Rev Dr John McCulloch
St. Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias
Sunday (year C) 28/7/2019
Hosea 1: 2-10 & Luke 11: 1-13
Throughout the OT, God is portrayed in many different ways:
God is portrayed as spirit hovering over the primordial waters, as the creator; as the almighty, the warrior, the shepherd, the husband, lover, judge, king; and others.
The different personifications and images of God in the Hebrew Scriptures tell us a lot about the relationship between God and his people.
They also are an indication of how we think about God, and how we project our own traits onto God.
When the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, they longed for God the liberator who would lead them into ‘promised land’; they longed for God the warrior who would defeat their enemies; and when they were tired, thirsty and weary of life, they longed for the good shepherd who would lead them to pools of cool and refreshing waters.
In Hosea chapter 1, we presented with a surprising and controversial image of God.
He is depicted as a shamed and cheated husband, and in verse 2 we read of God’s curious instruction to the prophet Hosea:
Go, take yourself a wife of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.
In subsequent verses we read of how God switches between emotions of anger, brokenheartedness, and ultimately forgiveness.
This is a very different image of God from that of an impassive God who cannot be touched and affected by suffering. Instead, the description of God is one who is connected with his creation, feeling sorrow, anger and pain when his people leave him; his beloved people whom he had liberated from slavery, fed manna to in the wilderness and caused water to come out of the rock… A God and who had given them victory over their enemies through Joshua, Gideon, King David and others.
In Hosea chapter 1, God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute, as a visual embodiment and illustration of the breakdown in relationship between himself and his people.
Hosea and his wife Gomer go on to have 3 children, and each is given a symbolic name: the first son is called Jezreel, and connotes judgement for God says in verse 5 ‘I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel’.
Then they have a daughter and name her ‘Lo-ruhamah, which means ‘having obtained mercy’, and we read in verse 6 that God will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them.
And last of all, they have a son and call him Lo-ammi; which means ‘not my people’.
The picture presented in the book of Hosea is one of broken relationships. A broken relationship between God and his people, which then has consequences that reach far beyond husband of wife; but affect innocent children and others.
Is this not true of our world, in the sense that our actions, for good or for bad, have profound consequences for others around us, both near and far, for we live in an interconnected world, we live in community?
Our relationship towards others, is of course deeply related to our relationship with God; for if we are transformed by the love of God, we will radiate love to others. If we cut ourselves off from the source of life and grace; this will affect our relationships not only with others, but with the whole created order. If we consume more than our fair share of the planet’s resources, then our greed will have a big impact on others, who have less to live on, and so on. Relationships matter, and affect all of us (and especially the most vulnerable in our world), as illustrated by Hosea and Gomer’s 3 children.
The author of the book of Hosea wants the reader to visualise this, to recognise that God, humankind and creation are linked; and when that relational chord is broken, judgement, violence, abandonment and neglect can take root, affecting others in the process.
Our NT reading is about prayer; and prayer is primarily about relationship.
We don’t have the time to go into this now, but there are many kinds of prayer: petitionary prayer, silent prayer, prayer as lament, as protest, prayers of thanksgiving, adoration and intercession. But what all these kinds of prayer have in common is that they are about relationship.
In our NT reading from Luke 11, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray; and immediately connects Father and Son, between heaven and earth; the kingdom of God and its relation to the world. It is a prayer which at its core contains the plea for God’s reign of justice, peace and reconciliation to come to our world:
may your kingdom come.
How did Jesus go about establishing the Kingdom of God on this earth? Through acts of healing, inclusion, generosity, compassion and outpoured love.
We have spoken about the many images and depictions of God in the OT; but who does Jesus associates himself with?
Jesus never associates himself with the military commander Joshua, but with the suffering servant of the Second Isaiah, who is ‘as one cast out’, one who is ‘acquainted with suffering and grief’. And the image he most associates with is that of the good shepherd, leading his flock to rivers of living water.
You cannot get a much more contrasting image then between a shepherd and a military commander.
And Jesus does not only identify with this image, but embodies it. Just like Hosea embodies the broken relationships that go wrong and have untold consequences on others; Jesus, the word incarnate, embodies the good shepherd, the suffering King, who comes into our world of pain, taking on its burden and weight, even to the point of death.
Mercy and grace will win out in the end.
Even in the Hosea passage, in verse 10 of chapter 1 we read that to those who are not God’s people, He will still treat them as ‘children of God’.
Grace and mercy will prevail. This is our hope, our longing & our prayer:
‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’
This was Jesus’ prayer, and it is a prayer that we will say as we gather at the table of our Lord shortly; a table which speaks about relationships restored. A table which speaks of our suffering God, who enters our world of pain, sorrow and death; to make us whole, to breathe life and hope into the frailties of our faltering lives and world.
Glory be to the father, and to the son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now, and evermore shall be. Amen.