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Who's ready for a sermon thread?

I assure you, you are.

No, no. You do not have anything better to do.

No, not even watching golf.
Today's text is Hosea 1:1-10 (Hosea 1:1-2:1 in the Hebrew text): bible.oremus.org/?ql=431251674
The text opens like so: "When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.'"
I am as shocked and baffled by this as you are. I'm astonished that it has persisted in the Lectionary, and astonished that it has been included in the readings for what seems to be a liberal Christian congregation.
*The pastor I'm filling in for follows the Lectionary—the suggested readings for each Sunday—but for us, suggestions is all they are.
This is shocking, brutal language, not what we might expect in scripture. Is God calling Gomer daughter of Diblaim a prostitute? Yup, he sure is!
The ugliness continues as the story unfolds of Gomer's children by Hosea. First there is a son named Jezreel, after the valley where King Ahab slaughtered rivals to his throne.
Then there is a daughter named Lo-ruhamah, which means "Not pitied," or "not shown compassion or mercy." Literally, the word is "not-wombed." This kid is so unloved not even her mother's body cares about her.
Last but certainly not least, a second son is named Lo-ammi, "not my people," because God says to the people of Israel, "you are not people and I am not your God."
Again literally, God says, "Not your 'I am,'" or YHWH in the Hebrew. That's the name we know as The LORD in English, and it represents a reversal of God's promise to the Israelites in Egypt:
"I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians."
God is *done* with the people of Israel. He has withdrawn his support for them, and indeed, the kingdom of Israel will soon be smashed and its people carried off into Babylonian captivity.
But as God says, "I will have pity on the house of Judah." This is from the age when Jews were split into two kingdoms—Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Judah survives for another 150 years or so before it too is decimated.
This is a word of firm and final judgment. There is no warning, no last-ditch effort to get the Israelites to change their ways. The point is in the rearview mirror.
But I wanted to look at this text because sometimes it pays not to look away from harsh reality, or brutal language. Something awful is happening to the Israelites, and we must pay attention.
And I want us to pay attention to the challenge presented to us by this text. Because truth be told, we too have been unfaithful people. Our land too has committed "great whoredom."
How? I'll get into that in just a minute. First, I want to notice just a couple more details here.
For one thing, it's not at all clear that this is not a dramatization. Even in a time when symbolic names were common, Hosea children bear...*challenging* monikers.
It's hard to believe that any decent father would saddle a kid with a name like that.
On the other hand, we know that other prophets took similar symbolic actions, including naming children.
The most famous example, of course, comes from Isaiah: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel."
So it's possible that this is factual narration, but we shouldn't simply accept that. It could be just a story.
Second, that word "whoredom" mentioned at the start of the passage is a plural. This is not the work of a single woman, it is the fault of an entire community.
Because of that, I want to make absolutely clear that this is not a passage about sexual ethics. Nor is it a how-to on marriage. This ain't a righteous husband taking revenge on a wife who sleeps around.
Rather, it is an *analogy* to talk about how the entire people—the entire society—of Israel have strayed from the covenant bonds with God. They are not faithful to God.
How? And again, what does this have to do with us?

Well, look again at that word "whoredom." It can mean prostitution, or sexual promiscuity. But it can also refer to faithlessness in general, such as leaving the LORD behind to worship another god.
"Gomer," as it happens, is not a Hebrew name, nor is Diblaim, her father. Put all of that together, and the scholarly hunch is that she might be a follower of Baal, the Canaanite fertility god who was worshiped through giant orgies, among other things.
(Please don't tell your pastor that I talked about orgies in my sermon. I need these gigs.)
Iiiiiin any case: the idea behind the worship of Baal was that Baal blessed all of creation with fertility. If you worshiped Baal in that way I'm not going to mention again, you would have many children, as would your livestock, and your farm would produce abundantly.
In fact, as Clinton McCann argues, to worship Baal is to put fertility (that is, productivity) above everything else—including sustainability, including equitable distribution of resources, including follow the LORD, the god of the Israelites...
...the god whose signature included providing—and asking that his followers take—just enough.
To follow Baal was, and still is today, to grasp at material gain rather than receive it as a gift. It was, and still is today, to clutch ones wealth tight rather to share it as it was shared with us.
It was, and still is today, to chase life mindlessly, rather than accept the death from which life arises. And all of this was, and still is today, to break the bonds of covenant with the LORD.
Because the promise of the LORD is that to accept poverty is to find the blessing of abundance. The promise of the LORD is that to accept radical generosity is to find the blessing of receiving. The promise of the LORD is that to accept death is to find life.
That's why Jesus our savior lived as a poor and powerless man dedicated to the flourishing of the poor, and it is why he accepted death, even the shameful death of crucifixion.
Because he knew that abundance and power and glory and life lie on the other side of their absence. We must accept what we have not before we can have—again, as a gift.
I have been reading the Chinese work of philosophy the Tao Te Ching in the past few days. I think it puts what I am trying to say rather well:
"Under Heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.

All can know good as good only because there is evil."

(Think about this in terms of what we pray in the Lord's prayer.)
To put things in Taoist terms, it's only when we can accept not-being that we can be. It's only when we can accept not-having that we can have.
Or, to put it back in Christian terms, it is only when we can hear God's "no" that we can hear God's "yes."
And it is only when we can accept God's "no" that we can begin to understand that God's promise to us is not that we can have peace and prosperity and long life if we only work hard enough.
No, the promise of the LORD is that God will provide and that God will be there for and with us even when we have not.
We do not need to wreck the earth. We do not need to bar our gates from those who are different from us. We do not need to lie, to cheat, to steal, even to kill, because God is there.
And so, even though the kingdom of Israel is rejected by God, even though it ceases to exist, we are told, "Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can neither be measured nor numbered."
God may have given up on the kingdom, but he has not given up on the people. "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.'"
And now you understand what it means to pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed by thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven...
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver from us evil,
for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.
May that be your prayer and mine, now and always, and may God be with us, all the days of our lives. Amen.
Whoo, that was quite a thread. But it's over now. Be kind to Gomers, and receive God's blessings as just that.
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