A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on July 25, 2010.
The book titled “Hosea” in the Hebrew Scriptures is more intense, emotional, and powerful than any Shakespearean drama or modern soap opera. The prophet marries a woman named Gomer. They build a life together. Their marriage produces children. But their life begins to unravel because Gomer is unfaithful. No, that is an inaccurate description of her conduct. Gomer does not merely have an affair. She prostitutes herself. What a scandalous situation? The preacher’s wife is a whore. What’s to become of those children? What’s to become of the preacher’s ministry? Aside from that, what will become of Gomer? How can anything good come from that situation?
But Hosea is more than the story of one family. The second verse of the first chapter tells us that Hosea’s troubled marriage is an object lesson—a striking practical illustration of a principle. In that second verse we read: When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” Hosea and Gomer were to be object lessons to Israel about the moral and spiritual condition of that society’s relationship to God. Just as Gomer was scandalously unfaithful to Hosea, Israel was scandalously unfaithful to God. What are the personal, societal, and religious implications of this griping drama for us?
God loves.In Hosea, God uses marriage and parenthood, the most intimate of all relationships, to teach us that God loves. Like a lover who chooses a partner, God loves. Like a parent who produces children, God loves. In love, our relationships take on the greatest power, the greatest potential, and are vulnerable to the greatest pain. Hosea shows us the power, potential, and the pain of divine love.
Hosea shows us that God loves for the long term. This is no quick fling or casual affair because God is no casual “player” with us. No, God is as serious about us as marriage and parenthood. God is in a committed relationship with us. God is serious about this thing.
Sin wounds loving relationships. The emotional pain of Hosea is clear to anyone who knows anything about love. We can almost feel the anguish and pain that has engulfed Hosea, Gomer, their children, and the wider community.
· Hosea is a wounded spouse and father. Try saying “my spouse is a whore,” and hearing people whisper “he’s married to that whore” and see how it feels. Try explaining to your children what it means when they ask you “Papa, what’s a whore, and why do other children say our Momma is a whore?” How does Hosea hold his head up around other men? How does Hosea relate to other women who may not let their children play with his children because of what their mother is doing?
· The children are wounded. Try saying “Mommy is a whore.” Think about being a child and seeing your mother in the neighborhood soliciting men for sex. Think about how children tease. Think about the emotional and moral conflict in those children.
· The community as a whole is affected. Every household burden affects the community in some way. Hosea’s marriage and family is not merely a domestic pain. It is also a communal pain.
· And Gomer is wounded. Don’t forget Gomer. She has left the relative security of her marriage and her trusted roles as spouse and mother. Gomer is emotionally and socially homeless. She is no man’s woman. She is not a mother to her children. She has left her husband, family, and her home to be a whore. Surely she is wounded.
In a sense, Hosea’s prophecy makes a telling statement about the impact of sin on humanity as a whole. As much as it may be fashionable to believe that humans are trustworthy, reliable, faithful, and generally good, Hosea offers a very different judgment on our morality. Like Gomer, we are promiscuous and unfaithful, quick to seek fulfillment apart from God.
But remember that Gomer was no ordinary flirt, but a whore. It is one thing for a lover to have an affair with someone else. But in Gomer, God has Hosea show us that humanity will sell what is sacred, holy, and intimate. Viewed in its most general terms, Hosea’s prophecy declares that humans are moral streetwalkers when God would have us be sacred partners. And in Hosea, we see that God is wounded by our moral and spiritual infidelity.
The problem would be bad enough if it were confined merely to personal sin. But Hosea’s plight and prophecy is a metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel, between God and an entire society. In Hosea, we learn that Israel had kicked God to the curb and thrown itself after pagan deities. The lesson is both clear and painful. A society can sink so low as to be the moral equivalent of a whore before God.
· When the United States claims to love peace yet is the biggest gun runner in the world, we see some whoring going on.
· When public officials claim to be against burdening poor people yet finance college scholarships for middle and upper income children by selling lottery tickets to poor people, we see some whoring going on.
· When politicians and interest groups claim they oppose abortions because they believe in protecting life yet rush to wage unnecessary wars that kill innocent people, poison hearts and minds, and scar the souls of military personnel and their families, we see some whoring going on.
But the moral and spiritual whoredom of sinfulness is more than personal and societal. Israel represents in the Hebrew Scriptures the redemptive agency of God for humanity. Israel is supposed to be the church for humanity. So in Gomer, God does not merely demonstrate the infidelity of one person and one society, but the infidelity of a religious establishment. Rather than exercising a redemptive influence that challenged the worship of wealth and military power, the religious establishment sold its moral authority for political and financial influence. The poor, widows, and children of that society were especially weak and vulnerable, like the children of Hosea and Gomer, because the Church had turned whore! Imagine that! God is holy and the religion of God is whoring. Talk about a scandalous relationship!
And when we look at what some people who claim to be religious are doing today, Gomer and Israel should come to mind.
· We see so-called evangelical preachers and churches turning their backs on education dedicated to preparing every child for success and embracing a lifeboat morality that says only children from certain neighborhoods or families deserve good schools and teachers. I’m not talking about merely building parochial schools. I’m talking about actively opposing taxes to support public schools. Hello Gomer.
· Nine years ago in 2003, so-called “evangelical” preachers and churches turned their backs on peacemaking and became cheerleaders when the United States chased United Nations weapons inspectors from Iraq in 2003 and invaded Iraq. Today the death toll in Iraq is still climbing. The Defense Department is still sending people there. Preachers and churches are still cheerleaders for that war. Hello Gomer.
· Billions of dollars in tax cuts were enacted to benefit wealthy people a few years ago. Meanwhile millions of people needed health care insurance. When Congress tried to enact health care insurance with a public option to make it more affordable to low income people, “evangelical” preachers and churches joined those who attacked the idea as subversive and too expensive. The nation could have paid for universal health care for every person in the country with the money spent on the war in Iraq and the tax cuts. Hello Gomer.
· The Bible tells us to welcome immigrants and treat them fairly. But so-called “religious conservatives” are part of the Tea Party and anti-immigrant crowd who use fear-mongering and bigotry to deny social services to people based on their nationality. Hello Gomer.
What hope can there be for Hosea’s family when Gomer is a whore? How can her children grow up healthy? What will become of Gomer?
The good news—Hosea is going to bring Gomer home! Wait Preacher. How can that be good news? Gomer is a whore. What respectable preacher with small children brings such a woman back. Yet, God ordered Hosea to get out of the house, search the streets, find Gomer, bring her home, clean her up, keep her secluded in de-tox, and restore her to an honored place.
The tenth verse of Hosea 1 forecasts a positive future despite the dreary predicament facing Israel: Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” God (represented by the prophet in this drama) will bring Israel (represented by Gomer) back. Holy God will somehow redeem whoring Israel.
Grace will overcome! That’s the ultimate message of this prophecy. Yes, sin is awful and produces painful wounds to God’s heart and to our lives. Yes, we damage our relationships in society and within ourselves. Yes, we may seem to have sunk so low that there is no hope or help for us, or that we do not deserve help and hope. But God’s grace must not be counted out! God will not leave us in the street. God will not abandon us, nor will God kick us under the bus.
That is good news for every person who has blown it. It’s good news for every family struggling with addiction, abuse, poverty, and violence. It’s good news for the people of God as we struggle to make a holy difference in a world drunk on violence, pleasure, greed, and self-indulgence. Marvelous grace will find us. Holy grace will claim us. Amazing grace will bring us home. Unstoppable grace will clean us up. God’s grace will make holy people of us. Hallelujah!
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.