Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How Can I Give You Up?

This week's scriptures are Hosea 5: 15- 6: 6, 11: 1-9, 14: 1-9.

I love the story of Hosea. It is filled with longing and anger; pathos and passion. It is Hosea's way of looking at his own life, and in conversation with God, coming to believe that "this is how God feels about the relationship with God's people."

It's not a pretty story by any means. Hosea marries a woman named Gomer. But Gomer is a prostitute. She has children by other men. She abandons him. Hosea rages. He gives the children names like "not pitied" (another version of this name is "never again forgive") and "not mine." In fact, no sooner has Gomer weaned her daughter "not pitied" than she conceived "not mine." Finally she leaves. And if Hosea was like most of us, this would be the end of the story.

But somehow, Hosea saw in what happened between him and Gomer, an example of what was happening between God and Israel. Hosea came to believe that God's heart was being broken just like his was broken. And, wonder of wonders, God showed him that the story didn't stop with anger...not God's story with Israel, or Hosea's story with Gomer.

God tells Hosea "Go again and bestow your love on a woman loved by another man, an adulteress; love her as I, the Lord, love the Israelites..." And Hosea does. He goes and finds Gomer-who is for sale. We don't know if she's been put on the auction block as a slave, if she's working as a temple prostitute, or if Hosea buys her back from a pimp. What we do know is "I bought her for fifteen pieces of silver, a homer of barley, and a measure of wine..."

When God, through Hosea, talks about the deep love that God has for Israel, Hosea uses incredibly beautiful feminine images of a mother teaching her child to walk, bending down to breastfeed her infant, and lifting her baby to rub it's face against her cheek. God uses the equivilent of childhood pet names in talking to Israel and even in the midst of God's anger at Israel's unfaithfulness says, "How can I give you up...a change of heart moves me, tenderness kindles within me...I shal not turn and destroy Ephraim, for I am God, not a mortal; I am the Holy One in your midst."

No Biblical writer, in my mind, has come so close to the heart of God's anguish at humankind's betrayal and lack of trust; or to the depth of the love that moves God to stay connected to us...even at tremendous price.

And we could stop here...but it wouldn't be the whole story. Because if we take this story to heart, you and I aren't Hosea (and we're certainly not God)-we're Gomer. Loved-when there was no reason to keep loving; forgiven-when there was no right to expect it; bought back and brought home-when we were the ones who sold ourselves out in the first place.

Hosea doesn't pull any punches. He's incredibly blunt and brutal about Gomer and Israel's sin; about God's anger (and his). But he makes the point that God's love doesn't pull any punches either. God will not pretend that our sins don't exist, that they haven't happened. But God refuses to be controlled by, defined by our sin, our failure, our shortcomings. Consequently, we don't have to pretend either. We can come to God with all we are, all we've done, and trust that God's response to us...just like it was to Israel...will be "how can I give you up?...I will heal my people...I will love them freely."

God's love for us is bigger than where we've been, or what we've done. That love still seeks us out and brings us home.

Hope to see you Sunday.

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