The prophet and the prostitute

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,
oppressed,
ridiculed,
cheated,
displaced,
disowned,
abandoned,
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:
Amen.


Home (in God’s hands)

prayers for Proper 22B

Opening Prayer

by Christine Gilbert, from the 15th Assembly Worship Resource: 
Abundant grace, liberating hope

[Lord God Almighty,
King of Creation,]
we come before you as real people –
made in your image,
broken in body and spirit,
longing to be mended
in the shape of your love.

So hear us as we pray:
Spirit of Jesus, be with us now.

We bring hearts full of questions,
aching to hear your voice of acceptance.
An often scattered and fractured people,
frozen in fear, we pray:
Bind us, unite us, fill us with your peace.

The table in our midst draws us out
into community and invites us to share.
In our singing and in our silence
we pray with open hands:
Make us your body, O Christ.

Prayer of the Day

by Thom M. Shuman

We will not find
that needed justice
in our apathy;

we will not find
that elusive wholeness
with our quarreling;

we will not find
our hoped for unity
with our doctrines;

we will not find
our misplaced love
with our hating;

we will not find
that rest we crave
in our overflowing planners;

we will not find
the peace you offer
in our well nursed grudges.

but

we will find you
in the brokenness of the Bread
and in the breaking of our hearts;

we will find you
when we drain the Cup,
refill it with our gifts,
and offer it to a little child;

we will find you
when we squeeze closer together,
making room at the Table
for all your people.

Help us to find you,
God in Community, Holy in One,
even as we pray together, saying:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
Now and for ever.
Amen.

Prayers of the people

yvonne@liturgies4life
for people going through divorce, the end of a relationship, or 
difficulties at home

Praise be to You, O unchanging God,
who journeys with us through life’s joyous and sorrowful seasons,
for though You never ordain suffering,
You help us to make sense of love’s purpose when hardship befalls us.

Be still in the silence and aware of God’s love with and within you …

Ever-loving God we thank You for love shared and lives joined together.
We hold before You memories of good times and bad times
as we acknowledge the thoughts and feelings within us today:
sorrow and grief at the dream we have lost
of what love and partnership and family was supposed to be,
frustration, anger and confusion at how we have gotten to this point,
guilt and shame at things that we have said and done
that have contributed to the breakdown of our relationship,
fear and anxiety over what the future holds for us.

Instill in us this day, a sense of Your resurrection power
and a reassurance of Your constant presence.
Walk closely with us as mourning turns to gladness
and the trial and turmoil of this change
is transformed into the hopefulness of possibility.
Heal our woundedness,
forgive our faults,
and restore to us the certainty that we are loved by You.

Be especially present with friends and family who do not understand
the full extent of our journey
and help us to be patient with their questions, their criticisms and their advice.

Guide us in caring for our children
and creating new households full of Your love
so that we might deal with them daily with wisdom, gentleness and affection.

Sustainer of all,
hold our past with compassion,
our present with Your tender mercy,
and our dreams with the fullness of new life in You.

Amen

Motho ke motho … alive in community

Words to live by …

… learned at a young age through the life-lifting devotions penned by Herbert Brokering and Scott. C. Noon in my belonging in various forms of youth ministry …

A tree can only live
in an environment.
A word can only live
in a context.
A baby will only live
in an embrace.
A thought will only live
if received.
A human can only live
in a family.
A noun can only live
with a predicate.
I can only live
in community.

… lived in the gift of multicultural worship and the learning of an unfamiliar tongue …

Motho ke motho ka batho ba bangwe –
loosely translated as “a person is a person because of other people.”

… longed for in the wide open spaces of a new(ish) land …

“We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”

Romans 5:2 (The Message)

Connected

That God gives us community as a means of a grace, as the context in which we work out our faith, is, at times, a wondrous gift; at others, a bizarre and even cruel joke.

Community, in its messiness, its transience, its unreliability, its apathy, and its cliques, can sometimes be the least likely place for us to be open to the loving, moving presence of God.

And yet, our knowledge and experience of grace and faith are as intimately connected to community as we, in Christ, are connected to one another.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all others.  Romans 12:4-5 (NIV)

O Creator of all things,
Weaver of the subtle connections that bind each one to another,
Maker of past, present and future,
Giver of dreams:

Help me to see the grand design.
Open my eyes to the ties that bind –
me to another,
another to You,
You to me.

And in these connections,
let me discern 
the beat of Your heart,
the call of Your voice,
the movement of Your Spirit
across endless galaxies
and throughout the very fabric of time.

In these connections,
help me to see that I am never alone
and give me a glimpse of the powerful mystery
of One God, yet three Persons,
who are united completely
in love, in purpose, in power.

In these connections,
may I be found and refined,
for the ties that bind me to brother and sister
are the ties that bring me meaning and growth.

Lord, open my eyes to the connections
and help me to see myself reflected
in the eyes of the other looking back at me.
Help me to be open to their care and to their concerns,
to their honesty and to their mystery,
to their giftings and to their need for grace,
to their life stories and to their love.

Help me to be a part of Your body.

Choose Life

One of the driving forces of human nature is competition. I simply have to watch my children squabbling over their test scores without any regard for their differences in grade or ability to see what an early age we start ingraining the need to outdo one another into our thoughts and motivations. Our language has even developed in such a way as to enable our comparisons: it’s not simply good enough to be wealthy but one can be wealthier than another and, if truly blessed, the wealthiest of us all.

Smart, smarter, smartest;
successful, more successful, most successful,
pretty, prettier, prettiest … these are the patterns that govern not only our speech, but our lives.

No wonder life is, for many of us, an unfulfilling, exhausting experience. No wonder the abundance and prosperity God promises us seems to be like a distant dream instead of a present experience. No wonder heaven becomes the goal that we set our eyes on longingly in an effort to escape the daily grind.

Our Scriptures (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 119:1-8, 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, Matthew 5:21-37) this week invite us to examine the standards by which we are evaluating ourselves and others. What are the things that bring you joy and a deep sense of satisfaction? What are the gifts on offer to you in the relationships that you have? What are the gifts that you have to offer? What are the sins – the ingrained habits, the negative thoughts, the possessive desires – that hold you back and drain you? What are the judgements and grudges and expectations that limit your potential to give and receive love? How do you define happiness, success, prosperity, promise and have these definitions hurt or helped you?

God longs for us to know the fullness of life. We know that. Do we, however, long for the kind of life God promises – a life of community and harmony, of servanthood and sound morals? Or are we looking for the life in which we are the winner of every competition?