July 28, 2013
“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Luke 11:9)
No one could accuse Hosea of “talking the talk” without “walking the walk.” In his work as a prophet, God has him act out his prophecies in ways that strike us as destructive and abusive. He marries a prostitute, Gomer, specifically to explicate the metaphor of Israel whoring herself out to other gods. Gomer gives birth to three children, only the first of whom is specifically said to be Hosea’s. Hosea names Jezreel after the place where Jezebel met her violent end in 2 Kings 10. The second child is named “no compassion,” and the third, “not my people.”
Hosea is demonstrating quite graphically – and unfairly to his poor family! – that God is revoking the promises made to Moses and Abraham. Or is he? Even this book, one of the bleakest of the prophetic books, concludes with a beautiful passage assuring that the people will someday be forgiven.
This is a very difficult passage to read. We might not feel comfortable reading such crudity in church, in front of children, in polite company. But then, who says the church is supposed to be polite company, or that we should be comfortable? That’s a very recent cultural expectation. Hosea does not shy away from using graphic language to describe the break in relationship between God and humankind.
The Israelites were an audacious people. In their sacred stories and writings, they did not hide their own sin, but neither did they believe that God had given up on them. They interpreted the disasters in their lives as punishment from God, but they never lost sight of their understanding that God loved them and wanted healing and wholeness for them. A promise had been made to them, and the living God does not break promises.
This psalm puts that audacity on full display. God’s fury, while real and terrifying, is short-lived and shall soon give way to mercy and truth; righteousness and peace shall kiss each other. God’s forgiveness is tied directly to the ability of the people to survive. The land, with God’s help, will produce food, and the people will be prosperous.
Are you ever tempted to view the Old Testament as the home of the angry, wrathful God, as opposed to the all-loving, all-forgiving God of the New? Don’t believe it for a second. The God of the Old Testament has no trouble being both. When God is angry, it is because God cares so deeply. The imagery may disturb us, but when we hang in there, we see that it always leads to forgiveness.
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Christians love to argue about what exactly Jesus did on the cross, and what that says about Jesus’ relationship with God. In fact, we’ve been arguing nearly from the beginning. Did God send Jesus to pay a price because we broke some unyielding law? If God is really in charge, couldn’t God just revoke the wages of sin? Was Jesus’ purpose, instead, to serve as an example of how we should live our lives? But if so, how do we deal with our obviously sinful nature? If God and Jesus are one and the same anyway, can we even say that God “sent” Jesus at all? Does baptism save us? If so, aren’t we capable of saving ourselves?
This brief passage from the letter to the Colossians begins to cover these very issues. It asserts the divinity of Christ, it sets out a couple possible takes on the crucifixion, and it proclaims a baptismal theology. Perhaps it can be a comfort to know that these things were mysteries even in the early church. These debates need not divide us. When we wrestle with faith, we show our faithfulness to God – as long as we also love our neighbor.
Some people think that we have made God in our image, rather than the other way around. This does happen. When we imagine God as capricious, eager to punish, ready to fly off the handle and destroy us, we are indeed fashioning for ourselves a god we can wrap our minds around. This is a god who is like us, like an impatient mother or an irritable father, a parent so wrapped up in ego that the powerless child must suffer for it.
But in the church’s better moments, we remember Jesus’ words and speak of the living God, the one whom we have longed for but who even the better parents among us could never hope to imitate. Is this God merely a form of wish-fulfillment brought on by our childhood insecurities? Or could it be that this longing in us, this desire for a God who loves and cherishes us, points toward a reality we catch only in glimpses?
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we put all our trust in Jesus to guide even our praying. But the familiar words can begin to seem old hat. This week, try praying the Lord’s Prayer, line by line, in your own words, and trust Jesus to guide you.