July 28, 2013 – 10th Sunday after Pentecost
Say you have gone to worship every week for your entire life, it is very possible you will have never heard a sermon from Hosea.
In my office I have a file folder for each book of the bible. I put in other people’s writings and good sermons for each book…except Hosea. I don’t even have a file folder labeled Hosea. In 21 years of preaching, I have never preached on Hosea. (And after this sermon you may wish I’d kept to that record.) Mark was supposed to preach this morning and I was really glad he was going to tackle Hosea. And then he had a family emergency. So here we are.
Hosea is one of the prophets and his job is to call the people, who have turned to other gods, to come back to the God of Israel.
[Read Hosea 1.2-10]
[textual notes: Lo-ruhama literally means “Not pitied”; Lo-ammi literally means “Not my people”; notice in verse ten how the tone of judgment turns to restoration.]
Now perhaps you picked up an inkling of why preachers tend to stay away from Hosea. Who wants to repeatedly say “whoredom” from the pulpit much less preach about it? This is not a great book of the Bible for how women are portrayed. Plus Hosea presents us with some troubling and abusive images of how the unfaithful wife is punished. Images that when taken literally have been used as justification for husbands to abuse their wives. No matter what we read in the Bible, there’s no place for abuse. And trying to use Hosea to justify spousal abuse is a misreading of the Bible. That’s a whole other sermon and not one I will take up this morning but I can tell you more about it later if you want or need to know.
There are two ideas in Hosea that I want to pick up on this morning. One is about God. The other, which is related, is about land.
I don’t know if you think this way about the prophets but it’s easy to think of them as a bunch of guys who holler. They’re jumping up and down, waving their arms, telling people about all the bad things they’re doing, and to knock it off or be destroyed by the wrath of God. They’re those guys (and they’re all guys in my experience) who wear sign boards about the end is near or who shout bible verses about Jesus being the only way into a bullhorn outside the YUM! Arena when the Dalai Lama comes to town. They’re no one I would actually listen to seriously.
And that’s the way many in Israel regarded Amos (who we heard from the last two weeks) and Hosea. I mean, really, you want us to believe God told you to marry an adulterous woman and then name your children these shameful names?
The advantage we have from our perspective 2700 years later, in addition to not being yelled at in person, is we can read their words and give them more consideration rather than just walk by and blow them off as an “unbearable extremist[s].”1
And what I hear when I read the prophet Hosea is the “sorrow, anger and longing”2 of God. Jewish theologian and rabbi, Abraham Heschel, writing about the prophets, says human beings are rebellious and capable of terrible evil (Heschel was a man whose family members were murdered by the Nazis in World War II), and yet human beings are so cherished by God that “the Creator of heaven and earth is saddened when” God’s people forsake God.3 That’s what we hear in Hosea. God is the lover who is betrayed by the beloved. And God experiences sadness and anger and longing. The focus in Hosea is not only on the backsliding human beings but also as much, if not more so, on the abandoned God who longs to be reunited again with the people God loves.4
Preacher Will Willimon, writing about Hosea, says this is a shocking image of God. It is much easier and more comfortable for us to picture God at a distance. So much so that we’ve “made God into an abstraction, a concept, a detached cosmic bureaucrat.” It’s easier for us modern, enlightened people “to conceive of God as conducting a wholesale rather than a retail business”5 Willimon says. Away in some office, removed from us, just shipping in the goods, not getting in our way, so we can run the world as we please. But Hosea presents God as much more intimately involved and intimately feeling about human kind.
And this is actually good news because it says our relationship to God is not dependent on us.6 We don’t have to manufacture it. We have a part to play, of course, but our part is one of grateful response to what God has already done and is already doing.
Think about some of the ways Jesus portrays God in the gospels. God is a woman who has lost a coin and she searches her house relentlessly until she finds it. God is a shepherd who is missing one sheep and will not rest until the sheep has been safely returned to the fold. God is a father who watches the road hoping and praying his child will return and then runs to welcome his wayward child home with great joy.
The Apostle “Paul says that a God who loves so much that God is willing to be crucified for the unfaithful beloved is a [scandal] to the world.” Who would do that? “Yet to those of us who are being saved, this scandal is”7 what heals us and makes us whole.
What God desires in response is for us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. Steadfast love and our “complete engagement”8 with the concerns of God.
The second idea from Hosea, which is related to the first, is about the land. Hosea opens with God’s call to Hosea because, the text says, of the land’s infidelity. Now it’s definitely the people in the land but Hosea also speaks of consequences in the rest of creation when the people are unfaithful. Hosea 4 says:
“Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.”9
What has God so upset is that the people God has chosen to be most closely connected of all the nations of the world are now taking up with the Canaanite god Baal. Baal was the storm god who was thought to bring life-giving rains without which survival in the desert of the Middle East would be impossible.
Hosea asks, “Who is [truly] the giver of all good things? Who is the Creator God who brings forth” life?10 Hosea wants to make clear God is God of all of life, not just religious ceremonies or so-called “spiritual concerns.” Faithlessness is not just a matter of the heart but also a matter of how we live in the world. To live faithfully with God is to live faithfully with all of creation.
Hosea anticipates a new covenant between God and the people. In chapter two we hear “I will make for you a covenant” God says, “with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground…On that day I will answer, says the Holy God..and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil.”11 Restoration with God is also restoration with the land.
Psalm 85 pictures God’s forgiveness and restoration of the people. “Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky” the psalmist writes. “The Holy God will give what is good and our land will yield its increase.”12
“Hosea is [concerned] about the mistaken notion that nature’s economy runs separately from God’s economy…The infidelity at issue…is not just a disorder of the heart or [even] of social justice, it involves a rupture of faith from the land, as if the [God] of Israel were not also the God of creation.”13
Which takes us to Kentucky’s own modern day prophet, Wendell Berry.
God loves the land and all its creatures. Because, of course, God created them all and called them good. Wendell Berry, quoting Dante, says “despising Nature and her goodness” is a violence against God.14 Berry goes on, “If we are to maintain any sense or coherence or meaning in our lives, we cannot tolerate the present utter disconnection between religion and economy.” By economy, he doesn’t mean making money but the root meaning of the word which is “human housekeeping, the ways by which the human household is situated and maintained within the household of nature.”15 That is, how we live together as a community with all of creation.
A community–children of the living God–who love God and love our neighbors. Not just the people neighbors but the mountains and prairies, the streams and oceans and rivers, the birds and fish, the creeping and crawling things, the whales and elephants, the horses and cattle, all are our neighbors.
“No longer shall it be said to them, ‘You are not my people.’ It shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’”
* * *
1 Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, vol. 1, (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p16.
2 Willis Jenkins, “Hosea 1.2-10 Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), p270.
3 Heschel, p5.
4 Ibid., p49.
5 William H. Willimon, “Hosea 1.2-10 Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 3, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), p268.
6 Ibid., p272.
8 Heschel, p60.
9 Hosea 4.2-3.
10 Gale A. Yee, “Hosea” in Women’s Bible Commentary, 3rd Edition, Carol A. Newsom, Sharon H. Ringe, Jacqueline E. Lapsley, eds., (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), p300.
11 Hosea 2.18, 21-22
12 Psalm 85.11-12
13 Jenkins, p272.
14 Wendell Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” in The Art of the Commonplace – The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, Norman Wirzba, ed. (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2002), p308.
15 Ibid., p309