Sunday, July 28, 2013

Children of the Living God

Children Of The Living God from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Hosea 1:2-10
2When the Word of the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, marry a prostitute and have children of prostitution, for the people of the land commit great prostitution by deserting the LORD. 3So Hosea went and took Gomer, Diblaim’s daughter, and she became pregnant and bore a son. 4The LORD said, “Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will destroy the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Jezreel valley. 6Gomer became pregnant again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the LORD said to Hosea, “Name her No Compassion, because I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel or forgive them. 7But I will have compassion on the house of Judah. I, the LORD, their God, will save them; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen. 8When Gomer finished nursing No Compassion, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. 9Then the LORD said, “Name him Not My People because you are not my people and I am not your God.”

10Yet the number of the people of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which can neither be 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.”

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks Be to God

This is one of those texts that makes congregations shift uncomfortably in their pews. Don’t worry, it’s also one of those texts that makes preachers shift uncomfortably behind their pulpits. It sends us straight to our commentaries to try and explain away why God would command these terrible things. We have been raised on a happy-fun god who has no more substance than the cotton balls our children glue to the pictures we draw of him. The God of Hosea makes us anxious. Because in this minor prophet, God stares down the full measure of humanity's darkness and refuses to blink.

Hosea’s actions are abusive to both his wife and his children. He doesn’t choose his wife because he’s in love with her, or because it was arranged as a good match. Hosea chooses Gomer because she’s the one who comes to his mind when the LORD commands him to Go, marry a prostitute. She is a prop to his prophecy, not even a real human being who will have to suffer through the rejection and abuse that is chronicled in the second chapter of Hosea. As soon as we meet her, Gomer’s husband strips her of her personhood and leaves her an object lesson.

Then the children start arriving, and God tells Hosea to name them terrible things. They’re not people, they’re walking sermon illustrations! Jezreel, the site of a terrible battle. No Compassion, because God is done tolerating our shenanigans, Not My People because we have so thoroughly abandoned God that God no longer even recognizes her covenant people. These are children of prostitution, brought into the world to embody the way that God’s people have deserted him. What chance do they have of making themselves whole when they are so wholly surrounded by brokenness?

Hosea’s story is almost always read with the assumption that Hosea, the man, represents God, and Gomer, the woman, represents Israel. I'm not satisfied with that interpretation. This isn't a story of a prostitute's purifying punishment. This is a story of the redemption of the entire family. God transforms their family’s brokenness into wholeness.

Broken heroes and fallen examples are a motif throughout the scriptures. Noah was a drunkard. Abraham sold Sarah to be another man's wife, twice. Moses murdered an Egyptian. David was an adulterer who conspired to have Uriah the Hittite killed. Hosea is an abusive husband and father, and he needs redemption as much as his wife and children do.

Hosea does not stand in for God in this enacted prophecy. Hosea is a family member and a prophet whose life testifies to the need for a redeeming God. His abuses are inexcusable. "Hosea's treatment of his wife and children has sometimes been used to justify similar actions in modern relationships as well. This is a perversion of the biblical narrative and of the intent of the passage. Hosea 1-3 is not a story about the absolute submission of wives to their husbands, nor does it give license to husbands to brutalize their wives for real or imagined transgressions,"

Abuse is inexcusable, but neither the abusers nor the people they abuse are beyond God’s saving reach. This first chapter of Hosea sets the stage for, and is the promise of, redemption. 

Hosea, Gomer, Jezreel, No Compassion, and Not My People are all living in a world that is distorted by sin, and every aspect of their behavior and identity is colored by that distortion. Nobody in the family escapes unscathed. Some of us find it easier to see that distortion in others. Some of us find it impossible to escape that distortion in ourselves. God gives the children names that reflect their brokenness and that of the community into which they were born. Hosea’s children are wearing the sin of their people as a nametag. They are children of prostitution, for the people of the land commit great prostitution by deserting the LORD. God stares into this broken family’s darkness, and refuses to give up on them.

The story begins with a prophet's family identified as the "sick ones." They are the children of prostitution. They are the ones who desert the LORD. Gomer, Hosea, Jezreel, No Compassion, and Not My People are no doubt ostracized for the sickness in their family. It’s a sort of social quarantine that hopes sin is an infection that will just run its course and then go away. 

