Hosea 1:2-10 (the focus of the sermon, and the place where you can find the usage of "whoredom" that makes the first sentence of the first reading so spectacularly awful)
Proper 12, July 28th, 2013
My apologies to the first reader this morning...that was quite a sentence to start out with wasn’t it?!
In my defense, the readings we hear each week in church are not chosen based on the whims of a preacher, nor are they meant to reflect the particulars of any one congregation. They do not echo the theological agenda of the rector and they certainly are not chosen with an eye towards the social mores of any given time or place. As members of the Episcopal Church, we hear the readings partnered and in the order presented by the Revised Common Lectionary.
The Revised Common Lectionary was compiled by representatives from a variety of denominations, including the Episcopal Church. Each Sunday, the Gospel reading provides a thematic focus and the other texts generally reinforce the Gospel’s theme--but not always. In Ordinary Time, the Revised Common Lectionary offers two sets of readings for the lessons from the Hebrew Bible. The first set proceeds semi-continuously, and in Year C (the third year of the Revised Common Lectionary cycle) we “enjoy” readings from the Prophets.
Prophets in Israelite society served as a means of criticism and opposition to abuses--both political and religious. Prophets pointed out the injustices in society when warranted, and gave warning and challenge to the powers that be. When needed they offered comfort and encouragement to the oppressed and those in exile. Needless to say, the texts we have heard this past month have not been meant to be of comfort or encouragement! And, when the congregation said “Thanks be to God” this morning in response to the reading I could almost hear the reluctance in many of our voices.
Do we truly feel thankful for the words of the prophets? Many congregations choose the to use the biblical phrase “hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people” rather than “the word of the Lord” at the conclusion of a reading. This use of a verse from Revelation (2:29) offers us another way to understand what it is we are being called to do in response to the reading. Rather than accepting the words of the text without inquiry or challenge, we are encouraged to see the presence of the Spirit within the text. What does the text say to us in the here and the now? How does God continue to speak to us?
These scripture offerings are not merely words with changeless meanings, rather they carry within them an ever transforming understanding of God’s relationship with all of us. As we hear the text, we are called to understand that the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, guides us and calls to us as we discern as a community what the Spirit is saying to us in these particular passages.
Both Amos, who we heard last week, and Hosea represent a shift in the prophetic understanding of who the intended audience for the prophecy is. Rather than addressing a king or monarchy, these prophets address what they see as the social, political and religious abuses of the people as a whole. Hosea’s intense focus on infidelity reflects his concern over Israelite worship of Canaanite gods. He senses that his community is no longer being faithful to the “God who brought them out of Egypt” and his words are meant to remind the Israelites of their principal commitment to God. The metaphor he chooses is one of the faithful husband, understood to be God, to a faithless wife, the Israelite people. Taken literally, and without an engagement with the context of these words, this text is wildly problematic.
Hosea describes a God that comes across as an abusive husband who is justified in his abuses and the people Israel as a promiscuous woman who deserves such abuse. As a modern listener, this metaphor tempts me to throw out the entire text, to stop listening as it were, and to turn towards texts that more easily reflect my general theological understanding that we serve an all-loving and forgiving God of faithful promise. But, if I were to simply ignore this text, I would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater--not giving the spirit the opportunity to address me in the here and now.
So, what might the spirit be saying to us in this text?
I am able to see that Hosea’s goal was to point out in the strongest way he knew how, his people’s betrayal of God and God’s continuing love despite that betrayal. And, if we hear the text addressing us as inheritors of the promises God has made to Israel, we are challenged to look at the ways in which we have proven unfaithful to God.
Because, if we are unable to hear what God is saying to us in these harsh prophetic texts, we can miss the possibility for the kind of intense engagement and self critique that the prophets themselves called for. This text can give us an opportunity to do what in Hebrew is referred to as shuv, to return to God--or, more often translated as “to repent”. And, in that repentance we deepen our relationship with the God to whom we have returned, who loves us beyond all times and places, despite our sins and our abuses--a God who calls us to move beyond ourselves and into the kingdom that has been proffered.
In the case of this text and this prophet, I find myself wondering...What other gods do we worship in our world? Is it the god of success? The god of money? The god of pleasure?
Now I am not saying that success, money or pleasure are inherently bad--but when we lose sight of God in favor of our pursuits of these things, we are committing the very acts that Hosea is accusing his community of. When we make an idol out of things, we begin to worship things instead of God, and by extension if we worship things, it becomes far to easy to see each other as “things” as opposed to beloved children of God.
A God that we are encouraged to address directly and without hesitation. A God, who parents us with an unending love. A God who is faithful to us and worthy of our praise. A God who forgives us and fills us with good things, the bread we need. A God who encourages us to look beyond ourselves and engage with the other--and in that engagement forgive. A God who invites us to to ask, to search and to knock--entering into relationship with God. A relationship that has the power to engage us, capture us, and transform us in ways that no other idol, thing or object can.
A God whose spirit speaks to us even when we think there is nothing worth listening to.