Today is the second to last week of our series God Is/God Isn’t. It’s been our hope and our goal that over the course of the past few weeks you’ve had an opportunity to reflect on how we can speak about the character and activity of our God. Because as people of faith we are called to bear witness to what God has done and continues to do in the world, but we can only do that when we have language that we feel is our own and make sense for us.
This week our theme is God isn’t angry all the time. For many people, probably many of us in the room, God’s wrath, God’s judgment, God’s anger is a big stumbling block. Even Luther, in his early career, was plagued by his search to find a loving and gracious God.
For many people, the Old Testament is particularly problematic. At first blush, it can seem like God is always smiting or smoting someone or some city. But even some of Jesus’ own words can be challenging.
Today our reading comes from the end of the book of Hosea. Hosea is pretty intense and it’s a book we never read in worship. In the revised common lectionary, a set of appointed readings that most normal mainline churches follow, it only comes up four times, and it’s almost always an alternate reading. Which means nobody ever reads it.
So if you didn’t know that Hosea was a book in the bible before today, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. It’s a short book, only 14 some chapters, and it’s nestled in the midst of the minor prophets so it’s easy to lose in the midst of Obadiah, Amos, Habakkuk, and Nahum.
Here’s the thing, if you were to sit down and read Hosea from beginning to end you would encounter some of the most beautiful and the most disturbing imagery for God in the Bible. God is angry and God is tender.
It’s problematic stuff, this part of the bible as CS Lewis once said, is adult literature. Which I now realize, having said that you’re all going to head home and read it.
So let me provide a little context. Hosea was a prophet, a person called by God to diagnose the ills of the world around them and invite God’s people to envision a different reality, to see the world as God did. He was active in the mid 8th-century bc. At the time he was working the Israel was divided. There was the northern kingdom, which retained the name Israel – or Ephraim as we hear in Hosea – and the southern kingdom which was Judah. Judah was comprised of two of the twelve tribes, Judah and Benjamin. They had the city of Jerusalem and claim to the line of King David. The Northern Kingdom had everyone else, the fertile lands and most of the resources.
The Assyrian Empire was the big player on the world stage at this time and with dreams of westward expansion had set their sights on Israel. Their capital, Nineveh was located near modern day Mosul in Iraq. If you were here, you’ll no doubt remember Nineveh and the Assyrians from when we read Jonah a few weeks ago.
Fear of the Assyrian Empire and Game of Thrones style political maneuvering on the part of the Northern Kingdom’s rulers prompted many in Israel to seek out allies from across the region. They developed pacts with Egypt, Syria and Assyria all to try and bolster their position and maintain their slice of the middle eastern pie.
It was this political philandering in particular that drew the ire of Hosea. He saw a people and their rulers who were all too ready to get into bed with other nations and their gods in order to advance their own goals, all while forgetting that Israel had been called into a special relationship with the Lord.
Through a series of shocking metaphors, again both in their beauty and their ugliness we get a sense of the pain Israel has caused God. We get a sense of how God is struggling with what to do with these people. It’s here where we pick up our story for today.
Through the mouth of the prophet Hosea God addresses Israel. It’s almost as though God says to Israel, fine, have it your way. After all, I’ve done for you if you want to do things for yourselves be my guest.
In verses 5-7, God seems to say, “You want Egypt, fine. You want Assyria as your king and not me, by all means, have it your way”
One of my professors in seminary used to tell us that the scariest form of judgment that we encounter in scripture is when God leaves humanity to its own devices.
For forty years Burger King has told us that we can have it our way. But when you stop and think about it nothing could be more terrifying.
Even though it leads to our demise, we still think we know what’s best.
There’s a beautiful and painful poem that I was introduced to a few years ago. For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about it again this week. It’s called “Tired” and it’s by Langston Hughes
I am so tired of waiting,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two-
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.
Dear friends the worms are eating the same food that they’ve always feasted upon. It’s our unrelenting, unwavering conviction that somehow we know what’s best, that we can have it our way, that we can be our own gods. And of course, as it always has this stirs God’s anger. As we heard in today’s reading…
My people are bent on turning away from me.
And yet destruction isn’t the final word. God speaks of restoration, of newness, of life.
In the face of Israel’s recalcitrance. In the face of our own self-absorption and disobedience, God sets aside God’s anger and God creates a new way forward, marked by the steadfast and abiding love of God.
Since we won’t turn towards God, our God draws near, God comes to us. Our God, the Holy one in our midst, chooses a new way of being in a relationship with us. God is not bound by our unwillingness to love him, God envelops us all in his fierce love, a love that consumes even God’s own anger and creates newness where death and destruction once seemed inevitable.
For that, we give thanks, this day and always. Amen.