Love that persists and transforms
190728 Pentecost 7C: Hosea 1:2–10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6–15; Luke 11:1–13.
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen.
The book of Hosea is a love story – real, tragic, and true. Transcending the tale of a young man and his wife, it tells of God’s love for his people and the response of his “bride”. A covenant had been made and God had been faithful. His love was steadfast and his commitment unbroken. But Israel was unfaithful, and spurned God’s love and turned to false gods.
Hosea was a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel between 753 and 715 BC serving God for a period of 36 years. Under the reign of Jeroboam II, the northern kingdom prospered materially but decayed spiritually. The people were greedy and had adopted the moral behaviour and idolatrous religions of the surrounding Canaanites.
Hosea was called by God to show how the northern kingdom had been unfaithful to God, their “husband” and provider and had married themselves to Baal and the gods of Canaan. He warned that unless they repented of their ways and turned back to God they were headed for destruction. Hosea spoke of God’s characteristics, his powerful love and fierce justice and how their practical experience of these should affect their lives and make them return to God. Unfortunately, the people had broken their covenant with God and they would receive the punishment God had promised (Deuteronomy 27, 28)
Previously, Elijah had predicted that the dynasty of Ahab, Israel’s eighth king would be destroyed because of their wickedness (1 Kings 21:20-22). Elisha sent a prophet to Ramoth Gilead to anoint Jehu as Israel’s new king, but Jehu went too far in carrying out God’s command to destroy Ahab’s evil influence (2 Kings 10:1-11). Jehu’s dynasty would also be punished in the Valley of Jezreel, the same place where he carried out the massacre of Ahab’s family. God’s promise to put an end to Israel as an independent kingdom — to “break its bow” — came true 25 years later when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom and carried the people into captivity.
We do not know the exact details of Hosea’s marriage, but as he was a prophet and not a priest it is possible that he could marry a woman who had other lovers. It is also possible that she was unfaithful after the marriage. In any case, Hosea knew ahead of time that his wife would be unfaithful and that their married life would become a living object lesson to the people of the northern kingdom and illustrate God’s relationship to the unfaithful nation of Israel.
We are told that Hosea’s wife Gomer bore children and a key part of the story is found in the children’s names which indicate God’s reaction to the unfaithfulness of the Children of Israel. Gomer and her children became a living, prophetic example to Israel and a warning to us.
After the warning of judgment, God reaffirmed his love to the people, and offered reconciliation. His love and mercy were overflowing, but justice would be served. Although Israel was unfaithful, God’s commitment to them and his promises remained unchanged. The promise of a future, and plans for prosperity, reiterated the covenant made with Moses more than 700 years before (in Deuteronomy 30:1-10) and foreshadowed the prophesies of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:11-14) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 11:20-21). All this in essence was a prediction of the day when all the people of God will be united under Christ. In our time, all believers everywhere are God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and belong to God as we are reminded in the writings known as 1 Peter 2: 9.
Psalm 85, written by the temple assistants, the sons of Korah, tells us, God can revive his people, bring them back to spiritual life, renew people’s reverence for God, which in turn leads to forgiveness and restoration of love and joy for God. The secret of this revival is to trust God. And then live to please God. Can we remember that God can pour out his love on us, renewing our love for him, and this is available for the asking? If we need revival in our spiritual life, for our community, or for our family, we only need to revive our prayer life and ask. Receiving Christ as lord of our life is the beginning of life with Christ and when we decide to do this, can we continue to follow his leadership, as Paul suggests, by being rooted in Christ? Just as plants draw nourishment from the soil through their roots, so we draw our life-giving strength from Christ. When we come to the Eucharist in faith, we are built up and strengthened in faith. Christ wants to guide us and help us with our daily problems and when we submit to him we receive the power and confidence in life that we need to succeed. We are in a better position to seek to learn from him, his life and his teachings, and we recognize the Holy Spirit’s power in us. When we know Christ, we will be faithful to him. We will not need to seek God by shopping around many religions, cults, or unbiblical philosophies as the people of Israel and the Colossians were doing, or to be unfaithful like Gomer was. Christ alone holds the answer to the true knowledge and power needed for the Christian’s life. None of us needs anything in addition to what Christ has provided. As forgiven people, we have been reconciled to God; we have a union with Christ that can never be broken. In our faith connection with him, we identify with his death, burial, and resurrection. The importance of this is that we can live in constant contact and communication with God. When we do this, we all will be eternally united with Christ and with one another.
The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we need to be persistent in our communication with God and to remember his faithfulness. God’s provision is daily, we cannot store it up and then cut off communication with God. If we are low on spiritual strength can we ask ourselves. “How long have we been out of touch with the source? Are our roots not seeking the nourishment of Christ’s life-giving strength?” When Jesus taught the disciples to pray he made forgiveness the cornerstone of their relationship with God. God, the ever-faithful lover has forgiven our sins, and we need to forgive those who have wronged us. To remain unforgiving means we have not understood that we deeply need to be forgiven. Persistence in prayer overcomes our insensitivity and it does more. It helps to change our hearts and minds; and helps us understand and express the intensity of our need. Persistence in prayer helps us recognize God’s work and how much he is faithful and truly loves us. God is our faithful partner who keeps his promises. Can we be truly faithful to Him? Amen.
The Reverend Camellia Flanagan tssf