Sunday, September 27, 2020

"Therefore, I will now allure her" – a Sermon on Hosea 2:14-23

Hosea 2:14-23

What kind of God have you gotten yourself mixed up with?

In the prophet Hosea, we have the God of Israel making a spectacle of himself as he pursues his wayward love. Israel had continually done him wrong, two-timed him, cheated on him. And yet, here he is saying, Therefore, I will now allure her.” I will now allure her. What kind of self-respecting God is that?

I wonder what the other gods would have thought (imagining for a moment that they existed.)

Marduk: I wonder what he sees in her. She’s not all that good looking. She certainly is not wealthy like the Great Babylon where I am worshiped. I’d have dumped her long ago.

Zeus: I like to play around like any other god, but this is ridiculous.

Anat: They say love is blind, but this is too much. At least my Lord Baal has the decency to have a goddess like myself as his consort. But Yahweh insists on consorting with this ragtag people, Israel, even after they have spurned his love over and over. You’d think he’d get the hint.

Here is Yahweh, shamelessly gone courting, inviting Israel to go on a sort of second honeymoon, back to the desert where it all began. He wants to recapture the spark that had existed between them. “Therefore, I will now allure her.” “I will speak tenderly to her” – whisper sweet nothings in her ear. In the presence of such public displays of tender affection and relentless love in spite of all, the other gods are too embarrassed to exist and they fade away.

Hosea lived in distressing times. The reign of the great king Jeroboam II had just ended. Jeroboam had reigned for 40 years during which Israel had enjoyed a golden age that rivaled that of Solomon’s. But, in the midst of prosperity, there was an internal rot. Injustice and oppression were rampant. Their worship of Yahweh was diluted as the people chased after other gods.

The prophet, Amos, had warned of a coming day of reckoning. Soon after Amos had gone back to dressing sycamore trees, Hosea picked up the refrain. Hosea also warned that Israel’s unfaithfulness would have consequences. Israel was headed for destruction and, this time, God was not going to intervene. Sure enough, it was not long before the Assyrian Empire invaded and conquered Israel. All appeared to be lost. Perhaps God would finally abandon Israel.

But Hosea has another theme – on the other end of Israel’s unfaithfulness, misery, and affliction is God's relentless love. Hosea learned this the hard way through personal experience. He was married to a woman with the unfortunate name of Gomer. Gomer proved to be an unfaithful wife, an adulteress. It is unclear whether she merely committed adultery in the conventional sense or if she served as a temple prostitute on behalf of one of the Canaanite Gods. But it is clear that she was not faithful to Hosea – just as Israel was not faithful to Yahweh. Hosea lived with the heartache of that betrayal, but he also learned from it. He came to a deeper understanding of God's faithfulness despite Israel’s unfaithfulness.

Though Israel would suffer the consequences of her unfaithfulness, Hosea knew that God was in the suffering with her and would be on the other end of it. The Valley of Achor, which means “affliction,” would be made a door of hope.  God had told Hosea to name one of his children, “Lo-ruhamah,” which means “No Pity” to demonstrate Israel’s dire predicament. Here, he is promising that there will be pity. Another child was named, “Lo-ammi,” which means “Not My People” to demonstrate how seriously God took Israel’s infidelity. Here, God is promising that he will yet say, “You are my people.” And the people will respond, “You are my God.”  God would not give up on Israel.

God even promises that Israel will “know the LORD.” The knowing referred to here is not a matter of head knowledge only, but an intimate knowledge born of deep experience. It is the language of intimacy. The Hebrew word for “know” used here is the same word used in Genesis where Adam “knew” Eve. There used to be a euphemism for intimacy – to know someone “in the biblical sense.” “And you shall know the LORD.” The double entendre is not accidental. God desires – and promises – intimacy with us beyond our imagining.

“Therefore, I will now allure her.”  God is like a long-suffering husband romancing his faithless bride back to his love.  “Therefore, I will now allure her.”  God will play the bridegroom once again.

It should come as no surprise that this is the language Jesus uses of himself. He is the bridegroom, come to allure Israel. It is no accident that his first miracle is performed at a wedding feast. The feasting that was typical of his ministry might very well have been enactments of the wedding feast to which all are invited. Jesus, with his twelve groomsmen, went about romancing Israel in a long wedding procession toward Jerusalem and the cross. Demonstrating once again there are no lengths to which God will not go to demonstrate his love.

“Therefore, I will now allure her.”

By the Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to allure, to romance the world.  We need only pay attention.

He allures us through the Scripture. The Bible has been called a collection of love letters from God.

He romances us through creation. The lift in your heart at the first taste of spring points to the one who is our Eternal Spring. Walt Whitman, in his poem, ‘Song of Myself’ refers to a blade of grass as

. . . the handkerchief of the Lord,

A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,

Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners,

that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Jesus allures us through prayer. In her ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, Julian of Norwich – woman who knew what it was to be loved by and to love God, wrote,

We shall by his sweet grace in our own meek continual prayer come into him now in this life by many secret touchings of sweet spiritual sights and feelings measured out to us as our simplicity may bear it.

Jesus allures through our relationships with others – friends, relatives, strangers. God is present in every encounter with another person inviting us to draw near to him through loving others.

Jesus allures us in the Eucharist. I heard the Eucharist once described as the kiss of Christ. No matter how much someone says he or she loves us, a hug, or kiss, or pat on the shoulder makes it real. You can hear in a sermon that God loves you. Receiving the Bread and the Wine, you can feel it.

Jesus allures us in the story of our own lives. We need only pay attention.

God in Christ continually allures us – wooing us into a people – we who were no people are now a people as 1 Peter says, quoting Hosea. And, of course, Paul calls the church the bride of Christ. We gentiles, who were no people, have been incorporated into the great love story of God and Israel – which points ultimately to the love story of God with all creation. And with each of us in it. However often we are as unfaithful as Gomer, God is yet more faithful.  His love is unrelenting.

What kind of God have you gotten yourself mixed up with? This kind:

A God who is alluring.

A God who is alluring you . . .

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