Pentecost 10

July 24, 2016


Text:  Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85



    The past two Sundays our First Lesson was from the book of the prophet Amos.  Today our First Lesson comes from the book of the prophet Hosea.  Hosea was active at about the same time as Amos.  Both prophets spoke for God in the northern kingdom, Israel, during the reign of King Jeroboam II.  Both proclaimed God’s judgment on a wayward people.  They may well have known each other.

    If you were here a couple weeks ago, you may recall that the time of King Jeroboam II was a time of prosperity in Israel.  But the prosperity was only enjoyed by a wealthy few, who looked upon their wealth as a sign of God’s favor.  There was a vast disparity between the wealthy few and the many poor.  The poor were cheated, mistreated, and oppressively taxed.  Amos focused a great deal of his message upon this reality.

    Hosea was also concerned about the injustice, but talked more about what he saw as the cause of the injustice--the nation’s idolatry.  At that time idolatrous practices were widespread, particularly those connected with Baalism.  Baalism was a Canaanite fertility religion.  They believed that the earth produced crops because their gods, called Baals, engaged in sexual relations with the earth.  So they practiced temple prostitution in order to get their gods aroused so they would fertilize the earth.

    God called on Hosea to demonstrate God’s message to the people in an unusual way.  Hosea was told to go and marry a temple prostitute and have children by her, because Israel had deserted the Lord and prostituted themselves to other gods.  So Hosea married a woman named Gomer and had three children with her:  a son named Jezreel because God was going to destroy the kingdom of Israel in the Jezreel Valley; a daughter named No Compassion because God was no longer going to show compassion on Israel or forgive them; and a son named Not My People because God said Israel was no longer his people, nor he their God.

    Those who benefited from this situation could not seem to understand why judgment was being proclaimed against them.  Because the Israelite economy was prospering, they thought God looked upon them with favor.  They didn’t seem to notice the people who were not doing well under these circumstances.  The message of the prophets largely fell on deaf ears on this account.  Only in retrospect, after the nation had fallen in conquest to the Assyrian Empire, could people see that the prophets had been right all along.

    It seems to me this kind of cluelessness about how far Israel was from the faithfulness and justice God demanded of them is reflected in the psalm for today, Psalm 85.  The psalmist declares that God had shown favor to his land and restored the fortunes of the people, forgiving them and turning away from anger.  But then the psalmist asks God, “So why are you still angry with us?”  Times were tough, and things were not going well. Apparently the psalmist decided this meant that God was still angry, but the psalmist couldn’t figure out why.

    I wonder--are we clueless today about the injustices in our world?  Some people don’t seem to understand why such a big deal is being made about the idea that “Black Lives Matter”, saying that “All Lives Matter”.  Have we forgotten that for hundreds of years in this country, Americans of African descent have often been treated as if their lives did not matter, and that in some situations they still are treated that way?  Some people are worried and upset about radical Islamic terrorism, but fail to realize that said terrorism is a reaction to decades of botched American foreign policy in the Middle East.  And then a lot of people are just plain angry about the way things are in the world today, but don’t seem to notice that demagogues on all sides are all too happy to take advantage of the anger to stir people up, often by spreading lies and misinformation about those with whom they disagree.  Part of the problem, too, is that so much of the information we receive today isn’t just news.  Much of the “news media” is itself ideologically slanted.  It’s no accident that many people are confused and clueless about what is going on in the world today.  Those in power want us in that condition so we will cooperate with them in doing what they want, whether that is what is really best or not.  They don’t want us to notice the injustices and violence that are being perpetrated in our name, or the people who are suffering and dying as a result.

That’s one kind of cluelessness.  But there is another kind, and it is one I find I am often subject to.  Being spiritual director at Wesley Woods this summer has opened my eyes as never before to the circumstances with which many young people live.  I have listened to and had a number of conversations with campers, volunteer junior staff, and hired summer staff.  Now many of us have an impulse within us to try to protect our children from the harsher stuff of life while they are young.  But the reality is that many of them are already dealing with terrible stuff, such as:  parents with strained or broken marriages; parents, siblings, or self with substance abuse and addiction issues; mental health issues such as depression or self-harming behaviors; feelings of worthlessness; bullying; neglect and/or abuse by parents; economic difficulty when a parent loses their job; grief from the deaths of family members and/or friends; fear about what is going to happen when a loved one becomes seriously ill.  And these are not exceptional cases.  I am finding these circumstances to be quite common among young people today.  Before this summer, I was really clueless about that.  And I also have come to realize one can only learn these things in an atmosphere such as camp where deep levels of trust can develop.  That atmosphere is rare in the outside world.  In my experience, most churches are not even places where there is deep trust.  That’s a shame, because the church offers the One who can actually be of help in dealing with these situations:  Jesus Christ.  I have heard testimonies this summer from young people who are finding help in God to deal with these things in their lives.  

This is why, in spite of all the judgment, in spite of all the cluelessness, both Hosea and the psalmist are able to end on a positive note.  Hosea, immediately after declaring judgment through his strangely named children, offers the following words:  “Yet the number of the people of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it will be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’”  In spite of their failure to live up to God’s way, in spite of their cluelessness about what was wrong, in spite of the punishment that would be placed upon them, God still had not given up on them.  God still was willing to reclaim Israel as his people.

Likewise, hear again the latter part of Psalm 85:

Let me hear what the Lord God says,

   because he speaks peace to his people and to his faithful ones.

   Don’t let them return to foolish ways.

God’s salvation is very close to those who honor him

   so that his glory can live in our land.

Faithful love and truth have met;

   righteousness and peace have kissed.

Truth springs up from the ground;

   righteousness gazes down from heaven.

Yes, the Lord gives what is good,

   and our land yields its produce.

Righteousness walks before God,

   making a road for his steps.

The psalmist prays for the people to turn from their foolish ways and honor God, that God’s glory might again be known in the land.  He envisions the joyous reunion of faithful love with truth and righteousness with peace, and the ways of earth with the ways of heaven.

The world in which we live is headed in many dangerous, destructive, foolish directions.  Often we are clueless about how these things affect the lives of others, especially the most vulnerable members of society--the poor, the disadvantaged, and the young.  God help us to see the foolishness of our ways and the harm that is done because of them, that we may be led to living God’s ways of faithful love, truth, righteousness, and peace both in our personal lives and in our relationships with other persons and the larger society in which we live.  Amen.

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