Sermon For August 4: God to Us Fools
I made my commentary about the mass shootings over the weekend during our prayer request time, and so that is not included in this sermon.
God to Us Fools
Pentecost VIII (O. T. 18)
August 4, 2019
Hebrew prophets were strange. They would not fit comfortably into our nice, suburban, middle class environment. We love to read their poetry and think about their prophecy, but I don’t think you would want to invite one to dinner.
It’s somewhat surprising to me that Jesus was often invited to dinner, since his words and behavior did not always demonstrate good manners, either. In today’s reading from Luke (12:13-21) his words and behavior are not so bad, except for saying that anyone who considers wealth to be more important than relationships is a fool. You and I may well agree with him, and I think it goes nicely with the reading from Hosea, in which God is speaking to us fools about our priorities, and what God feels about it.
Generally, the prophets’ messages reflected what they learned about God from their own lives. So let’s start by talking about Hosea’s family life, and that will help us get a handle on his prophecy. Hosea felt very strongly that God was calling him to get married to a woman named Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Now Gomer was a prostitute by trade, and Hosea felt he was making a prophetic point by marrying her: Israel was prostituting itself by its failure to be completely loyal to the Lord God.
You probably don’t want me to say it, but here it is: in the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the relationship between God and God’s people is frequently compared to marriage. And the failure of God’s people to be faithful to the Lord God is described as “adultery” and “prostitution.” No matter how much the Lord God loves us, saves us, nurtures us, and guides us, we still go panting after every god who comes along in tight jeans, whether that god is wealth, property, nationalism, guns, military power, or ego… or anything else.
Anyway, Hosea made his first prophetic point by getting married to a prostitute named Gomer. She bore him a son, whom he named Jezreel, to remind the people of something terrible in their recent political history in the place named Jezreel. Then he got real explicit in his prophecy: Hosea and Gomer had a daughter, whom he named Lo-ruhamah, which means “Not pitied.” Because of their unfaithfulness, the Lord will no longer have pity on Israel. And then they had a son, Lo-ammi, which means “Not my people.” You get the point.
But then something happened: the Lord spoke to Hosea and said, “Call your daughter Ruhamah (‘pitied’), because I will have pity on Israel, and call your son Ammi (‘my people’), for Israel shall know that they are my people and that I am their God.” Hosea still spoke judgment and threats against Israel because they chased other gods, but the Lord was saying that their God would not completely reject them, even though they were unfaithful.
In the meantime, Gomer left Hosea and went back to prostitution. Funny thing: he didn’t write her off, but went looking for her. When he found her, he had to buy out her contract (fifteen shekels of silver, a homer of barley and a measure of wine – 3:2), and he took her home again. So all of his prophecy of judgment against Israel for its unfaithfulness was tempered by his love for Gomer and his forgiveness of her for her unfaithfulness to him. Maybe you could hear that in the plaintive cry of the Lord God in what I read to you: “I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”
There are five movements in the prophecy. The first remembers the Exodus, when the Lord rescued the people from slavery in Egypt, and they rewarded God by making sacrifices to the god Baal and to idols. Read the story for yourself; it’s all there. Now, it should be noted that there’s a certain practicality to what they did. Baal was considered an agricultural god, and so to ensure fertility of crops and of livestock it makes sense to make sacrifices to Baal. And the idols they made, such as the golden calf, were not intended to be substitutes for the Lord God but were intended to be representations of the Lord God. So again, they were simply being practical.
You and I are not inclined to offer sacrifices to Baal or to wander after the gods of other religions, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is when we hedge our bets, when we don’t do what God has explicitly commanded because we just don’t find it practical. Sure, Jesus is our Lord and Savior… but to be practical we have other lords and saviors, too.
The second movement is that God remembers teaching them to walk, remembers nursing them. God is saying, “When they turned away from me, they turned away from their own mother.” “They did not know that I healed them,” the Lord says. Wow, we could do a lot with that one thought: how much has the Lord done for us that we attributed to something else, so that we did not know that it was our divine mother looking after us?
The third movement is judgment: “They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king” and so forth. “Return to the land of Egypt” is symbolic; since they have been unfaithful to me ever since I brought them out of Egypt, I’m going to send them back there. But the threat of Assyria was real: Assyria was the growing regional power, and about ten to twenty years after Hosea’s prophecy Israel’s political alliances collapsed and they were overrun by Assyria. They were judged and Assyria became their king, just as Hosea predicted.
But remember: the Lord God told the prophet to call his children “Ruhamah – pitied” and “Ammi – my people.” Though the kingdom came to an end and their existence as a nation was over, it was not because the Lord God was overcome by wrath. It was inevitable, given their political and spiritual choices. But in the fourth movement of the poem the prophet tells us how God feels about it:
How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
(Admah and Zeboiim were two of the cities destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah.)
My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
Despite what some religious folks say, God does not take delight in destroying the wicked and the faithless, but the Lord will let our choices have their inevitable consequences. That is why Jesus calls the rich man a “fool:” he is so devoted to his wealth, that he has no one to share it with, no wife, no family, no friends. And I think you and I are little better than fools if we do not see what the Lord has done for us and go chasing after other gods, out of the notion that we need to be practical, so we’d best make an idol here and a sacrifice to Baal there. And the Lord weeps: They did not know that I saved them.
The last movement of the prophecy is a vision of the people coming home, returning to the land and returning to the Lord. And they return trembling, because the Lord is not merely some wimpy, indulgent deity, but a roaring lion. I often think our worship would be more faithful if we would think of the Lord not so much as a kind grandpa who likes to see us enjoying ourselves, but rather as the roaring lion that Hosea sees. A little fear and trembling before the power that creates the galaxies would do us good.
So, in summary: sometimes we’re Gomer in the story, wandering away from God in the pursuit of more pleasure or excitement, and sometimes we’re Lo-ruhamah or Lo-ammi, forgetting the God who has given us life, nursed us, taught us to walk. But the Lord loves us and comes for us. Remember how Hosea bought out Gomer’s contract with some silver, barley, and wine? The Lord buys out our contract through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross so that we can return home, and the Lord does not reject or forget us. Indeed, the Lord calls us home, as a roaring lion summons the cubs. Let us come trembling before the Lord, who says:
I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst,
And I will not come in wrath.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master