Understanding God: July 23, 2016

July 24, 2016

Year C, Pentecost 10                                     

Hosea 1:2-10                                                  
            Our nation and our world is divided in ways I never imagined it could be.  I know it is not the worst it has ever been, but it is definitely the worst that I have ever seen.  This may sound naïve, but I believe that we would be a lot gentler with one another if we understood the pain that each one of us struggles with.  We all walk around carrying burdens and sometimes/often those burdens are magnified because we are convinced that no one could possibly understand what we are going through.  Instead of trying to explain ourselves or listening to someone else, we cluster with people who are like us, or we bear those burdens alone and that makes it that much harder.

            As much as we misunderstand one another, it is nothing compared to how we misunderstand God.  That’s not necessarily our fault.  God keeps things a little mysterious, especially in the Old Testament when people were not able to say his name or look in his the face.  There is something sacred and holy about mystery, but it also makes it harder to love at times.  Jesus told parables like we heard in the Gospel reading today to help us understand God and his love for us.  Jesus used his own life to allow us to know God. 

In the Old Testament, before Jesus was born, God used the prophets to help us understand God.  The difference between these prophets and Jesus is that Jesus was God in the flesh.  Jesus understood God thoroughly as he was one with God the father.  The prophets were human, flawed humans, sinful humans….not that different from us.  Yes they were holy and wise. They had special relationships with God as they were especially chosen by God to deliver his message, but they were still human–which meant that they struggled to understand God’s ways and help us, God’s people, understand and know God.

            Because God knew how hard it was for the prophets to understand God and share his message, he got creative at times. This reading from Hosea is a perfect example of that creativity.  It’s a troublesome reading.  The term whoredom is not something we are used to hearing in church or polite company.  In fact, the entire premise of God’s request is profoundly disturbing.  He requires his brand new prophet recruit to: “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” There are more problems with that statement that I have time to address.  It’s not fair to Hosea.  It’s not fair to this “wife of whoredom” who is now being forced to marry Hosea.  And it is certainly not fair to the children who will be forever marked as displays of God’s anger. 

            God not only told Hosea who to marry, he told him and his new wife what to name the children.  The first was Jezreel….which seems like a perfectly fine name.  It means God plants and refers to a lovely city.  However anyone in that time who knew their history would know that horrible atrocities were committed in Jezreel.  It would be like naming a child Hiroshima.  Every time his name was said aloud people would be reminded of the horrible violence that God’s people had committed.  The 2nd child was named Lo-ruhamah.  Now, if God had just gone with ruhamah, that would have been a lovely name as it means compassion and mercy.  But God added the prefix Lo which meant that the compassion and mercy was negated.  It would be like naming your child Faithless instead of Faith.  Wait…it gets worse. The third child was names Lo-ammi. Once again you will note the prefix Lo which means this is a negative.  This child will remind the people that they are no longer God’s people. God has officially given up on them.

            This all sounds cruel…and a little crazy, does it not?  What person in their right mind would want to be a prophet if this is what it entailed?  Was God’s sole intention to punish Hosea?  First of all, Hosea did not have a choice.  He was called by God to be a prophet and so he would follow God’s advice wherever it led him. And no, God was not trying to punish Hosea.  He was using him as a tool.  God needed Hosea to understand the depth of his pain.  We don’t think about that.  We don’t think that we could hurt God.  We do.  Again and again, we betray God.  We break his heart.  That is hard to imagine…that we could hurt God—the all powerful God’s feelings. 

            Yet we, God’s people have hurt him time and time again.  The people of Israel just could not make up their mind.  One minute they were following the one true God, Yahweh.  Then when their crops needed rain and their prayers to Yahweh were not being answered, they turned to Baal, the god of rain.  One of the things that really ticks off God in the Old Testament is worshipping other gods.  It hurt God on a deep and profound level, and he wanted people to understand that hurt…not just to understand it, but to feel it.  What better way to do that than to force his prophet to marry a woman who would repeatedly cheat on him.  Worse yet, Hosea would know that she was going to cheat on him before going into the marriage and still not be able to help but love her.   He would take her back again and again just like God has taken his people back again and again.

            It would seem from these 8 verses, that God was finished.  This was his good bye.  But that is the crazy thing about God…he just can’t say good bye.  Even when he says he’s done, he’s not really done.  Right after he tells Hosea to name his 3rd child, “not my people,” he says, “Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’”

            This is only the end of chapter 1. There are 13 more chapters of Hosea.  Hosea and his wife went back and forth between love and betrayal just as God went back and forth on what to do with this group of people who had repeatedly betrayed him and taken advantage of him.  The part of God who was a just and righteous God knew that these people had to be punished, possibly even cut off from his love.  But his love for them overcame his need for justice.  As Christians, we refer to that idea as grace.  Grace is when God’s mercy and love overcomes the need for justice and righteousness. 

            God will not ask the same thing of us that he did of Hosea.  With Jesus, God brought us a new model of what it is to love and be loved.  However, even with Jesus’ life and death, we will continue to misunderstand God and misunderstand one another.  It’s inevitable to some degree, but that does not mean we have the luxury of not trying—of staying in our own little silos. We cannot continually bemoan the ignorance and cruelty of others before we try to get to know one another. If we are all truly children of the living God, then we all carry pieces of God. When we try to understand and know one another, we get a little closer to knowing God.

We are the body of Christ. It is a strange and eclectic body—but there is beauty in that diversity and the strange parts will seem less strange the more we get to know one another.  We are the body of Christ.  We cannot give up on people because they vote for a different candidate or because we cannot agree whether it is blue lives, black lives, or all lives.  We have to continue to listen to one another.  Much like God refuses to give up on us, we cannot give up on one another.  We are the body of Christ.  Let’s start acting like we actually believe that.