Thursday, July 22, 2010

There's Still Hope -- A Lectionary Meditation

Hosea 1:2-10

Colossians 2:6-15

Luke 11:1-13

There’s Still Hope

Persistence – that is the message of Jesus’ parable in Luke 11. Just after teaching the disciples an abridged form of what we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells a parable about a man who wakes up his neighbor at midnight so he can feed a friend who has dropped by unexpectedly – in the middle of the night – and is now hungry. In that culture, if someone drops by, you feed them, but what do you do when the cupboard is bare? You go knock on your neighbor’s door – sort of like Sheldon knocking on Leonard’s or Penny’s door (Big Bang Theory). The neighbor might not get up and help out from friendship, but if you knock long enough, well then perhaps the neighbor will give in, get up, and get the bread. Of course, God isn’t like that neighbor who has to be pestered into helping.

One of the stanzas of the Lord’s Prayer speaks of forgiveness – something that we often approach God desiring. The concern that is present in the minds of many is whether God will be receptive, and what that will require of us. In the parable, the suggestion is – if we ask, it will be given to us – so there is still hope.

Hope is something that appears absent from the Hosea passage. It’s the 8th century, Jehu is on the throne of Israel, and the situation is not good. The people of Israel have been playing the whore and have flirted with the gods of their neighbors, choosing to reject God’s ways. So, God sends another prophet into their midst – Hosea – and God decides to illustrate the troubles Israel faces by directing Hosea to marry a prostitute. Being the obedient one that he is, Hosea marries Gomer and with her he has three children (though since she is a prostitute you can never be sure that the children are his). Each child has a name that reflects God’s displeasure with the northern kingdom of Israel. The first is Jezreel, a son whose name reflects God’s decision to take the kingdom of Israel at the valley of Jezreel. The second child is a daughter named Lo-Rahama, whose name suggests that there will be no pity or forgiveness for Israel (though God will forgive Judah – at least for now). Finally, there is a son, Lo-Ammi, whose name signifies God’s judgment — “You are not my people, and I am not your God.”

The Hosea passage is so full of hopelessness and judgment. God has decided that enough is enough. Having acted as a prostitute, the nation has followed after other gods and lords, and so God will allow them to suffer the consequence. Having had enough, God is casting them off on their own. Only the prophet offers a sliver of hope in verse ten. We hear this word of restoration, this promise that Israel will be like the sand of the sea – too many to count – and though once called “Not My People,” now they will be called “Children of God.” The hope lies in the restoration of the whole people, as Judah and Israel are gathered together, taking possession of the land once more under one head (vs. 11). There is hope yes, but difficult times remain. Perhaps then the key is in Jesus’ parable – be persistent – persevere – hold on to the one who gives good things to God’s children.

The Colossian passage draws everything together. It is a call for the children of God to hold fast to Christ, in whom we are to be rooted and built up. There is a warning here – reminiscent of the word to/through Hosea. Be careful about whom you listen to – philosophy, empty deceit, human tradition. You can see from this list that the author of this letter is writing to Gentile Christians who are struggling to make sense of the differences between the gospel and the theologies of those outside the faith. Instead of attending to these other voices, listen for Christ. Listen to him because it is in him that the fullness of deity dwells bodily, and it is he who reigns over all rule and authority. Again we see the echoes of Hosea – there is hope, but you must put your trust in God who is revealed in Christ.

In Christ, we are circumcised spiritually, putting off the flesh – the way of the world. It is in baptism that we identify ourselves with Christ, our sins and trespasses being buried with him, and then raised again, the power of death no longer hanging over us, as we embrace God’s purpose through faith. In Christ, the legal record that has hung over our heads is cleared, having been nailed to the cross.

What do we make of this message? Especially we who take a more progressive view of God and God’s relationship with creation? We may be troubled with Hosea’s use of his marriage as prophetic example – and God’s command that he do so. We may like the promise that if we ask God, then God will respond because God has to be a better parent than any human parent – but does that mean that God is like a vending machine, giving us whatever we want without any discernment? And then there is Colossians, which could be taken in an anti-Jewish way.

But however you deal with the particulars, there is a promise here, a promise that there is hope of reconciliation and restoration. God is good and faithful and will make a way for us to experience a restored relationship with God and creation. Central to the promise is the statement that in Christ the legal slate is wiped clean. It may be that we must first repent – turning from the way of “whoredom.” In another passage from Luke, we get the idea that repentance is involved in this process (Luke 17:1-4). Repentance, of course, is not groveling before God, grinding our knees into the gravel. Instead, it is a decision to walk faithfully with the God who offers us peace and reconciliation. It is a decision to live differently – even if we stumble and require forgiveness time after time. Still, there is that word of hope!

Reposted from:  [D]mergent -- a new Disciples oriented blog, for which I write this weekly reflection

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