dignity and worth: retard, queer, Abo, whore?
My reading of Hosea and Gomer’s “love story” this morning is not of a distant, angry God passing the judgment against a wicked people onto the innocents, but of the broken heart of God becoming a living embodiment within a community that’s consistently overlooked the need for right relationship with God and with one another as the fundamental principle of a healthy society. The most vulnerable in their midst – these three innocents – invite them to turn from their pursuit of prosperity and power at any expense to, again, working for the day when all will be called “children of the living God.”
Jezreel declares to us this day that violence and vengeance break the heart of God.
Lo-Ruhamah cries out to us this day that the experience of not being loved breaks the heart of God.
Lo-Ammi wails that not having a place or a people to belong to breaks the heart of God.
As Hosea, out of his deep and unlikely love for Gomer, longs for her to love him in return and pays himself the price for her restoration, so too does the living God long for us to discover a fullness of life that is grounded in the wellbeing of the earth and of our community.
God’s heart breaks
for all who are victimised,
loathed … in this generation and the one after and the one after and the one after that ….
If we in our apathy, or or busyness, or hopelessness, or “i’m doing okay, why the heck is this my problem”-ness sit back and wait for someone else to get on with the work of embodying God’s kingdom right here and right now, we too break the heart of God.
My prayer for the Church is that as we come again and again to God’s table with open hands to receive the love and life of God, our hands will remain open to those who need a little help, or a kind touch, or someone to carry their load for a little while.
My prayer for the Church is that as we pray again and again for and receive fully and freely, the forgiveness of God for our own <stuff>, we will extend that same grace and mercy to a relationship that is broken or a person whose life choices we don’t understand or agree with.
My prayer for the Church us that we will walk into each day speaking hope wherever we find the broken-heart of God in our midst rather than reverting to the all-too-easy, all-too-familiar ways of looking, speaking, thinking, working that do nothing to help others encounter in us the heart of God for the whole world.
A possible translation of the Lord’s prayer from Aramaic (N. Douglas-Klotz):
And so O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos,
focus your light within us – make it useful:
Create your reign of unity now –
Your one desire then acts with ours,
as in all light, so in all forms.
Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
as we release the strands we hold
of others’ guilt.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
but free us from what holds us back.
From you is born all ruling will,
the power and the life to do,
the song that beautifies all,
from age to age it renews.
Truly – power to these statements –
may they be the ground from which all
our actions grow: