Plymouth United Church of Christ

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Sermon, Year B, Proper 9, July 8, 2012
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber Focus Scripture: Hosea 1, 6, 11, 14 and Matthew

Note: The text for this sermon was basically the whole book of Hosea and the prophet himself. As you read through this sermon, you will notice many comments in brackets. If they are of the form [Read Hosea 6], that means I read whatever chapter and/or verses are indicated. (all these are hotlinked to the text so you can read along as well). All other notes in brackets are things that I said while I was reading, and each has reference to the verse or verses to which they pertain. Anything not in brackets is text from the sermon itself. This is one sermon in which listening to the audio could be more helpful, although you will see a note 8 paragraphs below of a paragraph I skipped over while delivering the sermon, so it's good to read that. And now, on the sermon!

Today we are hearing from Hosea in our journey of looking at the Old Testament prophets this summer, and especially looking at how those prophets were used or not used by the writers of the New Testament or by Jesus. Not all prophets get quoted in the New Testament, but a few of them do. And there are a few that Jesus quotes directly. Hosea is one that Jesus quotes directly, and we will get to that in a bit as we go through the reading.

But I want to give you some background here of where Hosea fits in the scheme of things and in the history. We read from the prophet Amos last week. Amos was a prophet in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 700's BCE. Remember, about the year 900 BCE the country of Israel split into two kingdoms: the Northern Kingdom, which kept the name Israel, and the southern kingdom which became Judah. Jerusalem was in Judah, and Israel had to choose a new capital and that became Samaria. And so Amos was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom, and Hosea was as well, and at about the same time. They are in the mid-700s. Hosea maybe 750 until Assyria has conquered Israel and it ceases to exist around the year 720. So Hosea had maybe 25 or 30 years that he was preaching. And Hosea, of all the Old Testament prophets we have, Hosea is the only true native Israel-born prophet. Partly, as I mentioned, Assyria takes over the country during Hosea’s lifetime so there is no Israel left after that and the rest of the prophets are all coming out of Judah.

Amos was very prophetic against the lack of mercy toward the poor, and the downtrodden in Israel. That was his big thing. And he was also against some of the empty religious rituals that were going on, and against a religion that was often used to the detriment of the poor. And Hosea preaches against those a little bit. They show up somewhat in his prophetic utterances, but what Hosea is really cranked off about (and Hosea really is just angry; you can hear it in his words. When he is angry, he is fully angry. He is really, cranked is just the best word I can think of, incredibly upset) that the country has basically abandoned God. They’ve given up God and are chasing after Canaanite fertility deities. The deities that were indigenous to the people of the land that God gave to them, and the gods of the surrounding nations. The Israelite people had forgotten about God. The God who saved them from Egypt, the God of Abraham. The God who had taken them through the wilderness and given them the land that they now occupy. They were ignoring God, and that gets him very upset.

Hosea is also very upset at the political structure and times. Hosea is especially harkening back to a time when the Hebrew people were tribal. A time when they had a sort of horizontal structure. They did not have a king. They had the tribal leaders, but they kind of did everything together. Power was shared, in a sense, sort of equally in a horizontal way in covenant with God, with God above them. God was the king, but the people cried for a king repeatedly and even though God said, “You shouldn’t have one, you shouldn’t have one” God finally relented and gave them Saul, then David, then Solomon. It was after Solomon that the country split in two.

So Hosea is upset that the people have given up having God as their leader, and given God up in favor of a hereditary monarchy. The kind of thing that we here in the United States rebelled against in the Revolution. The idea that if one guy is a great leader, his son ought to be the next one, or his daughter.

Hosea also lived during a time of a few violent coups against the king. He’s upset about that. And as Assyria, north of Israel, became a power and started to threaten Israel, it began making deals with surrounding nations to try to fend off Assyria and was also giving bribes to Assyria not to attack. Eventually that didn’t work, and Assyria did take over.

And much of Hosea’s ministry comes at a time of relative peace, until Assyria. Israel and the surrounding countries not a lot of war going, and economically they were doing very well. At least the rich were doing very well. The poor were doing very horrible, because the rich were keeping most everything. But, as a country, economically things were in pretty good shape. And so Hosea comes in the midst of that to give the people a warning that they need to return to God. And so I am going to read out of Hosea now, but before I do, I’m going to offer a warning, which I don’t normally do before reading scripture.

But this first chapter of Hosea, he uses some pretty strong language. The kind of language we wouldn’t normally use in the church, but it is scripture and that’s how it’s written. And it may be uncomfortable, but that was also what Hosea was shooting for. He wanted to make the people uncomfortable to expose to them what they are doing. And in this first chapter he basically equates them to adulterers and philanderers; that they have given up God. They are breaking the covenant that equates to marriage, and are running after all these other gods. He uses some strong language, so I apologize, but this is scripture, and that is what we have.

[I unfortunately skipped this paragraph in delivering the sermon, and so this is not on the audio: The prophets do not come from the 20th or 21st century American nicey-nicey tradition. Prophets take us out of our comfort zone. They were from an earthy culture, and they were also absolutely convinced that God was seriously angry at the faithlessness of the Hebrew people, and especially the political and religious leaders. Hosea first attacks the people’s faithlessness, accusing them of infidelity to God, comparing them to a cheating spouse to their husband, God. And he doesn’t pull any punches, but he does always come back to love. That even though we say we love God but go philandering after other gods, God’s love is constant. So here goes - if you have sensitive ears, I apologize, but this is scripture and Hosea was a prophet.]

[Read Hosea 1:1–9]
[While reading, I made the following comments:]

[About Jezreel: it’s a name that means “God sows”. Jezreel was also a battle place that king Jehu, who was Jeraboam’s grandfather, and he committed atrocities there to maintain this power, and so Hosea is speaking against King Jeraboam here.]

[About Lo-Ruhamah: note that this time there is no mention of Hosea being part of the conception of the child. Lo-Ruhama means “Not pitied”.]

[About Lo-Ammi: again, no mention of Hosea being involved in the conception of this child. Lo-Ammi means “Not my people”.]

That’s some severe stuff coming from Hosea. Speaking out against the people for chasing after other gods. And I mentioned last week that some prophets also do their prophetic work through symbolic action. That’s what Hosea does here by marrying Gomer. But for all the strength of Hosea’s invective, he also has some of what I think are the most beautiful and passionate, tender passages about God’s love, redemption, and reconciliation. Hosea was very literate. He knew Israel’s history very well. And was a very good writer. Lots of metaphor and imagery in his writing. So listen to how he ends this first chapter. There has been all this judgment here, but he goes on.

[Read Hosea 1:10–11]

[On the sands of the sea: That’s the covenant with Abraham, when God promised to make his offspring like the sands of the sea or the stars in the sky.]

So even immediately, Hosea offers these words of redemption, and that there is grace to come. With the prophets, the judgment is always an if...then: if you continue to do these bad things, then there will be destruction, but if you repent then it won’t happen. And the people rarely repent, and so often the judgment and destruction comes. And the prophets are always, even when that comes, say that they will not be fully destroyed, that the covenant with Abraham, that promise to Abraham, will always be maintained. There will always be a bringing back of the people. There will always be grace. Always forgiveness. Then Hosea goes on for a few more chapters about their adultery and bad things they are doing with the other gods, and then we come to chapter six. It calls for the people to repent, and it is out of this chapter that Jesus quotes that we read in Matthew. This is a call to repentance.

[Read Hosea 6:1–11a]

[on the “third day”: that brings back images of Jonah, and foreshadowing Jesus. {though note that in Hosea’s time, the book of Jonah had not been written so Hosea might very well not have known the story of Jonah in the large fish. The prophet named Jonah was alive at Hosea’s time, but we have no record of what he said or what was thought of him. It is possible, but unlikely, that there was in Hosea’s and Jonah’s time already the story of Jonah in a large fish, but it is unlikely.}]

[verse 6:6 - this is what Jesus quoted when he said to the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’”. God doesn’t want sacrifices or empty rituals, God wants steadfast love, mercy, and compassion.]

[on Adam: Adam was a city near where they crossed over the Jordan to come into the Promised Land {it was where the river was stopped in the north so that the people could walk over on dry land}]

[on the priests and Shechem: even the priests were robbing pilgrims on their way to the shrine to Shechem]

God is speaking through Hosea here, and keeps going back and forth between this incredible anger at the people with massive amounts of destructive judgement that will be brought against them, but also these moments of tenderness and love. One of the chapters that really hits on and talks about God’s love is chapter 11, which in our three year lectionary cycle is the only passage of Hosea that we read. That’s another reason we’re looking at the prophets this summer, is because we read so little from them when we stick to the lectionary texts. And it is unfortunate because the prophets are the ones that reformed the faith. Who called the people back to faithfulness. And the prophets are the ones who at a time of war and as the people went into exile and came back, it was the prophets who kept the story alive and kept the hope alive. Who helped them remember who they are and kept them pointed toward God all the time. So the prophets are incredibly important. That’s the Judaism that Jesus knew. The Judaism that the prophets saved and kept. And so the New Testament writers quote from the prophets a lot. They show up a lot in the New Testament, and so I think it is important to know some of these texts. And one of these important texts is chapter 11, which also has mention, perhaps, of a Messiah. And that is also something that the prophets talked about: to give the people hope that not only would Israel be restored as a people, but that God would come and truly redeem them, that a Messiah, the Prince of Peace, would come. And we get a little bit of that in chapter 11, this first verse was quoted at the end of that first Matthew passage about Jesus, Jospeh, and Mary going to Egypt.

[Read Hosea 11and 14]

[Israel was also Jacob, the man, who was renamed Israel and was the father of the 12 tribes. Jacob and his sons ended up in Egypt during a time of famine, invited there by the pharaoh but over the years became slaves. And that is when God rescued them. So this could be literally “when Israel was a child, I loved him; out of Egypt I called my son, I called my nation out of Egypt”, but it is also a reference to Jesus as Matthew uses it. That he and his family fled to Egypt and then came out in order to fulfill this verse. And hear the tender way that God speaks in these other verses.]

[On Admah and Zeboiim: these were two cities that were destroyed]

[Chapter 14, about horses and saying “Our god” to the works of our hands: Hosea is saying, “We will no longer rely on a military, we will no longer make idols”]

I firmly believe that God does not work in destruction or wrath, or laying waste, or judge us by letting attacks or natural disasters happen. I think that kind of thinking is an abuse of scripture, and I cringe whenever I see these guys on TV or read in the newspaper, people who are preaching that kind of message. I don’t think that God works that way, because God has given us the final answer to all of that destruction and judgment in Jesus. God came to earth. That answer of unlimited grace and forgiveness. To say to us, “This is not the way it’s going to be any more. Not the way it’s going to be any more.” God came to us personally after we had ignored hundreds of years of prophets. None of these prophets were taken very seriously in their own time. After we ignored hundreds of years of prophets, God said, “Well, maybe if I come myself they’ll listen to me.” So God did.

God came to share our common lot and to show us the extent of God’s love so we don’t have to fear God’s retaliation of raining death on us, or sending us into exile, or destroying our country or destroying the world. God may let us do some of that. Let us punish ourselves for our own foibles. But God is not going to do that.

And certainly we do go after other gods as the people in Hosea’s time. And in Hosea’s time they were going after these very real fertility gods. But they also had issues, just as we do, with following the gods of money, greed, convenience, of taking the easy path of ignoring our neighbor, forgetting the poor, of self-congratulations of thinking that they formed the country themselves or that we have what we have because of our own cleverness or some by some merit, not because it was a gift of God.

And so it is good to keep reading and hearing again from these prophets of old, for they still speak to us. Even though we are not Hebrew people of 2700 years ago, we are very much like them in chasing after other gods thinking they can save us even though it was God, through Jesus, who saved us. It was God through Jesus who rescued and rescues us from the Egypt of our shame and our guilt. And we still make alliances of convenience, or make alliances with people, things, or ideas that will betray us instead of staying faithful to the one God who has made an everlasting covenant with us. A covenant of grace, and forgiveness, and love. That says that we need never be afraid of God’s wrath again, because we have only the promise of God’s love. And that because of that promise we can live, as we say every Advent as we light the candles around the Advent wreath, we need never fear God because we can live in hope, in peace, in joy, and in love; the love of Jesus Christ. And thanks be to God. Amen.

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