A sermon based on the book of Hosea.
God tells Hosea that he should go marry a sexually promiscuous woman and have children with her, because that is going to be a good metaphor for Israel being unfaithful to the Lord.
And so, Hosea logged into his favourite internet dating website, and updated his profile: Single, Jewish, prophetic, Middle Eastern male. 6 feet tall, likes camping and travelling. Looking for a wife to go on adventures with and to grow old with. Oh. And must be willing and able to be unfaithful to me, because God said marry someone like that.
Ding! Match found!
And lo and behold, he married Gomer.
Yeah. Okay then. We have a lot of work to do with this text this morning.
Number 1. I know someone who is working to help young women get out of the sex trade. I asked her whether the term prostitute is still the proper terminology. She said that they use the term “sex worker”, so I’m going to roll with that. God tells Hosea to marry a sex worker. Because that sounds so much better, right?
Number 2. I’m going to venture to say that most of us don’t excited about reading the Old Testament. I can fully admit that it’s over ten years since I last opened the book of Hosea. Here at Grace we’re following a four year preaching plan that encourages us to preach out of the Old Testament every fall, so then when I actually read the text I’m supposed to preach on, I’m reminded again why I don’t read the Old Testament all that often. Some of the stories we find in there are violent, sexist, and don’t always make a lot of sense. And to make things worse, it seems to be God ordaining the violence and sexism.
So, for example, let’s take this story of Hosea and Gomer.
Why is the male portrayed as the faithful one, and the female portrayed as the unfaithful one? I mean, sure, she was unfaithful, and with a lot of men, but all those men were just as unfaithful as she was. I mean, if she slept with one hundred men, why can’t men be the example of unfaithfulness? If those men were married, why can’t their wives be the symbols of faithfulness? Why is it that women are almost always cast in the negative light in the Old Testament, as representing temptation and seduction and unfaithfulness, when clearly we know that men manipulate and philander just as much as women.
Well, here’s what I do to help me with some of this tension.
The Bible is the heir of patriarchy and sexism, not the creator of patriarchy and sexism (adapted from Carole Fontaine). This part of the Bible was written about 3000 years ago in a sexist, patriarchal society, so of course it’s going to be sexist and patriarchal. It was written in a specific time period to a specific people in a very specific context, so of course all those factors will influence the text. To expect otherwise is almost unfair to the text.
So, when reading some of these sexist texts in the Old Testament, I try to move beyond the gender specific nature of it all. I simply acknowledge that the culture was different than ours, so to me it doesn’t matter which partner was the faithful one, and which was the unfaithful one. There was simply infidelity in that relationship, and I don’t care which one was the sex worker and which one wasn’t. It’s not a perfect solution, but I feel it’s a good start.
But this leads to another question.
Number 3 – What would you do if your friend, child, parent, cousin, or any one close to you, said “God told me to marry a sex worker so our marriage can be an example of God being faithful to people who are unfaithful.”
You probably wouldn’t rush to put a down payment on a catering service, would you?
In the last few weeks, I asked a few of you the question, “What would you do if God asked you to marry a sex worker? Most of you were silent. Some of you laughed. One of you said you would disobey God. And another one of you said, “Well, that’s why you’re the pastor.” Gee… Thanks.
And if Hosea stopped by the office and asked me to officiate at his wedding, I’d say, “Ummm… Sorry. I have to go pick up my kid from kindergarten right aways. But I’m sure Mel here would love to help you out.”
But here we are. God told Hosea to marry a sex worker. Well, if the God that made the universe told you to marry a sex worker, I guess I can’t argue with that, can I? Kind of that like when preachers claim God told them something, or when teenagers claim God told them to break up with their boyfriends. Just can’t argue with God, can you?
Okay, try something here.
Let’s start with the idea that all language for God is metaphor.
Metaphor: something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol.
So, if I’m at work and Mel asks me a question about his computer, I might say, “Uhhh… Mel, you’re such an ancient dinosaur.”
Now, I’m not saying that Mel is an actual dinosaur, although, that would be cool, and maybe look something like this, but what I’m actually saying is that Mel might not be the most computer savvy person out there.
And if I call Mel an ancient dinosaur, he might turn around and “Kyle, you’re such a squirrel.”
Not that I’m actually a small rodent that climbs trees, although that would be cool, and I might look something like this, but what he’s actually saying is that I have a short attention span and get distracted very easily. (Like when I stopped writing this sermon and started googling how to put people’s faces on dinosaurs and squirrels. Apparently there’s an app for that.)
All language for God is metaphor. It’s our best attempt to describe God, but it will always only be an incomplete representation. We do our best to describe God from our vantage points, and we use the best words that we have available to us, but we’re still going to be restricted by our language, culture, experiences, and viewpoints.
Let’s use this pulpit here as an example. Wherever you are sitting, if I were to ask you to describe this pulpit, what you say?
Well, some of you who come to church regularly would say “It’s a wooden pulpit.”
Others of you who don’t come to church very often would say “It’s a brown podium.”
One of you might say, “It’s just a hunk of wood.”
And technically, you’d all be right.
If you were 4 feet tall, you’d say the pulpit was tall. If you were 7 feet tall, you’d say the pulpit was small. And you’d both be right.
If the people over here were to say “The colour is mocha cappuccino”, while the people over here would say, ”It’s brown with some white on it” both sides of the church could fight over whether there’s white there or not, but really, you’d both be right, because I taped a white paper on this side. (Let alone the person who is sitting back here and says “I see a shelf.”)
We do our best to describe things, to get a hold of things, to understand things, but we will never get the whole picture. We’re all bound by language and culture and experiences and viewpoints.
All language for God is metaphor.
The only time in the Old Testament where God clearly names who God is, is when God appears to Moses as a burning bush. And what does God say?
“I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites.: “I AM has sent me to you.” Thanks God. That clears things up. Why couldn’t you just name yourself Stephen. Or Justin. Or Tom. Or Elizabeth. Or, for all of us here who are French, Gilles.
But, even if all language for God is metaphor, that doesn’t mean that it’s entirely invalid. There’s still some truth there.
Any description of God, any doctrine, any creed, any statement of belief, any poem, any hymn… they’re all rooted in an encounter with the divine. Someone, somewhere, had an experience with God and did their best to write it down. And they wrote it down within the limits of their language, culture, experiences, and viewpoints. So it’s limited, but that doesn’t make it entirely untrue.
Let’s use a wedding for example. Weddings are supposed to be this sacred day where two people declare their love for each other. And as part of planning the ceremony, I often ask the couple about wedding vows.
Our conversation usually goes like this:
“Let’s talk about wedding vows. What do you two want to say to each other?”
“Ummm… I don’t know. What should we say?”
“Well, it’s your wedding. How do you want to express your love and commitment to each other in front of God and all your family and friends?”
“Ummm… I guess we’ll look something up on the internet.”
Now, some couples know what they’re going to say. But, in my experience, most don’t, so they google it.
The love between these couples is real. So real that they’re getting married. But when asked to do their best to describe their love and commitment to each other, they got nothing. And in the end, most of us all mumble some words that we don’t remember 10 years later, and then in order to show how serious we are about our love, we take two candles to light one as symbol, or we use some sand, or some other sort of metaphor.
Our words, our symbols, our language, for God are all limited, but they’re still rooted in an encounter with God.
I think this is why some of us just don’t like Hosea all that much. Or the Old Testament. Or why some of us don’t like doctrinal statements about what we believe. Or creeds written hundreds of years ago. Or words said by Popes. Or books on theology. Or sermons written and preached by pastors. Or some songs or hymns or poems. They’re all just words. Words doing their best to describe an encounter with God. But the goal should never be the words. The goal should be the source of those words. The goal should be the God who encounters us. The goal is meeting “I AM.”
And, lucky for us, our Bibles don’t end in Hosea. And they don’t end in the Old Testament. Our Bibles seem to feature a guy named Jesus quite prominently. They even say some pretty big things about him.
“Jesus is the image of the invisible God…..” – Colossians 1:15.
Jesus is what God has to say.
Now, this isn’t a sermon on Jesus, and we’ll be talking a lot more Jesus in January. This is a sermon on Hosea and Gomer and faithfulness.
So what do I do with God telling Hosea to marry a sex worker so their marriage can be a metaphor for God’s faithfulness?
I say, “Okay… Okay.” Hosea had an encounter with God. We’ll never know what was actually said, how he heard God’s voice, or why he felt God calling him to marry a promiscuous woman. I’ll disagree with some of the sexist overtures of the story, try to work for equality in our world today, but if all language for God is metaphor, and clearly Hosea understands metaphors here, then I’ll look to the source. Which is God.
And this is a story of God’s faithfulness. Of God never giving up on us. Of God rooting for us. Of God wanting the best for us.
This is a story of God being with us, no matter how unfaithful we’ve been.
This is a story of a God who chooses not to smite us.
This is a story of a God whose love for us trumps any anger for us.
This is a story of a God whom we don’t have to fear. (So if someone says, “God’s wrath is storing up for humankind, just tell them to read Hosea.”)
Now. There’s another metaphor in the book of Hosea. Chapter 11. I didn’t know it was there until I had to preach on Hosea. Buried way in the back, we find a metaphor of a parents love for their child.
It was I who taught (Isreal) to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.
This is a metaphor about how we love our children, even when they don’t even know it. I hang out with Mel and Audrey and Betty, who all have adult children, and wow, do they ever still love their children. Even if the kids are all over the place, doing their own things… even if they forget to call home some days… the love is still there. With my own kids, there are days where I am so overwhelmed I want to put a paper bag on my end and go cry in the closet. Or other days, I am really, really angry with them. But in the end, love always wins, and all I want to do is hold them close and whisper in their ears, “Everything is going to be okay. You are loved.”
In a world where we make mistakes, where we hurt people, where people don’t like us…. When we feel like we don’t belong, like we don’t measure up, that people are judging us… In a world that sometimes big and scary and we don’t know always know how we fit in…
We have a story. A story about a God who is faithful and is filled with love for us.
And that’s a story that I can listen to, over and over again.