On 31 July, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Hosea 11:1-11, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21.
Hosea, who wrote our Old Testament passage for today, was prophet to the Northern Kingdom – Israel – around 722 – 715 BC. The kingdom was ruled by Jeroboam II. The rich were prosperous but the poor were oppressed by them. Morals were declining in the society.
At times God told his prophets to perform some action in order to vividly illustrate what he was trying to say to his people or to prompt them to ask questions. Usually this was a temporary situation but for Hosea it required much more of him; he illustrated God’s message with a lifelong commitment. God told him to marry an unfaithful wife, which he did. Gomer bore many children to Hosea; however, some were fathered by other men as a result of Gomer’s adultery.
As God had predicted, Gomer tired of Hosea and left him to pursue other lovers. Hosea’s name means ‘salvation’ and true to his name instead of divorcing her, Hosea searched for her, and found her. It seems she had become enslaved and needed to be bought back in order to be free to return to live with Hosea.
God was using Hosea’s marriage to Gomer to illustrate his own marriage to his people Israel. God had made a covenant with his people and had remained faithful to it. However, Israel had turned from God’s love and run after other gods. God warned his people that he would judge them for their unfaithfulness but they continued to go their own way. Like Gomer, the unfaithful wife, Israel had no interest in what God wanted, in trying to please him. Despite this, God’s love for Israel did not cease though he caused Israel to go into captivity in 722.
I think the passage today is one of the most beautiful in the Bible, good enough to rival much that we find in Isaiah’s writings. Here the metaphor has changed from that of a husband with his wife to that of a loving father and his son but the response is still the same. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt but God brought them to freedom in the Promised Land. Nevertheless, rather than being grateful Israel still rejected God. In fact, as God pointed out through Hosea, the more he called to his people the more they chose to move away from him. Baal was the one who received attention and worship, not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
You can hear in God’s words the heart he has for Israel, the love and dedication he feels towards his people. When I read about God teaching Israel to walk, I recall my own father with our daughter. When she was learning to walk she wanted to have her hands held so that she could keep her balance. However, she was very tiny when she first walked like this and gave anyone who looked after her a backache very quickly. I recall my father, ever inventive, putting a thin towel around her chest and under her arms. He then held on to the ends of the towel and Zoe walked along very proudly. Zoe had a deep love for her grandfather, no doubt partly forged by special moments like that one. In contrast, God says that Israel chose to forget who it was who performed such a nurturing role.
God recalls guiding Israel as you might guide an animal with ropes, or as we might use reins on a baby to keep them from walking too far from us as they gain independence. God also remembers feeding Israel. Feeding a child usually helps to form a bond between child and carer. Giving good nourishing food to a child is an important part of loving him or her. Despite every effort by God being spurned by his people, God was unable to switch his love off, to forget the one he loved so deeply. It was unthinkable that he would abandon his people:
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
Hosea’s experience with Gomer was a prophetic illustration of the way the people of Israel behaved towards their loving God. God’s response to his wayward people could equally well be applied to us also. God still loves his people like a father and he still pursues them though they ignore all that he provides them with. The God who couldn’t bear to think of giving up on Israel cannot give up on any of us either. I know from personal experience and from listening to the stories of others that several in this community have good reason to be grateful to God for pursuing us when we have chosen to turn away. We’re unlikely to turn to Baal but there are plenty of other options. Other faiths abound and are available for us to follow. Or perhaps the call of science is what has enticed us away. We have grown beyond the need to be children with a father caring for us; we are able to care for ourselves and decide on our own destiny. Possibly we prefer to worship money and possessions instead. Whatever it is that lures people from God, he still pursues them with loving intent.
Once we return, God wants us to live within the restraints he imposes for our own good and to feed on good food which he provides. As Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, we are to turn away from the behaviour we have been encouraged to indulge in by the other gods we have followed. Fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed and so he goes on, are no longer to be part of the way we live. Gomer didn’t choose to please Hosea but went her own way. Israel didn’t choose to please God either but we are to choose the ways that please God.
As the rich man found out to his cost, being focused on greed, possessions, what was good for himself, did him no good in the end. Such treasures as he owned had not provided him with a good relationship with God. Being rich towards God is more important than anything else in life.
We would each be wise to follow the advice of the psalmist as we strive to remain in relationship with the one true God:
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his goodness and the wonders he does for his children.
For he satisfies the longing soul and fills the hungry soul with good.
Whoever is wise will ponder these things and consider the loving-kindness of the Lord.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor