Posts Tagged ‘Hosea 1’

All in the family
7.25.10 (ordinary 17c)
Hosea 1:2-10

The very first time I preached on this passage, I was a guest preacher in a church were I had sort of grown up. The regular minister was my dad’s best friend, and he was going to be beginning a study on the book of Hosea. He asked me if, since I was preaching that week, and it came up in the lectionary, if I would preach this particular passage to get the series started. Talk about a doosy of a passage to be handed! (I think it was actually this same service when a pregnant lady went into labor.)
Well, this passage would’ve been hard to preach on it’s own, but this was the summer right before we were married. Right as I was planning my wedding, right as I was in that ooey-gooey phase where I was just sure that every day of my marriage was going to be that much sweeter than the day before. I was horrified by this passage as I imagined how hard it would be to be Hosea, who must’ve longed for a wife– and gets Gomer. It was a horrifying metaphor of what ought to be so sacred!

But at that same time, I was also working for the children’s home– where in a lot of ways, I was a surrogate mother to children who weren’t loved as much as they should’ve been. And I about cried as I read the names that God has Hosea call his children:

First of all, there was Jezreel: literally “God scatters”, but also a place where a bloody murder happened. This would be like naming a child Vietnam or Gettysburg. But just as importantly, this child seems to forewarn us of the loss of
kingship for Israel.

Next, was Lo-ruhamah: which literally means “not loved/not pitied”–which is also interesting because the Hebrew word for love is also related to the word for womb. This adds to the suspicion that Lo-ruhamah is probably not Hosea’s child (which we’d probably guess because we know that his wife isn’t faithful.) But more than that, what we learn from this child’s name, is that perhaps Israel has finally gone too far–and that YHWH won’t forgive them.

But the next child has perhaps the worst name of all: Lo-ammi– literally “not my people”. This turns the covenant of “You shall be my people and I shall be your God” on its head. It basically says to this child, “not only do I not love you, but you are not even like me.” In days when people were so often warring against one another, it’s like saying, “Not only are you not loved, but you’re actually my enemy.”

This story is meant to be a metaphor, but it’s also the story of real people. Can you imagine being named these horrible names? How would that shape your entire identity and sense of worth?

Despite being in a different stage of life than I was the first time I preached on this passage, it still makes me want to cry. Even though I’m a little more aware that marriage will have its hard times, and even though I’m not in a role where I’m still advocating to make sure children get enough love, it turns out this passage is no easier this time around.

As a sympathetic and compassionate person, my heart still hurts for Hosea. I’m not a person who believes that the ends always justifies the means, and even though these are God’s ends, I still have a hard time accepting the fact that God intentionally puts Hosea through this. Can you imagine being Hosea, knowing that God is willing this horrible life upon you, for the good of a people whom you don’t personally know? Can you imagine being these children, whose names are a daily reminder that they are outside the bounds of love?

And I’d be lying if I said that this image of God is easy for me. The God I find in these early verses is hardly a god that I’m anxious to worship and serve, not exactly a god with whom I’d like to walk as friend with friend.

Besides that, if God could get so angry with a people that he’d go to such extreme measures to make a point, just how far would God be willing to go to get my attention. It’s too much to think about!

Some background
So… what the heck is going on here? Let me give you a little background. Hosea was a prophet in the 8th Century B.C.– which is noteworthy because this story represents God’s last call to Israel before its destruction and exile. The people were supposed to be operating on the Ten Commandments and living well regarding social responsibility, justice, and mercy.

I’m sure that Israel didn’t mean to live like this. I’m sure they started out with the best of intentions, but as time went on, they were just a little less on fire for God. More and more, they began wondering why they had to follow all those rules. We read that Gomer is a temple prostitute, and that makes a strong metaphor. But the harlotry of Gomer stands for a lot more than sexual infidelity. God is angry about the way the people were doing business, about how they were making political decisions, and most importantly, their lack of belief and trust in God.

I don’t know, but I imagine God as trying to overlook these sins for a while. But then it just got to be too much. Finally after generations of the people completely missing the mark, God is fed up. He goes to extreme measures to make is point. And finally, God is so mad that he says, “you are not my people.” Though it breaks my heart, I can almost imagine God crossing his arms, and turning his back, coldly saying “You are NOT my people…and. I. will. not. be. your. God.”

That picture of God not only breaks my heart, but it actually frightens me a lot. It makes me wonder if I could ever be so horrible that God disowns me. After all, I’m no bargain sometimes. I miss the mark… a lot. Could God ever kick me out of the family?

A disturbing picture of God?
On a surface reading, this is a pretty disturbing image of God. In a lot of ways, we’d prefer that God didn’t take our sins seriously. We like to pretend that the things we do to ourselves and to each other don’t matter to anyone but us. We’d like to pretend that our hardheartedness is our own business.

But the truth is that God does take our sin seriously. Tremendously seriously. But as I grow in my faith and in my relationship with God, the thing that becomes more and more clear to me, is that the fact that God takes my sin seriously is really good news. It’s good news because if God didn’t take it seriously, that would mean that God didn’t care. While a picture of an angry God is awfully scary, it’s a lot more terrifying to think of a cold, distant God who just says “Fine. Whatever. Live however you want. Bring about your own destruction. I really couldn’t care less either way.” We usually think that the opposite of love is hate. But maybe the opposite of love is really apathy.

That’s not what we see here. What we find in this uncomfortable passage is a God who is so, so mad, because he cares enough to want the best for his children. He is passionate about Israel, and it is because of his love that he is angry. God is deeply committed to this people. God has delivered this people, set them down in their own land, and invested in them. And the only conclusion I can come to is that if God is this deeply committed to and invested in such a people, God must also be deeply committed to and invested in me, in us.

But still, even if we are able to realize that a God who is offended by us is a God who cares, this story is a little troubling. Truth be told, this passage is also a scandal because we’re being told that we stand before God as an unfaithful spouse. That’s enough to get any prophet kicked out of his robes.

Why, when given four lectionary texts I could choose from, would I choose to preach on this scary downer of a passage? Because of one word that changes everything: Yet.

At verse ten, just when we can’t we can’t bear to hear any more, God says “yet.” You could read that tiny little word as “nevertheless” or “even still” or “but” as The Message says it. Meaning “even though you have been so incredibly unfaithful to me, these blessings will be heaped upon you.

Listen again to what God says. “Yet, the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can neither be measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “You are children of the living God.”

At first, surely all of us wonder “Just what kind of a family is this?” We want to point our fingers, grateful that we’re not dysfunctional like them. But gradually, we realize that this story is about our failures– about our dysfunction– too. That’s really unbearable and painful to us to read, until we get to that promise in verse ten.

Now, as we hear those words of love, and redemption, and hope, I’m glad that this story is about us. This promise stands firm–even for faltering, stumbling, missing the mark, people like me.

“Just what kind of family is that?” we ask. Turns out it’s the kind of family where nothing can break the bounds of love.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


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