Saturday, July 24, 2010

Give, Forgive, Lead, Deliver

25 July 2010 – Hosea 1:2-10//Luke 11:1-13
Give, Forgive, Lead, Deliver/Ask, Seek, Knock
God’s strategy ratchets up – instead of Amos’ looking at a bowl of fruit or a plumb line as a metaphor for what message the prophet is to carry to a people who have lost their focus on God and neighbor, now in Hosea the Prophet must become the metaphor and marry a whore. That is right. Hosea is the metaphor of adultery and infidelity to demonstrate our need to repent.

Note that the land is distressed. We read elsewhere in Hosea that “Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air; end even the fish of the sea are taken away.” (4:3) Look at how we have failed to care for God’s creation. Whole species disappear daily. The land and bays polluted with petro-fertilizers. Hosea could have been written today!

All because the people had made military alliances with foreigners, wasted resources on defense, turned back to worshipping idols (“My people inquire of a thing of wood, and their staff gives them oracles – For a spirit of harlotry has led them away; they have left their God to play the harlot.” 4:12)

Hosea re-visions a new Israel – a new people of God. After marrying Gomer the harlot, after she bears children with other men, Hosea welcomes her home and forgives her as a sign of God’s love for those who repent and return to the Lord! Hosea acts out God’s mercy.

Just as Jesus does - only God’s strategy pushes even further than with Hosea – Jesus is [not was] the word of God that speaks of a new creation. Creation – the very thing we attempt to dominate, manipulate and manage as resource for our own idolatrous addictions!

Even when we create a department like the EPA to restore and care for creation we corrupt it into an institution that serves corporate greed in the name of the gods of Profit and Comfort! Idolatry. Agencies tasked to protect the seas from underwater drilling turn their heads while we drill, baby, drill. Idolatry. We allow mining interests to blow off the tops of mountains, filling in valleys, destroying streams and rivers. Idolatry.

Prophets demand action – and then offer a new vision to lead us into an unknown and unknowable future with God, rather than the all too knowable future of our own making.

Idolatry and its twin, self-serving and self-deceiving Ideology, always want to absolutize some arrangement of power and knowledge, so that we may bow down to the work of our hands. We never seem to get past the Golden Calf! [Brueggemann, Texts That Linger, Words That Explode, p 38]

Prophetic speech and action always exposes, critiques and assaults every phony absolute, for all such absolutes of nation, race, party, consumption, corporate greed or sex will end in death.

Hosea critiqued the twin powers of the monarchy, idolatry, and rapacious destruction of the land. Jesus faced a similar situation – the Imperial Power of Rome which was in the process of setting the template for all such imperialistic empires to acquire more and more territories from which to extract resources to feed the endless appetites of those who manage and manipulate the political and social arenas – which in turn rapes the land. Hosea’s metaphor of whoredom and infidelity is more apt today than ever.

Jesus knows this – and so do his followers who are seeking an avenue by which to address the God of the Exodus/Passover – the God of deliverance, mercy, forgiveness. How shall we pray, they ask? It has been said by Anne Lamott that there really are only two prayers: Thank You, and Help Me! Jesus puts them together. One notes it does not closely resemble our liturgical Lord’s Prayer – that is, the tradition has managed to update, expand and change it as each unfolding era demands a new telling of it.

After acknowledging God as “hallowed,” a way of saying “thank you,” it moves on into what can only be described as rather impetuous and demanding “help me” language: give, forgive, lead and deliver us. Acknowledging we are incapable of giving, forgiving, leading and delivering ourselves. Do we get this when we pray? Jesus’ parable that follows is just as demanding, asserting that the life of prayer is grounded in asking, seeking and knocking until we can awaken God from slumber. It is a lesson in assertiveness training!

This, by the way, is how the story begins way back in Exodus – under devastating oppression in the empire of Egypt, the people wail and moan until God finally hears their cry and delivers them.

Blinded by a political and economic system that demands conspicuous consumption, grounded in covetousness – the perceived “need” for the newest, greatest, biggest innovation of the moment – we find ourselves all the way back in the landscape of Hosea – the empire has gone ideologically idolatrous, and creation is disappearing and falling apart at an alarming rate. Who shall advocate for the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the very land itself? In Hosea, God plans to make a covenant with creation instead of us!

One wonders what sort of new “strategy” and prophetic voice might have a chance of waking us out of our obvious slumber – for it is now we who have been asleep, unable to see the ways in which we sow the signs of our own, and creation’s, destruction? Would that we could look at a plumb line, or look at a basket of fruit and be inspired to repent and re-vision what it means to live in this world of God’s making. Or, learn the lesson of Hosea.

Will a simple re-telling of the Hosea prophecy lead us to see that we are the whoring people? That we are the adulterous generation Hosea and Jesus speak of? That we have simply gone off the rails and are living about as far away from “your kingdom come” as a people can get? Can we see how we are meant to be wedded to creation in a marriage of nature and grace?

It is one thing to give thanks for the bounteous gifts we have been given – Thank you. Yes. But are we capable of crying out, “Help me!” with any sense that what we are really asking is for God to help us from ourselves?

Despite knowing that use of the Internet now eclipses all commercial air travel in use of energy resources, I still use the Internet to research portions of this sermon and feed my need to consume more products more efficiently. Despite knowing that air conditioning accounts for one-fifth of all of our nation’s energy consumption, it took me until two days ago to put our thermostat up two more degrees from 78 to 80.

We desperately want to pray to be forgiven, but do we sincerely pray to be lead and delivered from temptation and evil?

After thirteen chapters of what may be the most harsh condemnation in all of prophetic literature, in the final and fourteenth chapter we hear, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord…I will heal their unfaithfulness, I will love them freely….I will be as dew to Israel; he shall blossom as a lily…” (14:1-2a, 4-5)

There is hope on the unknown horizon of the future – if only we will do as we pray and allow God to lead and deliver us. Even though God is weary of a people who have turned their backs on him and his creation, he stands ready to take us back. If only we will return. Amen.