We avoid them because if we keep the children of prostitution at arms length, and ignore them, we don’t have to recognize how much we are like them. The way they treat each other makes us squirm in our churches, I wonder how much more we would squirm if they sat in the pew next to us. We can see the disorder in Hosea’s family, and we wonder if maybe our own symptoms are not as well hidden as we thought.

The symptoms are obvious in this family, but the rest of God’s people are just as sick. Even in our church family, nobody escapes unscathed. When an addict reaches again for the dose that makes them feel better even as it kills them, that is a symptom. When a son cannot face his family because he has failed to meet their expectations, that is a symptom. When a woman abandons her nursing child, that is a symptom. When a father disowns his child for the choices he’s made, that is a symptom. They are easy to see, easy to point out, easy to label “children of prostitution.”

But I wonder if our quieter symptoms qualify us to share that label with Hosea’s family as well. Like when we cursed at the person who cut us off driving to work last Thursday. Or when we lied to the person who asked for a little money for food or gas saying “I don’t have any cash”, because we thought they might just go buy booze or smokes with it. I wonder if the fact that these transgressions are acceptable in our society is evidence that we are not oriented toward the ends God has for us. But God sees the darkness from which these actions stem, and refuses to abandon us to it. God is going to transform our brokenness into wholeness.

The Israelites committed themselves to a higher standard, one that glorifies God, who brought them out of Egypt and transformed Israel from slaves into a covenant people. That higher standard is a gift, a reminder of who they are and whose they are. It is a constant reminder that they need God to be active in their lives, and a promise that God is active in their lives.

When Israel cannot live up to the covenant, God doesn't give up and start anew, or just create a new sinless universe like a child who has grown tired of her lego creation. God does not discard us like a writer crumpling a page of an uninspired rough draft.

No, the author of all that exists takes the crumpled paper, and reorders it into a new creation. A creation where Gomer is no longer just a prop in a prophecy, but is once again somebody’s child: Diblaim's daughter. A creation where her children are not rejected, but are embraced by a loving heavenly parent. A creation where Hosea no longer passes on a pattern of abuse, but empowers those around him to hear the Word of the LORD. God promises that we will not be defined by the ways we have stumbled, but as the people whom God has lifted up, even when it means the fabric of existence must be made new.

It is a reality where the addict is no longer known for the substance they use to escape, but for the way she helps others who are also recovering from addiction. It’s a reality where the young man who flunked out of college given the opportunity to succeed, even at something different. It’s a reality where a mother will not forsake her nursing child, where a father runs to welcome the prodigal home. It’s a covenant that is not dependent on our ability to hold the broken bits of our lives together, but on God transforming our brokenness into wholeness.

The new covenant that is promised in Hosea is a covenant where “the number of the people Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which can neither be measured nor numbered.” It is a covenant where God speaks “I will have compassion on the house of Judah. I, the LORD their God, will save them; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.” Because this is not a covenant of law, or of force, or of money. This is not a covenant of our deserving God’s love, because we could never earn such a gift. This is a covenant of the WORD made flesh in a man named Jesus of Nazareth.

Christ came for the children of prostitution. Christ went to the cross knowing that the people he was saving were the ones who called for his death. Christ died because we were incapable of claiming or even remembering our identities as people of God. Instead we commit great prostitution by deserting the LORD. Christ was crucified because God refuses to part with those whom God loves, even when they reject her. When those whom God loves are too broken to reach out to him, God goes to the cross, giving us a loaf of bread saying “This is my body, broken for you.”

We may have earned the names “No Compassion” and “Not My People.” But that is not how God sees us. The place where it was said, “You are not my People” it will be said to them “Children of the Living God” For God has stared into the depths of humanity’s darkness, and when we could not emerge from it, came to us so that even when we walked in darkness we would not walk alone. Not even death could contain God’s love for us. We are no longer identified by sin of the world but by the righteousness of the risen Christ. Our lives are forever transformed.

The empty tomb has transformed the children of prostitution into Children of the Living God. Amen.