When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.’ So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
And the Lord said to him, ‘Name him Jezreel; for in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.’
She conceived again and bore a daughter. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Name her Lo-ruhamah, for I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them. But I will have pity on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God; I will not save them by bow, or by sword, or by war, or by horses, or by horsemen.’
When she had weaned Lo-ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said, ‘Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God.’
Yet the number of the people of Israel shall 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 shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’
1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious, •
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say this, •
those he redeemed from the hand of the enemy,
3 And gathered out of the lands
from the east and from the west, •
from the north and from the south.
4 Some went astray in desert wastes •
and found no path to a city to dwell in.
5 Hungry and thirsty, •
their soul was fainting within them.
6 So they cried to the Lord in their trouble •
and he delivered them from their distress.
7 He set their feet on the right way •
till they came to a city to dwell in.
8 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his goodness •
and the wonders he does for his children.
9 For he satisfies the longing soul •
and fills the hungry soul with good.
43 Whoever is wise will ponder these things •
and consider the loving-kindness of the Lord.
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
Sermon on Trinity 9
I wonder if any one of us understands the prophet’s activity, his marriage and why Hosea named the children of this marriage in the way he did. The scholars tell us that Hosea was living out prophecy in his own flesh – “prophetic actions” they say.
Hosea took “a wife of whoredom and had children of whoredom”. His wife was one of what we would call “the girls of the night”, or in a more recent circumlocution, “a sex worker” – personally, I think she must have been one of the most notorious prostitutes in the area, else how would what he did make any sense to his contemporaries? Hosea is making a clear statement about the state of Israel to everyone who knows him as a prophet. Certainly, anyone who knows this fellow Hosea knows that he is one for symbolic action – that everything he does participates in another meaning. This woman he marries signifies not just an ill-judged marriage, but Israel and the state of affairs that exists between God and his people. The children they have together speak to the future of Israel.
Their first child is called Jezreel, which can either mean ‘God will scatter’ or ‘God will sow’ – it is an agricultural term, you scatter the seed to sow it. Depending on the context, you have your translation. Their next child is “Lo-ruhamah, for [God says] I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them.” This is dire statement for the people of God, isn’t it? The third child is “Lo-ammi, for [God says] you are not my people and I am not your God.” – Imagine having these children in our midst. Imagine that Bill had called his children these names – what would we think? I am sure that we would be at sixes and sevens – that we would not know where we stood as Bill flaunted these children before us – in essence, condemning how we have behaved before God. But Bill has not named his children such names of damnation, so we should move on to the Kingdom more confidently.
Let’s proceed to Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he condemns us but at the same time exhorts us to better behaviour and standards. On the one hand he adjures us to “put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these, the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.” Paul beseeches us to remember – “These are the ways you also once followed.” Paul bids them to walk on in the new way, “you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language” all of which issue from your mouth. Paul is describing a very different way of life – a life where “you have stripped off the old self” with its vile practices. You have clothed yourselves with a new self, a new identity is being regenerated in knowledge according to the image of its creator.
Last week I spoke elsewhere of the sacred places and times which the religious attempt to grasp through their myths, symbols and rituals which the historian of religion describes. Here Paul is bringing us right into the presence of the sacred, the presence of God, the creator of all things, when he describes the change from the old, profane way of behaving to the new self which is renewed in knowledge, a new self which reflects the image of the creator. What could be more powerful than that for the religious?
Hosea and Paul condemn the worst in us, our base carnality, yet give us a spiritual hope, the hope of being with God, of being in the same space and time as God. The people of God – even those who once ran after foreign gods and idols – those who once were called, “not my people” will now be called the “children of God”. Paul commends “the image of the creator” for each and every person. He says that everyone who lives a life as the image of the creator – every one – is recreated as a human being with no accidental peculiarities. Paul’s prophetic utterance is: “In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”
This is an especially apposite message for us today. It is a moral message as well as soteriological – in other words, this is a prophetic message of salvation. The Word preached tells us that in Christ, all are fulfilled, since we are the image of the creator, the image of Christ. As he said last week, “you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him.” What a hope we have in Jesus! What an expectation we have of our God! The message proclaims something greater than each and every one of us, it proclaims a sacred centre to our lives, a centre in space and time of which our non-religious contemporaries know nothing.
That centre takes us out of ourselves and forces us to reach for the transcendent, the divine. And so Jesus speaks to the man who is worried more about the division of wealth than the distribution of grace and mercy. Jesus speaks to us, just as he speaks to that fellow, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded” – life is being required for my neighbour not my fleshly existence, for neighbours will always be with us. The question remains: “And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
Our foolishness lies in the objects of our desire. So what is our hearts’ intent? Have we decided what the “core values” of a christian are? Do we, for instance, really believe that there are no distinctions within the christian community, neither barbarian nor Scythian neither male nor female. Have you, Paul asks, “put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly”? Have we really approached the throne of grace with meekness as the Book of Common Prayer recommends? Do we approach the source of all existence with a clear conscience?
That is the real question prophets ask us, I think. Do we stand in that space and time of innocence when all things are fresh for God’s purpose? That is the hope the prophets offer. Hosea, Paul and Jesus each speak of the moral imperative which the religious must feel as they face everything. This is the heart of the religious life, where there is no foolishness. How can there be folly, if God is our intention? How can there be any prejudice if all stand before God as the one and only judge? Jesus proclaims to us, “This moment all that you are is required.” When we realise that, we arrive at that moment of absolute hope the prophet promises.